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.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Del Toro never loses his way in "Pan's Labyrinth"

It is a tribute to del Toro that after all my anticipation, "Pan's Labyrinth" didn't disappoint. Let's just stand back and look at his filmography for a moment:

Laberinto del Fauno, El (2006)
... aka Pan's Labyrinth (USA)
Hellboy (2004)
Blade II (2002)
Espinazo del diablo, El (2001)
... aka The Devil's Backbone (Europe: English title) (USA)
Mimic (1997)
Cronos (1993)

What jumps out for me is that it is his Spanish language films that consistently approach greatness. "Mimic", "Blade 2" and even the darling of many, "Hellboy", are poor at worst, mediocre at best. But look at "Cronos", "The Devil's Backbone" and now "Pan's Labyrinth". Each one is a politically aware, magical foray into strange and tortured worlds. I still marvel that it has taken a Mexican to create two of the most authentic explorations of the Spanish Civil War. Ken Loach's "Land and Freedom" was powerful, but more of an exploration of the failure of European Socialism than of the Spanish experience. "The Devil's Backbone" in contrast used fantasy to probe at the heart of the Spanish nightmare. "Pan's Labyrinth" continues this experiment and in the process becomes a portrait and indeed a celebration of the Spanish nation and its culture. Brutal and lyrical by turns, it uses its "fairytale for adults" label like a razor, exposing the real price of Spanish Fascism.

At the heart of this movie we have a battle for Spain's future played against the backdrop of a rich and honourable past, one that is being sacrificed blindly. Of course, the innocents, as represented by Ofelia, are the chief victims of this madness. Motifs common to most of Del Toro's work appear again here; grotesque creatures, strange insects, violent men, put-upon orphans and an ever present Underworld of which we are largely ignorant. However, these elements are integral to the story and one comes away feeling that this is what Del Toro has been working towards all these years.

A criticism that might be levelled at the film might be the black and white nature of the opponents, the Fascists being unredeemably evil while the rebels are honourable and good. However, it is a fairytale for adults after all and the allegory is rich enough to sustain this polarisation. Ofelia herself offers a complexity of character that is refreshing. Another charge one might level is the extremity of some of the violence and gore. To that I might point out that fairytales have never been lacking in violence; I think it is in the Grimm Brothers' "The Juniper-tree" that a stepmother dismembers her son, cooks him up and serves him to be eaten by his father. Pleasant stories, fairytales.

Beautiful and disturbing, this is so far removed from Del Toro's Hollywood work as to beg the question why he works in America at all, though of course one can do nothing without money and he himself has professed to adopting the "one for them, one for me" rule. Thank God there is no way on earth the US could produce a remake of this.

"Pan's Labyrinth" stands alongside "Spirit of the Beehive" (another Spanish Civil War fairytale), "Germany Year Zero" and indeed Del Toro's own "The Devil's Backbone" as a superlative childhood vision of a world gone bad. Compare the success of this movie with the similar, but less impressive, "Tideland", and you will see that Del Toro is a true master of the macabre and a vocal poet of the childhood world.

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Oedipus Wrecked!

Hobbling around with my damaged foot, but resolute in my conviction that I had had enough resting, I made my weekly Sunday pilgrimage to town. A tall mocha with a good book marks a particular Sunday highlight for me and I didn't want to miss it.

I have finally taken up "Nineteen Eighty-Four". It's been on my shelf now for years, I even brought it with me to Europe, but am only now giving it a plunge. I suppose my experience reading "Brave New World" many years back always put me off - I was very disappointed with that - and they both seem to be lumped in the same category, or said in hushed, reverential tones using the same breath. That and the fact that everyone knows the Orwell's storyline very, very well made me put off reading it until now. Silly me, heh? What's so frightening is not so much that it is believeable, but it has actually come to pass. While on the tour of the East Berlin prison Phil and I visited, the guide repeatedly made comparisons to Orwell's book. The Stasi certainly seem to have used it as some sort of blueprint. The ingrained paranoia, the sense that your every action was being scutinised and that you yourself should scrutinise your every action, seems to have been part of everyday life for East Germany. Very readable too.

At around 15.00, while reading and drinking coffee, I got a call from Jules. He, Justin and Killian were in Conway's and would I join them. They had been to a party the night before and were keeping the drinking going. I had a turkey dinner with the family to go to and "Pan's Labyrinth" was later so I was determined not to get sucked into a session. I arrived at 15.15 and already they had at least three hours behind them. That and the party ending late into the morning made the three of them very drunk when I arrived. As I came through the door I gave the customary nod to Dan, who was sipping a drink in his pub as usual. Jules was just coming to the bar and he unusually struck me as in a bad way, though when I saw the other two I realised Jules was the soberest of the lot. Justin, wearing a St Patrick's hat and green beard, was drifting in and out of consciousness, giving a little dig to Killian whenever awake. Killian, having avoided the party, was not too bad, but nevertheless had the bleary eyed look he adopts when drunk. More than ever I was determined to head home for dinner after at most two pints. That I did. I resisted the snakebites too and stuck to Guinness, though I wasn't too impressed with the new North Star brew. Shieldsy arrived just as I was preparing to go. He had been to Paris the weekend before for Jane's birthday and had been hearthily impressed. It would have been good to talk some more, but dinner was calling and drink was the way to damnation!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Horror Sequels: Revenge of the Toenail!

