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.

Friday, February 29, 2008


A busy few days ahead. Tonight there's a retirement dinner for one of my department from which I'll have to run (helps build up a thirst) to an eleventh year reunion for my multimedia class. Then tomorrow, Rebecca, one of the German girls I met in New Zealand, arrives for a few days. Monday I take off work (God bless flexi) - woohoo! then a conference later in the week.
And what illegitmate sadist dreamt up Mothers' Day for this Sunday!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


The Thames by Night - Fitzgerald's WorldThe Thames by Night - Fitzgerald's World

A long time back I came across a volume of novels by Penelope Fitzgerald. After reading 'The Bookshop', I knew she was someone special. After reading 'The Gate of Angels', I was putting the book away, keeping the last novel, 'The Blue Flower', as treasure, solace for a rainy day. Sadly that book is packed away now and finding it would be an ordeal. So when I saw a second collection of Fitzgerald's novels in Chapters recently, I treated myself. I finished 'Offshore' last weekend.

Fitzgerald was past 60 when she started to write, and she had an eventful life upon which to draw. One colourful period involved her living on a barge on the Thames, twice, twice being the victim of a sinking. This experience informs 'Offshore', lending it a beautiful authentic air. You can smell the rotten water that forms such a major part of the characters' lives.

The story, such as it is, is slight. A collection of assorted misfits try to keep afloat, literally and metaphorically. There is a mechanical element to the novel that in hands less deft might have been too contrived to work. Each character is referred to by their boat, a kind of alter ego that allows us another insight into the state of their lives. Richard's boat is all proper and shipshape, too much so, and there's something ironic in its name, the 'Lord Jim', for anyone who knows Conrad's novel; Nenna's 'Grace' is messy, but sounder than it appears; Willis's 'Dreadnought' is quaint, but always perilously close to sinking. Living on an ebbing tide means that each character is half on land, half the time on water, between the two elements, unsure and capricious. Even the Thames, cosily snaking through the city, is, unlike the Danube (to which it is compared), subject to the tides of the sea.

Fitzgerald's third fiction book, after 'The Bookshop', it shares that novel's tone and style. Outwardly it seems whimsical and shallow, but do not be deceived; the playful froth on the surface hides an ocean of sadness. And the craft! Apparently effortless, there is artistry in every choice of word. A fabulous writer.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Drink and the Insane Man

The mid-week is my weekend, or so I tell myself while I drink. Last night I went to the Ruby Sessions in Doyle's of Fleet Street. Rebecca Collins, Gavin Glass, Shane O'Fearghail and Nigel Place stalked the boards, very successfully. On the way back from the basement jacks, I literally bumped into cousin Jan...and didn't recognise her. Only later, at 3 a.m., as we prepared to leave, did we recognise each other. We are definitely of the same stock, alcoholic though that might be.
I have no right to complain about the hangover today. I knew it was before me. I also knew unrelenting meetings (and a presentation I had to give) were before me. It was a long day, all the more so because I've only just left that den of iniquity, largely by my own choice (the work builds up). As Dexter Fletcher once put it, madness doesn't just run in my family, it practically gallops.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Poking Through the Paint

