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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What's Wrong with this Picture?

One of the highlights on my world travels was my visit to Cambodia. It is a special country full of beautiful, generous people still suffering under the shadow of the Khmer Rouge. Today I noted that charges have finally been filed against a former prison chief, the head of the notorious S21 prison camp. Welcome though this might be (28 years later!!!!!), the truth is that the most senior members of that regime still living will never be brought to book, principally because they are among the rulers who currently write the book. If you do not believe me, take a look at this blog a friend of mine sent me, detailing some truly terrible atrocities in Cambodia right now, officially sanctioned atrocities:

And also the Bridges Across Borders website.

Apparently some evictions have occurred to make way for the new Australian Embassy! None of the media I am familiar with have been making much of this news. Is it right? Is it very far removed from Pol Pot's tactics? Just because millions are not physically dying this time doesn't mean it can be ignored. I would encourage anyone reading this to take a look.

Sad Day for Cinema

Sad (and a little strange) to see Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, two giants of the cinema, die on the same day. I must confess to being more a Bergman man than an Antonioni fan, though I did like 'Blowup'. I won't say anything on either as people far more qualified than myself are doing that job, but I'll miss them both. There is a need now more than ever for their kind of vision.

O'Leary vs. The Tate - Round 1

Dawdling to read some Carnacki (William Hope Hodgson's Holmes-esque detective of the supernatural), and then suffering some disruption of the District tube line, I didn't get to the Tate Modern until after 7. My main aim was to see the huge 'Salvador Dali and Film' currently on. Another exhibition of works by the Brazilian artist, Helio Oiticica, also caught my attention. The ticket girl suggested that I would need at least three hours for each, and, feeling some hunger pangs starting, I decided to leave this side of my quest until Sunday. Instead I'd browse the free part of the gallery.

As it happened there was a show, 'Surrealism and Beyond', on the floor below the Dali, presumably to complement that exhibition. This was huge. Full of a wide range of artists, from Magritte to Miros, Leonora Carrington to Francis Bacon, it was far more eclectic than its title suggested. Wonderful though. One thing in particular that sticks in my mind was a film, 'Meshes of the Afternoon' (1943), by the Ukrainian born dancer and artist, Maya Deren. Apparently a big influence on David Lynch among others, this was obviously Deren's attempt to out Un-Chien-Andalou Dali's 'Un Chien Andalou'. Naturally it had its pretentious side, but it was also full of striking images, not least of which was Deren herself, who looked like a bizarre Ukrainian mix of Ava Gardner and Sandra Bernhard. Quite apart from the artist though, elements like the shrouded figure with a mirror for a face and the very effectively realised multiplication of Deren's character made me smile. There were elements here of Cocteau, and the repetition of events reminded me of Resnais's 'Last Year in Marienbad' (a severely over-rated movie). Pretentious or not, when I contrasted this movie with the awesome double bill of 'Wavelength' and 'Zorn's Lemma' of a few weeks back, I know which screening I would see again.

Little Hermit SphinxOther works like Leonor Fini's 'Little Hermit Sphinx', a later revision of 'Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifix' by Francis Bacon and a bizarre animation, 'The Last Clown' also stick in my mind.

I left this show and went up two floors to more of the standard collection. Here Len Lye's 'A Colour Box', made for the British Postal Service to advertise stamps, was playing. Great stuff! Onward to realist pieces by Dod Proctor, Meredith Frampton and Balthus, and more and more. And sculptures by Arp ('Fish'), Giacometti, Rodin, and more and more. Again I put my headphones in my ears and listened to John Cage's 'In a Landscape' while Douglas Gordon's '10 ms- 1' played. This is a video piece taken from some found footage of a First World War soldier trying to stand in a military hospital. Although he looks healthy, his mysterious ailment causes him to fall to the ground and despite repeated efforts, he doesn't get back up. The music seemed to be made for the piece, and crashed appropriately as his head hit the floor. It even ended almost in tandem with the video. Earlier Part's 'Fur Alina' and 'Variationen zur Gesundung van Arinuschka' served just as appropriate a purpose in a room full of Mark Rothko works. At the door to this room was a recording by the band The Real Tuesday Weld commissioned by the gallery to complement the room. Strangely their music wasn't a million miles away from the minimalist stuff I had been playing, though Part and then Cage were better.

It was close to 10 by the time I finally decided to go for dinner.

Dinner was a souvlaki bar on the South Bank. The prices looked reasonable, but as you buy plates much in the manner of tapas, it all mounted up. The lamb in the lamb souvlaki was a bit too chewy for my tastes, but with hummous, olives, flatbread and beer I was happy enough.

South Bank by NightSouth Bank by Night

I left the restaurant to find that the rain had started. It got heavier too. Luckily I had my mini umbrella. I walked in a leisurely away, digressing to stare off piers, and take an occasional photo. On one stretch of sand a birthday party went on ignoring the rain and lighting fires. An occasional rat scurried into nearby bushes. The lights of the city shone across the river etching a dark barge in black relief. I enjoyed my walk to the Embankment tube station.

(Just saw a quotation on Arvo Part by Steve Reich:
"Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting. [...] I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man. [...] He's completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he's enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion." Says it all really.)

South Bank PartySouth Bank Party

Labels: , ,

Impressions by the Seaside

Royal Academy of Art
Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition

Before the Tate Modern, I got distracted by the Royal Academy of Art. Very close to Piccadilly, the Academy was hosting its annual Summer Exhibition of new work, a lot of it available to buy. This brought in the crowds and the place was packed. The art, as you would expect, was variable. It takes a very good portrait to interest me, and landscapes had better be damn excellent. Abstract and other less representational generally fare better with me, but overall I saw enough to please me.