Thursday I shaved away my beard intending to be photographed as I intended to travel. Passport photos were required for a Chinese visa I need, but in the end the Chinese Embassy was closed for visas Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, so I'll have to go out on Tuesday. The day wasn't wasted though; I bought my plane tickets and met up with Barry B. for lunch. Thanks again Barry.

On Friday I continued my lunch dates. In contrast to what was to follow, I had a very pleasant Italian lunch with Ali (stunning as ever). Pasta, wine and good company are perfect for a Friday lunchtime. The afternoon, perhaps something I might normally fill with films, was a relaxing lounge around town. There have been no interesting film releases for weeks, however, all was not entirely dead cinematically as I had another venue for getting my fix; the Dublin Horror Movie festival, the Horrorthon.

Intrigued by the prospect of seeing new work by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, last night I went along to a screening of three episodes of the "Masters of Horror" series. This series, only aired in the States, takes well-known directors of the genre (eg. Coscarelli, Argento, Stuart Gordon), gives them 2 million and 10 days and asks them to come up with an hour long tv episode. John Landis completed the trio with a piece called "Deer Woman", but I was less interested in that. Landis is rightly lauded for "An American Werewolf in London", but outside of "Innocent Blood" hasn't done much else of genre interest. No, Carpenter and Hooper, despite the disappointment of recent years, are always auteurs to watch. Predictably though it was Landis's piece, laced with humour, which proved to be the best of the three even with (or probably because of) a totally implausible monster called, you guessed it, a deerwoman. Anyhow below are some reviews I put into the IMDB. There may be, as they say, spoilers.

[WARNING! The next paragraph includes toenail scenes of a graphic nature that some readers may find offensive.]

All was well when I got home, but at 1.30 in the morning my big toe began to throb. By 2.00 it was agony. Out with tweezers and scissors, I tried to tackle what was yet another ingrown toenail, or rather the recurrence of my first one. What was happening to me? What was wrong with my toes? I took away some nail, but could get nowhere and ended up getting very little sleep. Emergency! I looked up Golden Pages and got a chiropodist in Lucan who could see me at 12 today. I won't dwell any more on this. Suffice to say he had to anaesthetise the toe (more needles!). It was major. He extracted a HUGE piece of hidden nail, nail I never even suspected and nail that I carried around with me in a little wad of tissue for the rest of the day. He suspects I suffered a foot injury some months back that has caused the problems I've had. I think he may have hit the nail on the head (which is probably what I did). All should now be well, but as he himself said, I had my own little horror movie today.

Anyhow resting at home I finished off "The Continental Op". Tough stories well told. In "The House on Turk Street" and "The Girl with the Silver Eyes", Hammett created perhaps the definitive femme fatale, Elvira. Almost supernatural in her sway over men, she is as mean as they come right to the wonderful last line of the latter story.

There's a lot of humour too. In one story the Op holds up two crooks, relieving them of $19,126.62. His partner finds some stamps. "Take 'em along," says the Op. "That's practically 8 cents."

Anyhow the horror reviews.

The Damned Thing

As someone with a lot of time for Hooper, and as a fan of Ambrose Bierce, I was excited at the prospect of a Hooper directed adaptation of Bierce's story, "The Damned Thing" (a kind of American version of Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla"). The original story, though chilling, was a short and simple piece, so some broadening of the tale was always going to be necessary. Unfortunately this proves the undoing of the episode.

Inasmuch as he draws nothing but a one-note performance from Flanery and an inappropriately over-the-top one from Raimi, Hooper must share some of the blame for the failure of the piece. However, he achieves a sense of dread at the start that he doesn't let disperse. His hinting at greater terrors, also hearkens back to his "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" days, and overall I saw more to celebrate than criticise in his direction. The main flaw lies in Richard Christian Matheson's screenplay. [Richard Christian Matheson is the son of the truly great Richard Matheson, author of "I am Legend", "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and so much more.]

From a subtext point of view, Matheson is good. Tying the damned thing to oil exploration and so to the basis of American wealth and prosperity is clever, linking the evil of society to its very mainspring. However, his charting of the disintegration of Cloverdale leaves far too much to the imagination. One day there is bad weather and restlessness, the next it's the end of the world. There is too much of Flanery moping around with his whiskey, instead of small vignettes of growing madness (such as the hammer suicide).

Sheriff Reddle, for all his centrality in the story, is a truly wasted character, serving very little purpose. For instance, for all his paranoia and remembrance of things past he fails to respond when his wife uses practically the same warning phrases that his mother once used. Instead of preparing for the coming storm and protecting town and family, it seems his sole function is as catalyst for the unfolding of the exposition; a journalist tells him his family history; a doctor tells him about deaths; old newspapers tell him about the original oil drillings (adding very little to what we've learnt already); and at the outset he is the child who witnesses an earlier manifestation. All these things come to him, he himself doing very little. Then to sabotage what psychological realism there was, we have this apparently socially conscientious sheriff abandon the town to carnage while he drives his family home. Even if one charitably sees him as being possessed at this point, it's a pretty stupid course of action.