It's a while since I last spent a Sunday in the National Gallery, so yesterday I made the trip stopping off a Read's new bookshop on Nassau Street (no great shakes). By the way, does anyone else out there get paranoid entering a bookstore knowing you have a volume in your pocket and nervous you'll somehow be accused of stealing it? Do you have that receipt? Would they allow you go home for it if you did? Does the book look old enough not to be theirs? Have they all their stock barcoded? I'm out of pills.
There was a new Jack B. Yeats exhibit, so I took a wander there after my customary glance through the 20th Century Irish room (a new Paul Henry acquisition, 'Morning in Connemara (Killarney Bay)', is his best work I've seen; I'm not usually a fan).
I tend to take Yeats for granted, but he really is the only GREAT painter we've produced. He is a complete original. This new selection really brought it home to me. The figures poke through the paint as from another dimension. The only thing that irks me is the old-fashioned subject matter. Such a style demands at least sometimes more vital subject matter. The mythic stuff is good, as are the scenes of common life, but by the Thirties, with so much happening in the world, such a distance from worldly concerns seems cowardly. There is a painting, 'Old Walls', from 1945, that almost feels born of the time, but this might well be wishful thinking on my part. Still 'Morning in the City' is a shock, full of sharp, hot red and reeking of a city morn. 'Figures of Destiny' and a 'Scene of Grief' are also imposing. Refreshing revisit.
I wandered to the Dargan Room (I think) where there was an exhibition of European art from 1850 to 1950; stuff "they hadn't shown in a while" . Three pictures in I suddenly found myself staring at a Picasso. Then a Juan Gris. A Modigliani nude. Nolde. Two Bonnards. An early Van Gogh. Signac. Monet. Why the hell hadn't they shown this in a while! I somehow never expected to be seeing this standard of work on a Sunday ramble, even in a gallery I often celebrate. And here I was stumbling across some familiar masterpieces and some new ones (an electric Pechstein, for instance). Was it our National Gallery where I'd seen that Signac before or that Von Dongen? It's starting to come back to me, but it seems such a long time and somehow a different place. Anyhow I think we can hold our heads high as far as our gallery is concerned.

Monday, February 25, 2008


So no real surprises at the Oscars then. Even Cotillard beating Christie didn't surprise me at all (the Baftas showed the French element wasn't a factor). Should have put a few bob on them, not that the odds would have been that good.

And may I tip my hat to Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard. I've never been a fan of Glen, in any way, but then Marketa Irglova is involved and is obviously a force for the good. That's some achievement. Well done!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