I wandered into some free rooms of work by early Academy members, but with the exception of an interesting 'Thor slaying the Serpent of Midgard' by Fuseli and a slugger Samson by Rigaud, nothing really struck me as really interesting. Even the only statue by Michaelangelo in Britain, a Virgin and Child, hardly seemed worth the display. Happily the other exhibition running was 'Impressionists by the Seaside', a collection of works by the likes of Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Whistler, and even Gauguin highlighting the coastline of North France. It attempted to cover some of the precursors of Impressionism as well, hence Courbet, Whistler, etc., but the pictures that really struck me were those of Manet, and some sunsets by some lesser figures.

Before I came to England I had gotten a collection of minimalist piano music and, in an experiment, I put some on my player now. It suited the Manet very well, particularly some Variations by Part. Courbet too had some beautiful works on show, and I am really getting to like Whistler. In contrast, I know now that I do not like Renoir's rosy cheeked kids etc.. There's an element of sentimentality there that makes me queasy. Anyhow a very likeable show.

I wandered London for much of the afternoon, before returning to my room to change for dinner and the Tate Modern.


Living In a Box

First though I had to get checked into my new (cheaper) hotel. It was a 'bargain' on, a 'secret hotel', supposedly four star, in Kensington, and reasonably priced. Certainly Rydges on Gloucester Road was a stone's throw from the Gloucester Road tube station and so very convenient. Downstairs, though small, was reasonably appointed. So far, so good. The room though, 109, was a disappointment. After the space of my hotel room on Regent's Street, this was tiny, less a room than a corridor. Certainly outside of the space for the bed and wardrobe, the room was scarcely much wider than my suitcase. There was a lovely high roof, but being higher than the room was long, it only served to highlight the deficiencies of the whole arrangement. The furniture was nice though and, despite a slight shabbiness (scratches and small tears in the wallpaper), the room very clean. Still next time, I swore, I'd go back to that guesthouse in Balham, the one I stayed in some weeks back. Later when I discovered how thin the walls were, and how loud voiced my neighbours were, my resolve was strengthened.

Reasons To Be Happy

While I was on my travels, the university bought a content management system. Like all content management systems it promised to make publishing web pages easy for a lot of people in a large and growing organisation. If the users can publish their own content in templates maintained by the experts, with access rights set by the administrators, with content available for repeated use, things should become more efficient. They are particularly good, so they say, at dealing with content of a similar structure, and content managment systems, the received wisdom goes, are the natural next step for large websites. As usual received wisdom generally serves the market. Content management systems, while not exactly the Emperor's new clothes, are probably his shoes. And they walk all over me.

On the plus side, all that money spent on a complicating engine, did also cover a training trip to London for myself and other relevant parties. In all sincerity this training was essential. Mangling the beautiful simplicity of the web to fit it into an awkward, ambling mechanical creature, requires instructing the monster's keeper in its maintenance, upkeep and cultivation. The training course was full and intensive. The longer it went on the more afraid of the creature I became, but I was chained to it now. I had to make a truce. I had to swallow my apprehension and just accept my new station in life. With the system not yet installed, I still fear the day when it breaks its chains and runs rampant over the countryside. On this occasion I can't even proclaim in misery, 'I have created a monster!' I am just its keeper. Doctor Frankenstein has left the building.

But to return to the plus side; London! I love that city more and more the more often I go there. I have already indicated some of the events of the week; meeting Will, chatting with Sian, dining with Seb. Staying at the top of Regent's Street, Chinatown, Soho, Piccadilly, Charing Cross Road (and the bookshops!), the Westend, and even the South Bank were all easily within walking distance. The food was good and the drink filling. I tend to sup on ale when I go to England, though the English preference for warm beer mystifies me. Anyhow with the possible exception of the night I met Will (how else did I knock over that chair in the Gourmet Burger Kitchen), I kept the alcohol under control. By the way that pesto burger was lovely and the blue cheese sauce with the chips was delicious.

Anyhow the training ended on the Friday and I was to stay until Sunday evening. There was only one thing to do. The Tate!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wedding Bells and Belles

The wedding of Justin and Donna was in a small town in Wicklow (Clash) and almost everyone in my department was going. We all had rooms booked in local guesthouses and many were staying down to celebrate on the following day too.

The wedding ceremony was beautiful, as was the bride. As befitted a wedding day couple they looked totally and completely in love, and knowing the couple, long will that continue. My hearthiest congratulations to them both!

We had been told that the reception would be in a barn, the toilets would be portaloos and the entertainment would be provided by an Elvis impersonator. How can such a description be so true and yet so false at the same time. The 'barn' was beautifully decorated and lit, with a stage for the Elvis impersonator, a wood dancefloor and a good old disco ball for highlights. The food was served in a marquee outside and the food was excellent (the lamb was barbequed there and then) and plentiful. Even the portaloos were the poshest 'portaloos' I have ever seen with carpets and gleaming taps. The Elvis impersonator had won awards in Las Vegas (where else?) and was excellent. All in all the setup was brilliant.

There were one or two potentially disastrous moments. Jules accidentally set fire to his napkin which in a venue largely floored with wood chipping could have been a wee bit troublesome. The wood chips were fire proof. Killian had a wee bit too much to drink (as did his brother), but Jules was there to keep him (and his brother) under control. The coaches back to the guesthouses were a little slow in arriving and departing, but then that gave us more time to wind up the night. And then of course, there was little blonde Niamh. Rarely has a black dress and black combat boots been used to such devastating effect. And she actually sought me out! Niamh, an architect, party animal and a friend of the gang from way back, had done some travelling herself, but she had much to tell me on the subject of Columbia, where she had spent a year studying. She loved it. She wanted to go back. From what she told me it was the most dangerous place on Earth! She herself had narrowly missed being accidentally shot, throwing herself into bushes out of harm's way. A friend of her's had been attacked in a taxi by a marauder in the boot, presumably for his organs. He escaped by throwing himself out the door. And the stories kept coming. Fine by me. I was interested in them, and I was interested in the teller. Sadly I discovered that her surfing dude boyfriend was asleep in a nearby camper van. What an idiot! (Him and me both.)