As I wrote, the original story was slender to begin with. However, this simplicity opened it out to all sorts of interpretation. This adaptation is strongest when it seizes on this ambiguity to make a reasonably clear ideological point. Ironically it is the telling itself that proves to be confused. Next time Matheson should keep it simple.


I had a lot of hopes for this episode. Good reports about the
"Cigarette Burns" piece in Series One suggested Carpenter was back on
song. The story too featured a couple of Carpenter staples, principally
the assault on an isolated enclave of goodies and the threat from
within. Add to this the presence of genre favourite Ron Perlman in the
cast and the signs were good. Sadly the end result didn't deliver.
Firstly Cody Carpenter is no match for his father in the score stakes.
Carpenter senior made musical magic with a cheesy synthesizer in his
heyday; just recall "Halloween", or "The Fog". Cody keeps the
synthesizer, but can't seem to do anything memorable. To be honest he
tries, but then he gets no support from the movie itself.

Perlman is dependably fine as the pro-life father. Despite his villain
role, Perlman invests Dwayne with a certain amount of humanity, creating at the outset a character more appropriate to a realistic, complex issue drama. However, this is a monster movie and it is a real shame that the scriptwriters have to go to extremes to demonise him. Having told his sons not to hurt anyone, that their
prime objective is to recover their sister, Dwayne inexplicably spends
most of his time executing a sickening death on Dr Keever. Wasn't his daughter, preventing an abortion and "Saving the child" his principal aim? This scene is
gratuitous and seriously wounds the movie.

Concentrating on Dwayne's attack on the clinic and working that strand out to its
logical conclusion realistically probably would have resulted in a far
more interesting movie. Unfortunately Carpenter is also saddled with a
feeble Rosemary's Baby element. Even though this provides him with an
opportunity to reprise his "spindly-monster-in-the-operating-theatre"
scene from "The Thing", it also leads to a unintentionally funny scene
involving a demon and its dead spawn. For all the modern special
effects, the demon struck me as no more credible than the monster in
Tourneur's '50's classic, "Night of the Demon", while the whole demonspawn birth very much echoed a similar scene in a British low budget flick called "Cradle of Fear" (a not too dissimilar story, similar creature born).

In the end, there was simply too much going on for this to be
effective. Having said that at least he didn't plump for a "There's a
twin!" ending.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beware the Boo-ed Meaneys!

A while back I got an invitation to "An Evening with Christopher Hampton". He's an interesting writer (and director), perhaps most famous for his screenplay for "Dangerous Liaisons" (directed by Stephen Frears). I think he may have won the Oscar for that. Anyhow tonight his directorial debut, "Carrington", (he's directed another two since), was to be shown with a 'conversation' afterwards. Contrary to my usual tastes I sat near the front this time; the main event for me was the conversation not the movie, though, as I hadn't seen it, that was a bonus.

A real bonus. Probably a little too much bedswapping going on for too little reason (but then wasn't that the case with "Dangerous Liaisons"), but all in all a touching story of a real and unusual love affair. In a nutshell, the painter, Dora Carrington, and the homosexual writer, Lytton Strachey, fell in love, shared lovers and ultimately could not live without each other. The two central performances by Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce were generally excellent (doubted Thompson a little towards the end; she doesn't do mad/suicidal easily).

So to the 'conversation'. Helen Meaney was the compere and, as a bonus, Jonathan Pryce, looking very worn, showed up (would have liked to hear more from him as it transpired). Hampton, a short, long grey-haired individual, sounds a little like Tony Blair and like said Tony is well able to talk. Luckily, or we would have gotten nothing from the whole event. Meaney was a disaster; archly she pointed out that "cinema, you know the lights, the cameras, allows you to show emotion without words, doesn't it?". I could have hit her. Ill-prepared and unsuited to any film-oriented discussion, she got worse. Pausing to get her wonderful insights together, a member of the audience managed to butt in. At first I thought this was a blessing; if she couldn't ask anything sensible, let the people who were really interested, those who came to see Hampton, do the work. Unfortunately the audience, which had a high proportion of elderly people, were not going to save the evening. I mention the elderly contigent to highlight the fact that these were no young, hungry students wanting to learn about filmmaking; this was a bunch of pensioners getting in out of the rain (and oh, how it rained, didn't I mention it rained...). I'm being harsh, but they were there for a real conversation, not to learn anything. The interlocutor in the seat behind me seemed to think that his usurping of Meaney for one question allowed him to keep his conversation going. Inane question after inane question flowed from this member of the public ("Why do you think Carrington killed herself?" Didn't you see the movie you emotionally blind idiot!) Then another age-challenged maniac asked "Did you (Hampton) feel the spirit of Carrington?". I was tearing my seat to shreds. Meaney of course didn't have a clue what was going on, nor did she understand that part of her role was to rein things in. What a waste of a golden opportunity?

