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, December 27, 2007

Better Late than Never....

A truly Bad Santa wishes you well!
A truly Bad Santa wishes you well!

Can't believe I forgot to post this before Christmas, but then it has been a very, very alcoholic week. Anyway you get the point. Hope you had a good one and here's wishing you, dear reader, ah, so very dear to me, a 2008 free of Bush, Bertie and bad flicks (at least Blair's gone). Slim hope, I know, but I'd like it to be a good one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shoddy, and Yes, I am Jealous!

It's strange, but film buff though I am, I only got around to seeing Channel 6's film programme, 'Take Six', tonight, and even then only the beginning and the end. I don't feel I lost much by missing the middle. Okay, as someone who'd give his right gonad to host a film review show, I'm bound to be envious and just a wee bit critical. However, of what I saw it's badly edited (sentences chopped off before they end), badly framed (the host sits so far back as to require binoculars), and the 'questions' (and I use the word in its broadest sense seeing as they usually involve reams of senseless flattery) are often far longer than the answers by the celebrity guests (in this case Renee Zellweger). At the end we were left with 'a trailer of a great movie not out for a little while'. A 'little while' I suppose can mean twenty four hours, since the movie trailer shown was for 'We Own the Night', opening tomorrow. Not that you'd know, by the way, given that neither the host nor the credits revealed the title of this 'great movie not out for a little while'. The credits ended before the trailer itself could tell us. This itself wasn't surprising given that perhaps only five people constitute the crew. In their defence, Channel Six are obviously skimping on the money, but a little more care should be lavished even by such a small outfit. You have an enviable opportunity folks; make more of it!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Golden Compass

It is inevitable that a hugely successful series of fantasy novels, adapted for the screen with lashings of CGI, should attract comparisons with 'The Lord of the Rings', Harry Potter and 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. I don't think any reviewer could go without mentioning any of those adaptations when tackling 'The Golden Compass'. I don't intend bucking that trend, but let's get it out of the way. While a vast improvement on the likes of 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (in retrospect they really ruined that adaptation), 'The Golden Compass' is no 'Lord of the Rings'. At base, it's probably on par with some of the earliest Potter movies.

The film follows the adventures of the precocious Lyra, a young girl living on an Earth of a parallel universe. Pursued by the malignant Majesterium, a dictatorial theocracy, and in search of a horde of children stolen by the Gobblers, it is through her eyes that we see a world where people wear their souls on the outside, literally. Everyone lives their lives accompanied by a 'daemon', an animal embodying their inmost self. Lying somewhere between Jiminy Cricket and a witch's familiar, they provide an opportunity for much of the film's CGI. Add in a kingdom of talking polar bears and you also have a chance for a starry cast of voice actors. Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sir Ian McKellan and others provide familiar sounds for the unfamilar visuals.

The live action stars are big too. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig are only two of the familiar faces. Unfortunately the biggest role, that of Lyra, falls to newcomer, Dakota Blue Richards. Featuring in almost every scene, she simply hasn't got the range to support this movie, and it says a lot for little Freddie Highmore (of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' fame), that he is far more persuasive as Pan, Lyra's daemon, a voice-only part. Richards, in contrast, strikes a truculent note throughout with the result that you never really feel she is in any danger of failure. A little vulnerability is sorely needed.

Richards isn't the only problem though. The CGI, playing such a huge part in proceedings, should be seamless. It isn't. Too often we are reminded that this is a cinematic confection, when we should be lost in wonder. At one point, the music swelling, Iorek carries Lyra across a snowy Arctic plain in a scene that's meant to rouse the audience. I felt that I was watching an outtake from 'The Snowman'. It wasn't bad, it just looked animated.

When I first heard they were making Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, the first thing I wanted to know about was who they had chosen to direct. Surely such an epic required a director of epic status. When Chris Weitz, the director of 'American Pie', was pulled on board (despite interest from the likes of Terry Gilliam), my spirits sank. When he left the project, I felt happier. Unfortunately they brought him back. And my fears, though not fully realised, are in part. He doesn't foul it up (again this is no 'Narnia') and we are always carried along with the story. But like Richards', his is a one note performance. He doesn't have the epic scope to make this story truly magical, something it is crying out to be.

Of course, one can't blame the director for flawed work by the scriptwriter. Sadly that's Weitz too.

Whether Weitz was the right choice as director, he should have been pushed off the page as far as script was concerned. It's just too much to ask of him. I have not read the books upon which this was based, but the word on the street has been universally positive. There is apparently an intelligence and excitement to the books that pushes them a league or two above Harry Potter. Not on this evidence. I can't help feeling that it's the box-ticking approach Weitz takes that's at fault. We must introduce the witches, we must tell of the bears, we must fit in the aviator, etc.. Even the big Darth Vader moment is fumbled.

Of course, the controversial point about 'His Dark Materials' was the books' attitude to organised religion, with the Majesterium, a version of this world's many organised creeds, being the very definite bad guys of the trilogy. If you are looking for this, that is something you will see, but you have to look hard. Personally if this is so crucial to the books (as apparently it is), there should have been far more of it and to Hell with the so-called 'Christian Right'.

All this is not to say 'The Golden Compass' is a bad movie. It's just not as good as it could have been. Regardless of what everyone else seems to think, I feel the Harry Potter series in particular set the bar very low (okay, I'm back to those movies). Movies about magic should be magical and that's something I never have felt about the Harry Potter series. They always entertain, but they never elicit that sense of wonder I have always wanted. I had high hopes for 'The Golden Compass', but though it entertains, it too lacks that wonder.

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The Healing Cup

Well, I've gotten over the stomach bug, but did little today anyhow.