Eventually Francisco and I made it back to our guest house at 5.40 a.m. The minibus ride home involved Jules swirling a pint glass of wine and narrowly missing my suit (Francisco wasn't so lucky), and an out-there Killian who stopped the bus to puke, but refused to because we 'were all looking at him'. Those two went back to another venue to drink some more all in preparation for the Sunday of drinking ahead of them. I was a little thankful I had to go back that day in preparation for London. I was sad as well though. Justin and Donna had made it a special weekend.

Will Someone Else Take the Minutes?

The next day was one of hangover meetings, something I know some of you out there are familiar with. Not pleasant. I stayed off alcohol for all of that day (!!!!!!!!!!!!).

Not so the next. Friday being the last day I'd see Barry at work, we went to the Slipper, the local bar, for more farewell alcohol. To be honest this was a relatively early night, ending at 10.30. It was still unwise though as the next day was a work mate of mine, Justin's wedding in Wicklow. I repaired what damage I could with a snackbox from the Borza (What! No drumsticks!) and pushed home.

Of Anthropologists, Hairdressers and Lesbians

Barry, the guy who replaced me while I went about my travels, left last Thursday. I was on training in London, so the week before we, the Web Group, decided on the spur of the moment (lunchtime) to head out for a meal and drinks. Barry suggested a tapas bar called Havana on Georges Street. I had meetings arranged for the afternoon, but we agreed to meet at 5 and taxi into town.

Too early for tapas, we went to Hogan's for a drink, then another, and finally another. It was tapas time.

Now let us throw back time a little to the days when the sun shone and I still studied in University College Dublin. I was finishing my thesis for my Film Studies Masters and having BLTs, double choc muffins and coffee for lunch bought in the conveniently located Dunkin Donuts (right under the library). And I wasn't alone in such gastronomic indulgence. At that age most students are happy to binge on such gloop, but it was my pleasure to share my lunches with another thesis writer, an anthropologist named Deirdre. Very sharp, snazzy and glamorous (she wrote articles for 'Ireland's Eye'!), I must confess to having a postgraduate crush on the girl. Sadly she fled to Mexico, then fled back, married an Italian (somewhat akin to surfboarding dudes in the female mind) and settled down in Rome. What can you do? Life certainly looks paler when compared to that of Deirdre.

Anyhow back to the grey days of the present; that's fourteen years later, folks. As I stuck into the sangria, anchovies and olives, I happened to glance at the table beside me and yes, after fourteen years, there indeed was Deirdre, Italian husband in tow and not much different to way back then. She stared a second - apparently the hair, the fact that, unlike so many others, I still have some, confused her - then we caught up to speed. A son and another child on the way, she has just moved back to Dublin. Still the same old Deirdre though, fascinated by Mexico and profligate with her sophisticated pauses. Good to see her again.

Many mojitos and caipiranhias later, the Web Group made its way to another bar. There we met someone the whole group knew, but who shall remain nameless as she was on a collective blind date (five girls meeting five boys). Actually I quite liked one of the other women on this noble enterprise, but we moved on again.

After an abortive attempt to lasso some Spanish girls into our group, I ended up talking to a red-headed hairdresser by the name of Wendy. Wendy had had an exam that afternoon and was now in the company of her colleagues and examiners (two or three smarmy grey-haired gits). She wanted me to tell her examiner how good she was and why she deserved top marks. Given that I barely knew the girl, and, more to the point, it was a daft idea, I eventually persuaded her that she was talented enough as she was and needed no help from me. My powers of persuasion did not succeed in getting a phone number though.

On to another bar, or club rather. Despite switching from gin and tonics to rock shandies, I was undeterred in my pursuit of the female of the species and tried some unwise dance moves in the vicinity of a tall blonde. No luck. I next tried a lovely, long black-haired girl (you know, with the straight fringe; notice the effect of the hairdressers). No luck. I went to the toilet. When I came back I found that the blonde and the black-haired girl had found each other and were snogging on the sofa. Later, and still undeterred, I tackled the black-haired girl again and, it has to be said, she was not unresponsive. Unfortunately the blonde appeared proclaiming a party in her house. I was not invited. Knowing when the battle has turned, I made my retreat.

Promises, Promises

Okay I have promised to provide updates on a lot of recent happenings, so here goes....

Saturday, July 28, 2007

London Rain

Big day for museums and galleries. Earlier in the day I went to an exhibition of Impressionists and later the Tate Modern. Walked along the river in the rain after a Greek meal. Avoided the rats and made my last tube easily. I'll write about it more fully later.

London Ongoing

Met up with Sian last night. Lots of tapas, margaritas and chat. Good to see you so happy, girl. Long may it continue.

Walked home via Fleet Street, tempted by a pint in the Cheshire Cheese, but passed with a toilet stop. Then bought a rake of books in a bargain book shop (the Complete Katherine Mansfield!!!!!! And Carnacki the Psychic Detective!!!!!!!!!). Packed my bag and discovered it was another monster.

Food and drink with Seb tonight. Good stuff. Good ale.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where There's a Will....

View from my hotel window
View from my hotel window

Right in the middle of training on a new content management system. Talk about trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer! Anyhow London is fine. Lovely hotel right at the end of Regent's Street, so central to everything.

Tuesday morning I was looking for breakfast with Seb, one of my colleagues also over here. He went for a pastry somewhere, I needed a fry, so I ended up in a small cafe near Piccadilly. As I read my manual and ate my bacon, a tall guy beside me taps me on the shoulder. My cousin, Will! I knew he worked in the area and I had contacted him about meeting up, but this was weird.

Later after the course I was to meet up with him for a drink etc.. As I walked down Regent's Street, I noticed I had some missed calls. I took up my phone to ring him, happened to look across the road and there directly opposite was Will going in the opposite direction. Crazy!

