Burn After Reading [2008)

This film just goes to show that intelligence work might best be described in the terms of humor.

A very dark humor.

Half of U.S. intelligence agencies fall under the purview of the Department of Defense:

-Twenty-Fifth Air Force (25 AF) [Air Force intelligence]

-Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) [Army intelligence]

-Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

-Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)


-National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS)

Then there are those executive departments which oversee two intel services apiece:

-Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard Intelligence [CGI] and Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A])


-Department of Justice (Intelligence Branch [IB] of the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI] and Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA])

In addition to these 12 agencies, there are four “peacocks”:

-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA [an independent entity])

-Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI [of the Department of Energy])

-Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR [of the Department of State])

and finally George Clooney’s armory in Burn After Reading:

-Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) [of the Department of Treasury]).

But we must remember that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was, until 2003, also part of the Department of Treasury.  Clooney’s character Harry Pfarrar speaks of his previous work protecting diplomats as a “PP”.  Personal protection?  Personnel protection?

Nevertheless, we learn something of which even the other D.C. “natives” in our film seem unaware:  that certain Treasury Department employees carry guns.

This, of course, ends up being a big detail in Burn After Reading.

And so the main thing is to understand the CIA analyst played adeptly here by John Malkovich.

The Balkans Desk.

-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Suitland, Maryland

-Suitland, Maryland?  Or Quantico, Virginia?

-Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face, Virginia (oh baby that’s 9/11!)

-and Fort Meade, Maryland


-Anacostia? [D.C.]

-DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.

-J. Edgar Hoover Building [D.C.]

-Arlington County, Virginia? [DEA]

-Langley, Virginia

-James V. Forrestal Building (D.C.) [DoE]

-Foggy Bottom (Harry S. Truman Building) [D.C.]


-1500 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue (USA)

All of this is to say that Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is “a damned good analyst”.

But forget the “PP”.

Georege Clooney is a U.S. Marshal.  And thus under the Department of Justice umbrella.


All of this makes me sympathize with the witless Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).

But the funniest part is the repartee between David Rasche and J.K. Simmons over at Langley.

The implication is that a couple of athletic trainers and an alcoholic former analyst (plus a U.S. Marshal) have spun a web of inexplicable disaster even more boneheaded than the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And so it is priceless to hear these two gentlemen speak in tones of which Leo G. Carroll would no doubt have approved.

“We do nothing.”

When in doubt.

Ah, but Zugzwang?



Nothing is scarier than a know-nothing.

Completely transparent.

Like water.

The most terrifying mask.

Princeton pulls the trigger in full-on mental illness.

And with a healthy buzz.

Maybe a bathrobe.

Can’t recall.

But felt very Harry Nilsson (if not Brian Wilson) sartorially speaking.

But the best thing is the CIA in the plastic surgery/philanthropy business.

Slushing the funds.  A little churn.

If only.

The absurdity of it all (for the CIA) most accurately can be explained by the Situationism of Guy Debord.

Like snowflakes.  Overlaid onto life views courtesy NRO.

Photo interpretation.

NGA.  Or even an NGO.

Who knows?

Clap on, clap off, the Clapper.  X X




Petunia [2012)

A lesser film critic would rip this movie to shreds.  You have to wait for it.  Poor Charlie Petunia…  It’s just like in life:  we choose to accept or reject someone’s mannerisms and way of speaking very early on into our first meeting with them.  In the cinema, sometimes it takes us a bit to adjust to a particular film’s tone.  We must adjust to the budget, the philosophical slant, etc….or we walk out.  If we are at home, we simply say, “You know what?  Fuck this.  I’m not watching this.”

To be brutally honest, the first 15 minutes of this flick don’t seem to bode well for what must follow, but what does follow is a pretty damn good film.  However, it is scary.

The End.

It’s like Week-end: one senses a double meaning in the final pronouncement.  End of Cinema.  Thus spake Godard.  His was a bold manifestation of ego (and a humble diagnosis of what was already known by the intelligentsia of France).

Why scary?  Because this is the last we have heard of the inimitable Thora Birch.  Her Wikipedia says she “is”…  Every time I click on Jean-Luc Godard’s Wikipedia page to find that he still “is”…my world is a better place.

Why review Petunia three years after its release?  To put it out in the cosmos…even if Miss Birch never reads this…to render the appreciation of which she is deserving.

Thora and her dad Jack are credited as producers.  I’m not going to rake muck and give you the Kenneth-Anger-Hollywood-Babylon version of a back story.  Suffice it to say that Thora’s parents are some interesting characters.  I know that her dad acted as her manager.  For how long, I’m not sure.  People can carp about Mr. Birch’s manner of going about things, but that really defeats the purpose here.  The focus should be on the artists and the work of art.  This film is a masterpiece against all odds.  Funny enough, the focus is not really on Thora that much (though she is in most of the film).  [I believe I spotted her brother Bolt in a scene as well.  He was quite good though he had only a few lines.  Wikipedia mentions a brother named Kian?]

And now there is a cat meowing outside my window.

That really sums up this film.  Once again, Thora’s recently starred in a film for which the director (Ash Christian) has a dead link on Wikipedia.  I say dead link, but I mean stub.  This is actually a step up from Winter of Frozen Dreams (for which the director had no hypertext love whatsoever).  For a moment I thought this might be a pseudonym for Birch herself, but I see that Mr. Christian (why couldn’t it be sister Christian???) is an actual director from Paris, TX.  Wow.  That’s rich.

Well, Mr. Christian has done a formidable job with this picture.

Let’s talk characters, shall we?

Tobias Segal.  His is a performance which grows from tentative beginnings to a quiet crescendo of understated brilliance.

Christine Lahti.  Pretty darn fabulous turn…especially at the botox (?) joint and the bong scene.  [Real…tomato ketchup, Eddie?]

Brittany Snow.  This actress really steals the show.  I was thoroughly impressed with how she turned a somewhat small part into an emotional punch in the gut.

Michael Urie.  His character grew on me, but this Yaley is pretty hard to like.

David Rasche.  Excellent performance.  Almost like an extension of Norman-at-the-bus-stop in Ghost World, it’s as much what he doesn’t say as what he says.

Eddie Kaye Thomas.  Some pretty dry acting on the front end is made up for by a nice sprint down the homestretch.

Jimmy Heck.  Meh.

But you know:  there’s a bit of “meh” in Thora’s performance too.  As if her heart wasn’t really in this one.  She still looks as beautiful as ever and her acting chops are all there.  God damn it!  Someone give her a great role already!!!

But you know what?  The main thing is that these people are creating.  They are putting it out there.  Thora, Jimmy Heck, all of them.  Even when Thora is less than inspired, she still puts to shame the work of most every thespian working.