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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And They say God is Dead

On the day English schoolteacher, Gillian Gibbons, goes to court for naming a teddy bear after 'Mohommed' (what about boxers?), three kids have been sitting at the back of the bus telling religious themed jokes. Before some bishop or other wants to hunt these miscreants down, these 'witticisms' erred more on the side of theology than humour. One was something about God wanting to give Adam 'two test tickles', another concerned 'the mystery of the Blessed Trinity'. "What's that about?' asked one kid once the joke was told. 'No one knows, it's a mystery!' (Never a truer word spoken, my son.) That prompted some theological debate for some minutes. All this to the accompaniment of a gameboy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

American Gangster

Ridley Scott, the man behind 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner', gives us a new take on an old stalwart, the gangster movie, with 'American Gangster'. A true story, it deals with the rise and fall of a Harlem gangster, Frank Lucas, who dominated the heroin trade in 70s New York.
The word is already on the street; this is a very fine movie. It walks a very fine line on racial issues - black power politics are always bubbling under the surface - and just about gets away with it. Scripted by Steven Zaillian, a Hollywood heavyweight (Schindler's List), it's one of his best works to date. However, it can only work by making a cold-blooded killer like Frank Lucas into a hero.
Much has already been made of the professionalism and work ethic espoused by Lucas, and the case for his hero status is strengthened immeasurably by a cool performance by Denzel Washington. With many a close-up of Washington staring menacingly, and his constant lectures on the right way to conduct business, we are always clear about the managerial cut to Lucas's suit. The ending (which I won't reveal) solidifies Lucas's 'admirable' status. The thing is that when Lucas's mother says his brothers would follow him in anything he did, she is talking about Washington's audience too.
And that bothers me.
Lucas never repents. He is a ruthless professional gangster until the end and though his nemesis, Russell Crowe's cop, is set up as the more acceptable alternative, we can never forget Lucas's achievement in an Italian-dominated industry. Fall or not, his is a success story!
Though Lucas is a monster, midway through we realise that the real villains of this movie are the corrupt cops who allow his business to thrive. This may be true; corrupt cops are villains. But this emphasis allows us to conveniently sidestep Lucas's evil and fall into Washington's charisma. It is sleight of hand, and successful sleight of hand, but it's still a cheat. And with my prudish old nightcap on me once more, I worry at the role models Hollywood now throws our way.
Otherwise I can't fault the movie. If it is not of 'The Godfather' status, it is certainly an equal of other class acts such as 'Carlito's Way' or 'Heat'. It is also a very fine achievement for Scott who is in his 70s. Unlike 'American Gangster', he's certainly not set there.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007


Written for the screen, directed by and even featuring Emilio Estevez, 'Bobby' is obviously a labour of love for the former Bratpacker. Telling several intertwined stories set in the Ambassador Hotel the night Bobby Kennedy was shot, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the 30's movie it references, 'Grand Hotel'. Unfortunately despite all the love lavished, the stories just aren't strong enough.
Looking well, featuring a truly stellar cast and littered with archive footage from the era, this is almost like a lost Oliver Stone movie, the missing installment of a trilogy also featuring 'JFK' and 'Nixon'. It's a far less angry movie than either of those though and there is a sickly hagiographic glow over the whole movie. I am no expert on the Kennedy Clan, but even I know Bobby was not without his faults. This movie tries to paint his death as the death of an idealism that might have made America great. This is a popular idea, but a pretty naive one.
Whatever his weaknesses as a screenwriter, Estevez can certainly direct actors, and he gets some terrific performances from his all-star cast. Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Harry Belafonte, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Heather Graham and William H. Macy are just some of the talent on show. Which is a great pity, because ultimately they are wasted.
Which is not to say 'Bobby' is not without interest. There is a 'Baby Jane' (or should that be 'Baby G.I. Jane') moment when Sharon Stone and Demi Moore face off in a scene on female aging and celebrity. But such events cannot mask the blandness of it all. For all the background colour of Vietnam, race conflict and drugs, every character seems unnaturally decent. Even Christian Slater's racist kitchen manager ultimately comes right. It makes you wonder which movie Sirhan Sirhan breaks in from to do the dastardly deed, or even why America needed saving in the first place.
An honourable movie, but a disappointment all the same.