He always found it strange how they took such good care of their fingernails. Given that their very recent ancestors didn't have any, there was probably some strange racial pride at work. The whalepeople were just the kind of synthetic species to indulge in a fetish like that. This particular whaleman, Kevin, lounged in the great harness set up for his kind and gently rubbed his fingertips with a small nail file.
'Can't you do that on your own time?'
'Break,' Kevin answered.
Denzel smoothed an eyebrow in an effort to keep his composure.
'Break ended twenty minutes ago. Come on, we have work here.'
Without breaking a frown on his smooth white forehead, Kevin rocked his seat back and forth to generate some momentum before sliding quietly on to the floor. It was far too graceful an accomplishment for such a graceless form, Denzel reflected.
'Wonderful! Try the Murphy load first. That's due back by six.'
'Sure,' rumbled Kevin and went into the back room to whale-iron the Murphy hotel linen.
Shaking his head, Denzel mumbled something about the genome project and what did it really ever do for us. Pays my salary, anyhow, he had to concede. He began to read his paper again.
When he stopped to think about it, it still mystified him how the whole whale-ironing craze had flared, caught and become part of daily life. At first it was simply a deprecating kind of way to give the burgeoning whalepeople population a job; they had become something of a drain on national resources, what with all that fish consumption and all. And then they did like to roll about anyway (must of reminded them of the sea or something, Denzel thought). When someone suggested they use their huge, smooth, warm, but non-perspiring, bodies to iron cloth, people laughed at first, but then gave it a shot. Initially a luxury for the very rich, there were enough whalepeople happy enough to lend their services for minimum wage to make it a service of mass appeal. Whale laundries were everywhere now.
'Sharkman exonerated of murder! What next!' Denzel read the article with something of a sinking heart. Apparently the defence had used the old nature argument; it was in the sharkman's nature to go into a feeding frenzy. He couldn't help himself. He'd bitten through the burgergirl's throat provoked by all those fish burgers on show. And after all hadn't humanity, pure humanity, made him that way?
From the ironing room Kevin's soft moan, his song, undulated in a doplar beat, louder, quieter, keeping time with his luxurious rolling.
The shop door opened. Denzel didn't bother to look up, but something about the silence worried him. Had someone come in afterall? He raised his head. The sharkwoman was right in front of him. He could see the vestigial gills, flapping, on either side of her neck, the huge, black eyes, the ill-fitting teeth stretched in a monstrous smile. Involuntarily he stepped back.
'Can I help you?'
For a moment longer, an impressive moment, she continued her unpleasant grin. You never could tell with the sharks when they were actually smiling, but Denzel felt this one was, evilly.
'Introductions,' she rasped (sharks, like the whalepeople, liked single words when they could help it). 'Ethel, my name's. You're Denzel?'
For a moment he thought that was a statement, but when her black eyes bored into him some more, he realised a question was intended.
'Yes, yes, I am. Denzel McDonald.'
'Thought so.' The corners of her mouth pushed wider still. 'The owner. Wanted to meet you.'
'Message. I'm from a school, nearby.'
'You teach?'
She did her best to mean her glare.
'No. My school, my family.'
Some of them liked that archaic form of self-reference; it gave them a feeling of solidarity, of unified difference. She continued.
'We like your business. We think it's good. We think we need some.'
'Well, we serve all. Just bring your clothes down, we'll give them a full wash and roll. The best whale-'
'No,' she interrupted; 'Some of your business. We want it. Money.'
There was no point in playing dumb any longer. Denzel had heard of the shark rings and their protection rackets. This was extortion.
'You lousy-'
'What?' she laughed, or rather barked.
'I could run you and your lousy shoal into the police!'
She barked again, then pushed her toothy face close to his.
'No, you couldn't. No right.'
'I have every right.'
'No right. We're protected. We offer you protection too.'
Ethel grabbed Denzel's collar and pulled his face still closer.
'I eat you, little man. We eat you. Genetic! What we do!'
Apparently she glanced down (he couldn't tell where those huge pupils were looking) and pushed a pointed nail on the newspaper. 'Nature.'
Denzel understood now that sinking feeling he had felt on reading the news story. The floodgates were open; the sharks were now circling for a feeding frenzy. No shop, no laundry would be safe. Any atrocity could be justified as shark instinct. Homo sapiens, the original ones, still guilty at what excesses they had wreaked on Nature, would accept this as the wrath of an outraged Destiny. Old humanity deserved it. If he were truthful though, Denzel knew there was something else beneath the false guilt. There was also that sneaking feeling that if we treated the sharks, the whalepeople, the pandafolk and all the other strange twists and sports of the genome as full humans in court, we would have to treat them as people, real people in every other way. And that was just too high a price to pay.
Ethel wasn't going to leave without his money and his commitment to keep paying. He stared into her monstrous black eyes. She would kill him if she had to. One wider smile, one quick snap and he would have a throat like that burger girl. She might do it now. He could see it in those eyes.
He could see something else in those eyes too. Something big. Something reflected.
With one lazy slap of his hand, Kevin knocked the shark halfway across the store. Nonchalantly he ambled around the counter. Ethel was shaking her head, moving her jaw up and down in a worried sawing motion. Kevin strode to her side and flipped her into the air. She smashed against the wall and slid down to the floor again.
'Stop!' Denzel cried. She couldn't take much more of that, surely. 'Stop, Kevin.'
Kevin did as Denzel asked and Ethel, apparently not as hurt as Denzel feared, pulled herself to her feet and ran for the door, still jawing at the air. She didn't even look back as she raced away from the laundry. She wouldn't be back.
Denzel looked at the huge, impassive figure of his employee, standing in the center of the shop. The whaleman lifted a hand and stared at his nails; perhaps one had been broken. The vision was too much for Denzel. He ran from behind the counter and grasped that hand. He shook it over and over.
'Thank you, Kevin. Thank you.' And for minimum wage and all the scorn Denzel usually heaped on the big man too!
The employee shrugged his massive shoulders and started to walk to the back room.
'I just don't get it,' thought Denzel. 'After all the shit I put this guy through!'
'Why did you do it, Kevin?' he couldn't help asking.
The whaleman kept walking.
'Nature,' he rumbled.
There might have been a smile in all that blubber, but Denzel couldn't see.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Von Clausewitz with a Dyed Head

Part three of the O'Leary Thirtieth Birthday celebrations occurred tonight. I had to make that two bus trek out and I realised as buses passed by, idiots insisted on their two thirds of the seat, traffic kept us stationary and schoolkids sang shite tunes in the back of the bus, that I really should not have been able to take a two bus journey home as long as I did. No wonder psychiatry is a tempting option. I was late and not allowed forget it.