We had a good pint in The Toucan, met up with Seb and had a gourmet burger in a nearby restaurant. A pesto burger! Then back to The Toucan for another pint or two. All in all a good night.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wedding Weekends and Workday Trips

Back today from Justin and Donnas' wedding in Wicklow. Still tired (5.40 getting back to the guesthouse this morning), but it was a fabulous day. Who'd have thought you could have so much fun in a barn? Though why cute blonde architects have to have surfer dude boyfriends is beyond me! Won't a plump web cinemaniac do? Anyhow such universe-bending questions aside, I wish the happy couple the very best in all that life brings their way.

Justin...without Donna
Justin...without Donna

No doubt I'll have cause to document the event more closely in future days, as indeed I will document the heavy tapas night last Wednesday (great to see you, Deirdre!), or the last Guinness and snackbox Friday. Everything is becoming a drink-sodden blur. However, this coming week shall be different, if only because any being a drink sod will have to occur in London. Yes, I get to travel once more, however briefly. Yet again I will arise at 6 to fly to the British capital, rain soaked though it might be. I will brave the floods for the sake of five days of software training then a nice weekend of visiting the Tate Modern etc.. Look out!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blood and Whiskey

I read three of Raymond Chandler's 'short' stories over the weekend. They are more properly novellas being between 50 and 70 pages each. He is a different bird to Hammett, though they inhabit the same cage. The emphasis to my mind is on the malleability of story. Solutions to the various crimes - murder, kidnapping, blackmail - are offered throughout the tales by many different characters, each account plausible until skewered by a new development. Indeed the first tale I read, 'Blackmailers Don't Shoot', cannot be said to have a definitive solution. This ambiguity of narrative is pure genius. However, sometimes ambiguity covers up the author's own confusion and when during the filming of Chandler's 'The Big Sleep', he was asked about the death of one of the characters (was it murder or suicide?), he himself could never give a satisfactory account.

By the way, Marlowe only turned up in the third tale, 'Finger Man', after two pretty strong predecessors, Mallory and Dalmas (each dealing with blackmail in Hollywood and linked to studio, Eclipse Films), dealt out the lead. And just how much whiskey can a detective drink and still detect? I thought Hammett's Ray and Nora Charles could drink, but Marlowe practically breathes the stuff!

The Chandler stories are in a volume of his collected stories, so it is a bit bulky to carry around. For that reason, I also started reading Cormac McCarthy's 'No Country for Old Men', also knowing that the Coen Brothers' screen adaptation is imminent. It is a while since I read 'Blood Meridian', or 'All the Pretty Horses', and I kind of wondered whether this would be the gentle (slightly uninteresting) style of 'Horses' or the amoral, cataclysmic violence of 'Meridian'. Within ten pages I had my answer. I was reeling from shock. This could be powerful (stomach churning) stuff if the Coen Brothers do it right. Anyhow Chandler's copious fights and gunplay seemed like Agatha Christie when I went back to him, though none the worst for that. I look forward to reading both books.

Labels: , ,

The Joke Is on Us

I am not sure what the hell is going on with Dublin City Council. In the last week or so posters have gone up around the city reminding us that 'Water is precious, let's conserve it', and 'Don't waste drinking water on your lawn'. In the last few days all I have thought about my lawn is whether to swim across it or not. June past must be one of the wettest on record, and even by now July must be something similar. There hasn't been one day without rain (not even today, though there was sunshine), and some of it has been TORRENTIAL! Certainly I saw nothing like it anywhere in the world. If this is an example of Irish wit on the part of the Council, I'd prefer if they didn't spend our taxes on such humour. The joke is very definitely on us all.
Water is precious let's conserve it!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Nigel Place had a free gig in a small venue called The Sundance Cafe last Saturday. I say small and I mean it, but full of friends and family all the same. I think this had its effect on him as he was at his most relaxed and gave a really enjoyable performance. He's been getting a lot of radio time lately and apparently will be on Tubridy's radio show next month, so listen out.

If You Kill A Bear, You Die

The family were watching a movie about a killer bear on Sky One. I say, you kill a bear, you die. This masterpiece of suspense, 'Grizzly Rage', I will not even begin to review, principally because I'd never watch such tripe, and didn't. Having said that there was a time, my formative years, when killer grizzlies, 'snowbeasts', giant crocs, invading swarms of bees, army ants, imported tarantulas, etc. were grist to the growing mind's mill. Yes, the early 80s. As I recall there was indeed a grizzly movie then called 'Grizzly'. I thought Dan Heggarty, of 'Grizzly Adams' fame was in it, but that just would have been too much. No, he was in a killer bee movie called 'Terror Out of the Sky' (1978) (TV), aka 'The Revenge of the Savage Bees' (USA). And then there was 'Snowbeast', a yeti-style killer at a ski resort, that is, a guy in a white fur suit. Then the tarantulas that came in with the bananas; 'Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo'. Then Lee Majors in 'Killer Fish'. Much better was another John Sayles' scripted flick, 'Alligator', using that old chestnut about the alligator being washed down the toilet into the New York sewers. Sayles being Sayles, illegally dumped test poodles from the local pharmaceutical firm caused the alligator to grow, erupt from the pavement (in a wonderfully modeled scene of cheap special effects; wow!), gatecrash the nasty capitalist's garden party and gobble all his rich friends. Sayles, you are a master! Sincerely, that movie was great.

Yes, it wasn't all mush. Some very talented directors and writers got their chance with these movies. Witness the John Sayles' scripted, Joe Dante directed 'Piranha', and marvel at a young James Cameron who did the sequel! (Sayles and Dante also did 'The Howling' before Dante hit it big with 'Gremlins' and Sayles went all serious with 'Lianna', 'Baby It's You', etc.. He later made the excellent 'Matewan' and '8 Men Out'). And of course some very big names made fools of themselves: Frankenheimer did the unholy 'Prophecy' (the environmental monster movie, not the later Christopher Walken vehicle), while Michael Caine, Henry Fonda and many other stars suffered 'The Swarm'. Yes, the threat from nature horror movie fell into two camps, the brilliant and the banal.