Shoot 'Em Up

Criticizing 'Shoot 'Em Up' for being ridiculous is a little like blaming sharks for eating meat. Plot, sense and any semblance of intelligence were abandoned before the project began. For what it's worth it's premise is simplicity itself: Man with No Name, well, Smith actually (Clive Owen), must protect a new born infant from an army of thugs, led by Paul Giamatti, intent on killing him. This he must do with a bewildering array of guns in a multitude of inventive ways. Guns are the raison d'etre of this movie. The play on the concept of 'hand gun' is used throughout, the gun being seen much the way the hand is treated in martial arts flicks. So we have bullets being used to push a merry-go-round, revolvers thrown like knives and hands being used to fire bullets. To push this to further heights of absurdity we have carrots, Smith's food of choice, being used as a surrogate for the trigger finger (as well as pretty lethal daggers).

The cast is fine, though given the one note nature of their roles, there's nothing much for them to do. We have the Angry Loner, the Tart with a Heart, and the Arrogant Professional Assasin, all types we have seen a million times. The direction and look of the movie, though slick, seem overly familiar too. So far, so inoffensive. What could rankle though is the hypocrisy of a movie that bases its plot on the need for anti-gun laws while celebrating gunplay in every conceivable manner possible. Like I said though, it's very difficult to take this movie serious in any way.

Given the absurd nature of the whole enterprise the only question is does it entertain. From start to finish it moves briskly along, filling the retina if not the brain. Ultimately though, adding nothing new to the genre, it begins to wear on the viewer; it seems far too familiar not to overstay even its meagre 80 minutes. There are many ways to present choreographed action and still do something original (look at Leone, Peckinpah or even John Woo). A few innovative uses of carrots are not enough. Avoid.


From the Sublime...

After 'Requiem for a Heavyweight', I somehow ended up watching 'Shoot 'Em Up'. If ever there was a case of going from the sublime to the ridiculous this was it.

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Made in 1962, 'Requiem for a Heavyweight' tells the tale of aging heavyweight, Mountain Rivera (Anthony Quinn), who after an encounter with a young Cassius Clay, must give up the ring or risk losing his sight. While he tries to find work with the help of employment agent, Julie Harris, beloved, but flawed manager, Maish (Jackie Gleason), tries to save his life after getting in debt to mobster, Ma Greeny.
The movie opens with a disorienting subjective shot (recalling for me the opening of Mamoulian's 'Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde'), closing when Quinn looks in the mirror at his disfigured face. It's powerful stuff from the outset and builds inexorably to a heart-breaking finale. Rod Serling, the man behind 'The Twilight Zone', wrote the screenplay. While I disagree with the common view that Serling wrote the best 'Twilight Zone' episodes (Matheson and Beaumont did that), there's no doubt he could write powerful drama (watch 'Seven Days in May' for proof). This is a fine work by Serling. Any writer who can make an Indian headdress and a war whoop into nails every bit as painful as those of a crucifixion, gets my vote. But he does have help.
Fine though the direction is, and beautifully noir-ish as the cinematography might be, it is the unlikely threesome of Anthony Quinn, Mickey Rooney and Jackie Gleeson who push this movie into greatness. They are electrifying. Quinn, as full of mumbles as any Stallone, is the clear, and superior, model for Rocky. But he invests Rivera with a dignity and honour that Stallone could only dream of. It's easy to dismiss Quinn as a minor lead, but a few moment's consideration of a career that included roles in 'La Strada', 'Lust for Life' and 'Warlock', would should what a mistake this would be. This is a heart-wrenching performance and one of his best. But he is matched by a wonderfully underplayed Rooney as his coach, and a powerhouse performance by Gleeson as his beloved Maish. Gleeson, not dissimilar to a more sympathetic Orson Welles, portrays all the complexity of a once good man fighting with his baser instincts. This from the man who became 'Smokey' in the 'Smokey and the Bandit' movies.
Anyhow forget your 'Million Dollar Baby's, this is the real deal. Beautiful characterisation, a strong, emotive story, clear direction and mesmeric performances. A small movie, but a great one.

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Day at the Movies

Nursing a hangover, conceived the night before, I spent yesterday watching movies. Not the most profitable activity in the end but not without some interest. Starting with 'Requiem for a Heavyweight', I somehow watched 'Shoot 'Em Up', then 'Bobby'.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

M.S. Explorer - The Little Red Ship

A sad end to a wonderful ship. I had perhaps the greatest trip of my life on M.S. Explorer, and if there is one thing that will always stay with me, is the memory of standing on the top deck with frozen wind biting my face, petrels overhead, as we crashed into forty foot waves. Fantastic!

