Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Literary Bleach

Starting to get reading again.  In the last few weeks I have finished a whole murder of horror collections, most of which I had started at some point in the past.
King's 'Nightmares and Dreamscapes' has its fair share of dodgy material, but with so many stories this is to be expected.  It's still entertaining and what I always take from King is his storytelling ability.  The stories are not always the greatest - just look at what too often ends up on the silver screen - but the telling is worth the journey.
Then I finished off Dennis Etchison's 'The Dark Country'.  A totally different kettle of fish.  Aiming more at the high-brow, his stories are resolutely downbeat.  After a point I got a little weary of the whole maliciousness of it all.  I put the book down over midway through some months back.  However, with less left to read I thought I'd try it again.  I am not sure what his problem is with organ transplants, and sometimes the ambiguity of the whole thing irritated me, but in the end he is definitely a voice worth hearing.  Not entirely my cup of tea, but fine in sips.
When I was young, Ray Bradbury, ripe prose and all, was someone I associated with the Twilight Zone style of story and as a result was one of my heroes.  Then I read some of 'Quicker than the Eye' in my later years and started to get a wee bit disillusioned.  Am I just maturing, getting older, or losing my childlike sense of wonder?  Whatever it is I read Bradbury's 'The October Country' a while back to give him another chance.  Not bad.  Some tales are nice and dark (the one about the husband and wife in Mexico, for instance.)  Still though it didn't blow me away and I started on 'The Illustrated Man' more for completeness sake than out of enthusiasm.  After a while I put it down.  Again in the last few days I thought I'd finish it off, and so I did.
I had read some of the stories in this collection before and okay, it is good.  But ultimately there's a superficiality to everything that kind of bores me.  The downbeat bleakness I took from other stories by Bradbury (such as 'The Small Assassin' or 'The Playground') is too tempered by an overdose of sentimentality here.  It's sad stuff, but paper thin too.
I suppose it's the likes of Etchison and particularly the next author I read that has raised my expectations a little.  Robert Aickman's apparently most 'accessible' collection, 'Cold Hand in Mine' is BIZARRE.  He is an excellent writer, but what on earth is he doing?  His description of his own stories as 'strange stories' is the most appropriate description anyone has ever made of their work.  Each one is full of unease, sexual tension and some sort of horror, but rarely is there any closure, and seldom any attempt at explanation.  'The Same Dog' is horrible, but what the hell just happened?!!  'Meeting Mr Millar' is full of the adult character you do not get in Bradbury, but again what is going on?  As to the masterpiece of the collection, 'The Hospice', I really do not know what it was all about, I just know it was nasty.  What was the cat bite about, not that it seemed to be a cat?  Was it a rest home for fans of the Seven Deadly Sins?  What was with the food, the lightbulb, the woman with the perfume, the changing Banner, the EVERYTHING?  Never before have I reached for my phone so many times to look up Aickman to find out what were his views on religion, women, Freud - who the hell was this guy.  He is bizarre, definitely not for everyone, but for those who can take the lack of solid answers, strangely addictive.  It says something that the one story that seems most straight-forward, 'Pages from a Young Girl's Diary', was for me the least interesting.  As a slow, slow reader I was surprised to find I had finished the book in just over two days.  Addictive.
Algernon Blackwood's 'John Silence' stories should be just the thing I like.  Silence is an investigator, or rather specialist, in the supernatural, something along the lines of Hodgson's Carnacki, and acting as a precursor to Kolchak and the X-Files.  However, the stories despite dealing with shape-shifters, mummies, possessions and devils are almost always too genteel to really get the blood racing.  After three or four stories again I had put the book down.  Anyhow there were only three stories left so I picked it up again last night.  'Secret Worship' deals with a coven of Satanists masquerading as monks running a posh, isolated school for toffs (not a million miles from Argento's 'Suspiria', for instance).  You can see immediately how influential it has been as a theme, and Blackwood's John Silence is always at the centre of truly mythic themes.  The story starts well following a former pupil's mysterious compulsion to visit his old school and it builds well too.  You can practically see poor old Christopher Lee, may he rest in peace, as Kalkmann the monk who opens the door and makes the visitor so welcome.  The tension builds.  Even the appearance of the devil is original enough to keep things on a good footing.  However, the entrance of John Silence (previously largely missing from the tale) is something of a damp squib.  He is literally compared to Jesus, and the best sort of English man, while the German monks are equated with evil.  Blackwood slyly amplifies this ludicrous dichotomy with an alignment of merchants and silk-selling with the forces of Goodness.  Capitalism is a very Good thing apparently!  Anyhow I will finish the thing, but Blackwood, for all that he wrote 'The Willows' and 'The Wendigo' is still an awfully silly, not to mention too laid-back, a writer.
Anyhow I am finally starting to clear the reader's block.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reader's Block

