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, July 17, 2008

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

From think the poster says it all! What is that smell? Something stinks something rotten!
One of those cult 80's movies, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension", stars future Robocop, Peter Weller, as the titular scientist-neurosurgeon-rockstar who battles aliens from Planet Ten, with his 'Hong Kong Cavaliers'. It also stars a host of future stars such as Ellen Barkin (how can such an - let's be courteous - unusual-looking woman be so sexy?), Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, and Christopher Lloyd (and more solid actors like Clancy Brown). It has a million different ideas and a very off-beat sense of humour. For all of this though, 'Buckaroo Banzai' is proof that just because you know what you want to make, and know how to, doesn't mean that you should. It's also one of the few authentic arguments against the use of drugs I know of; well, how else did they come up with it?
It starts promisingly enough, with Banzai breaking the land speed record and driving through a mountain (via the 8th Dimension), just after a little bout of brain surgery. With his science buddies and fellow band members, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, he picks up Elen Barkin (unknown twin to his lost wife) and stumbles on an alien conspiracy that of course could lead to Earth's destruction. Par for the course. But there's not a shred of character development, even for plywood-thin comic book characters like these and the story trusts too much to its wackiness. No doubt inspired by Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, it should be better, but it's all too self-knowing and shallow. Some clever people apparently felt that because they were clever they really didn't have to try, so they didn't, and so the movie ends up a curiosity, and a dull one. A pity.
And exactly why did John Lithgow need a dialect coach? (He plays an alien, albeit one in an Italian's body, not that you'd know it.)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sticking My Nose In

What does John Malkovich wear on the end of his nose in 'The Libertine'? Such prosthetics have not been seen since Captain Hook's hook in 'Peter Pan'. Just a comment.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I finished (finally) Philip K. Dick's 'Valis' last Sunday. I respect his work too much not to finish one of his books, but it is a tough read. Certainly there is a lot of esoteric Gnostic thought, a lot of hare-brained cosmology, and a lot of the usual Dickian questioning of Reality, but there is so much going on, and so much of it is just plain crazy, that it's hard to get involved. What does surprise though is his own reasonably coherent stance with regard to an event that is generally thought (at least by Dick) to have happened him in real life; his enlightenment in 1974 by an alien/divine power. At least to get a proper appreciation of Dick and this event, reading 'Valis' should be compulsory for all his fans. It also brings together almost everything he deals with in all his fiction prior to this, one of his last novels. I'm just not sure it works.
There are some nice touches to the book though. From a pop reference point of view, despite the similarity of name of fictional rock star, Eric Lampton, to Eric Clapton, my sense from the book is that Eric is more of a Bowie (stars in a sci-fi film, for instance), while his tech music guru, Brent Mini, could only be Brian Eno. Dick's obsession with Linda Ronstadt is a little disquieting, but then I wouldn't know her work. From a craziness point of view, Dick providing narration while featuring as TWO characters (himself and crazed Horselover Fat) is pretty bewildering. But I'm not sure if I am as affectionate to Fat as Dick evidently is, and the treatment of the dying/dead female friends has a nasty whiff of misogyny. Worth a look though, just read "A Scanner Darkly", "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said" and 'The Man in the High Castle' first.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obssessive about 'Vertigo'

Jimmy Stewart falls for Kim Novak in VertigoJimmy Stewart falls for Kim Novak in 'Vertigo'
Switched on the telly and saw that 'Vertigo' was just starting. I just had to keep on watching for the millionth time. After all there is a reason why it figures so frequently at the top of critics' lists. One of the cruellest movies ever made. Fantastic!
There are lighting effects in that movie (eg. the neon-lit exterior of the Hotel Empire) that I have seen many a director try to mimic (Dario Argento at the start of 'Inferno', for instance), but they're invariably shoddy in comparison. Hitchcock knew what he was trying to achieve, an unreal, obssessive quality. This stylisation gives the whole film a dreamlike quality, augmented immeasurably by the ever-present Herrmann score.
I found it a bit disconcerting to see it being broadcast as 'The Family Movie' though. Family! Sexual obsession, murder, fantasy and more Freud than you can shake a big phallic stick at! Definitely one for the kids!
(And by a strange coincidence I ended up watched another Hitchcock gem, 'Shadow of a Doubt,' last night. "But they're still human," screams Teresa Wright at her psycho uncle (a masterful Joseph Cotton) who doesn't like fat, wealthy widows. "Are they, Charlie? Are they really?")

