Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

As the 'legitmate' rival of 'illegitimate' Ryanair, I would not necessarily look with disdain on an Aer Lingus sale. However, I got a spam mail about special offers today and felt an immediate sense of recoil. Analysing my feeling I found the reason to be obvious enough; the recent fiasco with the so-called five euro seats was still fresh in my mind. Is it just me? I get the feeling Aer Lingus have done themselves a lot more harm than they realise with their behaviour over that stunt. I didn't go to their site.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Feeding-time on Parnell Square

A couple sit on a step. I see them from the bus. What had started as a chimpanzee-style grooming session has now progressed into a full-blown medical examination. She stares in his ear, tugs on his chin, has now pulled down his collar inspecting his neck, his chest. What is going on? It's about as gentle as a crocodile's mealtime and the guy does not look happy. Dublin on a sunny afternoon.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Following on from that last post, I thought I'd look up that other mysterious Beck song, 'Girl', to find out what the line I always took for 'My Summer girl' actually was. One site said 'cyanide', another said 'sun-eyed'. I am not alone.

In the Age of Chimpanzees I Was a Monkey

Has anyone ever listened to Beck's 'Loser' and wondered what the hell that line before 'I'm a loser, baby...' was. I always came up with the wild supposition that it was 'Sodium Penathol', but having just looked up the lyrics I discover it's "Soy un perdador", presumably Spanish for 'I'm a loser'. That's a bit unfair, isn' it?


"I have to exercise. I have to lose weight."
"But sure you're using your chest muscles."

Pass it on

A girl at the bus stop was coughing her guts up. Her friend advised, 'Have a score. Pass it on.' You have been warned.

Slip Up

The Slipper and the price of chipsThe Slipper and the price of chips
We're boozing in the Slipper and just had a platter of fried food. Sadly the barman just came in with a snackbox from the local chippie. Does he know something we don't know?

Digital Film Making

Mike Figgis, the director of 'Leaving Las Vegas', 'Internal Affairs' and other movies, is also something of an artist, photographer, cinematographer, musician, scriptwriter, and actor. If that weren't enough to cause envy, he 's also married to Saffron Burrowes. With the short book, 'Digital Film Making', he adds 'teacher' to his long list of accomplishments (actually he was already a qualified music teacher). Whether you are a fan of his movies or not (and I have mixed feelings; 'Internal Affairs' was fine, 'Leaving Las Vegas' over-rated), there is no doubt that if you have an interest in low-budget film-making this is excellent stuff. Granted the ins and outs of of scene set-up are touched on rather than elucidated (presumably Film School or other books fill in that gap), but he has something to say about every aspect of the film-making process, as transformed by digital technology, and it all seems perfectly sensible. It's also very inspiring (I dug out my video camera halfway through). Highly recommended for the student and still of interest to those with a casual interest. Oh, and with the 'Fig Rig' (a portable camera rig he designed) he shows himself to be an inventor too. B*stard!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mission of Gravity

In the world of Sci-Fi, Hal Clement's 'Mission of Gravity' crops up a bit. In a couple of centuries, humanity loses some very expensive equipment (aimed at studying gravity) at the North Pole (or South Pole, I can't remember which) of a strangely shaped, but huge planet. The gravity is such (several hundred times that of Earth) that they must befriend and engage some of the native aliens to go forth, explore new lands and somehow get that data back.
This is why I hate hard Sci-Fi. Effectively we are following a band of sea-faring lobsters as they have mild adventures encountering other lobsters. Whenever there is a problem, a little help from their can-do (American) human friends helps to sort things out. Captain Barlennan, a lobster, has some devious plans up his shelly sleeve, but ultimately there is nothing more threatening here than a lobster with a Christopher Columbus complex. Problem: the ship must get over a cliff. Problem: the ship must get out of a stream. Problem: the ship must sail uncharted waters. You get the idea.
There are a couple of human characters, principal among them being Charles Lackland (oh, the name!) and his grumpy boss, Rosten, but to dignify these bland entities with the term 'character' is to lend them a weight their cardboard substance simply won't support. When any of the other human scientists talk there is nothing to distinguish them, not even from Lackland, though apaprently they don't warrant names. No, this is the lobsters' show.
It's also Middle America writ large. The lobsters, as they admit themselves, are first and foremost traders, and petty bourgeois can-do capitalism drags down every ounce of imagination this sorry tale can muster. The grocer on the corner doing a McGyver is really what this amounts to. If we all pull together - and we can because we are all so fundamentally decent and we all want to make an honest buck - we can get through this thing. Psychological complexity - and surely even lobsters are capable of a little of that - is abandoned, as indeed is anything that might challenge the seven year old this novel is apparently aimed at. So, like the humans in their approach to the lobsters, the writer gives the reader some elementary science (look what you learnt today!), but the science never gets too esoteric. No, none of Gregory Benford's tachyons here! Instead we find out why a canoe sinks under heavy gravity, or why the horizon on this make-believe world is above our lobster heroes, or why my head doesn't explode reading this drivel when so self-evidently it should. I have no one to blame but myself. Indeed a few months back I got into a minor squabble with another blogger when he complained about the sub-standard quality of most Sci-Fi. All right, maybe I was a little too hasty in my defence of the genre.
Actually no, I wasn't. Despite junk like this, there is a great deal of creditable work done in the genre that could not be done in so-called mainstream literature. That this is so can be seen by the number of Sci-Fi works the mainstream appropriates for itself when it feels like it (eg. '1984', the works of Pynchon or Vonnegut, 'Frankenstein', etc.). Well, be that as it may, the mainstream can have this if it wants, because I can't see anyone else claiming it.
As a lifelong lover of seafood, I cannot even recommend this book to all lobster lovers, though I suppose that some, lobster lovers of the more perverse variety, might find something in it.