Got two books on the go, Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers' and Andrew Matt's 'A History of the World'. Also really want to get back to Arthur Schlesinger's Diaries if I can find the time. I want to read!

Friday, February 08, 2013


Apparently telling the story of the making of Hitchcock's seminal 'Psycho', 'Hitchcock' misses almost every target it aims at.  Its high class cast of Hopkins, Mirren, Johanssen, Huston, etc. at best are competent, at worst distracting.  Danny Huston is particularly awkward, but Hopkins, in the huge role of Alfred Hitchcock, is never anything other than Anthony Hopkins; you never see Hitchcock on the screen.  The direction is bland, the editing amateurish, and for a movie about a movie characterised by one of the most memorable scores in film history, the jaunty bubblegum of this film's soundtrack is never anything less than a let down.  And then there's the script....  Can I count the ways...?

  • The basic adultery plot is insultingly slender;
  • The 'challenges' faced by Hitchcok in making his movie are less than impressive;
  • The Ed Gein conceit simply doesn't work;
  • The tone is completely misjudged;
  • There is no insight into either Hitchcock or the making of 'Psycho'.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock and his obsessions would already be far ahead of this screenplay's 'insights'.
A wasted opportunity.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Words

'The Words' tells of the ultimate sin: Plagiarism!   After suffering rejection for so long, can a budding writer resist a masterpiece that just lands in his lap, just because it isn't his?
The film boasts a strong cast - Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Dennis Quaid - a Glass-style score (by Marcelo Zarvos), nice production values and a convoluted story within a story framing device.  It positively reeks of artistic intent.  However, look beneath the surface, and things are a little less convincing.
For a start, the high-powered cast doesn't always deliver; there's some ham from Irons, blandness from Cooper, and a strange campness from Quaid.  Mitigating things somewhat are good performances from Saldana, Wilde and Ben Barnes.  The score is pleasant, but forgettable, trying as it does to sound like 'The Hours'.  The real test though is the script itself, the real words.
Its tricksy framed narrative, with its sly questioning of what's real and what's fiction, strives to fool the viewer into believing this is a profound piece of cinema. It handles its story within a story structure well, but its a measure of how well-worn this approach has become that there is no risk of any audience member being challenged.  And that reflects the film in its entirety.    This is not a profound film; it just thinks it is.  Ultimately it's a simple, sentimental tale told with purple prose..
Whatever its pretensions, there is a sincerity in its willingness to tackle guilt and its effects on people.  It just doesn't have too much more to add to what other better films (such as 'Crimes and Misdemeanors') have already taught us.  Its one good insight is to stress how words can complicate, confuse and ultimately spoil the good things in life.  The young soldier and his French love are never more happy than when they share only one word in common.  It's a trite and simple lesson, but one that nevertheless resonates.  However, do we really need three(?) writers, several fictional books and a title to drive the point home?
In a way, yes, we do. You see 'The Words' is pretentious, and yes, there are many flaws, but for all that I still kept watching.  The writerly aspects (rejections, doubt, exhilaration) rang true for me.  In terms of its narrative structure, it really couldn't but take the approach it does.  They are cheap tricks that it uses, but they are bookish tricks. And then I am a softie at heart (I'd just wiped up my tears after having watched 'Up' again beforehand), so sentiment is not the kiss of death it might be for others.  For all my harsh words then, I can't just dismiss this one.  Simple, sentimental, defiantly middle-brow, it is still a guilty pleasure.  If you see it in a bargain bin, pick it up.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blogging Dilemmas