Tarantino may currently be celebrating the earlier, sleazier and more violent grindhouse flicks (in his forthcoming collaboration movie, 'Grindhouse'), but those cheap, tv-budget, threat of the week, Jaws rip-offs had a definite, if detrimental, effect on me. And as I think back, the hits just keep on coming, perhaps none more insane than Russell Mulcahy's looney Jaws rip-off, 'Razorback'. A little later than the others, with a slightly higher budget, and aimed at cinemas, it concerned a giant boar (yes, you read right, a giant pig) that thought nothing of ripping apart cars, or even houses. The movie even had a Robert Shaw-type old pig hunter who gets his comeuppance for his hubris. Junk certainly, but it did have style. And then their was that abattoir finale!!!!!!!!!!!!

In looking up these movies, I find that most of them were made a lot earlier than I thought; the late 70s. Could I have been that young when I saw them, or is it just a case of them getting to our screens some years later? Certainly they are etched very clearly on my brain. I remember seeing 'Killer Fish' in the school hall while I was in primary school, so it is possible it was the late 70s.

It would appear Sky seem to be resuscitating this sub-genre. Last week they had a monster spider movie, I think. (I happened to be making a cup of tea while a poor 3D Studio Max arachnid threatened a butterfly. At least it wasn't Jack Sholder's dire, 'Arachnid'). These movies, low-budget and laced with the cheapest CGI money was never intended to buy, seem to be a new wave of the old threat-of-the-week cheapos of my youth. I must stress, however, that I refer to the banal branch of the tree; B actors reading by-the-numbers scripts and monsters that were shown in bewildering shock cuts, too close and too fast to be seen until the climactic showdown (when the fur suit was painfully obvious).

Hell, you can tell I protest too much. They were crap, but they caught my imagination, and the chances are if I were that age now I would lap up this current fare. It is good pre-pubescent fare. Still what about the adults? How's about some new Dantes, Camerons and Sayles's?

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Grindstones Polish, Don't They?

Yesterday was my return to work. It happened to coincide with the onset of a nasty cold, the usual Irish summer ailment. I thought it was ironic to start my first day with a packet of lockets in one pocket and a box of Lemsip in the other; so much like old times.

The university hasn't really changed a lot in my absence. Sadly there has been the death of one colleague (rest in peace, Jennifer) and family losses for others. In the great tale of Ying and Yang though, other colleagues have had babies born or soon will have. One particular piece of good news was very welcome. Karen, one of my group members, had been due to be let go, leaving two people (myself included) in a group that had once been four. A last minute reprieve saw her getting a new contract instead. Hooray!

Now, two days back into the job, I see that much of what I expected to happen on my year off has come to pass. If the coup de grace has not yet been administered that is only because certain plans took longer than expected. Brief chats with various clients around the campus showed me that many of the same old prejudices and vanities are alive and kicking. Human nature may have the potential to change, but rarely does. On the positive side, many of the dependable people are also still here. To go from the charlatan or the fool to the wise and professional is heartening. And from a personal workload point of view too, it wasn't all bad news. I almost got enthusiastic about a little online tv application I started developing towards the end of the day. Nothing special, but at least I showed myself that when I say I'll deliver, I deliver.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Die Hard 4.0

Len Wiseman (surprisingly the director of the woeful 'Underworld' films) has made a gripping entry in the Die Hard franchise with this latest installment, 'Die Hard 4.0'. Minimising the CGI while emphasising stuntwork, the movie is a fast-paced game of cat and mouse, with John McClane (Bruce Willis) once more forced to save the day (and the USA) from a gang of psychopathic computer nerds.

Following the formula that has served them so well so far, though raising the stakes, the story concerns a disgruntled former employee of the US Government holding the country to ransom by hacking into the computer systems controlling the nation's transport, communication and utilities networks. This being a 'Die Hard' movie, however, what appears to be a large scale hijacking hides another less obvious objective.

Faced with so many nerdy computer geeks, McClane, a beast of another era, is showing his age. To emphasise this, the leader of the villains, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), is a contemporary of the young hackers who unwittingly abet him in his scheme. While Olyphant doesn't quite have the scenery chewing presence of a Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman, he satisfies his job spec with a turn that is arrogant, intelligent and quietly menacing. To level the playing field, McClane finds himself partnered with a computer nerd of his own, hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long). Computer nerds or not though, the villains are still handy with machine guns and bombs ('Hardware to your software' as Olyphant's slimey mastermind puts it), so McClane still gets to bloody his vest (green instead of the trademark white this time). Indeed with a stuffy, old-fashioned message very much in keeping with the reactionary spirit of it all, brawn is seen to win out over brains every time.

McClane is from another decade ('The 70s?' asks the young hacker), one without computers or for that matter technology from the way he goes on, and the movie gets great mileage out of this. There is much nudge-nudge, wink-wink referencing of his earlier feats of heroism, but also a darker hint that he is a loyal servant passed over for just reward (much like the villain of the piece). In its old cop-young convict pair fleeing for their lives, it recalls another recent Willis movie, '16 Blocks', though here unlike that movie, there is never the slightest possibility that McClane could be anything other than a pure cop.

Ludicrous though the whole thing is, it moves at such a frenetic pace that you rarely have time to consider the implausibilities. Even the familiar hacker stereotypes thrown out (pasty faced, basement dwelling conspiracy theory addicts), the lazy patriotism on show and the easy debunking of Farrell's idealism are swallowed for the good of entertainment. And there is a lot of entertainment to be had from 'Die Hard 4.0', guilty though it may be. McClane, and the franchise, may have aged, but the macho values are unchanged and sadly are just as much fun as they were in the beginning. However self-disgusted you might be afterwards, you would be hard-hearted indeed not to enjoy it while it lasts.

