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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Ah, ain't she cute?  Splice's DrenAh, ain't she cute? Splice's Dren
After the overblown silliness of 'Inception', it is refreshing to come across an honest-to-goodness sci-fi gem like 'Splice'. Basically a return to that old chestnut, 'Frankenstein', and all the better for that, it updates that myth for a 21st Century, post-Freudian, consumerist audience. And while Mary Shelley dwelt on the father figure to highlight parental anxieties in the Romantic male, Natali (director of the cult hit 'Cube' and the underrated 'Cypher') uses a couple to fill his 'mad scientist' role allowing him to tackle modern anxieties in both sexes.
In this take, cutting-edge genetic splicing is the means of creation. While not an original notion in itself, it's perfectly suited to the film's themes. As a result most of the action occurs in an industrial research outfit, a setting in line with a modern age where mad scientists simply don't have the resources to kit out their own labs. This leads to pragmatic problems when the transgressing scientists have to hide their forbidden research (using human DNA) from their employers.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play the hot shot scientists as rock stars (complete with flashy clothes and hip furnishings). When faced with having a kid they have to grow up fast and it's this uneasy development that allows Natali to lay bare many of the contradictions inherent in modern parenting. He has a lot of fun doing it and mixed in with the horror are some laugh out loud moments. One might quibble with some of the sexual stereotypes trotted out (it is exploring Freudian ideas after all), but the complexity and authenticity of the central couple's characterisation more than make up for this. And whatever way you look at it Dren is a captivating creation.
The Film Studies mob will be making a mountain out of the 'Inception' molehill for some time to come. If they bother looking in the right place though they'll see a much more culturally relevant patchwork right here.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Scared and Feathered

There was a young seagull with a damaged leg in the apartment block underground car park yesterday. Although it couldn't put weight on the leg it could move it, so it may not have been broken. When I approached it it soiled itself, so I was reluctant to try to lift the poor bird up and out of the car park (I didn't want to cause it more anguish). There is a space above that it could fly through, but it didn't look like it could. It didn't look like it could do anything, not even squawk. Defecate was the extent of it. Still I brought it a few slices of bread which it wolfed down; it nearly choked itself trying to consume an entire slice. I broke the bread up. I was worried for its future. This morning the pigeons were eating the crumbs that were left. The seagull itself was gone, but on the plus side there were were no scattered feathers as there might have been had a cat been at work. With a bit of luck....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dead and Buried

Visitors to a small seaside town are brutally murdered and then mysteriously resurrected in the 1981 horror, 'Dead and Buried'. The local sheriff must track down the killer(s) and figure out what dastardly deeds are really afoot. What more do you need to know?
Wait! Don't dismiss it quite yet.
I vaguely remember this from my childhood, but cannot quite reconcile that impression with what I just watched; I'm pretty sure this might have scarred me for life. Well, that's repression for you! With Gary Sherman, the director of the impressive "Death Line" (and needless "Poltergeist III"), at the helm, this film is taut, eerie and very unpleasant. Unusually for a film full of atmosphere and creepy suggestion, it's also gruesome, refusing to shirk from some unnecessarily messy murders. Were it not for an uneven screenplay - witness some silly behaviour by a family who stop off in town for directions - and what is ultimately a ludicrous storyline, this might be one of the all-time greats.
Cast-wise it's a strange mixed bag of character actors and also rans. For instance, Robert Englund, of later Freddy fame, shows up as a member of the threatening townsfolk, and they are a nasty bunch. "Flash Gordon"'s Melody Anderson has a substantial role as the local sheriff's wife, and she performs well. In the sheriff role, James Farentino seems to me like a stand-in for Roy Scheider's Chief Brody from "Jaws", investigating not with any real deduction, but through sheer salt-of-the-earth stubbornness. He's just a little over the top, but that is probably appropriate given how he must stumble from one extreme horror to the next, finding himself way, way out of his depth. The undoubted star though is Jack Albertson as the mortician/coroner. You may remember him from the original "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory". How could little, old grandpa ever send a shiver down your spine? Watch this.
As I mentioned the storyline is ridiculous. However, it is a demonstration of the film's success that one forgets (or at least forgives) its contradictions accepting instead a dream logic appropriate to nightmares. There is a hint of "Plague of the Zombies" to be sure, but hanging over proceedings is a more pungent influence. This is Lovecraft territory, not the Lovecraft of Cthulu et al, but rather the Lovecraft of 'Re-animator' and the creator of sinister villages like Innsmouth. Although the victims mostly come from out of town, there is a real sense that this town is off the map, maybe even the planet, a world unto itself. There really is no 'out there'. As the terrors mount, the focus draws tighter and tighter on the ostensible heart of the town, the mortuary. Did I say heart? This is a journey backwards to the source of the evil, to a foul womb (the undead are referred to as children). Oh, yes, this is definitely Lovecraft territory.
Mention should also be made of the look of the piece. For what is evidently a low budget film, this has some surprisingly beautiful aspects. From it's opening black and white still of a smalltown street suddenly coming to colourful, empty life, to its foggy nights and hazy interiors, the cinematographer is shooting well above what you'd expect to be his level. The worn wooden houses, fussy labs, tangled fishyards and crowded offices all contribute to the close-fitting sense of darkness too.
Don't think too much about it and you might see what I just watched, a real claustrophobic B-classic. It may be dead, but don't leave it buried.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Impressive Conference!

In the end the main conference was excellent! Loys of strange and exciting things going on out there. I'll write more fully when I get back some sleep.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Unimpressive Unconference

I attended my first 'unconference' in London today. Effectively they make it up as they go along, no one really accepts responsibility for a workshop and it's oh, so dynamic. Actually it's all a lot of hot air and usually not anything to do with the title of the session. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to learn, but it's easy to see why conferences are more commonly held than unconferences. It's also a little disheartening to find that everyone involved in digital humanities is so disorganised. There are good ideas out there - and a lot of clever people - but no solid vision bringing cohesion to the party. I left the day's event with just a whiff of annoyance, prompting me to go off walking alone. At least the South Bank is a perfect venue for that, but sadly part of the riverside walk was blocked off for maintenance. Still London's London.