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.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Death Proof

I thought Tarantino could write, but now I'm not so sure. 'Death Proof' the 'Fifth Movie by QuentinTarantino' (as the poster proudly proclaims) is a movie of two halves, both of them dull.
Stuntman Mike, a grizzled veteran of Old Hollywood, gets his sadistic kicks from running beautiful young women (of which there seem to be carloads in this otherwise deserted part of America) off the road. The first half shows him successful, the second has him meet his match. Despite good talent on show (and in skimpy skirts and shorts, the victims are on show), there is little story here, and the dialogue that usually is Tarantino's strength, lets him down here. Maybe it's because he's writing for so many women, or rather his version of women. It is ironic that the first movie in years to feature meaty roles for a multitude of women, treats them as so much meat. The only entertainment supplied is a violent climactic car chase. Even here the violence feels vindictive rather than an expression of some sort of justice. The girls who give chase to the murderous stuntman do not know of his earlier activities, chasing for the attempt he has made on them. Rather than turn to the cops (sure why would they do that?) they opt after only a moment's reflection to 'kill the bastard'. Again and again Michael Reeves' wise words about cinematic violence came back to me; to celebrate violence in film is immoral. This isn't the Road Runner here. The initial car killing replays not once but three times so the audience can glory in each girl's realistically gory death. This is not something I get a kick out of, and presumably anyone who would would get on pretty well with Stuntman Mike.
In case you're out there sneering at lily-livered O'Leary and his allergy to gore, let me remind you that I am no stranger to and no enemy of onscreen violence. I've watched my 'Evil Dead', the 'Living Dead, the 'Undead Dead'. I've laughed at a baby in a liquidiser scene in 'Braindead' (the evil mutant offspring of a zombie priest and nun). These were Road Runner movies, or where more serious had a serious intent to their nastiness. 'Death Proof' for all its faux 70s look, is situated in a recognisable world with recognisable people. This isn't a cartoon. Yet there is no serious intent; all is superficial. Instead what we have is a shallow, misogynistic piece of cinematic vomit.
It is a shame that this movie was separated from the double-feature, 'Grindhouse' format it originally shared with Robert Rodriguez's 'Planet Terror'. Judging from the trailer for that other movie, shown before this, it looked a lot more fun. Also 'Death Proof' was a lot shorter as part of that package, while this incarnation is badly in need of a shearing. One way or the other it is the nadir of Tarantino's relatively short career. He's going to have to grow up a lot more before garnering again the acclaim he once commanded so easily.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Digging for Diamonds

Well, I had the headache if not the fully fledged handover. That will teach me to drink strawberry beer!
I read a couple of stories ghostwritten by Lovecraft; 'The Last Case', 'Two Black Bottles', and 'The Thing in the Moonlight' There can be no tension where there is no possibility of surprise, and his formula is too uniform to offer that. The only enjoyment to be derived comes from the originality of each story's horror. In that respect he has a lot in common with television shows like (the oh, so enjoyable) 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker', and its descendent 'The X-Files'. Sadly the 'horrors' of these particular Lovecraft tales weren't too original either. Only the two-page 'The Thing in the Moonlight' had a real hint of the bizarre, though 'The Last Case' with its initial prison setting did put me in mind of 'Beyond Reanimator'.
In total contrast I picked up my Edith Nesbith collection then and read 'The Violet Car'. Edith Nesbit is famous predominantly for her children's books, particularly 'The Railway Children' and 'Five Children and It'. However, between these and her political activities (she was a member of the Fabian Society, the precursor to Labour), she also managed to write some very well-regarded ghost stories. When they are good, as in the case of 'Man-size in Marble', they are very, very good. 'The Violet Car' is very, very good.
Written when cars were still a novelty, it tells in an admirably, though deceptively, simple way of the effects a car accident has on an ordinary farming couple. A young nurse is called in to help, but exactly who is she meant to help and how? In its determined play on the is it real/all in the mind dilemma, Nesbit does unpretentiously what more heavyweight authors like Henry James exerted far more (wasted?) effort to achieve. She even manages to make a little feminist dig at the patriarchal establishment by misdirecting us about the true 'mental case'. Not a word of its ten or so pages is wasted, and the first person narrative of an older woman reminiscing on an episode of her younger years is sprinkled with sad, unobtrusive wisdom. It reminded me a little of Oliver Onions' similarly understated 'Rooum'. A very talented writer was E. Nesbit.
There are little gems like this scattered throughout the genre, though you have to do some digging and you'll probably get dirty in the process. Finding one though is always a pleasure.

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It Annoys Me

It annoys me that the very moment you are moved by something, eg. a piece of music, so much so that you feel compelled to write, that the stupid e-mail system 'fails' and the word is halted. Why?
Yes , I am drunk and yes, I walked from Phibsboro to town to hear some music (mp3 player). Tippett's 'Fantasia on a Theme by Corelli' is fantastic, even if no one else agrees. It constantly threatens to go out of control but never quite does. Fantastic! I have loved it for many a year and hope I always do.
The Registry had their annual party to celebrate the end of registration so I have been on strawberry beer all night. I know the hangover that is in store for me, but these are the sacrifices one makes for a glass half full night. Good night in the Porterhouse North even if some old (attached) friends couldn't make it. Probably as well.
Dvorak's Nocturno for Violin and Piano has just started. The Master of Melody! Can you get much better?


