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, January 31, 2010

Clay's Ark

Just finished Octavia Butler's 'Clay's Ark'. It's the first book in a long time that I have read in a day. Although it figures in her Patternist series, chronologically the third in the saga though published last, it is only very distantly related to the first two ("Wild Seed" and "Mind of my Mind").
To summarise:
In 2021, in an America rapidly spinning out of control, a man and his two teenage daughters driving across the desert, are stopped by two men and taken at gunpoint to a remote ranch. The inhabitants of this farm, though incredibly strong, are all emaciated and seem to be suffering some kind of disease, a disease they are intent on passing on to their abductees. The nature of this disease and the implications it has for the world raise some very unpleasant issues.
It's a tough bit of writing...and reading. Repellent, violent and marvellously told, it is populated with strong, complex characters. You get to care too much about them, forgetting that at least here Butler is an angry God to this near future world. Close to the end there is one scene in particular that is intensely shocking, especially given the investment Butler has won from us in those characters. She uses the reader's emotions as the very substance of the book, with at least one character voicing our concerns throughout. In some ways it takes the feeling I had at the end of reading George Stewart's "Earth Abides" - an ambiguous, nostalgic, but angry sadness - and makes it the general atmosphere of the whole piece.
Butler is a very visual writer and I am constantly thinking how material like this might transfer to the screen. On the face of it this is classic David Cronenberg territory; he has dealt with similar ideas in "Rabid" and "Shivers". Symbiosis, changing values in the face of evolution, the darker side of sexuality, these are constant themes in his work. However, ideas are one thing, humanity and warmth are another and without them this novel would be too much. Much as I admire his work, warmth and emotion are not Cronenberg's strong points, so perhaps this might not be for him. It still might be interesting to see.
Such musings aside, Butler's work stands by itself. It is testing, powerful and very unsettling.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Laptop Death and the Drivers for Resurrection

After various viral attacks, my laptop died on Thursday. Al helped me by reinstalling windows and, as the disk was partitioned I didn't lose any data, just programs. Today I had to reinstall drivers to get sound (most important!) and internet connectivity. Somehow I stumbled through and all appears to be working as good as new. A headache nearly over. A day almost wasted, though I did manage to finish a book by Octavia Butler and more on that later.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger Dies

Whatever you thought of his work (I generally had a high opinion), he was a biggie. A sad day. There seems to be some suggestion though that he'd written a 'few more novels on the Glass family"! A few more novels!!!!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bach to Basics

I was listening to Bach's 'St Matthew's Passion' when I suddenly remembered hearing what I was hearing sung by Paul Simon. Sure enough his 'American Tune' isn't so American after all, but uses that chorale I was hearing as its melodic basis. As it happens, Bach didn't compose it either; apparently it was originally a melody by one Hans Hassler. Another addition to the classical pop song canon.