Why didn't I ask something you may ask? It wasn't entirely because I'm chicken; I have asked questions in similar situations. No, I was angry and yes, couldn't think of anything intelligent to ask. After all there were so many distractions! I was interested in Hampton's work on Conrad's "The Secret Agent", as I am a Conrad fan, but, I am ashamed to say, I haven't seen it (it never got a release here), so felt nervous about asking. I kept racking my brains over what the third movie he directed was (yes, Meaney didn't even give a potted history of his work, possibly because she didn't know it). I just checked there; "Imagining Argentina", another Emma Thompson film and one that I have seen. No masterpiece, but it's heart was in the right place, being an indictment of General Videla and his reign of terror in Argentina. Hampton wrote and directed that movie, surely a project worth a question. And outside of mentioning "Dangerous Liaisons", did we get any background? No. "Mary Reilly", a flop that paired him up with Frears again, any comment? No. And what of his Graham Greene adaptations (eg. "The Quiet American")? Ehh, no. I have just glanced at his IMDB entry and there is a tonne of stuff begging to be asked. Yes, maybe I should have glanced at that beforehand, and yes, haven't I a cheek when I didn't and couldn't do better. But wasn't that Meany's job? Wasn't I a spectator? If I'd known I'd be dancing, I'd have brought my dancing shoes.

Anyway I'll stop griping. I left the cinema and there was Hampton and Pryce still standing outside. Two crumblies had Hampton monopolised, but I got to shake Pryce's hand. He'll always be Sam Lowry as far as I'm concerned, so it was good to meet him.

A little more griping; when I got home there was some TV crap, "Bon Voyage", ripping off "Misery" and more shamelessly (coincidentally a movie on Channel 4 later). Probably some crumbly feeling the spirit of Stephen King.

I am reading Dashiell Hammett's "The Continental Op" right now. Hammett was a true genius, but the Op is unjustly neglected (everyone knows Sam Spade, but who knows the Short, Fat, Balding Man with No Name). I read "Nightmare Town" a few months back which included some Op stories, but all the stories in this volume let him strut his stuff, and so far so excellent. They'd make a great tv series. He's a real little man hero in contrast to cool, Satanic Spade, and I think probably truer to the leanings of good old left-winger Hammett. Spade really only appeared in "The Maltese Falcon" and a couple of shorts. The Op gets at least twenty outings, including two novels, "The Dain Curse" and "Red Harvest" (Hammett's best, in my view).

Just saw in Wikipedia that there were 40 short stories! And "The Dain Curse" has already been adapted for tv. The short stories though, they're the ones to tackle. Yes, a tv series.... Wonder if they're in the public domain....

Not content, I looked a little deeper and the Continental Op story, "Fly Paper", was adapted by Donald E. Westlake for the "Fallen Angels" tv series with Christopher Lloyd as the Op. Not a good choice of Op. Too tall and eccentric.

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Monday, October 23, 2006


Just got my travel shots. I have a very strong aversion to needles, especially those that go into my arm. As I went through the trip with the doctor - and that in itself was scary (don't get licked by strange animals!!!!) - I casually mentioned I needed my blood type for a medical form. "And you were going so well with only two needles!" she laughed. Yes, blood type meant three. The nurse inflicting the torture was pretty, but I just closed my eyes, lay back and thought of Ireland. That didn't work, so I thought of the little stings in my arm instead. Apparently I am due a dead arm in around 40 minutes. Whoopee!

I had nearly overcome my fear when I got the bill for the whole pleasant experience. 193 euro!!!! Needles! Oh, how I hate needles!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Me, Myself and Identity

Just got a ticket for Guillermo del Toro's new movie, "Pan's Labyrinth", said to be a sister piece to his earlier, "The Devil's Backbone". That movie was excellent in every way, and the reports bode well for this new film too. It will be released here towards the end of the year, but the Horrorthon, on next weekend, is showing it next Sunday, and according to the ticket seller there's only 20 tickets left. A healthy indication of the taste of Irish audiences, hee, hee.

Last Thursday I enjoyed some more choice entertainment, of the theatrical variety that time. My cousin, Janet Moran, is currently acting in the Corn Exchange's production, "Everyday", currently being performed at the Beckett Theatre in Trinity College (their last play, "Dublin by Lamplight", was a great success). The play features a number of different strands involving many, many characters, all interacting over the course of one day. There are no props and each actor, playing multiple roles, performs in a style borrowing from Commedia dell'arte (stylised make-up and pronounced gestures etc.). But don't let that give you the impression that this is inaccessible; the stories are wonderfully realised, the characters very easily recognised and the whole night is wonderful entertainment. There are some elements you could quibble with (for me the Ukrainian strand didn't work so well, perhaps because in contrast with the loquacity of the other characters, this featured a girl who could barely communicate at all), and some stories are a little hacknied, but in such a wide ranging play this is inevitable. Bottom-line this is something to see (I know few listen to me, so Luke Clancy has a review here if you want confirmation).

Afterwards Jan and I went for a pint or two and I very easily got drawn into pontificating about aesthetics and drama etc.. Naturally Hamlet was mentioned (the pinnacle of dramatic art as far as I am concerned), but it got me reconsidering an idea for a play I've long had. I guess I'd better knuckle down and do it.