Happier times on M.S. Explorer

More pictures of my Antarctic trip, and M.S. Explorer, with commentary can be found at:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yellow Ribbons

My friends' mother was cremated yesterday. Everyone is 'well-liked' when it comes to their funeral, but it was abundantly clear that Betty was really well-liked. It made for a moving occasion and a lot of old friends who had left the department showed up (Betty's children are similarly well-liked). Francisco, for instance, met up with me in town, before heading out. We were too early, getting out to Ballymun 40 minutes before the funeral mass. Well, it gave us a chance to have tea in the Ballymun Plaza, the site, as Stephen told me, of his old flat.
Years back when I lived a little in Chicago, my grand-aunt, May, died and I missed the funeral. I regretted that; I really liked her. For some reason, in the back of my mind, this felt a little like my funeral for May.
After the mass we went on to Glasnevin Cemetary for the cremation. Any of you who have been to the crematorium there, know it's a small building. It was crowded, with latecomers very noticeable pushing open the heavy wooden doors. At one point a mobile phone went off, but was quickly silenced. Then as the curtains closed on the coffin, another burst of music began. Another mobile phone? No. 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree'! As the priest strove to speak louder over the jaunty song, I thought a thousand things: the cd was accidentally switched on; they got the track wrong; there has to be some kind of mistake! But then it hit me differently. No, it wasn't a mistake, it was Betty's final choice. It was bizarre, but also bizarrely appropriate. Everything we had heard in the ceremony suggested she was a jovial sort, and this seemed right. It seems somehow wrong for a funeral to leave a smile on your face, but from another point of view it's probably far more right. I smiled. Poor tune though it may be, I'm beginning to think 'So Long (and Thanks for All the Fish)' might be a contender for my particular parting. Or else 'Road to Nowhere'. Or hell, just make it 'House of Fun'!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Guess This World Needs Its Dreamers

Elevators into space! Invisibility cloaks! Teleporters! Not science fiction, but fact, or as Michio Kaku assures us in 'Visions of the Future' on BBC4, 'in twenty years' it will be. Last week's programme was on advances in biotechnology, while this week Kaku concentrated on his specialty, physics. The show had the same strengths and weaknesses of the previous episode, though perhaps made more acute through enthusiasm. Showing one wonderful development after another, it made token mention of the ensuing moral questions before pushing on to the next toy. Kaku's eyes lit up like bonfires as he pushed around atoms or tested a flakey elevator. 'I feel like God,' he crowed as he manipulated some magnetised bacteria, and this of course gave us a scary insight into the real scientific mind. For all his pious talk of now being the time for debate, he showed no wish to deal with the questions he raised, passed everything off with an optimistic, 'I believe seeing the world from a space station will give us a planetary perspective,' or, 'I believe we cheap power will solve all environmental problems.' Where all this naivete came to a head was in his discussion of nanotechnology. Using potentially molecular sized robots, nanotechnology offers the possibility of Star Trek style replicators (Kaku soberly dampening the party with "some say within twenty years, I say by mid to late 21st century"). With a 'microwave oven sized' replicator we will be able to make practically anything out of practically nothing. The gap between rich and poor, cried the inventor Kurzweil, will finally disappear.
Such blind optimism was truly scary, not to mention a little funny. Let me tell you why. Earlier on Channel 4 there was a report on thir world medicines. Apparently the likes of Glaxo are currently negotiating a deal whereby they will mark down essential medicines for the Third World by 90%! They will still make a profit. Let me just repeat that: Victor aged 2 dies in Africa while Alex aged 2 in Britain lives, and the drug companies still make a profit. Sure, the companies have to survive. Sure, they have to make a profit. But when they make so much from the West, do they still have to make any kind of a profit from Africa when people are actually dying. Would any child in the West die because a medicine is too expensive. Now what has that to do with Kaku. I'll tell you what; humanity stinks.

Well let me qualify that; if I were an extreme cynic I might say that Humanity is effluent floating on the stagnant lake of Chance. But then as you well know at this stage, I'm no extreme cynic. Am I? Regardless of my personal misanthropy, Humanity will always try for the upper hand, whether it be with regard to profit or something else, because the key factor is power. Those who have it will not relinquish it, those who don't have a fight on their hands to get it. Greed is just one manifestation of power, and as long as the desire for power is part of 'human nature', replicators will never level the playing field. Don't get me wrong; I'm a nurture not nature guy, but it's going to take a long time of bitter ideological wars before we make 'human nature' any way clean. In the long meantime humanity will always find a way to deprive portions of itself of what is deserved. Replicators or no replicators, humanity will never tolerate equality, well, not for a long while yet.
And I'll continue the argument. One of the interviewed scientists, a military guy, said 'You know those surgeon nanobots, you know, the ones that go into the bloodstream and repair holes in the vessel walls. Well, now think of nanobots that punch those holes!' Who owns these nanobots? What will they do with those nanobots? What of those who disagree with the owners of said nanobots?
To be fair to Kaku, he did mention the possibility of a world of chaos. Given an extreme scenario, humanity dies in the worst way possible. Personally I don't see things that grim. Human mediocrity, the same thing that held off nuclear war, will save us from annihilation. But save the world! Take away the gap between rich and poor, the powerful and the ineffectual! In the words of Paddy McAloon in 'Cars and Girls', 'I guess this world needs its dreamers, may they never wake up!....Alright!'