Sunday, January 24, 2010


Long in the making, with cutting-edge computer animation and 'the best ever' 3D, James Cameron's sci-fi fairytale 'Avatar' is breaking box office and winning big prizes. The question is, why?
After his scientist brother dies in a shooting, Sam Worthington's paraplegic marine, Jake Sully, must go to the faraway planet of Pandora to play puppetmaster to a ten foot tall synthetic alien. Why? Well, to convince those darn tree-hugging blue locals to move off some valuable mineral deposits those nasty corporations have their eye on. And if they don't? Why then the army good old boys will make them. Will the locals put up a fight? Will Jake forget his roots among those of Pandora? Will he fall in love with Smurfette?
It would be easy to write it off as total junk, but I can't say it's that; after all it holds the attention for the guts of three hours. The action is effective and the simplistic message is laudable. You even forget it's in 3D after a while. No, it's a pretty enough foray into an imagined land. But when you start wondering to yourself, 'Isn't this just a little absurd?', you know it's lost in its demands on your credulity. And seeing a sea of blue aliens waving their arms while singing some hippy chant had me reaching for the empty popcorn bag.
Strange to say, there's really not a lot of imagination on show here. Maybe Cameron, who also wrote this, has imagined a believeable society, I don't know, but it looks like some Hollywood version of an Amazon tribe to me. And I stress the 'Hollywood version' quality, because I'm damn sure it's like no real Amazon tribe. And let's think about this imagined world for an instant. Is it all that alien? Not really. There are more strange planets and stranger organisms in 1 page of Olaf Stapledon's 'Starmaker', than there are in this entire film. What we have instead are not too distant analogues for dogs, horses, frogs, rhinos, you name it. The humanoids, as has been said repeatedly by others, are closely related to the Thundercats of children's tv. Blue skin and height apart are they really that different? Even the big flying bats which stick with their rider for life (what happened to Jake's when he switched saddles?), hell, they might be a teenager's first car. And let's not forget, folks, Pandora is a forest planet full of nice green trees. Not even red or blue, but normal everyday green trees.
Still what imagination goes into the world of Pandora is a million times more startling than that which was expended on the plot. It has been described as 'Dances with Smurfs' and it's not difficult to see the parallels with Kevin Costner's epic. A soldier goes to the frontier to deal with the savages, before it's gone, and gradually gets seduced by their culture, ultimately turning on his own. With both wars in Iraq still sore in the communal memory, Cameron tries to inject some more contemporary criticism of American Imperialism. Again it's a nicely moral take - bad capitalists wanting to destroy what a good environment-loving people want to protect - but it's a story that was old when our ape ancestors were wondering whether to climb out of the trees, and the new context doesn't change that.
Regardless of what others might think, Cameron couldn't do 'epic' if his middle name was Homer and his dad was Greek. (And please don't claim 'Titanic' was epic!) Simply turning up the volume on James Horner's instantly forgettable choral music just won't cut it, at least not for me. Despite battles featuring thousands, we always seem to concentrate on the same small group who always seem to do the real hard work.
In the end, 'Avatar' is not a bad movie, but it's as far from being the great cinematic event Cameron evidently intended, as Earth is from Pandora. It is a children's movie, no more, and no less. How it got the Golden Globe I will never know, and I will be even more stunned if it gets the Oscar. I mean I can't remember any Pixar movies winning the Best Movie gong, and they deserved it, so why should this, when it doesn't? And I went from 'A Prophet' to this!

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A Prophet

A ProphetA Prophet - If you see one French prison movie this year....
A young Muslim man begins a 6 year stint in a French jail. He may or may not have been innocent of the crime for which he has been incarcerated, but then as they say in Shawshank, everyone is innocent in jail. Whether or not he was, he is soon forced to shed blood and in so doing becomes involved with Corsican mafia, hash dealers, and a dangerous, but heady career in crime.
There are enough critics out there singing the praises of 'A Prophet', without adding my voice. For what it's worth though, I will. It's a powerful film that can stand alongside epics like 'The Godfather' without any embarrassment. However, before we get too fawning, it should be said that it is still a melodrama and as subject to the contrivances that characterise much melodrama. Characters are introduced whenever their particular talents can aid our likeable antihero, Malik, in his descent/ascent. They are also removed - through convenient illness or Government decree - as needed. Continuing the convenience, our hero's charmed life is impacted by a curious (and not entirely convincing) touch of the supernatural (he gets out of one particularly dangerous predicament, and gets out to his advantage, after a very suspect episode). His protection from a Corsican mafia boss, while familiar from many other movies, conveniently smooths the way for much of Malik's activities, especially in getting him out of the prison. These are not flaws per se; they allow for an engrossing, intelligent thriller that has a lot to say about success, opportunity and morality. But they are plot contrivances that take this film out of the naturalistic setting that writer and director Jacques Audiard otherwise seems to be striving for (with its commentary on politics, society, and religion).
It should also be said that, unlike say 'The Godfather', I did not for one moment feel any real condemnation of Malik in his rise. Other critics have seen a moral fall and so a moral message to the film. Without wanting to give too much away, there is no real Michael Corleone moment where the door is shut on a lost humanity, no that I could see anyhow.
These could be small quibbles (or big ones depending on your attitude to an amoral cinema), but there is no doubting this is rivetting cinema. Worthy of the praise, of the Grand Prize at Cannes, and of your time, try to see this one.