And now for the mean-spirited addendum you don't really want to hear, but which my personal self-disgust won't let me leave out. Fun though the movie is to watch, whenever I think back on it I can't help but feel a little bit bored and a tweensy bit angry. It is a strong blend of the old formula but it is still the old formula and really we need to be moving on, instead of just making the bangs louder, the stunts wilder. Yes, it is a good night out, but this kind of good old boy posturing is the same shit that helps make the average American Joe willing to go to every Middle Eastern state he can to 'sort things out'. (Bear in mind that in the US the movie is called 'Live Free or Die Hard'. Also consider that besides traitorous Americans, the villainous gang seems largely comprised of French.) Things are just a wee bit more complex than any Die Hard movie might pretend, and no one man (and it's always a man), however Bruce Willis-y he might be, can beat the bad guys single (or even dual) handed. Oftentimes knowing who the real bad guys are is difficult enough.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No, Too Many Regrets

Well, after my year away, I am finally back to web work tomorrow, and I can't say I am relishing the idea. Still though my travels may be curtailed, I fully intend to keep writing, reviewing and unwisely making my thoughts public, so the blog will go on, though I will have to change the title. Anyway for the days of travel now behind me I am eternally grateful to the Fates, and I also thank those of you who followed me. Please keep reading, commenting and keeping in touch. I am still here, still here....

While I think about it, I went to 'La Vie en Rose' last Friday. I might have been the only male in the audience (except for an idiot exhibitionist who stood up in front of the credits to kiss his girlfriend; there are rooms for that sort of thing). Definitely a chick flick.

I was a little disappointed though. It certainly holds the attention and, although I think the praise for Marion Cotillard is a little too extravagant, her performance as Edith Piaf anchors the movie well. Its hopscotch approach to her life though, jumping from her childhood to her old age and then to her twenties etc., doesn't really help matters. Her love affair with the boxer Marcel Cerdan, though dealt with at some length (comparatively speaking), somehow comes too late and in too patchwork a manner to really grip us as the life-changing event we are meant to believe it to be. That Piaf had a child who died at the age of 2 is almost thrown in as an afterthought towards the end. These kind of events surely deserve more attention. Instead we get a lot of inconsequential meetings (a banal interview on a beach) or bare moments shorn of their full context (Daddy Leplee's murder). I for one wanted to know more of Piaf in the war years (her involvement with the Resistance, for instance), but this era of her life scarcely gets a mention. A brief glance at the Wikipedia entry on Piaf shows that there was a lot left out and I can't help feeling there is a better movie on Piaf yet to be made (actually there is already a movie on her love affair with Cerdan called 'Edith et Marcel').

Friday, July 06, 2007

Captivity: Don't Get Caught!

Casting our minds back to the 80s we may remember a pretty impressive movie documenting the horrors of Cambodia called 'The Killing Fields'. Not long after that 'The Mission' brought together a great cast (De Niro, Irons, Ray McNally) and a haunting Ennio Morricone score to tell the story of the early missionaries in America. Both these movies were directed by Roland Joffe, a graduate of British television. Here it seemed was a man with a future. However, after the Patrick Swayze vehicle, 'City of Joy', things started to take a downturn for Joffe. An uncredited stint on 'Super Mario Brothers' and then the disastrous flop, 'The Scarlet Letter', saw Joffe wander into the wilderness. After a seven year Hollywood absence, he is now back with 'Captivity'. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

'Captivity' tells the tale of a super model (Elisha Cuthbert) kidnapped by a sadistic serial killer, tortured, recorded and groomed for a nasty end. The tortures she undergoes and the question of whether she escapes or not fills its mercifully brief running time. This being cult screenwriter/director, Larry Cohen's screenplay (he of 'Phone booth' and 'God Told Me To' fame), the tale does have a 'twist' and nods to films like 'Psycho' and 'Peeping Tom'. None of this can disguise the fact that we are in 'Saw' territory. The voyeuristic killer plays some fairly banal games with his victim, while his ideas of torture - Cuthbert being force-fed a human organ smoothie, for instance - are calculated to gross out his teenie audience.

It's very hard to write about 'Captivity' without mentioning other movies; everything it does has been done so much better elsewhere. Following 'Saw', 'Hostel', and 'Paradise Lost', this is yet another example of torture porn, without even the benefit of originality. Indeed, when you take out the sadistic games, the story itself would scarcely make a half-hour television short.

It would be easy to point at recent cinema fare and claim this kind of damsel in distress sadism as something new, but the reality is quite different. Since the very early days of the Gothic tradition (and we are talking here of the early Eighteenth Century), this kind of titillating sensationalism has pervaded popular culture. Matthew Lewis's 'The Monk' or the works of the Marquis De Sade are relatively well-known examples in literature, but far more lowbrow fare has always followed in the wake of such works.

In cinema, this kind of lazy sadism harks back to a penny dreadful style of filmmaking usually adopted by low-budget productions, not glossy Hollywood fare. True, movies like George Franju's 'Eyes Without a Face', have used sadistic gore in the service of what has to be regarded as cinematic art, but more commonly a cheap bucket of fake blood more than earned back the cost of an exploitation flick. This lesson has finally been learnt by the major studios, but they still believe paying more will yield more and lately they have splashed out on more expensive blood. In dressing the violence up and taking it seriously though, or as seriously as they are capable, Hollywood misses the point. The likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis's 'Bloodfeast' or Raimi's 'The Evil Dead' are enjoyable because they are so ludicrous. Cohen himself succeeded many times in this subgenre (remember 'Q: The Winged Serpent' or 'It's Alive!'?). 'Captivity', in contrast, like its many recent siblings, tries to give its sadism an authentic veneer and in so doing appeals to the very basest human appetites, without providing any relief (or corrective) in laughter.