Dropping by with champers and cake we interrupted my bro's enjoyment of Liverpool beating Inter tonight.

I have not the slightest interest in football, save when it's an excuse to drink during work time, so my opinion is little sought after when it comes to soccer. However, even I could see, regardless of the 2-0 win, that Liverpool need a new manager. They were lucky. My other brother, Gavin, a fanatical Liverpool fan, was driven to support Benitez, claiming he kept on Kuyt with that first goal in mind. Rubbish! Gavin had been calling for Kuyt to be taken off all through the game and everything Gavin said was mirrored by Houghton on commentary (not necessarily a mark of recommendation, but valid tonight). The bottom line was this; when everyone else was in agreement as to what needed to be done (Crouch on early, a right footer not being needed late in the game in the position he was placed), why couldn't Benitez see that. But Niall, don't you see they won? Well, with 80% possession they damn sure should have. As it was, both their goals were verging on flukes (a deflection and one far too far out not to take a deflection). Had the team been managed properly goals would have happened as they should have, not by chance, but as planned for, especially given the lacklustre side they were playing, a side down to ten men. Again what do I know (little, I know), what do I care (even less), but I could see my Von Clausewitz in action, and you don't have to be a soccer expert for that. Quite apart from that, it highlights how readily people are to forget their criticisms when the result they seek happens. If a criticism is valid, it is valid, regardless of outcome.

To exemplify that, my mother pointed out how black Benitez's hair was. You see, dyed hair is dyed hair whatever the result.

We left after the match and cake, driving back to the family abode. I had to fight my parents to escape the stew waiting for me on the stove. Just get me home!

As I approached the bus stop for my return home, a bus pulled up at the lights just before the stop. Last night two buses passed me in the same place, so tonight I ran, especially when the lights turned and the race was on. The driver told me to 'Relax' once I was on, for I did catch it. 'I missed some yesterday I explained.' Be-astard! Dublin Bus drivers should be made catch a few buses before they get all wise on their advice. Be on the catching end and you will understand how faecal the service actually is, how warm and toasty their shelters are of 11 o'clock at night and how uplifting several lit buses are as they speed by to their ill-earned cocoa.

So long and thanks for all the fish!

I actually got a chance to text my brother that immortal line tonight as I went home with a pocketful of smoked colley.

By the way, did you know there was such a thing as collie weed, used, among other things, for fish pie?

Mad Cow Disease

Alfred Hitchcock never said actors were cattle. He said they should be treated like cattle. Shakespeare pointed out that all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. Reading between the lines explains a lot.

Monday, February 18, 2008

If You Have Nothing Good to Say...

Another birthday dinner for my brother tonight, this one with the family (and girlfriends). My dad advised that if we had nothing good to say about someone, then say nothing at all. 3 seconds later the evening was saved by my mother who broke the silence, permanently, completely, beyond the power of sellotape, toilet rolls or watch springs to mend.

Cousin Jan got on the cover of the Sunday Indo the other day (new play, modelling dresses, the usual). Something funny in the caption though. Age 28! I think not. There I said it. The world now knows, you reprobate! Lying about your age in public!

As part of Rag Week, DCU students tried to dunk senior staff into a vat of water for charity today. They were hopeless. It was left to staff member Ian to drop the Head of Student Affairs in it and break the mechanism (thus dunking everyone else from then on at the slightest provocation). Kids these days!

I cannot comment on Kosovo as I simply am not well informed enough, but it does strike me that Serbians need to learn a little tolerance and probably a lot about democracy (how naive is that!). And anything that pisses off Russia (by which I mean Putin) can't be half bad (how true is that!). But like I say, I can't comment (and so probably shouldn't have; for astute commentary see Ian's (a different Ian to the staff dunker) Eurovision in Crisis). People like me should just shut up! But then if you have nothing good to say....