I haven't been writing much in recent months.  It has been suggested that the confessorial, or should I say pseudo-confessorial, approach that I often adopt is not appropriate and can convey an inaccurate (and not necessarily flattering) impression of me as a person.  Though this hasn't been the reason for my not writing, it does give me pause for thought in considering taking up the keyboard once more.  I never really cared about flattering myself, but there can be real-life repercussions.  To what extent is the persona portrayed in a blog accepted as an accurate reflection of the blogger as a person?  Can it not be regarded as in a sense a type of performance art?  Can the stand-up comedian make the most outrageous statements safe in the protective halo of the stage while the blogger must consider family, friends, and - most importantly - employers? How does one know when one is performing or laying one's soul bare?  Shouldn't that be clear from the writing?  But what if that writing is unclear or just plain bad; what is the price of freedom of expression then?
The debate about  identities in cyberspace, and to what extent we can use them to be something we are not in 'the real world', is rightfully gathering pace.  There are a raft of issues, not least those concerning defamation, copyright and just plain courtesy, that need to be considered whenever we blog, tweet or otherwise use the web to publish our writing.  (How many Facebook users have casually used a status update to devastate a 'friend'?)  But can we limit ourselves too much?  From my own personal perspective, are my blog posts, particularly my more 'personal' entries, taken as intended, that is exaggerated for hopefully humorous effect, or are they instead seen as condemnation of myself from my own mouth, a portrayal of an unpleasant individual inadvertently revealing his dark underbelly?  Are my posts intolerant, misogynistic, and excessively concerned with alcohol, or are these elements, if present, merely the trappings of observational humour as observed by my slightly manic doppelganger?  Is there ever an excuse for their presence in a blog, humorous or otherwise?  If anyone cares to respond I'd be interested to hear your view.  Personally I love to go over the top for comic effect, but apparently that doesn't always come across to the reader.  Any views?  Am I successful or not?  Can readers tell when I am serious or when I play?  Or am I simply a bad writer incapable of conveying the right tone?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

State of the Company

When a government puts the rights, well-being and prosperity of the individual (not the generic 'people' they are so happy to crow about) below the finances of the state, the country becomes just another company.  I'm not naive enough to think states have not been in this role for a long time, but I get the feeling they'll become 'companies' in name too very soon.  We won't even have the idea of state to cling to.

Trial by Trocadero

I was at a family dinner last Saturday.  Food was only okay, and it took practically an hour after starters for the main course to arrive, but the coup de grace I only became aware of later.  My brother ordered some fish.  Kindly the kitchen had put an extra maggot on the side of his plate.  To be fair, it was trying to wriggle off, but it really spoils my impression of the place.  Very, very disappointing.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921 eBook