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stardust Memories

Though not nearly as funny as 'Annie Hall', or as coherent as 'Manhattan', Woody Allen's 'Stardust Memories' is very much of a piece with those two movies. The story, such as it is, concerns a filmmaker, Sandy Bates (as usual, not very dissimilar to Allen), who attends an out-of-town retrospective of his work and remembers past loves while struggling with new ones.
The initial train carriage scene and the general storyline suggest Allen's beloved Bergmann (particularly 'Wild Strawberries'), but it is Allen's other love, Fellini, who truly inhabits every frame. The open beach shots, the surreal interludes incorporating Allen young and old, the filmmaker as hero; this is '8 1/2' retold, American-style. Sadly although the lightness of tone is there, the depth is not, but it says something of Allen at this period that even when he was being self-indulgent, as he very definitely is being here, there is still much to admire. The constant film within film and dream within dream framing, is calculatedly artsy, but it somehow works. The jokes too, when told, are good; standouts include Sidney Finkelstein's rampaging Hostility tracked by dogs through the woods, and a 'Man with Two Brains' skit a full three years before Steve Martin's movie. The real standout of the movie though is Gordon Willis's cinematography.
Willis, memorable for his work on the 'Godfather' movies and Allen's own 'Manhattan', uses black and white in a way all of his own, simultaneously recalling 40's Film Noir work by the likes of John Alton, and Renaissance canvasses by Caravaggio. It is simply stunning. A nightclub scene where Allen, Jessica Harper and John Rothman talk around a table will always represent for me what beauty Cinema is capable of. The look of the movie raises it to a new level and makes it required viewing for anyone interested in Cinematic Art.
Willis isn't the only one to add beauty to proceedings though. Playing Allen's mentally disturbed lost love, Dorrie, Charlotte Rampling is another part of the movie to lift it to a new level. At one point Allen recalls an epiphanic moment when he simply watched Rampling reading on the floor. We are treated to this image too, but it soon becomes evident that it is not to Allen that Rampling smoulders, but the camera itself. She is self-consciously lending her glamour to the screen, being a star, allowing herself to be looked at. It is a fetishistic moment, no doubt, but it is Allen's attempt at creating cinematic iconography and it gives us an inkling of his intentions with 'Stardust Memories'; it is Film itself that he is celebrating/investigating. That he is only partly successful is a shame.
A minor Allen work then, but a great Willis one.

P.S. Look out for an early appearance by Sharon Stone, and Data (Brent Spiner), from Star Trek, also seems to be there.

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Gone Baby Gone

Directed by Ben Affleck, 'Gone Baby Gone', is one of the finest thrillers from America this year. Partner detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to find a missing four year old. That the child's mother is a drug-addict and the Boston community she inhabits is none too helpful doesn't help matters. Things soon take an even darker turn, however, when crime lords, shady drug deals and a family of paedophiles get mixed into the story.
Poor old Ben Affleck has been suffering for years from critical assaults on his acting (not entirely deserved, in my view). On this evidence though he has a long and creditable career ahead of him behind the camera. As one might expect, he is excellent when it comes to working with his cast and everyone involved is uniformly excellent. Ed Harris for one gives one of his strongest perfomances for a long time, while Amy Madigan is memorable in her brief role as the missing child's aunt. Casey Affleck and Monaghan fill their central roles perfectly, while Morgan Freeman manages to be a little more complex than his usual 'noble' self.
Affleck's efforts are not confined to the cast; he manages to build the tension with great sureness, while giving us a personable Boston that still seems full of pain, menace and loss. (This, even while managing to get a rooftop reference to that other Boston-set movie, 'The Departed', into his film.) And, despite nearly two hours of a running time, he never lets the audience off the hook. This is most notable with regard to the moral dilemmas the film poses to its audience (and there are several). Unusually for a major Hollywood film it does not duck out at the last.
If last year's 'Michael Clayton' deserved an Oscar nomination for best picture, 'Gone Baby Gone' deserves the statuette. A fine piece of work that should be seen.