I love that last Schubert mass. Agnus Deiiiiiiiiiii!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Some Definitions

Diplomacy: The art of lying for one's country.
Ambrose Bierce
A Lie: The shortest distance without true points.
Sea: Big, blue, wobbly thing that mermaids live in.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Will Anyone Help?

I really wish I could share Phil's optimism on the situation in Burma (see the comments to Crimescene 9:10 am), but it's all looking very bleak. Yes, China is urging restraint, but only because they want stability (not democracy), so that their trade and energy aspirations etc. can continue unaffected. They really couldn't care less whether there is a Junta in power or not, but given that it guarantees the current trade model, and the stability of those oil and gas sources, they prefer the status quo. On the positive side, they don't want to look bad to the world with the Olympics looming. At the end of the day though, China can handle losing face; they don't have to answer to anyone. (Personally, I don't see them as having any face to lose). And what of India? Or Thailand? Or the Koreas? No, money talks, and as is the case in Laos and Cambodia (and for that matter China), as long as it is speaking, the people will not be heard.

Forget about their neighbours and forget about the West. The harsh fact is that the only people who can help the Burmese people are the Burmese people. Given that the Government have done the unthinkable and tackled the monks, the people may very well be incensed enough to really rise up and win. There are protests apparently springing up all around the country. But in the face of a military with no one to answer to? Unless the military itself, and by that I mean the rank and file soldier, mutinies, the people don't have a chance. And those soldiers are soldiers because they have bought into the Junta view of the world. I hate to be pessimistic, but I am. No one will be happier than me if the Junta topples. But I doubt it will.

And did everyone notice that little cracker slipped into the news reports about Russia selling the Burmese a nuclear reactor? All that hullabaloo about North Korea and Iran, but no one gives an atom's nucleus about a a gang of fascistic thugs getting their hands on nuclear weaponry. So they haven't threatened any neighbouring states lately. Well, zippedy dooda! They don't need to, but that doesn't mean they won't have to, or that they won't start. As if they didn't have a big enough stick already (supplied handily enough by China etc.).

A Sci-Fi Shortcut

I just finished 'Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace', part of the Short Cuts series on Film Studies. Not too bad. It provided a reasonable survey of the genre and the theory, though by its very nature it skimmed rather than go into any real depth. Do not expect in-depth analysis (even of the case study chosen, 'The Phantom Menace'). Often it seemed to be just name-dropping, both theories and films. Nevertheless for a nut like me it's nice to be reminded of the classics, as well as the fact that I am not alone in treasuring them. From 'Forbidden Planet', with Leslie Nielsen playing Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' in space, to Carpenter playing things true to Campbell's original story ('Who Goes There?') in 'The Thing'. A lot was left out though, particularly the mad scientist movies from the 30s (eg. 'The Man They Couldn't Hang', 'Doctor X', 'Devil Doll', the Invisble Man series). Or Germany's Alraune series of films, about the then science fictional concept of artificial insemination. True, these films are often seen as horror, but as the book points out, there is a healthy overlap between the two genres. And what does one make of the original 'Invaders from Mars', surely one of the most disturbing kids' films I've ever seen, but one that scarcely gets a mention here.
For the student approaching the genre for the first time, or indeed beginning Film Studies, it is a useful, and quick, read, with a good bibliography suggesting further reading. For any veterans out there, there are no revelations, but it is a nice, short stroll down memory lane.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Time Enough at Last?

I read today that Ahern told journalists on Saturday that he resents the Tribunal because it doesn't leave him time to read. Like the rest of us. Imagine if for three days of your presumably undemanding life as leader of a country you didn't have the time to read. The poor man!* I have completely revised my opinion of the poor recluse. To think of all that time in a public forum answering questions. Damn it, the poor man is worried that they might have him there until he's old and grey! (Well, old anyway). And after three days already would you be surprised! That's three days people! It could go to four. Maybe even five! Have a heart, Judge Mahon! Why can't you let Bertie get back to the Dail where he can stand in a public place and um, answer questions, and um, maybe even get some reading done....
I mean of course when the Dail actually opens again this Wednesday. To think that you're disturbing the poor hermit's holidays! There's only three months of them you know!
* (Burgess Meredith's bank official in The Twilight Zone springs to mind - Hell, Bertie even has the bank experience! Or does he...?)


Knocked Up

A peculiarly unfunny, if sometimes insightful, comedy. Accused of being misogynistic; it isn't. It's not even misanthropic. It just says we're all shit, celebrate the excrement. Certainly if the female characters are not always likeable, the male characters are no ideals either. Then again maybe it's just Americans. Or maybe it's just us.
There is a 'crowning' shot in the birth scene that had a girl behind me exclaiming loudly, 'That's unacceptable!' It does prompt the question how some comedies (and supposed comedies) can get away with the most taboo things. Think of the zip scene in 'Something About Mary', the coathanger quip in 'South Park', the entire contents of 'The Holiday'. Now that last really should be taboo!

Crimescene 9:10 am

Just passed a crimescene outside the aptly nicknamed Abraca-stab-ra. It's fenced off while a forensics guy snaps pics of the blood on the ground and measures the scene. A spilled cup of puke colours one corner.
Just this moment they have taken down the tape. People are now walking over the blood. Monday doesn't stop for a Sunday night.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"A F*cking Master!"