I recently had a hand in creating the 'Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921' ebook, a collection of correspondence by the participants in the Treaty negotiations that ultimately led to Ireland's civil war.  Reading it I was bowled over by the size of the task the negotiators had (the British threw everything at them), the personalities involved and the tragedy of the whole enterprise.  The characters who really jump off the page for me are Griffith, Childers and Lloyd George.
It is clear Lloyd George and Griffith have tremendous respect for each other, but it's also clear that that is something that might compromise negotiations.  Griffith was certainly aware of this danger, but whether it ultimately did have this effect is difficult to say.  Lloyd George had a difficult game to play with his compatriots one way or the other.
Erskine Childers constantly amazes me.  His detailed memos on defence treaties and the ramifications of failing to properly provide for Ireland's security are detailed to the point of mesmerism.  How he could bring all of this together given the limited communications at his disposal is a miracle.  His keen acumen is clear and his vision of the future far-sighted (understandably though, coming just after the First World War, the only possible superpower he can see threatening the stability of Europe is America).   In contrast, his final account of the cabinet meeting that debated the finished treaty is necessarily ambiguous (they are just blunt jottings) and heart-breaking.
As to De Valera, I don't need to say anything, nor do I want to.  The debates will go on regardless of my own views.  His skills and commitment are clear, but so too are his failings.  As they say, he condemns himself out of his own mouth.
Anyhow don't take my word for it.  You can download the ebook as an epub or mobi file (or even a PDF) for free:


Joyce Carol Oates

I had the good fortune to attend a reading and Q&A by the respected American author last week.  She proved to be refreshingly straight-forward in her discussion of her work and the influences that drive her.  I was a little surprised though at the basic level of analysis.  I am no perceptive critic when it comes to weighty literature, but some things appear obvious.  One was  the similarity between the heroine of her latest novel and Oates herself as documented in her recent account of widowhood.  Jerusha McCormack nodded sagely beside me as Oates appeared to spontaneously note this resemblance, but anyone with ears to listen could not have failed to see it far earlier in the discussion.

One incident did distress me a little.  A fan in the audience asked a 'question' that ran on for several minutes. Everyone, myself included, began to sigh as the never-ending 'question' rolled on and on.  The questioner was obviously a little star-struck in the presence of her idol, but she couldn't fail to feel deflated when Oates prefaced her answer (one she had to interrupt to give, it must be said) with the remark that she'd hate to have to have the question repeated.  Humorous though this might be, the effect of the put-down could only have been exacerbated by the round of applause the remark got.  Much as she initially annoyed me, I felt for the fan.

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The John Ford Symposium

Someone did a fine job in organising a wonderful discussion of the work of John Ford.  Going on over four days, I ended up attending a directors' panel (Jim Sheridan, Thaddeus O'Sullivan, Brian Kirk,and John Boorman), a writers' panel (Patrick McCabe, Eoghan Harris, Colin Bateman, and Ian Power), a composers' panel (David Holmes, Kyle Eastwood, and Christopher Caliendo) and - highlight of the symposium - an interview with Peter Bogdanovich.

The Directors' Panel, contrary to what you might expect, was dominated by Brian Kirk ('Game of Thrones', 'Middletown') and Thaddeus O'Sullivan ('Nothing Personal', 'Veronica Guerin').  Kirk showed a real passion for Ford and backed up his arguments with solid observations on the director's work.  O'Sullivan complemented this with some astute film school type analyses of scenes and styles (he gave a lucid commentary on a scene from 'My Darling Clementine').  Chairing the discussion was critic and novelist, Kim Newman, but good though he was, he couldn't rouse Boorman to do more than recount one or two amiable stories about Ford (predictably concerning his drinking habits).  If Boorman proved difficult, reigning in the obnoxiously rambling Sheridan was impossible.  Not only did Sheridan confess to only a cursory knowledge of Ford's oeuvre (why was he there then?), he constantly droned on and on, often losing the train of his thought and evidently taking his audience for some crowd of imbeciles ("I just turn up on set and the camera just appears in some place.  I don't know how films get made.").

The Writers' Panel, though it featured some astute comments from Bateman (less so from tyro Power), was largely a battle of wills between McCabe and Harris.  Harris proclaimed his love of rhetoric; a speech by Fonda's Lincoln in 'Young Mr Lincoln', dealing with ideals and lofty notions of right and wrong, was his quintessence of drama.  McCabe objected; this was cornball stuff and didn't take account of the complexities drama should really respect.  Black and white is appealing, but it hides a multitude of sins.  While I get misty eyed with the worst of them when confronted with an aspirational speech, I can tell you I was firmly in the McCabe camp.  What we all wanted was a Celebrity Death Match between the two, or failing that just a no holds bared debate.