Monday, November 19, 2007

Messing Up Marquez

I have just read that Mike Newell has made a dog's dinner of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'Love in the Time of Cholera'. Marquez has been resisting Hollywood for years, but finally let them do the dirty deed and adapt it. Oh, dear! Newell, while competent, could never be regarded as top rank. Now a Spanish version by Julio Medem for instance, that might have been something. At least they left my favourite Marquez novel, 'One Hundred Years of Solitude', untouched.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Week in Bullets

It's like summer at the moment, by which I mean it's raining. The week in bullets:
* Monday: I watched 'Photographing Fairies', taped from the night before. Always liked it, but had to admit the direction and editing were clunky, the script roughly finished. The story though; great stuff.
* Wednesday: I had a long phonechat with Sharepoint maestro and old college-time buddy, Stephen. He tried to persuade me to turn to the Dark Side.
* Thursday: The mother of my assistant and her brother, a good friend of mine, died suddenly. Not a happy afternoon.
* Thursday: Met up with Shane and Brian for a drink in the Long Hall. Brian had just gotten a new job in RTE. Too much, far too much, Guinness.
*Thursday/Friday: Argued with the bouncer in Abracastabra when what passes for food there was cleaned away too promptly. Should have commended him.
* Thursday/Friday: Asked the taxi driver to turn off the radio. He turned it down instead, so I told him why my tip was so small when getting out. He wasn't amused.
* Friday: Nasty hangover. Nasty. Why is it, when I'm suffering, I end up working late? I did some improvements on my newsfeeds application, something I hadn't touched in years. The motivation for this was a request for newsfeed data on the Chaplaincy website! The Anglican chaplain is apparently straight out of a software firm.
*Today: I met Barry, Angela and their four little Midwich children (all blond, all very similar) walking through M&S. The kids, all under 5 I believe, were good as gold; didn't run, mess or scream, just very cutely said their goodbyes when I left. Yes, but wait till their alien powers develop!!!!! (Only kidding, Barry).
*Today: Just getting on the bus, some guy behind me pushed someone. He pushed the wrong druggie! Suddenly the offended pushee shouted out, "What you doin' pushin'?" The bus stopped. The pusher suddenly looked sheepish, all eyes glaring at him, but stood his ground at the driver, paying for his ticket. 'You pusher!' Then as the pushee pushed by the pusher, he said, 'The big acne head on ya! I hope you're getting off the same stop....'

Friday, November 16, 2007

Small Mercies and Big Noises

There is a Russian teenager blaring techno on the bus right now. The skinny head is bopping all over the place. Oh, for Mr. Spock! (Remember Star Trek 4?) Just be grateful this isn't an audio blog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ancient Irish Proverb

Look to the ground and you'll never see the stars. Keep watching the stars and you'll surely walk in shit.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Planet Terror