Having said that plans are just about complete for the next stage of my world travels. November 11th should see me jet off again. I was going to detail the itinerary here, but I have decided to keep you all in the dark and reveal the trip as it happens. Travel shots tomorrow.

Anything else? The chiropodist stood me up yesterday on my return visit. Luckily things are looking brighter on the toe front and I may not need such a visit after all.

[WARNING! Do not read following paragraph if easily offended by philosophy.]
I have started to read some metaphysics again (that's you and your Hegel, Jan! Remember the dialectic nature of three act play????? Hee, hee, hee.). I have a bulky anthology at home that has some interesting general essays. I'm not sure if I see the Identity of Indiscernibles as a major problem for Empiricism's Bundle Theory as the editors put forward. They give the example of a universe where two spheres, each identical in composition, history, etc. revolve. If they are identical how can we differentiate them as different bodies. I'm not going to go into that here, but I will say that I believe the role of the subject is integral to any understanding of separate entities with identical properties (we will always posit them in relation to ourselves, hence a spatial element is always involved). Yeesh! Give me a break; I get carried away sometimes.

From the sublime to...De Palma's "Bonfire of the Vanities". Reviled on release, De Palma's adaptation of the Tom Wolfe novel was on the other night. I had seen it a long time ago, but since then I've read the excellent "The Devil's Candy", and have wanted to view the movie again in light of that account of its making. Anyway it is recorded and I'll view it later.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Scaredy Cats and Lost Dogs

Oh, the pain! I fell prey the other day to an ingrown toenail and with my customary aplomb chose to tackle it myself. Unfortunately despite taking out a sizeable chunk of nail, a splinter was left to grow, the toe became infected, the pain grew worse, my cutting grew deeper, the infection swelled and today my first ever visit to a chiropodist was required.

It was only as I walked to the surgery that I realised the 'good socks' I'd chosen to wear had a broken elastic and were falling down around my toes. Not a good impression to make on someone checking your feet.

My first impressions of the chiropodist, however, were not too good either. "Surgery" was a house with Halloween decorations and no doorbell. Frantic knocking brought no response and I had just gotten on the phone to cancel the appointment when the chiropodist drew up in her car. She didn't inspire too much confidence either, nor did walking through a kitchen to a makeshift surgery. Still I was there, so I just had to grit my teeth and bear it. As it transpired I had a lot of gritting of teeth and bearing it to do; it was very, very painful. Yes, there was blood! What the dentist is to most people, the chiropodist has just become for me. In the end though my toe was dressed and I was able to hobble out. I forgot my first impressions with the hope of a good night's sleep tonight. It still hurts though.

I then met up with an old college friend of mine, Claire, and her two young sons. You know age has caught up with you when everybody you know has young children. Given the happy meal spirit of the occasion, I joined them in a MacDonald's, like the Coke of the other night, something I normally resist for a multitude of good reasons. And like the Coke of the other night, it should be my last experience of such 'food' for quite a while. Young children food obviously. Still the company was good and afterwards I joined the hunt for a "Dog" costume for little Daniel. Yes, "Cat" costumes are ten a penny, but not so "Dog" costumes. Even the Scooby costume we eventually discovered only came in too large a size. I don't envy you figuring this one out, Claire.

And what of my plans for further travel? Never fear I have been working on this and will hopefully be able to unveil something very soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 16, 2006


The gig last night, part of the Hard Working Class Heroes Festival, featured a friend of mine, Nigel Place, and he did the business as they say (great too was Emma Jane on backing vocals). A good 30 minute set.

Pravda was only one of the venues, however, and besides the music most of the other venues had one thing in common; they sold beer. Beer and Niall sometimes make a strange combination, and so it was last night. After Pravda we headed to the Music Centre to see Brian Brannigan's band, Lazarus Soul. Brian sings the best version of the American Music Club's "I've been a Mess" that I've ever heard, though I must admit that besides his I've only ever heard the American Music Club's own version. Evidently this song has affected him deeply featuring, as it does, Lazarus (hence Lazarus Soul, his band, and another song of his). Anyhow they got the times wrong and instead of 10, he wasn't on until 11, so I kept up my drinking antics.

Also playing were Star Belgrade, though who they were playing was not revealed (definitely not much room on that stage for any sort of match). Very 80's to my ear,with just a hint of Depeche Mode and the subtle aroma of hollyhocks.

Emma Jane mentioned how hot it was, but I had to beg to differ, being as I am a very cold-blooded character. This naturally led to my riffing on the cold-blooded theme and reinventing myself as Geckoboy! Yes, you really did need to be there. Climbing up walls and regrowing my severed arm were just some of the powers I claimed. Funnily enough unprompted we came up with the genesis to Spiderman's arch-enemy the Lizard. Yes, you REALLY needed to be there! Just as well I didn't introduce Bill Hicks's Goatboy, though my sterling impression of Michael Jackass did get an airing.