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Forthcoming Attractions

Finally managed to have a proper movie day today. I thought I'd take in the 'best' of both sides of the Atlantic; 'A Prophet' for breakfast, 'Avatar' for afternoon tea. Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous!!!!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mixed Blessings

The trouble with crates of beer going cheap is that you end up getting one. Then it's a couple every night. Better that, I suppose, than one night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Wolf Man

The Wolf ManThe Wolf Man
Penned by German emigre, Curt Siodmak, 'The Wolf Man' (1941), came at the end of Universal's first Golden Age of Horror. True, they had some way to go before they played out their full seam, but the 40s were to feature mediocre monster mash-ups like 'House of Dracula', 'Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man' or even the 'Abbot and Costello Meet...' movies. Although they were to create the 'Creature From the Black Lagoon' in the 50s, the Wolfman is arguably the last great horror creation from Universal Studios.
We all know the story: hapless young Larry Talbot returns to the family home after the death of his brother, promptly gets bitten by a werewolf and spends the rest of the movie alternately agonising over his fate and dismembering village folk. In the movie practically everyone but Larry knows the 'old' rhyme that runs:

'Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.'

It is repeated at least three times, as is the old gypsy's lament:

'The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end.'

Both pieces reak of an ancient heritage and both were invented by Siodmak for the movie, as was much of the lore that has since become part of the werewolf myth. This is Hollywood's interpretation and it is a testimony to cinema that it has become so integral to our common understanding of lycanthropy.
You see much as the werewolf myth (or more accurately the shape shifting myth) has been around a long time, the details are a lot less elaborate than Hollywood seemed to think. Unlike Universal's other monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Invisble Man), there is no one literary source that encapsulates the entire legend. (It should be said that a similar case might be made for the Mummy, which, although often attributed to Bram Stoker due to his 'Jewel of the Seven Stars', is probably more accurately drawn from two stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, 'The Ring of Thoth' and 'Lot 249'.) To be sure there has been a long line of werewolf stories from George Reynolds' 'Wagner the Werewolf' (which to my shame I have not read) to Captain Marryat's 'The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains'. The creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard wrote several stories on a werewolf theme. For my money though, the touchstone for werewolf literature was also one of the last great treatments of an iconic monster, Guy Endore's 'The Werewolf of Paris'.
'The Werewolf of Paris', published in 1933, was inspired by a real-life figure, Sergeant Francois Bertrand, the Vampire of Montparnasse, and chronicles the misdeeds of the troubled Bertrand Caillet during the Paris Commune of 1871. Granted I was young when I read it, but this novel is one of the few books to make me physically depressed. A catalogue of brutality and depravity from beginning to end, it is tough going. Having spent so long tracking it down, I felt duty bound to keep reading, and thankfully by page 100 I began to see the underlying grim humour that helped me get through the rest. Later there is also a touching, if very perverse, love story. One way or the other it was fortunate that I did persevere as it does warrant its place alongside 'Dracula', 'Frankenstein', et al, as a foundational text. Seven years before World War II, it accurately sounds an alarm for Europe, describing a coming army against which the violence of the novel's antihero pales. Unlike 'The Wolf Man', Bertrand is tainted by the brutality of his ancestors and by extension implicates us all in humanity's fundamental bestiality. It is a powerful, critical work, told with a romantic darkness that borders on pitch black. In the end though, Universal rejected this as the source for their tale, understandably so given the novel's darkness, though twenty odd years later Hammer were quick to seize on its less savoury aspects (see the excellent The Curse of the Werewolf, or the later 'Legend of the Werewolf').
If Endore's book deals with our violent inheritance as civilised animals, Universal's take dwells on another dominant current of the 20th Century, the helpless condition of man at the hands of an arbitrary world. With its nursery rhymes and foggy woods, 'The Wolf Man' very definitely posits itself in the fairytale tradition. Indeed at one point it likens itself to Little Red Riding Hood, a 'werewolf story'. Fairytales traditionally feature children at their core and hapless Larry, with his easy, unsophisticated attitude to the world, is as close to a child that we might get in a Hollywood horror. What better than a child to best show our fundamental futility.
Frequently Talbot is called a tragic figure, but this is not entirely true. A tragic figure is the cause of their own downfall. Larry does nothing to warrant his fate; quite the contrary, he does everything that he should, rushing to aid a screaming woman and killing the wolf that attacks her. He does not deserve the curse that falls on him nor understands why it has fallen on him. He is a figure of pathos.