The first half of Rodriguez and Tarantino's 'Grindhouse' double bill finally gets released in Ireland. 'Planet Terror' has some messy storyline about biological weapons turning the population of a Texan town into pus-dripping zombies. Unsurprisingly a small band of survivors must try to escape, but this movie isn't about story. The scenario has been done a thousand times, and not long ago either (remember 'Black Sheep'?). What should justify another outing for the tale is to do something a little different (like sheep, for instance). Does Rodriguez succeed?
It's not without some interest to the horror cineaste. Easy though it is to retell this familiar tale, Rodriquez knows the zombie subgenre well and one could namecheck the films of Carpenter, Romero, Fulci etc. referenced. But why bother? It adds nothing to the horror genre itself and says nothing of interest to its audience (unlike the critiques of society posed by Romero's movies, for instance). It's all just an excuse for outrageous stunts, disgusting imagery and outrageous violence.
But that's not always a bad thing. There is a lot of humour mixed into the brew. The same playfulness that made waterpistols and condoms weapons against vampires in 'From Dusk till Dawn', gives Rose McGowan a machinegun for a leg here. For me though outside of the live action cartoon elements, there's little to excuse a talented director like Rodriguez wasting his time on this flick. Think of what Rodriguez's own 'Sin City' did for graphic novel adaptations. He showed there that he could be entertaining and still do something original. Here, while it's all fun certainly, there's little else.
To the film's credit, the film doesn't have the same misogyny of its sibling, 'Death Proof'. True, there is a lot of female flesh on show, but the female characters are just as deep (or rather shallow) as their male counterparts. Rose McGowan, as the go-go dancer with the lethal leg, is the type of female lead familiar from the films of Carpenter and his hero, Howard Hawks. She becomes more go-go than cry-cry through the film, and so has more of a character arc than any of her fellow characters. To overemphasise this though would be a mistake. In aspiring to the grindhouse movies of the 70s, Rodriguez still keeps enough of that decade's (and those movies') sexism to prevent him ever being hailed as a feminist.
And what about that violence? Call me an old prude, but I am amazed at the rating this film got. Despite a fictitious "18's" rating at the start, the Irish Censor has given the film a "16's" certificate. Think of the furore that accrued to 'The Evil Dead' when that first came out and then look at the wholesale slaughter on show here. Tom Savini, the makeup man behind Romero's 'Dead' trilogy (including the infamous ripped body of 'Day of the Dead'), gets to play a cop ripped apart here, while all around him heads explode, entrails roll and testicles melt. True, this is cartoon violence, but it's still graphic and definitely gruesome. How the world has turned that no one now bats an eyelid. More than ever we have that strange dichotomy where extreme violence seems to be almost respectable, while sex still enjoys a taboo status. Strange.
Granting that this is only what it appears to be, it's still no turkey. The cast enjoy themselves and give a little extra to the stock two-dimensional characters they play (Josh Brolin does a good Nick Nolte impression). The effects too, while having that authentic 70's crudeness, are excellent. Especially well done is the incidental use of CGI to give Rose McGowan her one leg (like Gary Sinise's character in 'Forrest Gump'). And the action, once it starts, doesn't flag. But then why would it? This is Robert Rodriguez the director of 'El Mariachi', 'Desperado', 'From Dusk till Dawn', etc.; he knows how to do action. One just wished he tried to do a little more.

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Mouthless Screaming

We had a 'celebration' for the launch of the redesigned website last Friday. Lots of drink, some good food, but given some work upsets during the week, nobody was really in a party mood. Then again, it might have been just me.

I won't go into the work troubles as they relate to a report that isn't public yet, but it's safe to say it didn't make me happy. The fears I have had for all those years have been realised. Yes, it may be internal stuff, but to paraphrase the title of a story by Harlan Ellison, though I have no mouth, I must scream. Let this be my quiet scream.

Back to the evening though. Besides the crowd from work, it was good to see Barry and Francisco. They worked in my group while I was on my travels and so had worked on the site, richly deserving an invite.

After the Porterhouse, Jules, Seb and I joined Francisco in heading into town for more revelry. We got refused from The Odeon, thought Tripod was too expensive (€15), and ended up (after an hour shepherding Jules down Grafton Street) in Doyle's. We challenged a redhead over her hair colour, tried to break up some longstanding relationships (I nearly got that Northern dancer), had a few smashed glasses (thanks Jules) and generally evaded eviction until eventually we went of our own volition. A late one and just what I needed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bertie in His Own Words

I meant to post this link earlier in the week (thanks, Nigel):

It speaks for itself really.


Thursday, November 08, 2007


This entry came before the last.
I am in a feather stuffed jacket and am freezing. There is a guy beside me at this bus stop in sandals. And he is American.

Well, Maybe Canadian

It's cold out there!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Broken Telly?

The offer came up of a flat screen telly. Perfect, I thought; my mother's been looking for one to hang on the wall for ages. It took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, but today my youngest brother picked me up to brave the wilds of Leopardstown and collect us. While we stopped at a petrol station, I took the opportunity to ring, checking this was a hangable telly. Oh, no, afraid not, this is a cathode ray tube flat screen, not a plasma nor a LCD. Our adventure was over. Cathode ray tubes don't hang easily on the wall. Thankfully I wasn't the only potential customer to make the mistake and the seller was very obliging when I called to cancel.
On the plus side, it gave me an opportunity to talk to my youngest brother, and to visit his new house (his home cinema set-up is perfect). The middle brother came to visit (at my request it should be said) and we joined my dad for a drink or two in the local. Work has laid some sorry loads on my shoulders lately, so it was good to have some listening ears. (Does anyone need a film expert-php programming-web developing-lecturing writer, with the emphasis on film, these days? Go on, I'm all ears.) It was a pleasant chat, and of the type I rarely have these days. Anyhow thank you oh, family, for aborted telly trips and all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Give My Head Peace