As it happened Lazarus Soul were a little too serious to really hold our attention and Nigel's producer, Len, had to nip out to see Peaches (who apparently was "Pants!"), another act playing nearby. It didn't help that the sound wasn't the best. There is definitely talent there, but a little lightening of tone might help. Anyhow Sambucas were had which just fueled my crazed shenanigans. The city was lucky that I left for home and brie and toast (hmmm, food!).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

So much happening!!!!!

Life becomes pretty uneventful when you're doing nothing.

I finished "Gods and Monsters" last Thursday. Great read. Very interesting too to see the progress of a journalist from Left-wing activist to celebrity profiler. Even in Biskind's latter pieces though his true leanings come through. What really intrigued me though was the sheer pettiness of it all. I have read again and again of the decadence in Hollywood, not least in Biskind's other books, but his pieces on Charles Feldman, Don Simpson and Sue Mengers really put it all into perspective. We are dealing with truly limited individuals dictating the most widely seen visual product in the world, people with blinkered notions of success and value powering one of the most powerful propaganda machines the world has ever seen. No wonder we're all in such shit. Loved the book though.

One for the coincidences though; Thursday morning I read about Charles Feldman, uber-agent and producer, and the piece featured an anecdote about Kirk Douglas's movie, "Champion". Two hours later I turned on Channel 4 and there was the movie.

Given the self-generated obstacles Hollywood faces, it was good to see a movie like "Little Miss Sunshine". Yes, it lets the sentimentality seep in, but it features characters we recognise and genuinely care about, and it is frequently funny, even if the dead body in the back of the car has been done to death. The climactic dance number is the best since "Napoleon Dynamite". And it's always great to see Alan Arkin in action.

That was Monday. Tuesday I saw "The Night Listener". Basically an anecdote, there is very little to it, outside of Armistead Maupin telling the world what a lovely gay man he is. To its credit, for a movie that isn't a horror, thriller or anything but a very short story, it has one or two well realised moments. Still you have to wonder why.

More on the coincidence front; two movies in two days, both featuring Toni Colette in the lead female role and both featuring a gay man buying heterosexual porn. What the hell kind of cinema am I viewing anyway.

Then there was the surprise Ireland soccer draw (I almost said win) on Wednesday. Shame it wasn't a win, but far better than anyone could have hoped for after last Saturday's disaster against Cyprus.

Congratulations to Gordon and Sinead, by the way, on the birth of Ian on Tuesday 10th!

Friday was a big birthday party for Jules. Lots of drink had obviously. We even went to Spirit. Still didn't get anywhere with that student nurse (she looked liked Sylvia Sidney). Instead it was snack boxes in Supermac's and the last time I drink coke (I don't drink it usually, but it came with the meal). It's strange, but after large quantities of lager, a sugary drink makes my body go into cramps. Strange, but true. Lactic acid, I suspect.

And true to Irish form, not only has the Taoiseach got out of his scandal, his rating in the polls has gone up. Go figure!

On my way to a gig now in Pravda. Catch you later, Bill and Ted.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dearly Departed...from the Script!

They changed the ending! I cannot believe that Hollywood believes the American public are so immature that they need closure to everything!

I have just been to Martin Scorcese's, "The Departed", a film based on an excellent Asian movie called, "Infernal Affairs". The new version features a wonderful cast and great direction; it's very enjoyable. Then it blows it all with literally the last cheap shot. The original had ended very uncomfortably, one might even say nastily. This ending, different to the original, is presumably there to leave the audience satisfied, but I for one far from being satisfied was angered causing me to reevaluate everything. And funnily enough that's just what these filmmakers have done. What had been a highly ambiguous film where the two main protogonists were slightly skewed mirror images of one another, so much so that any slight twist of Fate might have reversed their roles, now becomes your conventional black against white, cowboys and indians. Even Di Caprio's performance, which I initially felt was a little one-note, now seems totally of a piece with what the new intentions are. He isn't a calm supercop (despite his steady hand) to match Damon's supercrook, he's just the underdog who never got the breaks, while Damon was privileged. The movie becomes a popcorn piece instead of the dark seventies-style movie it should have been. No matter what the critics say, this is a sad day for Scorcese; he's sold out.

I really wish Scorcese had let things alone. It would have been uncomfortable sure, but appropriate. Instead it's just a nihilistic bloodbath.

In contrast I really liked "Children of Men" yesterday. It's a companion piece to "V for Vendetta" and is the latest in a lineage that includes "Fahrenheit 451". Quite apart from that it's a pretty strong reworking of the Flight into Eqypt story that is not afraid to leave the audience with questions. Sure, there are holes, but I've seen enough of human stupidity to know human behaviour doesn't always have a rational answer. Even Michael Caine as a hippie just about worked (he did his job well). Good to see Latin America (well, Cuaron is from Mexico) making a strong input into the mainstream.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Land of Saints and Squalors

It's frightening how easy it is to settle back into old ways. I am home less than a week, having arrived last Monday (02/10/06), but already Europe is far behind me and I have done nothing. The week is a wasteland of "I'll rest a few days". Time's too short and my mind too easily sleeps.