Lon Chaney Jr, son of the great Lon Chaney Snr, Man of a Thousand Faces, was just beginning his career and Universal were hoping to groom him into a replacement for his father. Chaney, however, was no master of disguise, nor a subtle actor. 'The Wolf Man' is generally regarded as his best performance, perhaps because it was the only performance that suited him. In contrast to Boris Karloff's incarnations, when Chaney played the Frankenstein's Monster or the Mummy, he was completely expressionless (though to be fair this might have had as much to do with the direction in which the studio was taking these characters as anything else). His 'Son of Dracula' is also an uneasy, anxious character, but there it is totally against the role. However, with his first film, his weaknesses became strengths. Big and awkward, a man of large expressions, his very physicality encapsulated Talbot's confused anxiety. He also suited the everyman role that makes Larry Talbot such as successful monster.
Unlike the aristocratic vampires and mad scientists that populate other Universal features, Talbot, despite being the son of Sir John Talbot, is as blue-collar a monster as Hollywood could manage in the forties. Having spent 18 years in America, Talbot has worked in engineering firms and took a liking to American style. He seems reluctant to take up 'estate business' choosing instead to fiddle with telescopes, pursue village girls and attend gypsy fairgrounds. At one point he claims that he is only happy when he is getting his hands dirty. Ironically his curse gives him an opportunity to do just that.
That the curse is forced on him turns him into a reluctant monster. Fate has put an unfair and unbearable burden on his shoulders. This is an unusual admission by Hollywood, certainly for the time, an admission that Life, unlike that suggested by the crafted storylines that populate their mainstream fair, just isn't fair. Horror allowed Hollywood to say things they could never admit to in bigger budgeted public. (Universal said similar unsayable things in films such as 'The Black Cat' and 'Dracula's Daughter', while RKO's 'Cat People' just bristles with censor-smashing truths). Life just isn't fair. Things really can be that bad. We cannot control our lives. And sometimes, more frightening than that, we cannot control ourselves. In my mind (certainly when I was a kid), Larry is the spiritual father of characters like the Incredible Hulk who must constantly move on or risk hurting the ones they love. And that is perhaps the key to Larry Talbot; not only does Life suck, we're our own worst enemies too.
As a metaphor for many of the seedy aspects of real life, the werewolf myth as promoted by Universal, is powerful. Alcohol abuse, drugs, mental illness, if we can mess up our own lives with it, it can easily stand in for lycanthropy (indeed Sir John believes Larry's 'illness' to be schizophrenia). As a condition Larry didn't ask for, nor with which he can deal, it also nicely mirrors much that is everyone's lot in life.
It might be taking things a step too far to hold Larry Talbot up as a case of man's existential absurdity, but please bear in mind who wrote this movie. Curt Siodmak, a Jew born in Dresden, fled Nazi Germany having worked within its film industry. He would have been well aware of many of the trends and ideas common in European intellectual life, while Hitler must surely have given him an education in the limitations of the man on the street. One might also remember that this was not Universal's first foray into werewolf territory. In 1935, 'The Werewolf of London' featured an explorer who was bitten by a Tibetan werewolf while visiting Asia. In that movie, a flower holds a temporary antidote to the condition (a piece of lore that was used again in the wonderful, 'Ginger Snaps', a film one might see as 'Carrie Gets Hairy'). There was a traditional villain (the initial werewolf) who was eventually dispatched, but our hero, tormented by his condition, had to die too. A good man, and a scientist to boot, he nevertheless could not triumph over what Fate had put on him. Similarly neither of 'The Wolf Man's two werewolves are basically evil, and the film makes it clear that there are no straight forward black and white definitions of good and evil anyhow. All is grey.
'The Wolf Man' does not have the beauty, nor indeed the poetry, of Universal's earlier triumphs, but it has its own level of sophistication hidden beneath a slick, effective narrative (and it does power along, with few longeurs). And some scenes, though obviously filmed on a set, do have their own quiet magic. But it is Larry's plight that really gets to us. He is emblematic of much that is familiar to us all which is why Larry Talbot is still with us today. Universal resurrected him again and again for a whole string of sequels in the forties, but he is soon to be unleashed once more in Joe Johnston's update with Benecio Del Toro in the Talbot role, 'The Wolfman'. The imminent release of this film prompted a screening tonight of the original, which is why I had the welcome opportunity to see it on the (relatively) big screen of the Denzille Cinema. Thanks to Lauren and Niall from Simply Zesty, and Dave and Marissa from Universal for the invitation. Something to howl about for a change.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Picturing New York