Back Catalogue

Came across this in my pictures the other day; I'd forgotten about it. I always thought it deserved a little more attention than it got, being a nice little piece, if I do say so myself.
Tony Blair's Boredom

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dublin Film Festival 2008

The Dublin Film Festival started on Friday. Not for me. In the past, the distant past, I used to volunteer to work in it. Later I'd fork out for the season ticket and live in a cinema for ten days, eating crisps and Yorkies and drinking as much free booze as my liver allowed (it was very generous) in the Festival Club later. Later yet, I'd take ten days off work for this pleasure. No more. The booze has lost its appeal. What's worse, they've cut down on the number of movies. I watched my fair share of dross back then, but there was always tonnes on. As Woody Allen put it in 'Annie Hall', "'The food's terrible here!' 'Yes, and in such small portions!'" Whatever is good is bound to surface sooner or later here, and more than likely in Cineworld, and seeing as a season ticket for the festival costs more than a year-long ticket for Cineworld (and I have my year-long ticket), what's the point? To see a few celebrities? To say they're hardly worth it, is to exagerate their importance. To see the movies that don't get released? Well, sadly that's usually for a reason. To meet fellow buffs. Have you met a film buff!!!! And great though Cineworld is, it's still a multiplex and not appropriate for a Festival venue. It just can't match the Screen on D'Olier Street for crummy, spaced-out nerd-dom. Sorry, folks, no festival for me any more.


Off Warbling Somewhere in Frenchy Speak

Image from www.wikipedia.orgImage from
I really have to give up those 4 a.m. drunken bursts of written diarrhoea. In the end a good night was had by all, including, I am sure, the Cavan masseuse.
You know there cannot be a shirt in my wardrobe that hasn't been besmirched by my love of olive oil. And as for that old chestnut about a hot iron and some brown paper, that's all it is, an old chestnut, and tree seeds have no place in modern laundry practice. I should know; I worked in a professional laundry for three years (well, summers). Blithely I emptied out the sacks of urine-soaked pyjamas and operating room balls of fat on to the conveyor belt. I had sacks of blood drip by my feet from the overhead rails. They even found an amputated hand where I worked (a week before I started). Yes, an industrial laundry that tackled hospital and hotel garments and linen. Anyhow I still never learnt how to iron a shirt.
Believe it or not, short though it is, I only got round to finishing 'Three Men in a Boat' the other day. Very lightweight - never likely to provoke more than a smile - it just couldn't generate enough enthusiasm in this reader to keep me reading for any length of time, though it would never alienate me enough to make me throw it away. Still, although the jokes don't quite do it in this day and age, it is something of a masterclass in how to write comedically over an extended piece of work. Hypocrisy and misdirection are used well, if too repeatedly, and the whole comes across as less of a novel and more a transcribed comedy routine from some observational nineteenth century stand-up.
Series Two of 'The Twilight Zone' isn't up to the standard of its predecessor. Four lemmons in a row today, all of them from Mr Serling. He seems to have let his sentimentality and didacticism run roughshod over his sense of story. It's a relief to get Matheson's 'The Invaders', a somewhat famous episode about an old woman in a farmhouse attacked by the diminutive occupants of a flying saucer. What's really worthy of note in the second series is the development of Jerry Goldsmith as a composer. His music makes itself felt everytime it's used (you know when it's a Goldsmith episode). 'The Invaders' episode, in particular, has a score that looks forward to his classic film music for 'Alien' and 'The Omen', despite the fact that the episode was broadcast in 1961. Fantastic!

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That Brie I took out of the fridge should be ready now. Yum, yum. Where is Marion Cotillard when you need her though??????

It's just not fair!!!!!!!

