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 28, 2008

Paul Newman Dies

One of the last of the Greats. Nothing much I can add to what's already been said.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Be Kind, Rewind

The friendly video store on the corner is in danger of being closed down. To compound matters Frank Black, after an electrical accident, wipes all the store's stock. Mild-mannered Mos Def must collaborate with Black, and later the neighbourhood, to remake some of cinema's most successful movies, without even a shoestring. Can they do it? Does it matter?
I tried to see this in the cinema when it came out and ended up having a fight with an obnoxious Australian female dog which sent me out of the screening near the start. Last night I finally gave it a watch.
With 'Be Kind, Rewind', writer-director Michel Gondry, maker of the excellent 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and the more troubling 'The Science of Sleep', tries to bring Blue Peter-style creativity to Hollywood, calling for a renewed sense of community in the process. We can all make movies, he seems to cry, meaningful movies! This is an admirable call, but he should start with his own film. His story is intentionally small scale, but rather than win us over, this results in a very shallow experience. Ultimately he can only get so far on good-natured whimsy, which is all it all amounts to!
Forgive me if my comments are a little too subjective here, but, in my humble opinion, the problems are many. Firstly it's simply not funny enough; Jack Black is annoying; there aren't enough Swedes (remade movies); the story is paper thin and predictable; the characters are paper thin and predictable; etc.. Again Gondry tries to get by on being good-natured, but we the audience deserve a little more than that. I admire his 'in the camera' tricks (as opposed to CGI effects), and I appreciate his love of filmmaking, but in the end he is a far better director than writer (something borne out by his last two movies; Charlie Kaufmann wrote the wonderful 'Eternal Sunshine', Gondry the mediocre 'The Science of Sleep'). Please Monsieur Gondry, be kind, rewind to the former.

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Lost Weekend - Almost!

Bronzino strikes again (The National Gallery - London)Bronzino at The National Gallery - London
The week's nearly up and I've written nothing on last weekend. Culture type time, particularly as a failed phone meant I couldn't contact anyone.

  • Roar - A small South Bank exhibition of work by Scottish design students. Little that caught my eye except for a clever cover of Radiohead's 'Nude' by one James Houston (I think) using a Spectrum ZX, a dot matrix printer, a scanner and an old telly. Loved it, but it must have gotten nasty for the girl at the door; even great songs get annoying when repeated ad nauseum.
  • The Walworth Farce - I had to go to London to see an Irish play. Enda Walsh's latest and more on this anon.
  • Giraffe - Rushed meal (starter and main course in under thirty minutes) as I was rushing to the play, but a plus for me as it included chilli only days after stomach trouble. And I survived!
  • The National Gallery - Believe it or not, in all my trips to London I have always managed to miss this. Not this time and thank God for that. Fabulous! You go into the 1500 -1700 wing and are greeted by Da Vinci's 'Madonna of the Rocks'! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!! In the Raphael room, sure, I could appreciate him, but I was more taken by the two unfinished Michaelangelos. Then there was the Del Sartos. And then Bronzino! I love Bronzino! The sharp colour, the live eyes, the stylisation. (And the Monty Python foot.) Then on to the Rembrandts and isn't that portrait of his mistress, Hendrickje Stoffels, incredible? On to the 1700s - 1900s. Sorry, not too keen on your Constables and Gainsboroughs, though yes, Mr Hogarth, 'The Little Shrimp Girl' is wonderful. And then Seurat, a wonderful red Degas, and okay Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' (one of four canvases; I must have seen them all at this stage). I prefered his chair and 'Two Crabs'. There was also what some might see as a nondescript Monet, a winter scene of a river, that just sent shivers down my spine. I brought me into winter, a good winter. A fabulous stuff!
  • BFI - A strange exhibit by Michel Gondry and Peter Bismuth involved a revolving projector painting the blank walls of a large room with what appeared to be a sunny apartment (where Gondry's 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' was playing on television). As you watched, however, you noticed the furniture, the views from the windows, the very architecture begin to change too quick for a mere set change. Unless of course, the set was a miniature one.... One thing that amazed me was how long I stayed watching this transformation. It was addictive.
  • Tate Modern - I didn't get there this time!
  • St Martin in the Fields - Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart. More on this later.
  • Pint of ale in the Sherlock Holmes.
  • Nice French meal in Soho.
  • Nice pizza walking home in Balham.
  • Books bought, including volume 4 of 'Back Story'. Thank you, BFI. If only I can get volumes 2 and 3.
  • Nice chips walking home in Balham.
  • Sunshine! And a Sunday morning stroll to Clapham Tube station as the Balham one was flooded.

The flight was delayed by 50 minutes or so. When I got back to Dublin and off the bus I was confronted by blood on the pavement. I queued for bread and milk and when I got home found that my backpack had been opened. Nothing taken. Hmmmm! Let me take you by the hand and lead you down the streets of London....

