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, February 28, 2010

Hitting the Road

My face feels like it hit a large, immovable object, which is funny because that's exactly what it did. Had a spectacular fall on the road last night and now have a forehead that looks like a bloody unicorn's, despite keeping a bag of frozen okra pressed against it for most of the night. That and a very sore wrist. Lucky it wasn't worse, I suppose, especially with taxis whizzing by. I'd like to say all that was hurt was my pride, but well, that just ain't true. Still my pride....

Friday, February 26, 2010



As polished and fluid as anything Jeunet has previously done, 'Micmacs' looks lovely, is full of eccentrics, brimming with invention and so light that if you put it next to a fan it might end up in North Africa!
The hero of this tall tale, Bazil, is made an orphan when his father is blown up by a landmine. Later in life, after accidentally being shot in the head during a shootout, he loses everything and becomes homeless. This being a Jeunet movie though there is always a loose family of eccentrics willing to take him in, and, when he decides to exact revenge on the arms companies who ruined his life, help him.
There is a serious topic behind this film, and it could be argued that in treating the subject so humourously Jeunet ensures that it reaches the widest possible audience. However, it could be also argued that it ends up trivialising that issue. After all, should arms dealing really be a subject for caper movies?
Of course, nothing in this film can be taken too seriously. Everyone from the hero down is a one concept pantomime character. There is a human calculator, a human cannonball, a strong skinny man and an extreme contortionist, not to mention the bullet-in-the-head brains of the operation, Bazil. It plays like an Ealing heist movie, or a relatively harmless update of the Vincent Price vengence movies (eg. 'Theatre of Blood', 'The Abominable Dr Phibes') with Dany Boon, playing Bazil, in the Vincent Price role (albeit a more tic-ridden, more tongue-tied version). The set-up is pantomime too. Not only are the arms companies run by two stereotypical villains (as opposed to less identifiable corporate boards), their companies face each other on the same street. Bombs explode without fatalities, distractions are achieved by means of wasps, hookers and doped sugar cubes. It's all very cosy. Hollywood might inject a 'serious' moment into their 'critical but funny' films (you know the moment - the music rises, the villains go teary-eyed as they understand their crimes, or else we do), and 'Micmacs' comes perilously close to doing the same thing, with a few briefly glimpsed photographs reminding us what this is all really about. That moment though is too brief and too at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie to be taken seriously. (Thankfully the villains remain unrepentant.) This is probably more honest than American hypocrisy, but it means the film really has very little to say.
All in all then, 'Micmacs' is a fun film when it probably shouldn't be, and far, far from what Jeunet is really capable of. You won't need a bullet in the head to forget it.

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Monday, February 22, 2010


It was PKD weekend in the O'Leary household, that's Philip K. Dick, author of some of the most challenging science fiction ever written, to you. Watching an Arena documentary, "Philip K Dick - A Day in the Afterlife", and the fan-produced "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick", was my effort at reviving fond memories of this author's work. Both documentaries took a talking heads style approach to the usual events (the break-in to Dick's home in 1972, his visions of God in 1974, his 8000 page 'Exegesis') with the usual sci-fi writers (Tim Powers, Robert Anton Wilson) trotted out to give their view on his sanity. "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick" was particularly annoying, with a dreadful animated device introducing its key sections. A little more of a focus on the work would have been better. As it was, I learnt nothing new and was only moderately entertained. Poor.
I also listened to a reading of his not so sci-fi story, "Of Withered Apples". I remembered being set ill at ease when I first read it, and hearing it had a similar effect. Set in New England (Dick lived his life in California), it was very much his attempt at a Shirley Jackson style horror story (with just a pinch of Lovecraft), and not bad an attempt at that.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto

At one point in this train wreck of an animated feature, there is a Benny Hill style chase sequence, complete with Benny Hill music. If ever something summed up the level of intelligence and creativity involved in "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto", this is it. It confirms all my feelings about the supposed director, Rob Zombie; he deserves decapitation most foul lest he sully the world with more of this dreck. It's not even offensive, it's so boring. Somewhere along the line Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson got roped in. That's no reason you should. Avoid, with extreme prejudice.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Solomon Kane