Last night was Killian's 30th and given the personalities involved, it was a surprisingly subdued (though still enjoyable) affair. He'd booked the upstairs part of O'Brien's on Leeson Street and between good food, a good DJ and lots of booze, everyone enjoyed things. I didn't even fight with Justin's Uncle Mick over politics! The Dell girls, who weren't Dell girls after all, were particularly distracting, though each was 'involved' as usual. Anyhow the others headed on to Traffic, I believe, but I headed off home at 2.

Nice to be called a f*cking master by Francisco in reference to my PHP skills (and he should know). He was the resident programmer while I was away on my travels and the week before they (idiotically) let him go, they saddled him with a big database project. He did what he could but it was an impossible task to achieve in a week and it subsequently fell on my desk (right when I didn't need it). Anyhow it's done now and it's good to know that at least one of my peers, if nobody else, appreciates the achievement. Now where did I leave my ego....

Flying Bowler Hats, Batman!

If I had questions about the use of music with silent artfilms yesterday, then I was doubly conflicted today. With films by Duchamps, Leger, Richter, Man Ray and Dali/Bunuel, the emphasis was on abstraction. In the case of Duchamps his mad spinning spirals and nonsensical aphorisms have no narrative, shouldn't have a narrative and did not warrant the narrative push 3epkano lent through their music. To reach a musical climax was inappropriate (a Steve Reich approach of a constant tone would have been more suitable).
I have seen Leger's piece, 'Ballet Mechanique' several times before, and it worked far better with the live accompaniment, though the clue to this success was in the title. Conceived with a musical sensibility, the film was a musical experience waiting to happen. Consequently music and film worked well.
The sound original of Hans Richters' 'Ghosts Before Breakfast' was destroyed by the Nazis (as degenerate art), so this silent version did warrant a score. 'Ghosts Before Breakfast' is a madcap mix of animation and live action. It really enervates me to see such a playful approach to cinema, and Richters' flying bowler hats are as playful as you can get. The joy of experimenting with a new medium comes across in every frame, and is something very rare today.

(I just read Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud are in the cast!!!!!!!!!!! MAD!)

Man Ray's 'L'Etoile de Mer' started well with a beautiful use of a warped glass filter, but it didn't go anywhere. Pretentious and dull, a close-up of a live starfish formed its only highlight.
Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuels' first collaboration, 'Un Chien Andalou' is infamous for many reasons (not least because of the razor-splitting-eye shot). However, it should never be regarded too seriously; it is meant to be funny. Picture for instance the two priests being dragged along with the pianos and dead donkeys. Maybe it's to heighten the humour that Bunuel scored the film already with music from Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde'. One way or the other, 3epkano's music was unnecessary and far too downbeat. It didn't detract, but it didn't contribute either.
Of course, you buy into the show when you buy your ticket. I may have been going primarily for the movies, but they weren't the reason for the show; 3epkano the ensemble were. As such they put on an excellent performance. Despite a little too much emphasis on cello and electric guitar, they are an excellent group and what they do is a worthwhile experiment. If it's also a reason to show some neglected films, so much the better. Good stuff.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Spit on me Dickie!

As part of the Fringe, an ensemble, 3epkano, were staging a performance in the IFI entitled 'Cinema of Silence', in which they play live accompaniment to some silent arthouse movies. I already had my ticket for Sunday's performance, but I learnt yesterday that there was a different programme today. Three of the movies were by Maya Deren, including 'Meshes of an Afternoon', the movie I had seen in the Tate. I went along.
As can be grasped from my last posting, I place a lot of importance on a film's score, but each of these movies was made to be silent. To put a score on them is to change their effect, emphasising a particular interpretation over others. As such I was wary, but there was no denying the power and entertainment value the score added. Deren's films really came alive, particulary 'Meshes' and 'At Land'. I have seen 'Meshes' several times now so understanding it should be clearer, but it seemed clear as day today. Of course, and I make no apologies, to have a beautiful woman conscious of her beauty showing it off continually certainly adds to my entertainment value. 'Ritual in Transfigured Time' was the lesser of the three Deren films on show, but although each featured some profound silliness, I enjoyed them all.
Jean Genet's 'Un Chant D'Amour' completed the programme and for a 1950 production it managed to shock this viewer. Without meaning to sound homophobic in any way, let's just say it makes 'Brokeback Mountain' look as straight as '3:10 to Yuma'. (Hmmmm, on reflection maybe not the best example).
There was more Dick in Eason's, where Dickie Rock was signing copies of his new book. At this point he should almost be classed as a national landmark, like the Cliffs of Moher. He certainly looks like the Cliffs of Moher.

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With its mix of tragic love, World War 2 and class boundaries (not to mention a cameo appearance by director Anthony Minghella), it's not difficult to see 'Atonement' as an Oscar-hungry pretender to 'The English Patient' throne. In many ways it's a worthy successor.
Like that earlier film, this is based on an acclaimed novel, in this case Ian McEwan's 'Atonement'. It tells of a love across class boundaries thwarted by a child's foolishness. After 'Pride and Prejudice', director Joe Wright recruits Keira Knightly once more as the female love interest, Cecelia, with 'The Last King of Scotland's James McEvoy playing the dashing housekeeper's son.
Dario Marianelli, the composer behind 'Pride and Prejudice's beguiling score, continues his reworking of old classical forms, pastiching Beethoven, Chopin and even some more modern minimalist. Ironically it is the more romantic works that I felt were out of place, though key to understanding Wright's vision. Again, like 'The English Patient', Wright sees this as a old-fashioned love story. It is not.
I am not denying the central love of Knightly and McAvoy's characters, just its centrality. Briony the child who causes (and chronicles) the tragedy is as necessary and vital a character as the other two. She is also the most complex of the central threesome with hints that she herself loves McEvoy, while stoically accepting her 'minor' character status in his life. What I came away from the film with was a sense of the unfairness of childhood, that it leaves us in a state of confusion while the world demands clarity. Briony is no villain, just a real person struggling with growing up.
If the score sounds a wrong note, emphasising the romance rather than the irony, every other element excels. The script in particular does some hard work, and despite frequent changes in time and perspective (especially a huge jump towards the end), screenwriter Christopher Hampton keeps the audience on side throughout.
An exceptional film then, and nothing to atone for.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Get Wet!