In short, there is nothing to redeem this particular kind of sensationalist gore. Watching beautiful young things being tortured is a tradition that goes far beyond even cinema, but it is one that has its place. Once A-list directors with big budgets gives torture porn a respectability that it neither deserves nor ever sought. Certainly outside of giving Joffe a way back into Hollywood, 'Captivity' will do nothing to enhance his reputation. From an audience perspective, it is more likely to bore or sicken than entertain. In short then, don't get caught!

Labels: ,

Rendezvous in Dublin

Tuesday was a day of get-togethers. Two months after our accidental meeting in Heathrow, I met up with my cousin, Janet, for lunch. Janet is an actress and things are currently looking up for her, with a radio series due for broadcast and several plays in the pipeline. We went to Dunne and Crescendi for an Italian style lunch. Although the risotto part of my Risotto with Mushrooms and Mussels was piping hot, the mussels weren't and they came back to haunt me later that afternoon. Nevertheless we had a great chat, some nice wine and a lot of coffee. Later her flatmate, Peter, joined us for an abortive trip to the RHA and a brief visit to the National Gallery. Then more coffee and a failed attempt to avoid the rain.
Zoe, one of my fellow travellers in Indochina, was in Dublin treating her mother to a birthday trip. I was to meet them for dinner later, so I took the time to go to the cinema. The only movie that fitted my time frame was 'Captivity', more of which above. Anyhow eventually we met up.
Three times in the past week I had heard The Winding Stair mentioned as a good place to eat. Certainly it was difficult getting a reservation, but after some drinks in nearby Pravda, we took our table at 9.30. It was crowded and the ambience was good. The service too was friendly and good, so I had high expectations, only encouraged by the wonderful chicken pate I had to start. Unfortunately I chose the ribeye steak, not the best cut for a steak, I understand (I had had an unexceptional one in Newcastle over the weekend, so I should have known better). I had asked for it blue, but got it rare, but this didn't bother me too much as rare is probably wiser. The meat though was very stringy and eating any of it was very difficult. I was very disappointed. The girls seemed happy enough with their choices though, and Zoe's mother, Jane, particularly enjoyed the champ served with her collar of bacon (it was a little too dry for my tastes). Anyhow disappointed though I was, I suppose it says something that I would be prepared to give the place another go.
After the formalities of eating were behind us, we got down to the serious matter of drinking. With most of Templebar seeming to close down (and just what has happened to Zanzibar?), we ended up in a section of Iosolde's Tower called 'The Czech Inn'. It is a measure of Dublin's current population that there is such an explosion of Eastern European bars, but it was welcome. I suspect it was more Polish than Czech though with Polish language cash registers, bar girls, and drinks, but then I couldn't distinguish one from the other, so what do I know. In the event, I probably had as much alcohol over that night - gin and tonics, B52s, Baby Guinnesses, Sambuccas, Apple Sours, red wine, and beer - as over the Newcastle weekend, or so it seemed. Jane was probably left out in the cold too much (literally sometimes in that she smoked and had to go outside) as Zoe and I caught up on old times, and for that I apologise. All in all though a good night.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Rain on the Tyne