I went out for a walk to clear the head (into town; 90 minutes usually) and play some music. I must have wrenched one of my earphones though as the right ear's music went in, out, in and out for good. Almost. I jiggled the cable and by wrapping it around my head, under my glasses and through my earhole, I managed to get some relatively stable sound. Until I crossed a road. I must have spent an hour playing with it before giving up. Like the plank I am, I took out the faulty earpiece and went on listening to just one. A minute later the battery died.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Ancient Marriner

My dad's birthday isn't too far off, and so, at his suggestion, I got tickets for tonight's all Beethoven programme in the National Concert Hall. Sir Neville Marriner and the Orchestra of St Cecilia, were over as part of the NCH's International Guest Series and made a very tempting prospect.

When faced with a choice between Beethoven's 6th symphony and his 7th, I have traditionally opted for the 6th, the Pastoral. However, after a blistering performance of the 7th tonight, and a 6th heard under the influence of tonnes of sushi, I think I have been converted to the later symphony. Really Marriner (who turned 83 this year) did something special with it tonight.

The Pastoral took up the first half of the evening and was played refreshingly more classically than I am used to. This is often played with more than a touch of romanticism, and to be honest, I can't really see it any other way (the pictures fairly jump out of the music). Having said that though, Marriner's approach was very persuasive and brought a lot to the music I haven't noticed in a long time. The 7th though, taking up the second half of the performance, was electric from the word go. The repetition that characterises much of the earlier symphony is not so much in evidence here, with Beethoven being in a highly experimental mode. The first movement really worked for me, with several strong themes playing well against and with each other. It is hard to think of the second movement without that shot of Connery and Rampling from the end of 'Zardoz' coming to mind, but thankfully the music speaks eloquently for itself. I personally can't hear it without a slight manic cackle echoing in the background, but again Marriner did it justice and took my mind up a level. The third movement is more repetitious, but capped by a slightly insane fourth movement, this was all wonderful stuff. Marriner, who as my mother put it is 'bad on the old pins', got a standing ovation from the audience, and rightfully so.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Death at a Funeral

Let's face it, Frank Oz can really only do comedy (though judging by the reactions to his 'The Stepford Wives' one might have doubted even this). Consider the lethargic 'The Score', a movie starring Norton, De Niro and Brando; how could you go wrong! Yet, he did. However, who can recall 'Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels' without a smile, or even 'Bowfinger'. 'Death at a Funeral' is something of a return to form and a funny movie.
Set in England and with an almost entirely British cast, the movie plays like a more upbeat 'Festen'; a dysfunctional family get together for the funeral of the patriarch and comic situations, involving drugs, blackmail and sibling rivalry, ensue. It sounds like your average sitcom, and were it not for the production values and the high powered cast, this might well be more suitable for the small screen. Signalling every comic setup well in advance, it follows the conventions of British situational humour, but is none the worse for that. It's certainly closer to British television comedies than American ones. If the threads are hardly original, they are funny and played out with verve by the talented cast. Matthew McFadyen in particular seems to be shedding his romantic lead persona (after 'Pride and Prejudice') in favour of a more down-to-earth style. He is a strong anchor in the chaos. Alan Tudyk, gurns his way through a thankless role as an accidentally spaced out lawyer, but though too much time is devoted to his antics, he somehow wins our sympathy. And as his devoted girlfriend, Daisy Donovan (so that's where she went), does what's required in an unfussy fashion.
There is nothing special here. There are no hidden depths, nor huge belly laughs. What we have is an average script boosted by above average talent. But with its lack of pretention, comes a certain likeability. Showing none of the precious self-consciousness that mars a Richard Curtis epic, it makes the audience laugh honestly. And that is afterall what a comedy should do.

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The Bus that Waits

The 67A is timetabled to leave Pearse Street at 18.25. I ran. There it was, waiting. I arrived. It still waited. An Inspector was on board holding it for me. He was also keeping the driver company, down the back of the bus. No one's allowed on and that was 10 minutes ago (t'is now 18.35). Everyone's so considerate on Dublin Bus. Not sure what timetable they're using though.
A 25A arrived so I've just gotten that. And that my friends is why anyone who wants to get anywhere does not use buses.