For too long Ireland has hung its head in shame at its weather. Without balmy summers or crisp snowfalls, we have seen our country as an Atlantic rock visited only by rain. This rain is a special rain though. Perpetual without being lethal, ubiquitous without being intrusive, it provides the soundtrack to our daily lives. I say no more to our shame! Let us stand up with Australia, yodel with the Swiss, and otherwise cry out our pride in the precipitation that powers our nation! Viva Irish rain! Long live the water! Get wet!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Any Which Way But Lose

I finally saw the trailer for 'No Country for Old Men' yesterday and it looks scarily faithful to the novel (I recognised every scene). The casting, outside of Jones, is probably not what I would have made, but that doesn't mean it won't work. For instance, Javier Bardem as Chigurh is a strange choice, but the novel does indicate that he's European and I really don't know who I would have chosen anyway. It's going to be nasty any which way you look at it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Unfair and Wrong!

Bertie Ahern tries to rememberBertie Ahern tries to remember
That's what Bertie said of the Mahon Tribunal. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Surely we should be thinking about getting a new Taoiseach given that the current one has so many problems remembering things. Is there anything he recalls from the past two years, let alone the last seventeen! Must be all those 'one-of-the-boys' pints in Fagan's.
And those lawyers he has. Funny how they insist on keeping all those details that would contradict the Tribunal's info to themselves. Perhaps they're saving it for another day, another tribunal. Have to think of the future! (Seeing as the past presents so many difficulties).
And forget about Northern Rock! How can we trust any bank given that they can't seem to keep their records straight, especially on large sterling (or was that dollar) transactions. Bertie, as a former Minister for Finance, surely you could do something about these scandalous work practices. No wonder you didn't have a bank account!
What a man! The cute hoor!


Thursday, September 13, 2007


I felt woeful on the bus; cold sweating, aches, exhaustion,major discomfort. When I got off though and into the fresh air, and downed a Lucozade (I suspected low blood sugar or something) I rallied a bit. I came home. I have a headache and a temperature and aches all over, but I'm grateful that bus trip ended.
Ironically I had already booked tomorrow off. Now I'll be sick on it. Can't even manage to get a sick day properly! To cap things, the next door barbarians have decided to have a party (the street is crammed with cars). Can't a hypochondriac get some peace around here!
As I suspected, Ahern is getting away with things again. The state of affairs is pretty clear though no one seems to care. The poor old Tribunal. Crushed by the public's attention span.


Feeling pretty ill just now. Something started with me at work, but I've gotten worse on the bus. I might drop into the doctor on O'Connell Street.

Mr Kolpert

Bertie Ahern put on the grill at the Mahon TribunalBertie Ahern put on the grill at the Mahon Tribunal
I had heard that 'Mr Kolpert' tends to divide audiences; you either really hate it or really love it. What has surprised me is that I found that I am somewhere in the middle.
Borrowing very heavily from Hithcock's 'Rope', and so from a real life case in the forties, 'Mr Kolpert' puts us in a very unusual dinner party. A young couple, Ralf and Sarah, invite an older couple, Bastian and Edith, over for an evening's entertainment (or as they themselves stress, for their own entertainment). At the outset they claim to their guests that they have murdered the innocuous Mr Kolpert and put his body in a huge trunk that lies at the centre of the stage. The question of have they/haven't they takes up much of the play.
Once again the cast is excellent. Every role provides an opportunity to shine (even a small role like the pizza delivery man gives Peter Daly a good turn) and each actor takes their opportunity gamely. Initially I felt Sam Corry was a little too low-key, especially given Fergal McElherron's extrovert turn, but ultimately his understatement heightens the demented quality of his character. Kathy Rose O'Brien and particularly Gillian McCarthy shine in the female roles. The cast's performances are particularly brave given that in the finale, three of the leads are (Shock! Horror!) required to take off all their clothes.
Again the story is not original. The message about society's loss of real feeling, and in turn its humanity, is old too. Playing most of it for laughs is refreshing, but sometimes the German humour relies too much on the iconoclastic. I found it fun, but not hilarious. I chuckled, I cackled, but try as I might, the belly laughs just wouldn't come. And when one knows the plot in advance, laughter is essential.
And what about that nude ending? As I wrote three actors strip and then cry. They are laid bare in every way, and quite deliberately echo three children caught in forbidden play. It is touching. I was reminded of a quote by the director, Michael Reeves, I posted a few weeks back. In short he claimed that if an artist does not show violence as disgusting and reprehensible, he runs the risk of glorifying it and so behaving immorally. The crying scene points the finger at the immoral behaviour of the play. After all the farce, it reinstates the human.
But does it deserve this? Has it earned the right? After all, the play can not be held up as a piece of realism. Can it suddenly inject authentic feeling?
In what I can only describe as doublethink, being forced to acknowledge the larger than life aspect of the characters, forces us to expand the scope of the play. In crying for their actions they cry for us, for humanity's loss of value, and feeling. Recognising murder as wrong, and feeling that, should be a fundamental characteristic of humanity. Losing that we lose our humanity. We thus find ourselves in a very dark place, and one in which crying is perfectly warranted.
In short, it works. The nudity is certainly not gratuitous.
A good play well staged then, and three out of three for the Rep Experiment.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Waiting for Mr Kolpert's Pizza