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Monday, April 14, 2008


Could they be Chinese troops?  Or just belligerent monks showing their true colours?Could they be Chinese troops? Or just belligerent monks showing their true colours?
I got the above in an email from a good, solid activist friend of mine. Ordinarily I think twice before publishing possibly dodgy pics on my blog (hey, you've seen my Bertie photos!), but on this occasion it does kind of ring true. I believe the suggestion was that some Chinese soldiers were masquerading as Tibetan monks to cause mayhem and thus discredit the holy men. Now that couldn't possibly be true, could it???????? Anyway draw your own conclusions.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Orphanage

The Orphanage - From wikipedia.orgThe Orphanage - From
The mother battling against the supernatural for her child has become something of a staple in modern horror cinema. 'Dark Water', 'Silent Hill', 'The Dark', 'The Others' and 'Ring' are all recent examples. 'The Orphanage', directed by J.A. Bayona, though 'presented' (produced) by Guillermo Del Toro (of 'Pan's Labyrinth' fame), is yet another entry in this mini-genre. In its tale of a woman who apparently loses her son to the ghostly children of an old orphanage and must endure the worst in an attempt to rescue him, its story might seem to be a little tired. But is it?

Besides the aforementioned, the list of movie references here goes on and on. There's 'The Innocents' (adapted from Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw') and Del Toro's own 'The Devil's Backbone' and 'Pan's Labyrinth'. Of recent films, it most closely resembles 'The Dark' with its seaside location and a lead who even resembles that earlier film's heroine, Maria Bello. There too a child was lost (perhaps drowned), but the mother sensed her continued presence in the old house in which they dwelt and fought against supernatural forces to rescue her. That movie introduced the theme of the Changeling and it is probably in that sinister fairytale of child abduction that all these movies probably have their great-great-grandmother.

A director in whose movies this theme has popped up more than once is Steven Spielberg. This theme surfaced in Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' and obviously in 'Hook' (dealing with a grown-up Peter Pan). From a horror perspective though, the Spielberg-produced (and penned) 'Poltergeist' could be the key to the recent spate of children in peril movies. As I mentioned before, that movie owes more than a little to Richard Matheson's Twilight Zone story, 'Little Girl Lost'. Matheson gave his tale a science fiction twist, but it doesn't take much to relate it to the original fairytale, with the Fourth Dimension standing in for Faerie (and Neverland). Certainly 'Poltergeist' has a narrative trajectory that closely follows both 'The Orphanage' and 'The Dark', though what had been a team effort by both parents has become (in this less nuclear age) almost a one-woman show ('Dark Water' makes its mother a single mum). Spielberg is too sentimental to allow things get too dark, however, and most of his abduction tales draw upon that more optimistic incarnation of the myth, Peter Pan. The notion of a roguish outsider seducing children away to Neverland is as close to the more malevolent notion of the abduction of infants by fairies as you can get without scaring your audience (though the Dark Side is always there; remember how Pan's Indian tribe, the Lost Boys, became the inspiration for a vampire flick of that name).