Solomon KaneSolomon Kane

Robert E. Howard was the Texan creator of Conan the Barbarian. Never known for subtlety, he was known for some extraordinary flights of fancy and a solid grasp of action fiction. Indeed besides Conan, he created many other muscle-bound heroes, warriors such as Kull or Bran Mak Morn, mostly in the same mould as his most famous creation. Slightly out of that mould though was his 16th Century Puritan avenger, Solomon Kane; religious where Conan was licentious, obsessive where the barbarian was free-wheeling, Kane's darkness is in keeping with his relative obscurity.
Obscure no longer! With "Solomon Kane", Michael J. Bassett has brought Solomon to the big screen and I'm kind of glad he did.
For one this is often a very beautiful movie, with scenes that reminded me of Michael Reeves' horrible masterpiece, "Witchfinder General". Like that movie, corpses hang fornlornly in glorious country landscapes, pure, happy people enjoy the sunlight before being dragged into evil shadows. But this is no realistic 16th Century. Mixed with Reeves' influence are elements of Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness". Sorcery and witches abound, and this England gradually comes to look like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. In short it evokes the whole tone of Howard's stories perfectly.
However, if the visuals are arresting, the sound is appalling. I can't remember the last time the muddiness of the sound was such that it damaged my enjoyment, but here it's far too noticeable. It's strange because otherwise Bassett seems to have marshalled a reasonable budget to play with. (Having said that, Hollywood should give this man a real budget! He shows promise.) Klaus Badelt gives a serviceable score and the design is eerily appropriate. Reliable character actors like Pete Postletwaite, Alice Krige and the magisterial Max Von Sydow (I bless every day he's alive!) reinforce this impression that some quality is involved. However, the cast is not perfect, not by a long way. James Purefoy may look the part of Kane, but I think he missed a few of his acting classes, specifically the ones to do with anything outside of sneering and looking guilt-ridden. He gets better as the movie goes on, but he never risks being mistaken for an actor of subtlety.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Howard. After all this is a world where witches, far from being innocent girls punished by a patriarchal society, are instead homicidal hags who burn people's eyes out from the stake. Let's just say Howard's moral view is a little black and white. Hellfire and damnation is perfectly acceptable in this universe, and villains, such as Jason Flemyng's thankfully underused Malachai, are straight out of panto. Only Malachai's Jason-like lieutenant is in any way impressive as a merciless sociopath.
And that black and white duality carries through to the film as a whole. For every stroke of brilliance, Bassett lets himself down with a cliché (witness the converted thug's laughable "It's good!"). The film powers along, but then if it paused at all you might get to asking awkward questions. My advice is don't ask them. It's popcorn sword and sorcery, and yes, you've seen a lot like it before. But it's all of a calibre that raises the overall game of the genre. Special effects are used in the service of the story, as they should be, and the action is bloody, as it should be. Warts and all, I would regard "Solomon Kane" as a far better stab at the awkward genius of Robert E. Howard than John Milius's "Conan the Barbarian" (1982). Leave your brain on a spike by the door and enjoy.

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If the Leprechaun refuses to go...

...someone push the minature twerp!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Scart, Scart and More Scart!

My mother gave my grand aunt a dvd player to watch Brendan O'Carroll, for her 80th birthday. I was to set it up.
After work I headed for the Luas. Something has to be done about those ticket machines. As I queued and watched idiot after idiot fumble for change after they made their selection, I was getting angrier and angrier. I had my change handy, you see. I could even give one fumbler a ten cent piece when their purse refused them. Yes, those kind of customers! With only four people in front of me (and several machines not working), three trams came and went. Eventually I got to the machine. I put in my exact change. It spat it out. I tried it again. It spat again. I turned to the girl behind me. "You did nothing wrong," she said. I tried again. The queue was a mile long. It spat it out. I took my change and left, going only so far as the next queue. Eventually I got to that machine and the same change was accepted.
My grand aunt commented on my exhaustion when I arrived. I was a little more exhausted when I couldn't find a scart cable in the dvd player box. Nor could I find one in the house, not upstairs, not in the bathroom, not even in the kitchen, though her old video was there under the table. Sans cables. I called aunts and uncles, all who live nearby. No joy. I called neighbours. No joy. Half-heartedly I said it would take me an hour and a half to go home, get the spare one I had there and return. I was exhausted; my grand aunt would surely say don't bother. She didn't. "So I'll see you at 9?"
I trudged home. My ill-fitting shoes twisted my ankle. When I got home I went to the fridge for some juice (none) only to see two eggs fall out. They cracked, but they didn't splatter. No, I had to smash one to do that. I left for Dundrum again, this time with 4 different types of cable and another pair of shoes. When I got there around 9:20, my luck turned. The scart worked immediately (well, why wouldn't it?). I kissed my grand aunt goodbye and trudged home again.
Oh, yeah, and then I dropped the jar of coffee.