The Composers' Panel was dominated by host, Dave Fanning, and guest David Holmes, for all the wrong reasons.  Eastwood (who has written a lot of music for his father's films) seemed to have little to say, Caliendo a lot more; one way or the other neither could get a proper word in between Fanning's phone going off ('My son wants me to get him tickets for Jay-Z for tonight.') and Holmes' monopoly of the event.  Obviously Holmes, a self-taught DJ and composer, has a story to tell, but narrative is not his strong point and he rivalled Sheridan in his rambling.  Worse, he showed little respect for his fellow guests or the audience.  At one point he stood up and walked out to go to the toilet.  Fair enough, but as if this attention seeking was enough, he got up again close to the end claiming he had to run for a train.  When the event did end and we left the auditorium, he was standing outside chatting away.

The highlight of the whole event was the interview with Peter Bogdanovich.  Anyone who has read 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' cannot consider Bogdanovich without a little distaste.  Like Coppola and many others, fame went to his head in unpleasant ways.  He curried favour with many of the greats in what strikes me as a queasy way (Welles staying over, hobnobbing with Ford).  He's kind of like the slick teacher's pet everyone loves to hate.  Then there was his peculiar later life (something tactless interviewer Paul Byrne seemed determined to bring up).  However, now in his seventies, he has become absorbed into that very pantheon of classic directors he once paid excessive obeisance to.  So when he compared himself to Welles with Tarantino in what had been his role ("I stay over with Quentin"), I think the audience forgave him.  Certainly his string of on the money impressions of old stars like Cagney and Stewart won me over in the end.

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American Gods

I finally got around to reading Neil Gaiman's tale of ancient gods squabbling in modern America.  It is a big book filled with nice characterisations and some stand out scenes, but it never seems to become anything more than the sum of its parts.  Well written though it may be, the climax is weak, the premise equally so.  The ostensible villains of the piece, a collection of new 'gods', hardly warrant the name and often you get the feeling that this just wasn't thought out well enough.  A subplot concerning an ideal American town with a dark secret, is grafted on with only a modicum of relevance to the main plot.  It's almost like Gaiman wanted to fit so much into his great American novel, that he felt obliged to include a pseudo-detective story as well.  It's all very entertaining (and I believe there's a television adaptation in the works), but not nearly as important as it thinks it is.  Much more engrossing are the extracts from Gaiman's website dealing with the process of turning his manuscript into a best-selling book.

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I had one of the finest rib-eye steaks in a long while at a small, unimpressive restaurant just off the main avenue.  Later we went to Toledo and were suitably impressed (what a cathedral!), though the El Greco Museum was closed.

All in all a fine week's travelling.



I had a wonderful trip to Lisbon (thanks Kellie).  Coupled with trips to Sintra (a beautiful royal getaway) and Estoril (nice beach), I had the pleasure of being doused in pigeon dropping while riding in an open top bus.  Cronenberg's 'Cosmopolis' was having a premier there and though I didn't get to it, I believe I saw Cronenberg stride down the red carpet as I watched from my bus.
I also got to wrestle a 'Russian spy' at a firework lit celebration on the main square too (kicking off the June festival).  While sitting outside a restaurant, waiting for a fish meal, street performers struck up a clown car race right beside us.  I went to take some pictures when suddenly man covered in a fur rug was thrust at me and I was ordered to keep the Russian spy captive.  That meant being wrestled to the ground at which point I felt my duty had been performed and I let him go.

Really not wanting to go home when it came time to leave, we changed our plans and went instead to...

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Peaks, Valleys, and the Hillsides Between

The last few weeks have had a few cultural high points, or at least points of interest, from my perspective.  The next four or five posts reflect those.