Berenice AbbottBerenice Abbott - I'm a fan
Without the excuse of snow, the Museum of Modern Art was open this weekend, and I set out on Sunday to see the exhibition, "Picturing New York: Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art". The thing was everyone else had the same idea; it was packed.
The first thing I should say is that I was hearthily disappointed with the organisation. When I got my ticket they had run out of the accompanying programme and when I went back for one they had run out of it again. I finally got one as I was leaving. Also I am not a fan of the 'New Galleries'. Granted the huge numbers of visitors emphasised its shortcomings, putting a high class exhibition like this in what is effectively a house is a bad idea. Rooms were cramped, doorways were blocked and there were stairs up and down to see something that would easily fit in a normal wing of a gallery. Why not just do that? The main gallery should be used for this event instead of struggling with prams, kids and old folks. Viewing the wonderful photos was like a conveyor belt with everyone forced to move at the same pace to allow for the person pressing from behind. Later when I went to the cafe, it was the same story. The cash registers for coffee and meals were together and the queues were mashed together too. I heard one of the women at the till asking was there something going on upstairs. They were busy.
All that said it is just as well that the exhibition is so fine. All the big names are on show: Arbus, Weegee, Alfred Stieglitz, Cindy Sherman, Berenice Abbott. The list went on and on. Abbott, in particular, had a classic shot of New York by night, a constricted alley shot and a mesmerising photo of an apartment block in cool shades and shadows (it's practically a Hopper painting). Weegee's 'The Critic' was on show, while Arbus had a typically wacky 'Child with a Toy hand Grenade'. From The New York Times, a shot of a wall collapsing on firefighters has to be one of the best action shots I've seen. And the range encompassed pictures from the 1880s right up to the present day. Overall though was the whiff of quality; everything was black and white and everything had that timeless quality that only the best photos exude. Yes, there were some duds, but recent photos like 'Mr Ben's Hand' did not look out of place beside their elder siblings.
And exhibition well worth visiting, though probably best if you do it on a weekday.
Berenice AbbottAnother Berenice Abbott


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cannibal Synchronicity

I was flicking through the channels with the sound muted while listening to a theme from 'Cannibal Holocaust'. Demi Moore was creeping up on a demonic kid on a pier in 'Half Light'. I don't know what that film's music was like, but the 'Cannibal Holocaust' piece fitted perfectly even up to the climax of the scene. Hee, hee, hee.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life

Just noticed this:
'Shocked' Woman Drove With Body In Windscreen
Anyone ever see "Stuck"? And you thought it could never happen! Well, actually it happened already. 'Stuck' was supposedly based on a true story to begin with. It could become a trend.

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Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows

Val LewtonOne of the true masters of the Cinema, Val Lewton
In the 40s, RKO contracted producer Val Lewton to develop a number of low-budget horror movies to compete with Universal's string of Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman films. With little money and saddled with lurid titles like 'Cat People', 'I Walked with a Zombie' and 'The Leopard Man', you could hardly expect much. Against the odds, however, Lewton produced not only some of the best horror movies to come out of Hollywood in that era, but some of the best movies full stop.
I just had the good fortune to watch a TCM documentary on the great man, 'Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows', narrated and produced by Martin Scorsese. It was a welcome insight into this relatively little known figure, who, besides those low-budget gems, is not known for much.
But was Lewton just lucky? After all the first director he worked with, Jacques Tourneur, is a subject of much study in his own right. Certainly you could never look at classics like 'Cat People' or 'I Walked with a Zombie' without admiring Tourneur's hand at work (remember his later 'Night of the Demon?). But if it were just Tourneur then how might we explain a series of films that also included 'Isle of the Dead', 'Bedlam', the brilliant 'The Seventh Victim' and the masterful 'Curse of the Cat People', all films directed by other men.
Lewton seems to be the common thread, and certainly he had a huge involvement in choosing literary properties for adaptation (eg. R.L. Stevensons's 'The Body Snatcher') and steering their development in dark and subtle directions. It is also tempting to see an emphasis on a producer like Lewton as simply a redirection of the overblown auteur theory. Concentrating on Lewton too much fails to take note of the group he gathered together, a group comprised of editor/director Robert Wise (editor on 'Citizen Kane' and director of 'The Sound of Music'), editor/director Mark Robson, composer Roy Webb (you won't forget Webb's lovely use of the French 'Do-Do' theme for 'Cat People's lullaby), screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, art directors Albert S. D'Agostino and Walter E. Keller, etc., not to mention cast members he used again and again (even as a kid I fell in love with Simone Simon). Each member of his crew was a unique talent and deserves to be remembered in their own right. But Lewton had the genius to recognise talent, bring it together, steer it and make the most of the meagre resources alloted to him. Every movie made under his stewardship likes startling, not starved. He was undoubtedly a genius far ahead of his time and for me blows the likes of other cash-strapped moguls such as Roger Corman (who I admire) out of the water.
I have been very vocal in the past about my admiration for 'Cat People', one of my all time favourites, but other films in his oeuvre are just as good, each being modern, distinctive and memorable. 'I Walked with a Zombie', for instance, manages to make studio bound sets as poetic as anything made with ten times the budget (he was restricted to $130,000 or so per picture). In the Horror genre, arguably only Bava managed to come close to such poetry, and that was years later. It tells its 'Jane Eyre' story with sensitivity and intelligence. 'The Seventh Victim' anticipates 'Rosemary's Baby' and in a lot of ways surpasses it; I love the pettiness of its coven of Satan worshippers. And as to 'Curse of the Cat People', it is quite simply one of the greatest movies ever made about being a child.
Tragically Lewton died of a heart attack at the early age of 46. His protegées, Wise and Robson, broke his heart when they refused to make him a partner in their production company, while the major studios seemed to lose faith in his projects when he graduated to 'A' pictures. He was perhaps the greatest producer Hollywood ever produced (you can keep your Selznicks et al), using his lack of money as a key to artistic freedom and a despised genre as the setting for intelligence and daring. I only wish there were someone like him around today.
The documentary itself is a serious and affectionate piece of work that is worth tracking down if you can. Scorsese narrates respectfully, while Elias Koteas reads from Lewton's own letters with an appropriate world-weariness. Just the opportunity to see clips from all those wonderful films was enough for me though. I still jumped when from that coffin in 'Isle of the Dead' there was a scream....