Ellsberg vs. Nixon

I never fail to be fascinated by Nixon. I caught the last hour of a documentary on Daniel Ellsberg: "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers". Ellsberg was a moral man doing a brave thing and he contributed in his way to Nixon's downfall. But Nixon was just the one who got caught, as Ellberg's papers and indeed another movie, the brilliant "The Fog of War", show. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were all equally criminal, just better at it. Nixon though was particularly nasty or stupid or both. I have heard a lot of Nixon's tapes before, but he makes Kissinger sound like a saint in the pieces played in this film. "We have to destroy the dikes. How many will that drown? 200,000? I want a nuclear bomb, have we got one ready? Kissinger, you have to think big!" What a creature!
Almost as depressing was the fact that America gave Nixon a landslide after the Pentagon Papers had been released. What did Ellsberg have to do? It's the same the world over. We are lazy, complacent sheep. Next time around Fianna Fail will be voted in again.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Shoot Him Again, His Soul's Still Dancing!"

Just watched 'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans'. Need a little time before I can comment, but there are three points of inspired lunacy: the Iguana Scene (don't ask), Nicholas Cage threatening 2 little old ladies, and a breakdancing corpse, or rather soul. Werner Herzog what have you done!




"Invictus", Clint Eastwood's account of Nelson Mandela's use of the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite his country is a worthy story. The cast are fine, it looks fine, it should be a rousing tale. But it's not.
For me part of the problem is that it's all so happy. Even the white South African bodyguards, who we are told would have been beating up and terrorising Mandela's friends and family only years before, come out as only so many grumpy people in need of a hug. 'Biko' this is not. As a sports movie, Eastwood follows the format faithfully (underdogs find it in themselves to triumph when it matters), but it's hard to get too worked up about the now fearsome Springboks. Again the enemies here, the All Blacks, are hardly nasty people. Sure, they may be trying to tear your head off, but somehow that never seems like a real possibility. That big Maori they all seem so afraid of ultimately looks like a big smiling teddy bear, not the case I know, but that's how he appears. If you compare this to the equally heartstring-pulling 'The Natural', it's also painfully obvious that the sports scenes do not work. Both films use the cliche of slow motion (it must be important, it's going so slow), both have a team coming from behind as they near the match's end. In 'Invictus', however, there's no tension, no looking the pitcher in the eye, no real threat. The team, despite all our time with them, are an amorphous bunch. The format usually dictates that there is at least one player who must redeem himself (such as Redford's injured, potentially compromised Roy Hobbs); not so here. For me I had the curious experience of finding the dramatisation of the final rubgy match both too short (there was little opportunity to identify with or understand the team) and excruciatingly long (the slow motion countdown was painful). I wasn't even completely sure it was the final (I wasn't the only one who initially thought it was the semi).
"Invictus" cannot go totally wrong. As a true story, and one we can all respect, at the very least it makes the viewer feel like they're getting a healthy dose of some cinematic tonic. I couldn't help feeling that too much sugar was added to help the medicine go down.

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No Bucks, No Buck Rogers!

The Right StuffThe Right Stuff

I ended up watching 'The Right Stuff' last night, for the zillionth time. An account of America's early test pilots and their absorption into the Mercury space program, it is also a kind of old-fashioned pioneer movie. Sure, there's corn and a lot of American gung-ho rubbish, but it's also a very, very well-made film.
Director Philip Kaufman could make some really excellent movies when he felt like it (eg. the 70s version of "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers"). He writes here as well. The little tricks he uses throughout - the seeding of pennies to pay dividends later (Gus Grissom and the exploding bolts, Chuck Yeagher and the chewing gum, Cooper's "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?") - is a joy to behold as a student of screenplays. How much of this was in Tom Wolfe's original book, I can't say, but at the very least he knows what to leave in his adaptation. The directorial elements are not to be sneezed at either; this is an epic picture told epically. He uses silent movie devices where possible, particularly in the magical first segment. Just look at the way he introduces the Death character as a handy motif to draw on later ( ask yourself why should the old man from Edwards Airbase be at the space launch? Magic!). If ever you need a straightforward lesson in how to load the dice against and so create a likeabable hero, watch how he sets up Yeagher for breaking the sound barrier*. It also helps to have granite-face Sam Shepard in the role, not to mention a who's who of talent backing him up (Dennis Quaid, Barbara Hershey, Ed Harris, Veronica Cartwright, Fred Ward, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, to name a few). Almost every major character gets their own emotional scene helping to make a large ensemble cast of characters more than just thumbnails.
Yes, it has problems, but overall this is a movie from which to learn some of Hollywood's best tricks of the trade. With a long and complex story, and a necessarily big budget, Kaufman has to win a big audience in whatever way he can. That means mixing intelligence with popcorn, history with fantasy. After all no bucks, no Buck Rogers!

* Much as I love this movie, it always irks me how it glosses over the fact that America stole their supersonic technology from the more cash-starved British. To the best of my knowledge, the British actually broke the sound barrier first, though with an unmanned craft.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Capel Street on Foot

Smoke! Should have gone down there for a lung-full!