Friday, September 19, 2008


I got off the plane at Gatwick to something very novel: sunshine! Did you know it can be warm? I seem to recall something about that from before, but it's been so long.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happiness is a Warm Gun - Look Down That Barrel!

It's nice to be able to look at the financial crisis from something of a distance right now. It's humbling how delicate things actually are and how easily it can all be shaken down. And nowadays there are no Roosevelts to forge New Deals! (Instead we have Cowens with revised deals; amazing how fear focuses the collective mind.) Of course, the distance is closing for us all. Pretty soon we'll be staring at it all from the inside, if we're not already.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jar City

'Jar City' has a grumpy police detective investigating the murder of an unpleasant sort that prompts the release of all sorts of unpleasant skeletons (from closets, graves, floors, jars...). Unusual diseases and nasty rapes also figure.
Lots of praise being heaped on this belatedly released Icelandic thriller (it was made in 2006). I second the enthusiasm. It's a standard detective yarn with all the chestnuts familiar from British shows - the inexperienced partner, the detective with family problems, interlinking crimes and dark histories - but told in a forlorn Icelandic setting, and told briskly and with humanity. Ingvar Eggert SigurĂ°sson is a standout as the takes-no-shit detective, Erlendur, but the unfamiliar cast are all strong. It probably suits the small screen better, but it's worth seeing one way or the other.

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Step on It!

Walking down Exchequer Street a face full of tooth said he didn't believe it was chewing gum. It is interesting the effect one end of my anatomy has on the other; I felt like giving him a free lobotomy. Did I mention that? I dole out free lobotomies. Want one?

A River Runs Through Me

As is par for the course in my life, I no sooner take two weeks holidays than I come down with food poisoning...without leaving my apartment! For the last three days I have been taking in air and giving out water, usually at 15 minute intervals and from the wrong orifice, water of the sort that bears comparison to only such rivers as the Liffey. I am not a well man. I am not a happy man. Stravinsky has taken up composing in my large intestine using the Black Sabbath Philharmonic as the sounding board for his ideas. I am a noisy man. I could give you even more information than you need to know, but instead I will pause out of respect for my audiences' delicate imaginations.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Bourne Ultimatum and the Robot Parade

There is resistance to the Robot Parade. Believe in steel, Matt, or you will be trampled by the inevitable march of the metal men! Remember Charlie Cybermen! Remember Bartleby! They stopped for a cup of tea and a biscuit and where are they now?

Tragedy on the March

In Episode 7, 'Attack of the Pin-ups', Charlie Cybermen, of the Wilberforce branch of the family, accidentally chokes on a Goldgrain. CIA involvement? The Republicans continue with their convention. Consequently Bartleby Cybermen chokes (one of the Andiron set from Woking).

It's Catching! Beware McCain!

John McCain blows his top at Obama's pig jibesJohn McCain blows his top at Obama's pig jibes
The march of the Tin Men continues apace. Using self-generated steam, McCain turns himself into an oven. The aim: the production of chips, oven chips. McCain, oven, chips; it was the logical next step. Freedom is not free. Freedom fries! Remember that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The March of Evolution, Sarah Palin and Cybermen

It has been suggested that Sarah Palin is a Cyberman. Cybermen don't believe in evolution either, just metal. Hard metal. Gun metal.

On the Infinite Nature of the 46A Bus Route and Tardis Internal Space

The Cybermen control the 46A bus route. They clone those buses. I see them every morning, wave after wave of them, five 46As in ten minutes, maybe more. No other buses, just 46As. MILLIONS of them! I wish I had to get the 46A. I wish the Cybermen controlled my bus.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I can't believe I'm even writing about such crappy things as BBC conducting contests. Another crappy thing was the Twilight Zone episode 'The Bard', something I saw a week or so back. Black magic gets William Shakespeare back from the dead to ghost write tv shows for a talentless writer. An utterly predictable bowel shot from Rod Serling, notable only for having a very young Burt Reynolds parody Marlon Brando.
Whether it's crappy or not I'm still undecided, but having FINALLY gotten around to listening to Portishead's 'Third', I was distinctly underwhelmed. I should be liking Beth Gibbons' vocals, not resenting their intrusion. I will give it more time before any categorical pronouncements.
More likeable is Beck's 'Modern Guilt'. I know, I know, I'm way too far behind the times. For goodness sake I'm only listening to The Delgados now and they've been disbanded for three years! (Liked their version of 'Mr Blue Sky' though.)
On the definitely not crappy front, I really wished I could have watched 'Three Days of the Condor' last night (seen it several times, but a while ago and it's a goody), but blast these school nights, there was work this morning. And on that note, goodnight.