It's just not fair

Tonight was my brother's thirtieth birthday and we had a fabulous meal in the Trinty Capitol. Thank you, Mr H. Afterwards we went to Howl at the Moon. I was standing in the queue with this shithead of a poser woman pushing herself forward when the bouncer came down and apologised, but it would take an hour to get in. This didn't sound like my evening plan and I happened to mention a few names. To my immense satisfaction I was ushered beyond the queue and in. I take comfort in the knowledge that shithead woman froze.
I met a Cavan masseuse who looked like Mary-Louise Parker. I have always had a thing for Mary-Louise Parker, and when she said she was thirty, and in my bracket so to speak, I was happy. I was happier when she said I was cute and I reciprocated. So where the f*ck did the boyfriend come from!!!! It's just not fair! Not fair at all. Damn it, we were getting on very well.
And then there was that little one I missed because the bouncer kicked me downstairs and into the orbit of Mary-Louise again. It just isn't fair!
Anyway walking from Howl at the Moon to Capel Street isn't fun, and it wasn't, but funny to hear two kids chatting on the phone with the absent boyfriend saying something like "When you're on Bebo you'll get the mail." Social networking is now! So is frostbite and depression and questions about what the hell is fair and what is not. At least Colm, my brother, had a good night.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Marion CotillardMarion Cotillard as Edith Piaf
I'm not really one for awards ceremonies, but I happened to flick on the BAFTAs; it's a strong field this year, what with 'No Country for Old Men', "Atonement", "There Will Be Blood", "This Is England", etc.. The BAFTAs got a lot of additional attention this time around after the writers' strike scuppered the Golden Globes and seemed like it might ruin the Oscars (the dispute has been resolved). Well, it wasn't totally without interest.


Great to see Marion Cotillard get the BAFTA for Best Actress. Poor kid was nervous as hell, but deserved it (for 'La Vie en Rose'). Javier Bardem too (Best Supporting Actor); he did Chigurh justice in 'No Country for Old Men'. Pleasant too to see Danny Day-Lewis finally show a sense of humour. And though it all may be lovey-dom, I am glad that Anthony Hopkins got the Lifetime Achievement award. He's one hell-raiser still going. (And I just saw Roger Deakins got Best Cinematographer; sometimes they do get things right.)

Not So Nice

Shame 'The Lives of Others' didn't get anything though (correction, I've just seen it got best Foreign Movie; well, quelle surprise!). And why on earth was Paul Greengrass in for Best Director? There's far better filler material (for the category) than him. 'Atonement' too, though not a bad film, didn't really deserve best movie, though given the Britishness of it all, it can hardly be said to be a surprise (it won't get the Oscar, after all).

All in all, in a tough year they didn't get things too wrong (full list of winners here). But, then again, in large part it's really just slotting given nominees into the most appropriate prize slots to give everyone some pie (almost every nominated movie got something). Safe stuff, but everyone leaves happy. Even the viewers.


Little Star

After a little unpacking, I started listening to some keyboard variations by Mozart. On came 'Twelve Variations on the French Song "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman"' from 1781-82. I didn't think I was familiar with the song beforehand, but when 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' started playing, I realised I was all along. Funny where these things come from.

From the Outskirts

From www.wikipedia.orgFrom
Why do so many of 'The Twilight Zone' episodes happen on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone (I'm just going by Mr Serling's introductions). What the hell would it be like in the centre?

I watched an episode earlier entitled 'The Lateness of the Hour'. In terms of direction, dialogue and even acting, this was one of the worst of both seasons. It says a lot for the series then that it prefigures much of the Rachael subplot in 'Bladerunner'. Of course, Dick, the author of the original novel (written in 1966), dealt with the whole question of what it means to be human throughout his entire career (which started in the early 50s). The use of robots to highlight this question features in literature a lot earlier too; consider Hoffmann (and in particular, his 'The Sandman') or even, one could argue, 'Pinocchio' (think of Spielberg and Aldiss' take on the story in 'A.I.'). Still the Twilight Zone episode explicitly deals with a robot, with false memories of childhood, believing itself to be human, but coming to the realisation that it is not.

On a side note, it's funny how the use of an abrasive bit of music to drive home the punchline can put a particular interpretation on the ending.