Capel Street was blocked off today due to the fire. It was very pleasant having it effectively pedestrianised and it's going to stay that way for the weekend. Shame it can't stay that way.


Big fire down on Capel Street this morning. Seems to be either the sex or the head shop. No smoke without fire.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sideways Eight

Horizon just did a programme on Infinity. I tend to find Stephen Berkoff a bit of a ham at the best of times, but when they have an actor such as Berkoff present a science show, things tend to become more of a performance piece than any real bit of education. It's usually a sign they have nothing to say.
That was somewhat true of this, though that was more probably the fault of Infinity than anything else; it's too darn difficult to understand any which way you look at it. One mathematician seemed to be espousing a view I gravitate towards, namely that it's just a notion invented by humans, but I kind of suspected his reason would be suspect; he was a mathematician after all, not a philosopher. When he said that when you add one to the largest number it goes back to zero, I knew I was right. This man was an imbecile. His argument boiled down to the fact that it's just crazier to have a notion like Infinity than not to.
Going on to notions of an infinite universe the ideas just got wackier, though none that I couldn't accept in theory and none I hadn't heard before. Okay, so there is an infinite number of me's doing the same things I'm doing infinitely. Not a happy thought (read that ad infinitum). The one positive argument made, and one I've made myself many times (an infinite number of times?), is that we're simply not evolved to comprehend the notion in any instinctual way. We evolved to deal with a finite environment, which is probably why all ideas of God are so fuzzy. There is, however, some scope, I think, for a logical approach to the question of an infinite universe. If all things are possible then the possibility of something preventing all things being possible is possible, though of course the opposite is also true. Indeed counter possibilities are possible ad infinitum. But I bet you can't put a fruit pastille in your mouth without chewing it.

Read it as you will

The Greek protestors fighting for their wages chant:
"This is Greece, not Ireland!"
Says it all really.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of LyingThe Invention of Lying - Is that product placement?
In a world where everyone tells the truth, one man learns how to lie; 'The Invention of Lying'.
You can't get more high concept than that, though Ricky Gervais, writer, director and star tries to make things a little more complex. For one he attempts to explore the usefulness of fiction in maintaining a happy, and indeed sane, life. Not only does religion, his biggest lie, bring comfort to a world ill at ease with death, it also brings about some sort of justification for a morality that nevertheless didn't seem to be a problem till his lie exposed it as one. This could be a weighty theme, and indeed I'm surprised America's religious right did not pick up on the full implications of this Gervais's argument. Strangely his humanism seems to have been the bedrock of the very society he corrupts.
Even more challengingly, particularly given Hollywood and it's bread and butter fare, he tries to strike a blow for us short, fat, ugly chaps. You see there's much more to us than unpleasant contributors to an otherwise beautiful genepool. The fact that this argument is made in the service of trying to woo and win self-acknowledged babe Jennifer Garner does not seem to strike Gervais as contradictory (compare this to Jack Black's love in 'Shallow Hal'). (This 'having-your-cake-and-eating-it' approach also extends to some nauseating product placement. A famous fast food box doubling as a Moses-style tablet is only funny if you forget you're being force-fed the fast food chain.) Nevertheless it is always refreshing to see a non-sparklingly beautiful actor starring in a big-budget flick, quite apart from his making the case for its value. Long may it continue.
So after its initial confrontational beginning, Gervais's film descends into standard romcom fare, as was probably inevitable. However, its few pungent points are bitter enough to remain in the memory. If their development says more about Gervais than society, it's still stimulating to see them stated at all.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

"Let me tell you something, my Kraut, Mick friend!"

How many times have I seen 'The Godfather' now? I'm reciting the lines as they speak them. Even for a movie wedding sequence, some might say 'The Deerhunter', but for me 'The Godfather' can't be beat (the one in the 'The Deerhunter' bores me). The scene with Luca Brazzi alone, comic though it might appear, conveys so much about Don Corleone and his family. It's long, but that wedding sets up the whole movie. Exquisite!
Here comes the horse's head! Oh, I love it sooooooo much!
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

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Film Extra

I attended a seminar on Film Studies today, one of the things university lecturers give to interest other areas and encourage crossover. It was good to sink back into all that stuff. The Masters is so long ago now. They even showed a clip of 'Rear Window'. Of course, I couldn't resist throwing in my tuppence worth, then my trippence worth, fourpence worth,.... They couldn't shut me up! I ended up wanting to apologise to the lecturer. Still t'was fun!


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Oscar Glory?

Well done to the Irish contingent on their Oscar nominations, especially Brown Bag Films. If ever we had a star in our midst, it's that company.

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