Durham CathedralDurham Cathedral
Newcastle was the scene of the crime last weekend, the particular felony being Justin's stag's weekend (great to see a 'night' become a 'weekend'). For all of you chomping at the bit for juicy gossip, I am a firm believer in what goes on tour stays on tour, except of course where that applies to my own touring. In the interests of a future happy marriage then I will keep my account brief and to the point.
Some maniac decided that the best way to kickstart proceedings was to book a 6.25 flight, that is a.m.. Given that I rarely sleep before 2, and that the taxi company refused to pick me up any later than 4, sleep was not an option. I got out to Dublin Airport at 4.20 and was shocked at the lunacy that seemed to drive millions of tourists to travel at this ungodly hour and clog up the departure hall. One of our number was already there, Seb, and he had been there since 3.40. He claimed to be a night owl and if he had hooted and ascended on wings to the airport roof I would not have been surprised. Unnatural. Actually a claim to be a night bird, coupled with his arrival time, probably would have been sufficient cause to have him committed. I just stood there grumbling darkly and cursing the day airplanes, or early mornings, were invented. The others arrived in dribs and drabs until, after I had consumed bad coffee and a Toffeecrisp doughnut, all 29 of us were present and correct. Check-in was quick and painless, but the queue to security was dangerously long and slow. Were it not that the Ryanair flight was obligingly delayed, we might not have made boarding (and we all know how obliging Ryanair are when it comes to letting latecomers onboard). The upshot of it all was that we left a Hen party to the Edinburgh flight and arrived in Newcastle before 8.
A coach had been hired to bring us to Durham, home town of Ian, the organiser of things, I believe. Ian had gone over the night before (no early morning for him!) and greeted us when, after our driver got lost, we finally pulled up in the city centre. With him was his father, Dennis. Although Durham famously has a cathedral, I think 'city' is too grandiose a term for what is really a very lovely large town. Whatever way you label it, it still had a Wetherspoons pub and that's where we went for beer and breakfast.
After beer and breakfast we went on a brief sight-seeing tour, the principal sight being of course the cathedral. Unfortunately Friday 29th was graduation day for the university's students and the conferral was held in the cathedral, so we could not explore the it fully. Nevertheless we did get to see the treasures of St Cuthbert, including the 1300 year old wooden coffin that once held his remains (with its mixture of Roman and Runic script). Will, James, Dennis and I were the only ones to take in these particular attractions as the others had all followed Ian to his favourite boozer. We joined them.
The rest of the weekend was a succession of pubs and clubs. That Friday, after most of us got separated, my particular group ended up in Buffalo Joe's, a Western themed club, with bargirls in cowboy hats and bikinis. Upstairs was a mechanical bucking bronco Seb seemed determined to tame. I got on once but allowed myself to fall off pretty promptly; was there any point in getting unpleasantly spun round with beer inside you? Later outside I got some curry chips. Typically the one chip my drink-addled fingers let fall dawdled yellowly all down the front of my shirt. To bed at 3.45.
I made up some of the sleep I had missed staying in bed until a knock on my door at 12 told me the taxis were waiting down stairs. I took my time anyhow. A lot of pool players were still there when I finally did get downstairs.
More bars. Ian's brother, Keith, came up from London to join in, and his father came along too.
In the evening some of us felt like a sit-down meal and went to Pinochio's Italian Restaurant. Being Saturday evening, we had to wait twenty minutes or so before getting seats (beside a Northern Irish hen party, I might add). That was understandable and acceptable. What wasn't acceptable was the waiting to have our order taken, then served. It was an hour and twenty minutes before we got our starter, garlic bread made from pizza bread which was fairly bland and didn't go down well with Will. He began to get a little vociferous and walked out straight when his pizza finally did arrive. I'm not sure what he was expecting, he did ask for it, but whatever it was, it wasn't what he got. My risotto was smothered in tomato sauce, but edible. Nevertheless we lost no time getting out of the place once we had finished eating.
A phone call directed us to Liquid. The taxi driver took us to Fluid. We redirected him. When we got there a girl in black talking on the phone by the door let us in. It all seemed very quiet until we entered a huge hall full of women. Full! Most of them wearing bunny ears and hen party outfits. We clapped each other on the back until a female bouncer came over and asked us roughly how we had got in. Eh, we walked? We were escorted out. Apparently it was a private function and the nightclub wouldn't be open until another hour. From this earthly paradise we were cast into the Newcastle rain. And there was a lot of that about that night. More phone calls and missing people. The rain got heavier. More walking. More rain. At one point I sheltered in a doorway watching the water rush by my feet. Then I noticed the water was rushing from behind me, from under the door. The building behind me was flooded! This was crazy.
The Box nightclub was dry and spacious and right after we got there most of the others wanted to leave. Granted it was not packed, but perhaps we should have given it a chance. Outside rivers flowed on the tarmac. Girls in shorts and short skirts waded through the water. We needed to get soaked. We left for Buffalo Joe's.
Buffalo Joe's was packed, standing room only. Drenched as we were, we stood by the doorway and tried to dry off. I am convinced the music was the very same as the night before, a cd of 80's tripe played continually. The place wasn't bad though, just too packed for me. I wasn't going to get any place with any of the Newcastle lasses either. They were a very mixed bunch and occupied with themselves and their own groups. I drank, occasionally scouted and waited until it was time to go. Thankfully the rain had abated by the time we went for taxis. Again to bed at 3.45.
Our flights home were at lunchtime the next day, so I was up by 10 the next morning. Not early enough for breakfast though. Most of the others sat downstairs drinking Bulmers (or Magners as it was there), but I resisted. When the taxis arrived I took one of the first planing to eat at the airport.
We had heard rumours of the Glasgow terrorist attack the day before, but now it was everywhere, the papers, the tv, on everyone's lips. Thankfully it had no effect on Newcastle Airport ad we got there and checked in with no problems. Our flight was on time and, turbulence notwithstanding, I slept as much as I could on the way back. Getting home early (and thank you Eoin for the lift) had the advantage of getting me to bed sooner. There was little else to expect of a Sunday afternoon after a two days drinking. Sunday afternoons are empty at the best of times, lacunae in weeks of living. Dehydrated, tired and with a sore head though, I was grateful to be alive and not as destroyed as I expected to be. I didn't go to bed, but sat, read (Lorri Moore's 'Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?') and listened to one of the classical radio stations. A quiet end to a riotous weekend.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Hong Kong, and by extension China, has produced many slick crime films glorying in the kinetic cinematic possibilities of gun play and violence. Quentin Tarantino has publicly stated the huge effect this mini genre has had on his own work ('Reservoir Dogs' owes more than a little to 'City on Fire', for instance), and some directors, like John Woo and the Pang Brothers, have moved on to Hollywood with varying success. Others have chosen to remain and carry on this very Eastern tradition. The new kid on the block is Johnnie To and with 'Exiled' he shows himself to be a director with wit and warmth, as well as style.

The story begins intriguingly. After attempting, and failing, to kill a gangland boss, Wo is targeted for death. Things are complicated, however, when two of his childhood friends are sent to do the job, while another two come to protect him. Will friendship win over duty? The friends' solution to this dilemma spins off into a wild and often funny tale of loyalty, guns and the search for a home.

That this movie is peopled by gangsters should not fool the viewer into thinking this is just a crime movie. Yes, there are gunmen, crime gangs, robberies and double-crosses, but this is really a Western, albeit one from the East. Paying homage to many of the great westerns of the past, 'Exiled' has many lengthy (and bizarre) standoffs before ever a gun is fired. Which is not to say guns aren't fired, because this movie is punctuated by several explosive set pieces, each balletic and operatic, and each consciously reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the blood battles of Sam Peckinpah.

Set just before the handover of Macao back to the Chinese, all the players in this stylish gangster flick are aware that their time is at an end and a new order is about to begin. With its elegiac score and fin de siecle sense of decadence then, the main influence on 'Exiled' is Sam Peckinpah's 'The Wild Bunch'. The story, improvised and often absurd though it is, follows the trajectory of Peckinpah's movie, most especially in the gangsters' refusal to escape with the cash when loyalty binds them to a showdown.

To paints a very appealing portrait of his central gang of killers. With their sense of fun and lack of a sense of purpose (many decisions are made on the toss of a coin), they are far more human than any of Peckinpah's Bunch. Aware that the action is the thing, the script does not overload them with needless dialogue (though this sometimes results in needless repetition of lines just to fill a silence), and satisfying though the plot is you're never fooled into thinking that it is there for any other reason than to connect the series of shootouts. It is ironic then that the shootouts themselves are sometimes too cluttered to distinguish just who is doing the shooting. This is a small quibble though with a movie that in its own humble way shoots for the stars and generally hits them.