As another aside, the young star of this episode, Inger Stevens, led a particularly tragic life. She had a nasty habit of having affairs with her costars, the last one with Burt Reynolds. Never happy though, she committed suicide at the age of 35. It then emerged that she had been married to African American actor, Ike Jones, for ten years, but this had been covered up for the sake of her career. The 60s really were a different time.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Zoned Out

Image from www.scifi.comImage from
I should mention that a week or so ago I finished watching Season One of the original Twilight Zone series. All my life my preference has been for the Richard Matheson ('The Last Flight', 'Third from the Sun') and Charles Beaumont ('Perchance to Dream', 'Long Live Walter Jameson') tales. My esimation of Rod Serling, who wrote the bulk of Season One (and of the other four seasons too; apparently over 120 25 minute episodes) has just grown and grown. Despite a moralistic tone, some occasionally clunky dialogue and a definite streak of sentimentality, his tales are showcases of good storytelling. Perfectly formed, they tend to center on an urban nobody, a thirty-something loser, given a chance at redemption, he something takes, but as often rejects ('The Big Tall Wish'). 'The Twilight Zone' features so heavily in my psyche, having made such a big impact from my childhood television viewing, that I could write on and on about its strengths and weaknesses. I won't. I'll just say there are some masterpieces: Burgess Meredith in 'Time Enough at Last' (though a little too schematic this viewing around), 'The After Hours', 'And When the Sky Was Opened', and 'The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street'. That last one is particularly famous, but I could not remember having seen it before. Despite two aliens with antennae (who nevertheless must form the basis for the alien duo from 'The Simpsons'), this is a powerful tale of human weakness which starts humbly and builds inexorably to the final frightening frenzy. Masterly.
I'm on to Season Two now and delighted in Beaumont's classic 'The Howling Man' last night. Then there was William Shatner in 'Nick o' Time', with the bobbing devil-headed, napkin-dispensing fortune teller (Matheson has Shatner's character's psychology just right). They really don't make them like that any more, and more's the pity.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What you don't see

It's amazing what you don't see! Nigel was playing a gig up in Smithfield, so ten minutes beforehand I set off walking from my new abode. When you turn off Capel Street you expect just straight roads, but there was "Little Britain Street", effectively a fenced off green space in a place you never expected. And on the way back I came via Bolton Street and there was an Indian takeway, and a huge supermarket as close to me as the petty newsagent I have frequented up to now. And a chipper on my doorstep. And a blues bar. And, holy God, angel giftware with the number "66" on either side of the sign (there are three sixes within four sixes, you know). What you don't see when you stick to the beaten track! By the time I got to Bray, I had a completely different perspective on Dublin.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

After a career of dark-hued fairytales, Tim Burton takes things to the limit with 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. But full of music, singing and buckets of blood, will it scare off its audience?
Burton's movie, despite the singing, reminds me of nothing so much as a Hammer horror movie. This is probably as much due to the particularly vivid colour of the blood used copiously (very reminiscent of 'Dracula, Prince of Darkness') as anything else. But Burton has been threatening to replicate the Hammer style all his career and most explicitly (before now) in 'Sleepy Hollow'. It does, however, make me wonder how Hammer never made a stab at this most quintessentially English horror tale. The barber from Fleet Street who slits his customers' throats, sending their souls to Heaven and their bodies to Mrs Lovett's Meat Pie Shop (as tasty filling for the pastries), is a figure who has kept me away from barbershop shaving all my life. I have never seen the 1936 version of the tale featuring the aptly named Tod Slaughter, but as a child I did see a relatively graphic spoof by the Two Ronnies. Not a duo one normally associates with gore and terror (though Corbett in the chair was often painful). Funnily enough though that particular version left a very unpleasant impression on my young mind (and apparently I'm not alone).
Stephen Sondheim's musical take on the tale introduces a revenge element I was unfamiliar with. Wrongfully convicted for a crime of which he is innocent, Johnny Depp's Todd is deported to make way for a lecherous judge with designs on his wife. Returning fourteen years later he seeks vengence on the man who destroyed his family. Full of misanthropic disgust, he practises for this revenge on an unsuspecting public.
Apparently Sondheim has endorsed Burton's adaptation. It's hardly surprising, if only for the look and technical brio of Burton's work. With a desaturated palette and unrelentingly grim tone, the only light introduced is via the deliciously black humour, much of which lies in the excellent songs. Again this depraved vision of the world accords well with the Hammer sensibility (there are few good characters, and those there are are weak and naive). As in so many of the British studio's horrors, the forces of Good are thin on the ground, requiring the villains to contain the seeds of their own destruction in their own monstrosity.
Much has been said of Depp's performance, though in truth outside of glower and leer nothing too much is required of the character. Nevertheless Depp delivers the glowering and leering with great aplomb. Things really come alive when the singing starts and his stand-out scene is his reunion with his razors. The music, the singing, the staging make this a wonderful moment. However, much of the movie belongs to Mrs Lovett aka Mrs Burton aka Helena Bonham Carter. She is the real heart of the film, black though that heart might be. We are never less than sure of Todd's motives, but Lovett is far more complex and Carter conveys that ambiguity of character nicely.
Nevertheless after the bravura opening things do drag a little until the blood-letting starts. After that the blood flows. And it spatters. And sprays. And pumps. And jets. During one of these bloody scenes, there was an awful liquidy explosion from the seats beside me. Much as it sounded like a severed jugular, I had a suspicion it might be vomit. Touching my head I felt a drop or two of something. i could do nothing but wait and see if the stink began. It didn't and after the movie the pair behind me leant over and apologised; midway through the movie their bottle of sparkling water erupted. Phewww!
I have never been a strong fan of musicals, but movies like 'Cabaret' and 'Singing in the Rain' rank among some of my all time favourite films (not to mention the incredible 'South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut'). 'Sweeney Todd' may not be of the very highest rank, but it's close. It would be churlish to criticise it too much as there is so much to admire in it. It's certainly one I look forward to seeing again.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Isn't it ironic?