Bertie Ahern with his associates from the building industryBertie Ahern with his associates from the building industry
In 'Mr Kolpert', a contemporary German black farce, pizza is delivered. Unfortunately the real pizza - a necessary prop - was not delivered on time, so as I write I am in the foyer fo Smock Alley Theatre waiting for the doors to open. See you after the show.
20 minutes now and no pizza (no coverage either hence this not being posted in real time).
25 mins. The pizza should be free (and so should our tickets). If Jan's out after this, I'll join her for a drink. I'm running the risk of missing my last bus at this stage anyhow.
30 mins. If I'd known I was coming I'd have baked a cake, or my own pizza. At this stage the straight from the freezer variety would be quicker. Or maybe they should have gone for an Indian. Or a Chinese. Or for that matter a Mongolian, actually from Mongolia. I'm starting to get hungry.
35. This is well beyond the farcical.
We're in! 37 mins!

Burn Out

You know it's a bad day when your pc cd drive refuses to open; when the web server you work with stops; when that bloody website that that bloody school set up remains sabotaged by Frontpage; when you have to turn voicemail on just so that you can get some work done. Yes, one of those days when as Karen puts it (sung in singsong), 'Somebody needs a hug!' Hugs are not too common in my line and wouldn't help much anyway. The foul adversary is that by which we live, that which pays my salary, that which allows me to write to you this moment: COMPUTER! Destroy the digital demon! Oh, for the days of tin cans and string! I jest, of course (...of course, of course, of course). Mighty hail the ubermachine! I just wish I wasn't so intimately involved. Sometimes anyhow.

Bertie Ahern at the Mahon TribunalBertie Ahern at the Mahon Tribunal

Speaking of foul adversaries, Ahern looks like getting away with all that money business. Yes, Mr Wall, of course you don't remember how much you gave him (of course, of course, of course,)!
And just where is my Tarantino ticket!


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Two Days In Paris

Following on the heels of 'Paris Je T'Aime', 'Two Days in Paris' is another chance to savour the best of things French. Several times throughout the credits we are reminded that this is a Julie Delpy movie, and never has a truer word been spoken given that she directs, writes, edits, scores and stars in the movie. She even writes and performs some of the songs. I imagine she would have liked to play all the parts too, but must settle with a role for her father.
It's a slight story. A young couple, an American man (Adam Goldberg) and a French woman (Julie Delpy), returning to New York after a trip to Italy, stop off to visit her Parisian parents. As Delpy meets old friends and lovers, Goldberg, alienated by the French from the outset, begins to question how well he actually knows his partner. Will their love survive?
Slight or not, Delpy does a great job with the script, and manages to give Goldberg lines that would do Woody Allen proud. Given the pervasive input of Delpy, it is surprising to find such an emphasis on sexual humour (Goldberg's manhood is mercilessly attacked, for instance). There is much made of the gap between the prudishness of the American and French sexual frankness. Clash of culture comedies are ten a penny; besides the American entries in 'Paris Je T'Aime', 'Lost in Translation' especially comes to mind. Delpy is well aware of this, but forges on regardless. She seems to relish tackling the traditional stereotypes and is unafraid to raise the old cliches of French rudeness, bad personal hygiene, promiscuity etc., while teasing New York hypochondria, narrow-mindedness and violence. In the end, it is not the lovers' nationalities, so much as their personal experiences that stand in the way of communication.
In direction too, Delpy acquits herself very well. She has a lightness of touch that never falters and there really isn't a false note from start to finish. If the project lacks originality, it always entertains, and is a wonderful calling card for the French actress. (It also explains her absence from cinema for so long). I look forward to what she does next.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Shock Proof!

Can you believe I only discovered today that Tarantino will be in Dublin on September 14th for the premiere of 'Death Proof'! It appears the Dublin Film Festival is bringing him over for a Q&A, a mighty coup for the new organiser, and my old classmate, Grainne Humphries. Given that the Festival won't be on until January, it's probably stretching things a little to be claiming it as a festival event, but good luck to you Grainne! Now can I have a ticket?

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Did I mention...

...I have a bottle of Jaeger in my bag?


I went into the local off-license to buy my party cans. Carlsberg seemed fine, so I reached for the tempting six-pack. I tugged, but they resisted. I tugged again and this time they eased out. I was home free! Then one exploded!
My arm drenched, right now I smell like a bum, which is what I am. (That's an alcoholic bum, by the way.)
After that it was par for the course when I got short changed by a quid (actually by an American) buying my bus ticket. How's them apples for omens! The party's shaping up well.

Tin the Spammers!

I've had to start deleting and reposting old posts because of spam 'comments' for some marketing thing. I really don't want to start moderating comments, but I'll probably have to start if this continues.