I Want to be a Lion Tamer

There is a big Flash ad about going to the top of the corporate ladder, working anywhere around the world, in any industry, having mountains of moolah and bikini-clad babes hanging out of your ears. It is for a very special job. It is for Chartered Accountants. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The Throes of Adolescence

I am in the cinema awaiting 'Death at a Funeral' to start. Behind me a mother and teenage son sit, bickering. At least the son does. He is at that stage in life when every comment however bland or innocuous is a personal attack on all he holds dear. It would be a great personal relief to turn around and slap the little tike senseless, but hey, it's not like he's launching a personal attack on everything I hold dear or anything.
His mother just asked if he wants to take his shoes off. The floor is sticky, he replied. Thank God for small mercies!


I am fascinated by the relationship between mind and matter. It's a long, long time since I was ever an idealist, and even then I don't believe it was ever in the metaphysical sense. A psychosomatic pain though apparently shows the brain 'causing' something without the usual use of nerves, motor mechanisms, etc. Or does it? Is the effect glandular? If so, how? Is there any real physical justification for the pain at all or is it purely a mental sensation, ie. the body is actually unchanged, the pain being a 'phantom' sensation like that experienced by amputees? Is there any research on this and any findings one way or the other? Can we operate at the level of thing-in-itself or is it always thing as experienced?

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I am not happy with Russell's 'Problems of Philosophy'. I am only a few chapters in, but he dodges all the real 'problems' with a drunken 'Ah, sure ya couldn't really believe that!' All very sensible in a pub context, but hardly acceptable in a serious philosophical piece.
I have just come from Charlie's 2 (my gran's old shop. I eventually got the crispy pork belly soup noodles I asked for. Brought me right back to be eating slices of red chili, but we don't get anywhere near the quality here that we would in Asia. At the table beside me a small Chinese girl with a wonderfully broad Dublin accent explained to her boyfriend how she could understand her mother (particularly in family matters such as 'I hate you!), but couldn't speak Chinese herself. The idiot boyfriend came out with the immature, 'But that doesn't make sense!' Yes, it does you idiot. Anyway I turned up my music and eventually ate my noodles.


The Funny Bit

All right, so you want the funny bit. Will is excessively proud of his new extension. It is a remarkable feat of new architecture and is actually quite nice. I arrived with a crate of Miller and sought out a seat. I found one in the room beside the kitchen and tried to bring it into the seating area. Unfortunately Will's son Brian was by the computer and Ian was well ensconsed on his seat, so I lifted the chair up to get it between them. Unfortunately in doing this I hit the archway between the rooms and marked the walls. Ah, I thought I will use my glasses cloth to wipe it off. Unfortunately (again) it made it worse. Will was getting angrier, I was sinking into the floor. As I left I apologised to Mary, Will's wife, but it was the first she heard of it. I ran.

Cello-ed Out

Why a Kabelevsky cello concerto played by Rostropovich should seem so good now, I don't know, but it does.
There is a thesis to be written on bus seating patterns at night.


As usual Will, who had been drinking since 8 this morning (thanks to Ian's Bucks Fizz) was very drunk early on and went to bed around 9.45. My playlist pleased the crowds except for music maestro Al, who took over to give us tolerable, but not energising, music for the last hour (apparently 'Golden Brown' cuts no ice these days and was a nig no no). Anyhow I had to go, not because I was drunk, but because I wasn't and wanted to be that way. Just passing the Botanic House now.


A woman maybe 50, probably a lot more, walked across Westmoreland Street wearing a belt. If that weren't disconcerting enough, she stopped three quarters of the way across to laugh up at the seagulls and try on a conversation with them. Beside me two kids probed down each other's throat like mother gulls regurgitating delicacies. And it looks like rain.

Have a Heart

Last night was a 'quiet one' - I left for, and succeeded in getting, the last bus - but I still managed to get out of my head. I watched it rolling, laughing, on the ground. Taking offence at a can-swigging kid on the way into town, I swear I got off the first bus aiming to track him down and kick his smarmy face in. Thankfully I got that last bus instead.
Last night it was the birthday of Stephen's partner, Joanne. Today it's Will's. Couple that with Ian's free pass for the weekend - wife and child are down the country - and we 'have' to meet up this afternoon. I no more feel like it than a cow wants a steak, but free will is an illusion invented to make millionaires feel good about themselves. I am on the 19A right this moment heading out Finglas way. (My request for a city centre venue ignored yet again.)
As a by-the-way, foul tempered, tired and with an uncomfortable feeling in my leg (something I get on and off), I got on the bus to be faced with a poster that read something like 'Is leg pain something to worry about?' Underneath was a ripped out heart with a lit fuse bundle of dynamite inside. Thanks. Sincerely, thanks!