Antarctica, a destination I have been thinking of, is looking even further away than its distance might suggest, though I am still awaiting an email from one tour company. A world tour plane ticket is also problematic as for some reason almost all flights to South America for this time of year are taken (seems crazy to me). I have even been considering just flying to Europe again and taking my chances on a non-Interrail tramp. We shall see.

I just know that Ireland is toxic to me.

Bertie AherneJust yesterday I was looking at overpriced apartments, the day before that I was stuck in a traffic jam at 8 in the evening, and the days before that I watched a corrupt politician slip unscathe through a national scandal. Poor public transport, traffic jams (spot the connection anyone?), rain, expensive housing, corruption, bad beer (oh, how it is bad!) and the general Irish-ness of it all is getting me down. I have had this discussion with more than one person, though poor Phil was the last to hear my tripe, but I feel Ireland could be so much more. As a committed European (possibly one who should be committed), I long for a united Europe, strong enough to engage properly in the economic and cultural world and give America a run for its money. I feel Ireland could have a strong role to play in this, specifically a moral and cultural role, guaranteeing a valuable quality of life for Europe while the stronger (industrially speaking) countries ensure the capital. What worth is economic strength if we as people have to sacrifice the social and artistic aspects of our lives to achieve it. Obviously the real benefactors of economic strength are our leaders of industry. Ireland has a strong artistic tradition, and, as native English speakers, a key advantage in dealing with the competition. We could become a locus for European cultural endeavour, if only we had the vision and commitment to do it.

Of course, I am not for one moment proposing Irish culture as European culture, I simply put forward the notion of this island being a sort of latter day Alexandria. After all Ireland once was this, protecting the flame of Western civilisation during the Dark Ages; we could become such again. Contemporary Capitalism threatens nothing if not darkness.

Anyhow I'm off the soap-box now. See what a week in Ireland does to you! The irony is I must harbour some affection for this country given that I defend it frequently abroad, but any time here starts the disillusionment off again. It's like watching a loved member of the family soil their pants.

I started reading Pynchon's, "Gravity's Rainbow", while abroad, but I find it very hard to get anywhere with it. It's full of ideas, it has some interesting characters and an emotional warmth I'm not used to in his writing; but it is so determinedly anti-reader. Employing stream of consciousness does not excuse sloppy writing, and surprising the reader with twenty pages of surrealism before explaining it as a laboratory experiment is just cheeky. I feel obliged to continue, but in the meantime I had to get something I could enjoy, so I bought Peter Biskind's, "Gods and Monsters", a collection of his writings on film over three decades. I loved "Seeing is Believing", and "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls", so I knew I'd be in relatively safe territory, and so it's proving. Of course, his cheeky dissection of "Badlands" is a little too much, but any quibbles I have are more in the style of a friendly pub disagreement than any major problem. He writes well, loves his subject and frequently throws a clear light on a topic.

Off to see "Children of Men" now. I'll see "The Departed" tomorrow morning when there's no one in the cinema.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Saturdays are always quiet

No matter how early we got up, we were never going to get into a beer tent today (30/09/06). That was especially sad as newly arrived Ed had never seen the inside of one before. We stood at the side of one and allowed him to peer in hoping he'd be satisfied. Given the rest of the day, I think he was.

On from the Festival we went to an "ordinary" beer garden, the Augustiner. I will not relate the circumstances which led to my glasses (the ones on my face) being filled with bread, I will only say once more that it was a scandal!

On to a restaurant for more drink, another bar for more drink, and then a huge nightclub for more drink (including Champagne! Nice one, Dave and Ed!!!!!). You might suppose then that we had a lot of drink. We did.

That was Saturday 30th. At 10.20 on Sunday morning Ed had a flight home. At 9.10 he began to snore very loudly, waking me from my beauty sleep. Intending to speak to his unconscious mind, I asked him to shut it. His unconscious mind, unprepared to listen, left it to his conscious mind, which, awake, suddenly noticed he had one hour ten minutes to travel the forty minute trip to the airport, to check in, get through security and fly home. Barry had somehow ended up with Ed's mobile phone and alarm call. It is to Ed's credit that he made it!

Dave, Phil, Barry, Nigel and Tom go on a jaunt

Rough night

Ed's happy!

The Scandal of Civilised Drinking

Phil had arranged a booking for a local restaurant for 1.00, so we were up and about relatively early. My medicinal puke was all to the good as I felt only marginally ropey and fully able to drink a mint tea. A call from Ian brought me to the Hof-Brau tent and from then on it was all out annihilation.

It should be said that in a beertent people you meet are actually lifelong friends you have met in previous lives, so much so in fact that they convert the sceptical to reincarnation, something in which only the drunk could believe (sorry to the reincarnationists, just my personal opinion). Certainly you make friends. I will not mention names, but the stories of these people enthralled me, in spite of the drink rather than because of it. One girl, an American political science student, studying in Barcelona and with a full life hidden behind her mere twenty years, seemed a particularly good candidate for future American presidency. Another 20 year old American, a single father from Alaska with a one year old daughter, told me of his wish to join Uncle Sam's army to ensure free healthcare for his daughter and to die protecting his friends. Not a healthy situation or wish if you ask me, and I think Uncle Sam should start reconsidering his military policy when he is inculcating such a pessimistic world view in his citizens. A state's main aim should be the happiness of its people, not a large army, which, to my mind, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many, many mases were had as were Weisbiers, Jaegers and other assorted pollutants. By the time I took my leave it was 2 in the morning. However, without call credit, money or key, I was doomed to spend two hours on Phil's doorstep until the Palmertown crew got back.