I noticed today a big piece on the Rep Experiment's experiment in the Irish Times. No reviews yet though.

The other night after 'Platonov', I joined cast and crew for a drink in Sin E. A good, and late (for a school night), night, but, though I had relatively little to drink, I suffered the next day (I still have a residual headache). Surely a sign of age. That or bad beer. To compound matters, in an hour or two I head off to Will from work's house for a rugby party. An opportunity for him to show off his HD tv, it should be a good night. I dread my head in the morning though.

Earlier I was reading about upcoming movies and discovered my anti-remake fervour growing. What right has Rob Zombie, a man of impeccably bad taste (I am not a fan of his torture porn rubbish), to remake Carpenter's 'Halloween'? Carpenter why can't you put a stop to this kind of travesty? You already let them ruin your 'The Fog' with your blessing? Don't ruin all our fondly held illusions! Stop this! Well, too late, it's made, and riding high in the U.S. charts too. Damn it though, can't they have some respect!

The only 'remake' I was vaguely intrigued by was Kenneth Branagh's upcoming 'Sleuth', with Michael Caine, who appeared in the original opposite Laurence Olivier, now taking on the Olivier role against Jude Law. The original was terrific, but then it was a stage play, and reinterpretations are the norm with theatre. This time around though Harold Pinter, no less, has 'adapted' Schaffer's original play. I am troubled.

Before the posts start flying I am aware of the double standards evinced in that last paragraph. Why should theatre stage 'remakes', while I rail at cinema for doing the same thing. I have no defence. The film industry is free to do what it wishes, just as I am free not to go to see any remake. Movies though are more permanent than theatre; a film lasts. And a masterpiece made forty years ago can still be enjoyed today (unlike your average stage performance). One would not 'remake' a Rembrandt, but then I suppose one couldn't by defintion. When I think of it though, I have seen reinterpretations of famous paintings. They are new works obviously, but inasmuch as they contribute to the cult of the original piece, they affect our perceptions of that original work. In my heart, I know it boils down to a personal taste. I love ccertain films and am insulted to think someone believes they can remake them as something better.


Thursday night it was the first preview of the Rep Experiment's , 'Platonov'. With respect to everyone involved, I'd been expecting the worst from this the very earliest Chekhov play. This was the first night for the show too, so hiccups should have been expected. I was more than pleasantly surprised. This holds together, and together very well! I know there has been a lot of paring down of the original 4 and a half hour play, but one has to wonder what could be added.

The story is fairly basic. Platonov, a once promising intellectual, winds up as a teacher in a small town. He enjoys a certain imposed celebrity in the community and women tend to find him irresistible. He's not averse to taking advantage of his charm and when an old flame appears on the scene married to his friend, trouble looms. Steadily he tangles himself up in a dramatic web of passion and betrayal. It's not revealing to much to say that Chekhov's infamous gun gets an outing.

Platonov is his own nemesis, a man addicted to making people fall in love with him, but with too little sense of self worth, and too lazy, to commit to the inevitable implications. There is a black comedy in embryo here, but despite some genuine laughs, Chekhov plays it straight. If it's not the tragedy he intends, it is an engrossing play of characters. Talking to David Horan, the director of 'Metamorphosis', at the interval, he pointed out that many of the characters and themes that populate Chekhov's more mature works are evident here. For that alone it is worth a look.

Once again the cast are equal to the challenges involved. Perhaps a little over-exuberant in the first half, they settle down to a perfect pitch as the play progresses. Fergal McElherron is a startling Platonov. Shorter than almost everyone else on stage, he dominates proceedings, as he should. In a lesser actor's hands, Platonov's weaknesses might dominate, but his performance never alienates us. The rest of the cast includes the entire cast of 'Metamorphosis' ( Peter Daly, Paul Reid, David Heap, Janet Moran and Ailish Symonds) and amazingly, given the workload they have, each is a standout. Gillian McCarthy, Sam Corry, and Kathy Rose O'Brien fill out the large cast, and are just as exemplary.

Although she disagreed with me, I thought Janet was particularly good, but she wasn't the only member of the Moran clan on stage last night. In what I had been told was a walk-on part, her brother, Barry Moran, was treading the boards for the first time ever. It was far from a walk-on role, and he had more than a little to say. He was wonderful; he really had a presence I never expected. An acting dynasty in the making?

There were some small misjudgments. Music by Satie and Steve Reich is used throughout and though it was fine between scenes, personally I felt it was too intrusive within them. The set, resembling a classroom, is perhaps a tad too clever, though the blackboards function well as windows, etc.. But what flaws there are principally rest with Chekhov. There, go tell it to Uncle Vanya!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Paris Je T'Aime