I have one of those crummy calendars on my desk at work, the ones with an event from history and a wiseass saying of some sort. Yesterday's maxim read:
"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."
The event was from 1938: 'Adolf Hitler took command of the German Army.' Someone's having a larf, mate, someone's having a larf....

Monday, February 04, 2008


Boasting a trailer featuring the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling around the streets, 'Cloverfield' has generated a lot of hype. With echoes of 9/11 in its tale of a largely unseen menace devastating New York, it seems to promise a challenging window on contemporary urban terror. In the end it's just Godzilla with a camcorder.
To be fair that in itself might not be such a bad thing. Traditionally monster movies concentrate on the scientists trying to tackle the menace. The average Joe, the one actually suffering from the monster's carnage, rarely gets a look in (a notable exception is the original Japanese, 'Godzilla', which features a harrowing scene in a hospital where victims are treated for radiation burns). 'Cloverfield' spots this gap in the market, and resolutely centers on bemused New Yorkers rather than figures of authority. Indeed the military, the only official representatives we see, are largely anonymous.
The use of the camcorder too seems a canny move. With its grainy quality and jerky hand movements, it not only lends an on-the-streets verite to the movie, it allows for more convincing special effects. The unnatural sheen that often belies CGI is absent here.
A film such as this flies or falls on the strength of its characters and the empathy they build up in the audience. Sadly the idiotic group of pretty young rich kids 'Cloverfield' saddles us with are infinitely more annoying than endearing. These pretty young things have daddies with Central Park penthouse apartments, or vice-presidential jobs waiting for them in Japan. They are decidedly not your average Joes. Their intelligence is also not average, considerably less than average in fact. You can forget about my empathy!
Using a party scene to set up the lead characters, the first ten minutes of the film prompted me to look at my watch more than once. It's painful. Later lead character, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), tries desperately to rescue true love, Beth, but his obsessive determination to lead his friends into the heart of the danger smacks more of madness than amour. But then character inanity is nothing if not ubiquitous. Best friend, Hud, for instance, for most of the film our cameraman, stretches audience patience far, far beyond any acceptable limit. Thankfully camcorders do not always need an operator.
You might think that watching these screaming ninnies successively killed off might afford us some satisfaction. Unfortunately, as with cousin camcorder epic, 'The Blair Witch Project', unless we care about about the protagonists, it's hard to get worked up about their fate. When the movie rest on their shoulders, this is fatal.
It's very faint praise to say that 'Cloverfield' is slightly better than Roland Emmerich's dire 'Godzilla' remake. That hardly justifies it. They both deserve to sink into the depths from which their respective monsters rise. Save yourself. Avoid.

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