Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Living in a Vacuum

I'm reading John Gribbin's "Science: A History" and enjoying it immensely. But it is making me realise how little basic science I actually know. When I'm finished I have to go back to mathematics too. I wish I'd paid more attention to logarithms, calculus etc. back in school. To think that they could develop so much in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries while still only formulating basic mathematical syntax (the '+' and '-' symbols were apparently only introduced in 1540, though of course that's not to say Arabian mathematicians didn't have their own approaches).


Monday, April 25, 2011


I'm really starting to get tired of all this superhero stuff.
Just as Ang Lee seemed an odd choice for 'Hulk' (and he was), Kenneth Branagh is not the kind of director you would automatically associate with a Marvel comic book adaptation such as 'Thor'. Funnily enough though, he is more appropriate than any of us had a right to think. Branagh manages to find the 'luvvie' side of Thor; an arrogant, uppercrust toff speaking cod Shakespearean English with a devoted band of jovial warrior friends and a veteran Shakespearean actor for a father (Anthony Hopkins). He is cast out of his privileged life to mix with the plebs (ie. beautiful human scientists like Nathalie Portman). Indeed, with his love of brawling, broad humour and comical arrogance, there is something very Falstaffian about this 'Norse god'. So a bit "Henry V" then. Those perpetually cheery friends add a sprinkling of "Peter's Friends". Loki's sibling machinations echo any number of Shakespearean villains, while wise old king, Odin, offers a good stand-in for Lear. Worst of all though is the general jovial sense of cosy safety that pervades everything. It's 'Much Ado About Nothing' only about nothing.
Which is not to say that for all the shadow of the Bard, that this is anything more than a shallow pantomime. Much as I have liked some of Branagh's directorial work in the past, I always felt he failed to get below the surface, even with a play so foolproof as 'Hamlet'. Here shallowness is the name of the game. Healthy lust masquerades as love, while showy bravado pretends to be courage. The story calls for Thor's character to mature and sure enough he goes from brash and childish to gentle and considerate. That this happens in almost one scene is difficult to accept though. We get no real sense of development, just a sudden shift from one end of the scale to the other. And it is questionable if this change is actually a maturing of character; much as courtly kissing of hands might appeal to some people's sense of romance, isn't that kind of romance just as naive as the brash brawler's bon homie. Only Tom Hiddleston's Loki manages any real depth, and to be fair to the scriptwriters, his character, rather than being made a conventional villain, is given a level of complexity befitting the Norse original. Still, it's more hinted at than properly explored.
I have other minor gripes. Patrick Doyle's music, for instance, is annoying and lacking in any real sense of wonder. I never really liked his work, though Branagh who uses him extensively, obviously does. Here he gives us the requisite bangs and booms, but it's by the book stuff.
The effects didn't impress me either, at least in the Asgard sequences. I have no qualms with CGI, and I don't really object to stylised effects sequences, but here the world of Asgard is so obviously artificial as to warrant comparison with a cartoon. I must qualify that though, by saying that it is a reasonably original conception, and ugly though elements such as the rainbow bridge are, they do chime well with the original myths.
I'm being grumpy and I know it. There is nothing monumentally wrong with 'Thor'. It is good, honest family fare and liable to sell a lot of action figures to kids coming to Norse myths for the first time. Even it's anti-war (or at least tempered militarism) subtext is refreshing in such a mainstream film. But I cannot help but lament the missed opportunities in superhero movies such as this. Comic book superheroes are modern fairy tales and like their earlier predecessors, they navigate notions and emotions otherwise difficult for a young (and sometimes not so young) audience.
In the book, 'Men of Tomorrow', the history of the American comic book is detailed. Many of the creators of these costumed heroes were the children of poor Jewish immigrants, and grew up in urban worlds full of crime and poverty. Their creations were a reimagining of their struggle for a better life and provided a tentative fantasy solution to real-life dilemmas. In this sense superhero stories constitute the myths of today. We shouldn't trivialise them and with the money Hollywood is throwing at them, we shouldn't have to.
Okay, gripe over. Bring the kids.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scream 4

As slasher movies go, the 'Scream' series set the trend for self-referential horror. In each movie, cinema savvy characters discuss the absurdities and formulae for successful horror movies, often right before succumbing to the inane behaviour they critique. There's always a couple of cinema geeks on hand to outline how this particular installment should unfold if it is a true sequel, or the third part in a larger story, or ...another postmodern sequel.
Kevin Williamson, the writer of the original movie, returns this time around, as does series director, Wes Craven. He has absorbed all that has been said about the rest of the series (and indeed the whole modern Horror genre that it shaped), and makes that the target of discussion. So we get movies within movies, second-guessing of rules in a self-aware culture, and a stab at a celebrity culture that thrives on people famous for being famous. Despite alluding to all these ideas though, there isn't too much real insight on display. But then why should there be? This is a slasher movie. And at base it's the same drill as the other three films, with a killer in a ghost mask and an annoying telephone manner, and a new set of suspects. Not to mention a whole new selection of bright young things to be sliced and diced.
Truth be told, I dislike stabbings, gratuitous gore and (especially) the needless slaughter of those bright young things. I get no kick out of the 'inventive' slayings. What's more, the 'Scream' series, by using the whodunnit device (like Argento before), ridiculous though the unmasking always is, places more emphasis on character and so makes the deaths a little sadder. You do kind of care. Not to say the characters in 'Scream 4' are any more than paper thin tropes - they're not - but they have a damn sight more likeability than the teenage tokens usually appearing in dreck like 'Friday the Thirteenth' or 'My Bloody Valentine'.
All that said, Craven delivers the requisite shocks, Williamson delivers the knowing humour, and a mixture of familiar and attractive cast members deliver a lot more than we have any right to expect. (Only Marco Beltrami's brainless score really jars, not only fanfaring events clumsily, but often needlessly drawing attention to itself.)
It's not as smart as it thinks it is, but 'Scream 4' is still a silly slash above the norm.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Di Fontaine, Parliament Street... AVOID!!!!!!

I can't believe it. My first time in the place and they try to add an extra euro on a slice of pizza. DO NOT GO THERE! No kidding, a nasty place.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sidney Lumet has died!

Loved so many of his movies. He'll be missed.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Chapters - My Favourite Bookshop NO LONGER!

I had a family visit planned tonight and needed a present. I knew what I wanted and knew where to get it, so at 6:20 I arrived at the door of Chapters on Parnell Street. Despite the fact that the opening hours declared the store closed at 6:30, the little git at the door wouldn't let me in, claiming they closed at 6:20. I pleaded, but no (and it would have been a sizeable purchase too). As I walked away I angrily looked back only to see a woman run up to the door and obviously ask to be let in. This time, of course, the humunculus let her in. That makes me angry, and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Then again, you probably wouldn't like me anyhow.... GRRRRRRRRRR!