This entry was written last night hence the skewed references to 'tonight' etc..
Only getting one screening a day, I suspect 'Paris Je T'Aime' will finish its run tomorrow. I thought then that I'd take the opportunity to finally see it tonight.
It's an anthology piece, comprised of many (short) short films directed by and starring a mixture of European and American talent, form directors like Tom Twyker and the Coen Brothers, to stars like Americans, Nathalie Portman and Nick Nolte, and Frenchies like Fanny Ardant and Juliette Binoche.
Shorts can either be anecdotes or mood pieces and there is a predominance of the former here, with tales like the Coen Brothers's film with Steve Buscemi or Gus Van Sant's weak language joke coming down firmly on the anecdote side. Anecdotes entertain, but rarely go deeper. Some tales here do carry some weight though, examples being Walter Salles' tale of a child minder, and Oliver Schmidt's piece on an immigrant's Parisian experience.
I had read (I believe in <em>Sight and Sound</em>) that only Alexander Payne's entry comes close to the spirit of the title and I would agree with that. While there is nothing actually bad here, there's nothing truly outstanding either, despite all the talent on show. Payne's comes close though with his potent mix of what his own character calls 'joy and sadness, though only a little sadness'. It's a good end to a mediocre collection.
As an afterthought, for a cinematic hymn to the French capital, there have been less intentional, but more successful rivals in the past decade. Luc Besson's 'Angel-A', Leconte's 'The Girl on the Bridge' and even Jeunet's 'Amelie' all paint Paris in a flattering light (there are better examples, they just come to mind). For someone who directs like he really <em>loves</em> the city though see the Paris movies of Eric Rohmer ('Rendezvous in Paris', 'Full Moon in Paris'). Magical, but real, his is a Paris to really fall in love with.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

No Bugs in this 'Metamorphosis'

I awoke today to find I'd turned into an enormous insect. Sorry, wrong blog.
The Dublin Fringe Theatre Festival is upon us. Janet's featuring ina bold experiment to stage three plays with three directors, but featuring the one cast and crew. The three plays include an early work by Chekhov, 'Platonev'; a black farce with more than a hint of Hitchcock's 'Rope' called, 'Mr Kolpert'; and 'Metamorphosis', an adaptation of Kafka's classic story by Stephen Berkoff. Previews for all three are currently on, and last night (after a better than expected meal in Tante Zoe's), I took myself along to 'Metamorphosis'.
The venue, Smock Alley Studio, is also the former church where I was christened. I must confess, nostalgic though this made me, I couldn't say the place had changed much, given that I couldn't remember how it once was to begin with. Certainly the basement, with its crumbling brick walls, suited the play well. The sparse design (stools and subdued lighting) contributed to the despair that underlies Gregor's dilemma.
For those of you who don't know (come on!), Gregor Samsa, industrious breadwinner for his family, awakes one morning to find he has become a giant dung beetle. These things happen, particularly in my home town, but it causes no end of 'to-do' for his father, mother and sister. How they deal with this inconvenience lays bare the family dynamics, and selfish needs, that really drive each character.
The cast are excellent. The lead in particular, all contorted limbs and stuttering spits, conveys poor Gregor's bewildered pain in a wonderful display of physical acting. To single any one actor out gives the wrong impression though, and each gives a tremendously convincing performance. Physicality is required by all, and the work of the movement director shines through.
Kudos too must go to director, David Horan, who shines a light on many facets of the story, not usually obvious. For one, the concept of a family living with a disabled member was particularly clear to me. The pain of losing one's autonomy is clear not just in Gregor's predicament, but also in his father's, while the effect of his growing dependence becomes more insidious. Conversely as the rest of the family are forced to support themselves they become increasingly more assertive, and distant from their son. The complex interplay of dependence and autonomy is a fascinating theme throughout.
The performance last night was a preview, but to my eyes it worked as smoothly as clockwork. It bodes well for its festival run next week, and if you get the chance it's very much worth catching.


Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.
'Breach' tells the story of how the biggest security breach in U.S. history was finally plugged. For 22 years senior FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, passed secrets to the Russians, informing them, among many other things, of the identity of U.S. spies in their midst. This led to deaths and untold damage to the U.S. intelligence agencies.
Writer/director, Billy Ray, is no stranger to true life tales, nor plausible cheats, having last tackled the scandal of a reporter making up his own stories for <em>The New Republican</em> in the excellent 'Shattered Glass'. 'Breach' is just as robust. With an excellent cast anchored by a magnificent Chris Cooper (even Ryan Phillippe shakes most of his Keanu Reeves mannerisms), Ray paints a picture of American 'Intel' that seems real, and for this reason it is never less than interesting. However, it is probably because of this that the audience never gets really revved up.
This is a very straight-forward story after all. As befits the desk-bound Hanssen (as opposed to the gun-toters he reviles), were it not for the deaths involved, this might come across as an excessively sour case of office politics gone wrong. There are no foreign agents, alluring women, cool gadgets, or over-the-top stunts. Instead we get Cooper on a desk fixing a cable to his pc modem, or asking his assistant to close the door as he obsesses over Catherine Zeta Jones videos.
Another problem is that, even though Hanssen is the cause of deaths, it's hard to really care about the whole tale, unless you are actually American. Spies are spies, and they know what they're getting into, and death is an occupational hazard. What matters then is who the spies are working for and whether the audience shares their sympathies. But this viewer is not American, nor does he ever want to be, so the question arises If this story concerned a traitor on the Russian side, would we be cheering on the Cooper traitor? I suppose it says as much about Euro-American relations than anything else. Personally I really don't care about cold war games between the old enemies. The world's hot enough without them.
In short then, 'Breach' is a solid, interesting, if unexciting, foray into the real world of espionage. Well made and performed, it is an intelligent cut above the norm. It just might be nice if there was a little more fiction to the fact.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