Goldie gets Silver

Flicked on yet another BBC variant on the celebrity dancing idea last night. 'Maestro' pitted some minor league celebrities against each other at conducting! Conducting, folks! Thankfully I tuned in at the final missing all the preamble. Amazingly Goldie, yes that Goldie, was streets ahead of all competition. He did a pretty fine interpretation of Elgar's 'Nimrod' from the Enigma Variations and no less a personage than Sir Roger Norrington proclaimed grandly, 'This man is a conductor!' And he was right.
In the final 'play-off', Goldie and second placer 'comedienne', Sue Perkins, had to each conduct the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. The judges were out and instead the viewers would phone vote the winner. Perkins, pulling faces both on and off the podium, looked like an unfortunate Tourette's sufferer trying not to shout that last obscenity. Her interpretation sounded that way too; staccato and piecemeal, calculated to shock rather than convince. Goldie, on the other hand, knew what he wanted to do and did it. His movement was coherent, abiding by an overall vision of the piece, planned to achieve a poetic overall effect. To my mind he played it as Norrington might have, that is, as Beethoven might have. His reading had none of the affectation Perkins trowelled on in an effort to please.
Of course, the public voted Perkins the winner. The artificial won out over the authentic. Never thought I'd say it, but the guy was robbed. Shame on you public, shame on you! But then BBC and phone votes don't always go hand in hand.

Pig in a Poke

I think it says as much about the Republicans as Barack Obama that they immediately associate a pig wearing lipstick with Sarah Palin. It's also a booby trap Obama seems to have fallen into.
Palin is the Republican's Joker, and, I would add given her Creationist views, bad joke. She was a cynical attempt to catch the pro-Hilary female vote without really doing much damage to creaky McCain. She portrays herself as a pitbull, albeit one with dentures, and violent animals, be they canine or porcine, attract attention. McCain just has to stay quiet, let her take the spotlight, and come out every now and again with a non-threatening wiseacre to show he's above nastiness. After all she's only the vice-presidential candidate. And that's where Barack's slipping up. He's taken the bait. He should not be dealing with his opponent's running mate, he should be targeting his opponent directly. By engaging with her he is lowering herself to her level and the level of a vice president (reinforcing that spotlight into the bargain). Biden should be doing this job, but where is he? On every report I've seen McCain, Palin and Obama are mentioned, but Biden is mysteriously absent. Are the Democrats trying to sabotage themselves?
Even as Vice President though, Palin is a monstrous concept. Surely America is not so imbecilic as to vote in a pro-gun creationist with a history of hypocrisy, petty power wielding and 'maybe' even corruption? I know they voted in Bush - TWICE - but surely they wouldn't be so insane. Would they? And then if McCain popped his clogs! Surely there's something about this in Nostradamus, isn't there. In fact, I seem to recall some story about a white pig and ....

Monday, September 08, 2008

There's Just One Little Thing....

A long time ago I was involved in writing the script for an online murder mystery game called 'Love Lies Bleeding'. In researching my story I had an opportunity to cap a childhood fascination with true life killers and crime. Jack, Dr Crippen, The Acid Bath Murder, Ed Gein, etc.; they all held a ghoulish appeal for me. The more ingenious their style of dispatch the better. For instance think of the Acid Bath Murderer dissolving away his victim's corpse, only getting caught when the remains of his victim - her kidney stones - were found on his gravel drive. Just how childish this taste of mine was can be seen by how I equally lapped up Agatha Christie novels as if they were somehow extensions of these crimes. That there was a real human dimension, the victims, seemed to pass me by. They were mere markers in a fiendish chess game between the criminals and law and order. Crippen was just one more celebrity villain on Columbo. And like Wile Coyote on Roadrunner, I always used to root for the bad guys and hate it when the little mac-clad detective came back to say, 'But there's just one little thing....'
How times have changed. Though I would be something of a horror fan, today I have no real interest in serial killer movies. 'Psycho' and 'Halloween' are the only real standouts of the genre for me, each for the beauty of the film-making and the depth of their stories (a psychological depth in one, a pseudo-supernatural one in the other). I suppose 'The Honeymoon Killers' is up there too (and probably 'Peeping Tom'), but I find 'Friday the 13th' etc. risible. (And don't get me started on Lucio Fulci!). Today it's hard for me to see such fare without seeing the innocents put in the monster's way. All I see are the victims. Disposable teens or not, I can't see people as pieces any more (and I'd really prefer not to see them in pieces).
Now it's my mother who pigs out on a diet of 'CSI' and 'Forensic Detectives' on the Discovery Channel. I haven't watched 'Columbo' in a very long time, but I guess his style of detection, like that of Poirot or Marple, is a chess game far removed from real killers. It's Scooby Doo for the armchair set. CSI is also in this bracket. The oddball Petersen solving crime like a better equipped Nero Wolf, is just another in a long line of chess players. I do object to that Forensic Detectives muck which is nothing but pornography of the very worst kind. There are real people there and pain enough without it being trotted out for entertainment. There is a very, very real distinction between the clever detective story and real murder. Still I suppose I was once one of those viewers in my way. Paradoxically it is the 'real crime' programme that is really for children (sorry, mom), because one needs a child-like engagement in order to distance oneself from the reality being depicted. I suppose in many ways the world of the child and the sociopath are not all that dissimilar. (And no, I'm not really implying my mother is a sociopath, really I'm not...she wouldn't hurt a fly....)