Before I'd seen it, I had my doubts about '300'. Like all kids, I heard the whole Thermopylae story at school and ooh-ed and ahh-ed like the rest, but I have learnt enough about the 'noble' Spartans in the meantime to know I don't like them. (I was going to bring up a meaningless comparison with the Aztecs, but I don't think I would have pleased too many people with my views on them neither.) Anyhow quite apart from historical accuracy (or lack thereof), '300' is a pretty dull affair. Sure, it looks impressive, and all that use of CGI for backgrounds and stylised look is something I have advocated for a long time (as long as it is in the service of storyline and keeps budgets down, CGI should be used; needless use is what I have a problem with). '300' uses CGI from the outset and works it into the presentation of the world it is trying to convey. Yes, it looks great.
No, my problem - make that problems - are with character, story, direction, acting, etc.. Leonides, the chocolate king, as played by Gerard Butler, is as two-dimensional as the design on a Grecian urn. His sub-Gladiator warblings (and I wouldn't be any great advocate of "Gladiator"'s screenplay neither) are, in the worst sense of the term, 'comic book'. The numerous battlescenes, obviously meant to be rousing to the teenage male audience, are tedious, even more so for being in slow-motion for the most part. The film could have been halved in length (and I prayed throughout that it could be) if they had played everything at normal speed. As to the attempts to make poor old Sparta an early fighter for Freedom against Tyranny, it looks good on paper, but is laughable on the screen. And is it just me, or is it a little in bad taste to make the Spartans so obviously Anglo-Saxon in the battle against a Middle-Eastern enemy? Obvious, I know, but offensive all the same.
The real subtext of the piece, of course, is not the battle of Freedom against Tyranny, but of Beauty against Ugliness. I haven't seen so many six-packs outside of a Molloy's Off-Licence. And who are the bad guys? The deformed traitor (rejected by Leonides), the traitorous deformed priests, the masked, because deformed, Immortals, and of course the androgynous Xerxes (even his 'beautiful' courtesans have facial abnormalities). Granted the duplicitous Theron is the exception, but he keeps his six-pack to himself. This is Hollywood celebrating its own cult of the Beautiful, placing it on the side of Right as against the ugliness and decadence of the rest of us. As such it's second only to 'Triumph of the Will' as Fascist propaganda.
(And need I point out the celebration of militarism? Verhoeven's hugely enjoyable 'Starship Troopers' was villified for doing with ironic humour what '300' does with a po-face.)
So what of the brave '300'? Sure, it looks good, but it stinks to high heaven. Go tell the Spartans!


Catch Up

Some film catch up this weekend. Difficult though it may be to believe, I had not seen '300'. Even more difficult to believe given how much I like middle period Woody Allen ("I prefer his earlier, funny ones"), I only watched 'Stardust Memories' tonight. And from a cinema perspective, I was lucky enough to catch 'Gone Baby Gone' this afternoon.

Leaving the Nest

Some seagulls nested in chimneys opposite my window. As far as I could tell, there were three chicks, then all I could be certain of were two. Eventually there was only one. I saw it sit around while the parents flew off for food etc.. Everyday its grey feathers changed, got more speckled. It began to preen itself. Occasionally you'd hear a piercing little cry, repeated, and in harmony with it craning its neck. Last Friday it stood preening its salt and pepper plumage and suddenly stretched its wings. Stretched it wings. It was amazing how big it had grown so quickly. Then yesterday nothing. Had it flown? The pigeons moved in today.