When reviewing a new Stephen King adaptation, the standard thing to do is point out the hit and miss nature of the many adaptations that have gone before. That's the extent of my bowing to tradition on that score; point given. The latest addition to this canon, '1408', is the tale of a debunker of the paranormal staying in a purportedly haunted hotel. Received wisdom (and something King himself often agrees with) is that King takes standard tropes of the horror genre 6 vampires in 'Salem's Lot', a haunted house/hotel in 'The Shining' - and injects new blood into them. Here is another case in point.The tale of the sceptic spending a night in a haunted room is an old one ( tales by W.W. Jacobs, Sir Walter Scott, and W. H. Hodgeson immediately come to mind). However, this is a gross simplification of King's work, and he has come up with more than his fair share of original stories too - a possessed car in 'Christine', a rabid St Bernard in 'Cujo'. His haunted places such as the Overlook Hotel, or its little brother, Room 1408 in The Dolphin, are rarely simply haunted places. Like Christine, they are 'born' bad, inanimate objects imbued with an alien malignancy (a more humdrum instance of Lovecraft's cosmic evil, you might say). Room 1408 causes death and madness from the outset and as such is not above using the victim's own mind against them.
Here it helps to have a strong central performance to anchor the psychological games being played, and John Cusack, as the investigating writer, delivers. He adds a class to the movie, it doesn't really warrant. (Samuel L. Jackson, good though he is, doesn't really deserve the half of the poster he gets; in every scene, this is resolutely Cusack's movie). It's just a shame that the result is so unoriginal. This is partly the fault of King's story which is at heart a shopping list of his past ideas. Besides the obvious 'Shining' examples, we get the ledge walk from 'Cat's Eye', and even an axe wielder, cigarette gimmick and lost manuscript from 'Misery'. The standard family tragedy is trotted out once more for some character development, lending Cusack the humanity his smart-aleck patter might otherwise hide. Len Cariou gets wheeled on as Cusack's father, but there is a feeling here that what had been intended as a more relevant part of Cusack's history has been removed, or at least pared down.
In the end then, '1408', is a popcorn movie, full of bumps and screams, but lacking any intellectual bite. Fine, you say, all I want is a frightfest; leave the philosophising to the others. Fine, but when you do leave the cinema you won't have Cusack's dictaphone to remind you of what you've just been through. You'd probably need it.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Short, But Sour

I finished the Chandler short, 'Spanish Blood'. Coming from 1935, I think it's his first really mature work. Not that the others are 'immature', you understand (they're certainly great fun); it's just that this is the first to really capture the sense of world-weary sadness that characterises the best noir fiction. The cop, Delaguerra, strives for the best, but can only keep the world from the worst. It also features Chandler's first femme fatale, as far as I'm concerned. Although she is a relatively peripheral figure, she is a force that corrupts in spite of herself. In this story, sin tars all, and the wages of sin truly are death, spiritual death for some, but literal for most.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

One Evil Genius at a Time

I turned on the tv this morning to find 'The Phantom' on. This was coincidental as I had turned the tv on to watch a dvd I borrowed from the library yesterday; 'Fantomas'. Unlike the Hollywood flick about a 1930's superhero, 'The Phantom', 'Fantomas' is an early French silent serial about the eponymous supercriminal. I only watched an episode or two, but this is no 'Willy Reilly'. After this I have to track down Fritz Lang's arch villain, Dr Mabuse, but one evil genius at a time. Hey ho, Watson, the game's afoot!

Why is Poor Peg Poor?

'Willy Reilly and his Colleen Bawn' is no masterpiece. 'Caligari' it is not. McDonagh, the director, is no D.W. Griffith. The best things that can be said about this early Irish 'classic' is its innovative interweaving of credits and action and the use of a 'false flashback' a full thirty years before Hitchcock's 'Stage Struck' (when Red Rapparee recounts his false conspiracy with brave Willy). That said it's all pretty ludicrous melodrama, though not without some hammy pleasures (when the hero is imprisoned one is tempted to cry 'Free Willy!').
At one point in the movie, Willy, on the run, takes refuge with his poor tenant, Peg Finnegan. I asked myself, given that she is his tenant, why is poor Peg Finnegan poor? Yes, the film is set in the 18th century, but it was filmed in 1918, 5 years after Big Jim Larkin fought against the Lock Out, and two years after James Connolly fought for a fairer Ireland. What struck me about 'Willy' (and, if I'm truthful, about the bonds short shown with it) was the middleclass snobbery of it all. Granted the film had to appease the British if it was to be shown, it nevertheless shows there to be little difference between the two religious factions involved, at the appropriate economic level that is. Religion masked in Ireland what became a neurosis in Britain, namely class.
The screening, in Meeting House Square, was accompanied by a live performance of a score by Bernard O'Reilly. That was excellent. Sentimental true, but what else would you have for such a movie.
The movie was shot in Rathfarnham on the site of Padraig Pearse's school, St Enda's, so the director took the opportunity to shoot a short promoting the buying of bonds in support of the fledgling Dail. This was also screened. Michael Collins, hale, hearthy and laughing, dispenses the bonds as a veritable who's who of widows and families of the 1916 martyrs pay their few bob. Arthur Griffith and other luminaries of the Nationalist scene also make appearances. Few in the audience would deny a certain thrill watching the otherwise dull footage.
Interesting then. More fun was the chatting with Janet and a friend of her's, Brian, both actors. Truely there is literary ore to be mined in the acting profession, not least because, given that shows are so finite, a lot of behaviour that would not be tolerated in a normal workplace, is borne for the sake of the show. It can't be healthy, but it's fun to look at.