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Monday, January 11, 2010


The mutants are among us and the bad guy Government types are still out to get them. 'Push', set in Hong Kong, is Heroes without the soap opera. And all the better for that. It's also lacking in huge spectacle, and, funnily enough, it's all the better for that too. Its telekinetic, clairvoyant characters are a lot more down on the street than even the so-called 'everyday Joes' of the TV series, with small time hustler Chris Evans barely able to get a couple of dice rolling in the beginning. He ups his ante as the film progresses, but we are never talking Magneto or Sylar style pyrotechnics. Indeed the directorial tricks of Paul McGuigan are hardly original either. What he should have concentrated on was his pacing which flags badly in the middle. This probably has as much to do with the screenplay as anything else. For instance, with an already unoriginal premise backgrounding the action, most of the film revolves around the rather pointless Mcguffin of the 'black brief case' containing the magic drug. (Surely all the bad guys have to do is destroy it; don't they have enough at home?) With plot holes and narrative inconsistencies (a man who can blow apart his handcuffs is left 'trapped' in a car booth), you wouldn't want to be left thinking too hard about things. Sadly the screenplay gives you ample time for such contemplation. Evans is good and Dakota Fanning is a little scary trying to act all grown up, but Camilla Belle needs a little more time in drama class. Thank goodness for the CGI that gives some life to her eyes, because there's little else that's animated about her.
For all that there is something likeable about it all. The score is nice and distinctive and the look too is grimy and nicely exotic. Some of the characters are almost fleshed out enough to be likeable too and it might not be bad to see them resurrected in a better sequel. Just put a bit more time in to the script before you go before the cameras.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kilmainham Disappointment

I walked to the Modern Art Museum hoping to see the New York Pictures photography exhibition. Even with the thaw in full swing, you would not make this walk without a very good purpose. My purpose disappeared when I arrived; the museum and its grounds were closed due to 'adverse weather conditions'. Walking back I bumped into a couple from work who had been on their way to the same place. I left them at the Luas and walked into town for a coffee and to read a very disappointing article on cultural theory and computer games. Not a great weekend, though I made a nice pasta dinner.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Michael Lehmann

Just noticed Michael Lehmann, director of 'Heathers' and his nutty follow-up, 'Meet the Applegates', has become a TV director. Shame. I thought there was real potential there. Still that's what 'Hudson Hawk' and '40 Days and 40 Nights' will do for you.