A quiet afternoon

The Hof-Brau Tent

Ian goes for a spin

Told you

Our International friends

Niall puts his finger on it

The Lads arrive

I will pass over Wednesday 27th as a mere repetition of Tuesday 26th without the benefit of Oktoberfest Park. I will only say that my webediting days came back to haunt me when I offered to help Cora set up her website. No internet access, three laptops, and a lack of German all conspired to send us to a wireless cafe where a.) we discovered the wireless card wouldn't work, and b.) that Victor was well capable of pouring half a litre of apfelschorle over himself. This particular feat was interesting in that there was a pause of some seconds before the spilt drink actually chose to fall off his baby chair in a deafening splash on the floor of the crowded cafe.

Thursday in contrast was a quiet day fulled on anticipation. Felicity and the kids left at 9 in the morning; the real kids were due at the airport at 7.00.

Known though I am for chronicling my eating habits, I will pay particular attention today as it is of some relevance. Vowing to finally get Cora's website up and running at 2.00, I ate near her apartment at the cafe we had visited the day before. The BURGER, pleasant though it appeared on the outside, was a little raw at centre. Please note. I left most of this centre, but some may have got into my system.

Vow broken, but advice on how to proceed with the troublesome website proffered, I next went to buy beer and water for the lads. Phil had recommended an off license nearby, but this proved to be shut when I had tried that morning. My next approach was to try the supermarkets. I felt a little worried, however, when I couldn't find any crates in the local supermarket, particularly so as the only way out of the store was via the cash register. How could I avoid appearing a shoplifter without some purchase? Luckily I remembered the water and struggled home with eighteen litres.

Eighteen litres of water in plastic bottles was as nothing compared to the twenty glass bottles of beer in a crate I had to handle when I finally did find an off license. I took a lot of rest breaks.

I had offered to meet everyone at the airport, so out I went via S-bahn. Hungry I had a HERRING SANDWICH, which did taste nice, but these things can be deceptive. I met the four lads from Palmerstown school (we were schoolmates), and two from DCU (workmates), and hopped in a taxi. 70 euro was a little more than an S-bahn would cost, but there was comfort.

Leading the DCU boys, Ian and Justin, to their hotel, we decided to have a beer and a THAI MEAL, before going on to the Beerfest to meet up with the others. Things then were well advanced when we had our first mas of alles (litre glass of beer), and went further when we went on to two more bars. It was at the second of these bars that apparently more FOOD was put on the table. I say apparently because I lose a lot of my memory of the reminder of the night just before this point. No one else suffered ill effects from the finger food, but I personally find it strange that it was at this point I puked, and continued puking, like I have never done since I was a teenager. Not nice.

The contention that I cannot handle my beer, though a plausible one, does not bear scrutiny given the evidence of the following days. There, that's my story and I am sticking to it!

It was a good start to the proceedings though.

And the Battle wages on....

If that command training was inadequate before, it was pretty useless today (26/09/06), Family Day at the Oktoberfest! Phil at work, I accompanied Felicity, Mia and Lucy, and family friend Cora, with her two daughters and 1 year old son, to the Fest. Bear in mind that the Oktoberfest park is an amusement park that just happens to have thirteen odd (very odd) beer tents in its midst. Getting there was a challenge, particularly when little Amelia got her foot caught between the underground train and the platform, but once there how do you control five ultra-excited kids in a huge toyshop? Well, you play with the toys. Regardless of any fear of heights it was a matter of joining the children in flying chairs, water rapids and huge slides. Only the carousels, something that might have been relaxing, was I spared. As it happened the scariest thing was holding on to Cora's infant son while zooming down the slide. I was terrified he'd squirm or move or otherwise get out of my arms. Thankfully he just sat easy and let me worry about height and acceleration.

Some of the scariest moments over we went for a well-deserved mas of alles and some food in the Schotthamel(?) Beertent. Of course, glasses of apfelschorl (apple drink) will not keep children amused for long, so the resident mobile amusement ride - me - had to suffer more attacks from the little cherubs. Little Victor wasn't into this so much though preferring instead to go on long unaccompanied tramps around the huge tent. All the better to practise one's running.

Out in the open large helium balloons were deemed a suitable reward for sparing our lives. The rain, another nasty addition to the day, weighed the balloons down enough to stop them floating off, but unfortunately making it into a Caketent (can you believe it?), the rainwater dried and Mia chose to let her balloon float to the ceiling. At this point my height was against me and it was up to Felicity, borrowed umbrella in hand, to rescue the errant balloon. She succeeded too, and got a round of applause.

We made it home, balloons and bodies intact (and travelling in a crowded tram with two laden buggies, three active girls and four balloons ain't easy). The weekend will just be so easy.