I read a little about the use of myth in 'The Natural'. Apparently the novel uses the Sir Perceval story, originally the knight who finds, loses and finds again the Holy Grail, healing the ailing Fisher King. A novel should stand or fall on its own merits, regardless of its use of reference, but 'The Natural' does that. It's excellent, just very depressing. I was angry for quite a while after finishing, my lot for a lot of books this past year.

With the end of the year nearly upon us, I've been thinking of listing off what's been read etc.. Then again with so much drink ahead of me, will I have any brain left for such work?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tentacled Monstrosities...and that was just for Dessert!

Yesterday after watching 'The Golden Compass', I went for an hour long sushi binge. Probably not the wisest decision given that I was on antibiotics and ended up drinking a little too. 5 a.m. I awoke knowing something wasn't right; a determination was growing in my belly to 'do an Alien'. By 7, the decision to erupt had been reached. As a result, I've spent my day deciding on which elaborate way I would use the toilet bowl next. Choices, choices. That and sleeping, and a little Chandler, and binge tv. One of those days you consign to the black abysses of Chthulu. And he can take his murderous stomach spawn too.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I just finished 'The Natural'. Whoa! For those of you who have read it you will know that there was never a truer word spoken than when I held it up as an example of the difference between film and books. My jaw is still out of place. I cannot believe the audacity of either Malamud or Levinson; Malamud for what he did in his book, Levinson for what he did to Malamud's book. The irony is of course that I liked the movie. Shame on me! Shame on Hollywood! But strangely shame on Malamud too!

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You Will Drink!

By the way, Friday was the Christmas party in Floridita, a Cuban bar in the Irish Life Mall. After some good food and a healthy alcoholic start, I split my very drunken night between expounding philosophically on the pursuit of Science to the Student Helpdesk, and chatting up a champagne cocktail-drinking redhead at the bar. Very lovely lady. She put up with me for far too long. Thankfully I did not follow the hardier drinkers to the Viper Room at 3.30 or whatever it was, but stumbled home instead.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Homer?

With the exception of Chandler, I've been finding it hard to get excited about books of late and have had the same five on the go for quite a while now. Chandler's Collected Short Fiction, Russell's Problems of Philosophy, The Essential Steven Soderbergh, Millhauser's 'The Barnum Museum', Nesbith's Ghost Stories, etc.. I just couldn't get enthusiastic. Happily, after a visit to, I bought Malamud's 'The Natural' during the week and was saving up until today to start reading it. I'm a little ashamed to say I love the movie, sentimental though it is (and I hate the closing shot), and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bernard Malamud (though that's based on only a few short stories). I know he can write and have always wanted to read the book. So while going into town on the bus, I resisted starting it. In the coffee shop, I still resisted until a comfy seat became available. I wanted to savour it. Certainly after the opening, meeting Roy Hobbs again and the murderous Harriet Bird getting on that train, I was a happy reader.

I went along to a Mexican horror movie then, 'Km 31', but continued afterwards. I am around 50 pages off the ending now and must confess that it is a different book to what I expected. Barry Levinson, director of the movie, took a very definite slant on things not entirely borne out by the book. Levinson was consciously constructing a myth, retelling King Arthur for the US, and although some of this is in the book - well, a lot of it - Malamud's concerns are, dare I say, a little more mundane. In many ways this is more about homer with a small 'h', than Homer. The iconic use of the lightning strike is not in evidence, and if anything superstition and magic are downplayed. This results in a less mythic, but more intelligent work. I am still undecided what I think overall, but if ever a book highlighted the differences between film and literature, this is that book.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Back on the Beat

I haven't exactly been burning the blog boards up of late. A little extra curricular activity has been taking up my time, so reading, viewing, etc. has gone a little by the wayside. Having said that...
I did read Chandler's 'The Curtain' featuring Carmady, probably the next most common detective in his oeuvres next to Marlowe. Although I only saw, not read, 'Farewell, My Lovely', both the Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum versions, and a long time ago, there are a lot of parallels; old rich man in huge house, missing (good) girl, and especially the garage scene. The next story, 'Try the Girl', has similarities too, at least in a 'Moose Malloy'-type called Skalla.
I've read a lot of Chandler's 'Collected Short Fiction' at this stage and am still only halfway through. Very readable stuff. The old story about Chandler not knowing who killed the driver in the movie version of 'The Big Sleep', makes perfect sense. You don't need to know what exactly is happening to enjoy these tales, and sometimes it probably helps if you don't. There is a hypnotic quality to the writing, very much like an oral account, which makes sense too when you consider that most are told in the first person. You just go with the flow trusting that Carmady (and Chandler) knows his job and will get us there in the most efficient way in the end. I have a natural bias to Hammett, but I can still appreciate quality and this is quality.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Facebook Owns YOU!

Well me anyway. Okay, paranoia time again.

Having logged into Facebook, I happened to look at its Terms of Reference and I have to confess I didn't quite like what I saw. Granted this probably has no relevance to most users, but the following set off some alarm bells:

"By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing."

They then go on to say something about, 'But we don't own your content'. Could have fooled me! Like I say for most users who just want to keep in touch there's no problem (although look at their terms on 'Third Party Applications'!), but I don't like what's implied. Well, I've stopped importing my blog into it for a start.

I suppose I already suspected a lot - I've written before of what they could do with our details - but the tone of the thing is just so damn proprietorial! To be honest Blogger is probably just the same. Do we really have to do everything ourselves! Or are there paid services that have an approach to our data that's a little less hands on. I don't like it, folks, I don't like it at all.

Careful people, O'Leary could go postal!