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Lonely Hearts

'Lonely Hearts' is yet another account of the infamous 'Lonely Hearts Killers', though this time with the added distinction of being written and directed by the grandson of one of the cops who brought them in. Whether he adds anything to the tale though is doubtful.
For the uninitiated, throughout the late '40s, conman Raymond Fernandez targeted vulnerable women through lonely hearts columns, meeting, seducing, robbing and then leaving them. That is until he met the somewhat unstable Martha Beck. Martha proved to be his soul mate and to her he confessed his criminal activities. Far from being shocked, she embraced his lifestyle, masquerading as his sister, while he pursued more lonely women. She even added an extra dimension; murder.
The definitive movie telling of this seedy story is Leonard Kastle's 1970 film, 'The Honeymoon Killers'. Low-budget and looking it, it nevertheless caught the homicidal duo's career perfectly, with Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler making the killers live again with amazing performances. It was also very faithful to the facts of the case. Despite Robinson's credentials that can't be said for the latest version.
Once again there are star turns by the actors playing the killers. Jared Leto shows us Fernandez as a small-time operator who is nevertheless ready to take the next step into homicide given the right push. Salma Hayek is perfectly believeable as that 'push', a wonderful mask of caring and affection hiding a truly psychopathic interior. She is excellent. The problem is she looks nothing like the original Beck who suffered from a weight problem and was acutely aware of the world's perception of her. Hayek's Beck, despite a voiceover telling us of an abusive brother and a lifetime of ills, is too pretty to adequately convey the real Beck's insecurities.
The story, while close, nevertheless deviates from the facts too, principally to give John Travolta's Detective Robinson more of a role in the killers' capture. A 'subplot', involving Robinson's relationship with his son following his wife's suicide, is no doubt of great interest to the director, but personally I saw it adding little to what should be the main tale. Despite a somewhat one-note performance from Travolta, he and Gandolfini are a good pairing as the cops on the case, but when it comes down to it, they seem to do very little actual detecting. In fact, they seem to do very little of anything, and that is part of the problem. This is really a movie of two stories, the Lonely Hearts Killers on one side, and the director's grandfather's unhappy life on the other. One is a nasty, but engrossing, portrait of two pychopaths in love, the other is a hopscotch mosaic of cop life in the '40s. In trying to tell the stories of both the cops and the robbers, 'Lonely Hearts' fails to do justice to either.
Where the movie succeeds is in the period detail, the casual violence and racism of the cops, the petty squabbling over who takes a pinch. The film also works when conveying the pathos of the horrific final murders of the pair. Visiting a single mother and her young daughter, Beck's jealousy ensures as unhappy an ending as you might expect. Here again though the earlier film was even more chilling.
This is not a bad movie. Although I question the wisdom of another retelling, the good performances and the only just dominant narrative of the killers ensure that it won't bore any audiences. However, it adds little to what is already a familar tale, and one that is not pleasant. Make no mistake, Fernandez and Beck were two of the most sickening killers of the Twentieth Century. Their story is sordid and unpleasant. However, I say it again, if you want the definitive 'Lonely Hearts Killers' on celluloid watch Kastle's 'The Honeymoon Killers'. You won't forget Shirley Stoler in a hurry.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Popcorn and Glasses

Readings (short stories for the most part) and viewings over the weekend:


  • In the Mouth of Madness

  • Secretary

  • No Such Thing (aka Hal Hartley does King Kong)

  • The Bard (Twilight Zone episode)

  • Jerry Was a Man (Masters of Science Fiction episode)

  • Shrek the Third


  • Torch Song - John Cheever (ah, the highlight!)

  • The Thing in the Forest - Bernard Capes

  • A Red-Letter Day - Elizabeth Taylor

  • A Werewolf of the Campagna - Mrs Hugh Fraser

  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vols 1,2 and most of 3) - Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

  • In the Days of the Comet (some) - H.G. Wells

Lots to be said about all this, but not now. Cheever's story though was just superb. I always see him as a precursor to Carver, and anything I've read by him I like (last week it was the short and sharp 'Reunion' in Ford's 'The New Granta Book of the American Short Story'). But 'Torch Song' just plays wonderfully with audience expectations. Genius! I have his collected stories somewhere at home; I must dig it out.

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