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Classical Education

The reason contemporary music is meant to be so good is because it has assimilated all that has gone before, including classical, To an extent it has, but like pop, what has survived, and so what has the greatest influence, is that which has been most popular. What of that music that was out there then but rings true now, the stuff that wasn't necessarily the most popular when it first arrived. It's all forgotten. No! I say. There is worth in the past despite our feeling that we have moved on, more worth than the present, I would say, in some respects anyway. Yes, we have assimilated, but is it enough? Give Classical a chance.


Something I learnt tonight reaffirms my disillusionment with the human race (don't get me wrong, I love it and all). Apparently sign language, an invention of the last 150 years, is completely different depending on your country. Funnily enough I knew this already, but the full breadth of this monumental stupidity hit me tonight. Here you had a chance to create a language, a potentially universal language, for a relatively small section of the population, and what do we do? We subdivide it again, making each community even smaller than it already was. What a race!

Goldfish Memory

Apparently Fianna Fail have 'plunged' in the opinion polls. Will it really matter come that very far distant polling day? What more exactly do we know now that we didn't know the last election? Bertie is a sham, his party line their own pockets, they are inefficient and the public means nothing to them; what part of the above is new? We have very short memories anyway. Did someone say something about the Government?


Thursday, November 01, 2007


Hollywood deals with the War on Terror! Or their version of it. Several years too late - that is just late enough to have no real effect - chickenshit Hollywood, with films like 'The Kingdom', and the upcoming 'Lions for Lambs', finally capitalises on all that free publicity. 'Rendition', is the current flavour of the Middle-East in our cinemas.
It is an enjoyable, if ultimately callow film, telling of an Egyptian, with an American family, spirited away by the CIA to a 'North African' torture chamber. They suspect him of aiding terrorists, rookie agent, Jake Gyllenhaal, has doubts, while wife, Reese Witherspoon, tries to get some answers about her husband's whereabouts. Coupled to this is a subplot about the chief torturer's daughter and her forbidden romance with a student who might not be all he appears to be.
This is a solidly told tale, even accepting a cheeky play with narrative linearity very late in proceedings. The cast too are solid and, this being an ensemble piece, there are nice turns by Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Witherspoon, and Gyllenhaal. Special kudos have to go to the large Arabic contingent of the cast who are uniformly excellent. Yes, all in all it is unlikely you'll be asking for your money back.
However, taking it as a stab at explaining a complex situation (like 'Syriana') would be a mistake. Without giving too much away, the movie chickens out on its very raison d'etre; torture. There are very strong cases to be made for and against forced interrogations, but 'Rendition' doesn't make them. Disappointingly it refuses to explain the discontent driving extremism too, instead blandly using torture as a chicken and egg argument for general Arabic dissatisfaction. No doubt police brutality and America's hypocritical use of torture on its supposed enemies may fuel the fire, but they weren't the match and they're not the oil sustaining the blaze.
This is all hardly surprising. This is mainstream Hollywood after all, with mainstream Hollywood stars and mainstream Hollywood money. The film shows moral complexity in some of its characters (the police chief, for instance), but still must have its unambiguous villains. So we have Streep's CIA chief, a hard-nosed pragmatist determined to push the law to the limit (and beyond) to get the job done (not unlike the Tilda Swinton character in 'Michael Clayton). We also have the fundamentalist terrorist leaders who look like they're straight out of 'Team America - World Police' (I half expected them to speak in Durka-Durka). We don't need to have rational reasons for terrorism, when the ultimate criminals, like these, are so obviously inhuman. ( 'Syriana' did a better job in this respect given its constraints.) It is also worth noting that, with the exception of Streep, the Americans are painted in a very favourable light; CIA agents 'reluctantly' set about their work; senators are willing to fight the system - just 'not this time!';rich law students are always willing to help each other. (It is also worth noting that wealth is something of a label of integrity in this movie. Wouldn't it be fun if Witherspoon's character was white trash!)
All in all then, an entertaining piece of work, but more sound and fury signifying nothing than the deep, political work it pretends to be.


A New Report on Cancer Prevention Says...

...that we should remain the weight we were when we were 21 to avoid a third of cancers. It also maintains that Atlantis will resurface next year to coincide with the Olympics.