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HeathersThose were the days! Heathers
In a burst of nostalgia I watched Michael Lehmann's 'Heathers' again. A 1988 black comedy that I remembered fondly, it features Christian Slater doing his finest Jack Nicholson impression and Winona Ryder back when you could be mistaken for thinking her cool. The pair get involved in killing high school 'popular' people and masking their crimes as suicides. But can you really get rid of adolescent headaches just by killing them?
There's actually a lot going on beneath the shock value - issues of responsibility and the moral approach to society (this is the 'high school that is society' Slater claims at one point) - and in light of what came after with Columbine and other teenage massacres, it is tempting to read even more into it. However, this might be a mistake; it is as much a satire on the many high school movies that peppered the 80s as it is a forecast of things to come. And it is very 80s!
On rewatching it's not nearly as slickly directed as I thought it was then. It's also not nearly as immediate, but then I was a teenager when I first watched it and it held a lot of resonances for me at that age. Now it works, but lacks that heart-tugging urgency. Having said that, that says as much about the society we have become as the person I've grown into.
Well worth revisiting if you never saw it first time around.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

La Faim (Hunger)

Last night I watched an animated short (only eleven minutes long) by Peter Foldes called 'La Faim' (Hunger). Impressionistic rather than strictly narrative-based, it described a man's descent into gluttony. Before watching it, I noted that it was from 1974, but within a minute I was questioning that date. It was using what was very definitely computer morphing! And very effectively too. Some of the artwork and the soundtrack (still quite effective) gave that 70s ambience, but computer imagery from 1974! Amazing! On top of all that it had a wonderful creepy feel to it that put it very close to my heart, and stomach. Fabulous stuff!

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Tokyo Story

An old couple from rural Japan visit the big city to see their children, but the hearthy welcome they receive is not quite as hearthy as they expected.
A 50's classic by Ozu, 'Tokyo Story', consistently appears in critics' top ten lists of all time greatest movies. To an audience of today, however, its slow, character-driven approach might be a little alienating. When I first saw it years back, partly because of this, I didn't quite get it.
I do now. After the gentle, relatively uneventful beginning puts us in the appropriate frame of mind, Ozu twists the family dynamics subtly and increasingly. The tears were popping into my eyes just as much as they did for 'Up' (another movie dealing with age and generation alienation). The restrained acting and excruciating politeness of the old couple (and indeed everyone, even the 'villains' of the piece), make every out-of-character outburst as momentous as fifty blockbuster bombshells. It is drama of the old school, borrowing from classical forms while mounted in a neo-realist frame. And over everything hangs the bitter shadow of the war. Like the politeness of the old pair, Ozu is never so crass as to shout out any harsh criticisms of the post-war society Japan has developed. Nevertheless beneath all the beautifully composed shots, the romantic score and unshowy characters, he is voicing strong concerns, all the more startling for their contrast with the film's order. It's an approach Hollywood should have done more to emulate.
Beautiful stuff.
Oh, and IFI, get the heating sorted out in Cinema 3.

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Hearts and Mind the Parsnips

Getting home last night, I decided to try the delicacy that is lambs heart. The one and only time I even touched heart was in a biology class in school. That was a happy experience, but not a culinary one. With a stack of root vegetables, I executed braised stuffed lambs hearts with vegetables a little messily, but not unsuccessfully. As it happened heart is lovely. Something of the texture of kidney or liver, but with a meatier taste. I liked it. Sadly the veg was a little too sweet as an accompaniment, especially with a stuffing that included lemon peel. I'm a savoury guy. Still another tick on the list and one I will revisit.


No Business like Snow Business

Yesterday, encouraged by the sterling refusal of Dublin Bus to provide a service, I walked home from work. It took such discipline walking on the slippery paths that whenever I saw some untrodden snow on a grass verge, I had to run wildly. With my backpack on my back and music playing, it brought me right back to walks up New Zealand hills or getting stuck in that little glacier behind Ushuaia. I had forgotten my phone ear plugs, so I was listening to music through huge Sony headphones under my ill-fitting wool cap. I know I looked ridiculous, especially with a broad, idiotic smile on my face, but I really was having fun. Passing the Porterhouse I did think momentarily of going in for food, drink and warmth, but then thought the better of that bad idea and pushed madly on. Within the hour I was coming into the City Centre, Radiohead's 'Weird Fishes' playing while night was falling. I was still giddy - swinging around lampposts and the like - and just primed for that inevitable fall. Then 'Werewolves of London' came on and I just knew that big slip up was on the way. Strangely it never happened. I got home safe, sound and crazily happy.