Bayona shares Spielberg's preoccupation with this Pan (rather than the Pan of his mentor, Del Toro), and the child who refused to grow up hovers over every frame of this movie. (Indeed, in a recent interview Del Toro gushed how Bayona was a new Spielberg.) Spielberg's grand theme of the loss of childhood and the wish for a return to its innocence, shines through in Laura's obsessive search for Simon, while a Peter figure, the child, Tomas, seems to mastermind the taking of the child to a dark Neverland. Here too, the materialism of an 'adult' world is contrasted with the spiritualism of the child and the realm this film's children inhabit. And, as in 'Poltergeist', a wise medium (an on-key Geraldine Chaplain) is brought in to identify the problem, dispense wisdom and bridge the two worlds. So far so Spielbergian. What is special here is that Bayona for all that he manifests a keen awareness of how to push the audience's emotional buttons, resists sinking into the sentimentality that mars Spielberg's work. In every respect, from the film's narrative dualism (materialistic/spiritualistic explanations are offered, though only one really works), from its combination of subtle scares and gruesome horror, and supremely in its heartwrenching mix of extreme pain and joy, he has his cake and eats it. Indeed he delivers the cake American Cinema loves to churn out, but he knows how to temper it to the more ascerbic tastes of Europe.

Having said all that, though his themes mirror Spielberg, and excellent director though Bayona proves himself to be, his style is not that of Spielberg. It is a lot less showy and not above the occasional shock tactic. And he's none the worst for that. Indeed, he is, in my view, all the better.

'The Orphanage' has no new story to tell. It is an old tale, already told many times in recent memory, and with many of the distinguishing marks of those films. It is then wonderful to relate that it ranks with the very best of those films and is well worth the retelling. Humane, painful and very scary, it marks another welcome addition to another growing sub-genre, the Spanish-language Ghost Child Film. Well might Del Toro present it.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston Dies at 84

We might get that rifle now.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

To Make It Clear

Anyone who knows me will probably wonder why I have not made more of the Bold Bertie's departure. Well, joy is somewhat tempered by the fact that Cowen is looming so fearfully, though I suppose FF is made of characters each as bad as the other, so whoever's up next is scary. Anyhow I am happy at Bertie's resignation. Justice has finally been done. Well, some of it anyway. 'History will look kindly...' is the phrase a lot of the television pundits have been allowing to escape with their sighs of relief. While I know why, it goes against the grain to be celebrating a criminal. And for me one of the worst crimes imaginable is a politician's abuse of power. Not only do they break the law, they assault a population (whether they know it or not) and damage, perhaps irrevocably, the social Good. It is the social contract that is compromised and once done, society's value system becomes unstuck and ultimately anything goes. Think of the many social ills that follow on from a nation's perverse admiration of 'the cute hoor'. That's why Haughey was so evil, and why the man he called 'the most devious of them all' should join him in infamy. Am I too harsh? Well, I tend to remind people of that time when Haughey was importing those expensive shirts from Paris while the shoplifter who stole a Penny's jacket hung himself in Mountjoy. Who was the greater criminal and whose the worse punishment?


Wednesday, April 02, 2008


The Bold Bertie
The Bold Bertie Resigns

BERTIE RESIGNS! And about time too.

And lest we forget, a few Bertie pics


Tuesday, April 01, 2008


To Serve man - From www.scifi-universe.comFrom
I have to say it again, a great score by a great composer can raise a film to a whole new level. Just watched yet another Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare as a Child" (there's 156 or so of them, so I still have a lot to get through). Right from the opening you notice the music, very reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's works. Just like Morricone (remember 'Once Upon a Time in the West' or 'Once Upon a Time in America'), it used a childhood style and theme to put the past into the present, very much in keeping with the story. And who was it? Jerry Goldsmith, of course! Though he wrote only a handful of scores for the series, you notice every one. Excellent!
A day or two back too, I watched 'Little Girl Lost'. You know it's a classic when 'The Simpsons' use it as the basis for an episode (like 'The Shelter' or 'To Serve Man'), and 'Little Girl Lost' serves as the basis for Homer's experience in the Third Dimension. It's also written by Richard Matheson, which helps, although the father's immediate response when his daughter disappears is to 'call a physicist'. Hmmmmm! Perhaps not the most realistic of responses, Richard. Traditionally the third season of The Twilight Zone opens with a 'Produced by' credit, 'Written by', and 'Directed by'. In this episode though and very unusually, the main credit after Producer is 'Music by'. Rightfully so too, for the score is by none other than Bernard Herrmann, frequent collaborator with Hitchcock, composer of the theme and a lot of music for the first season, and one of the all time greats. The score itself is very like earlier scores by Herrmann, it must be said, but it lends a gravitas to the episode that raises it far above the ordinary. Another point: quite apart from The Simpsons, this particular episode obviously inspired 'Poltergeist', right down to the little girl. Excellent!!!!!
And while I'm at it, 'To Serve Man', based on a story by Damon Knight, again a story I read as a child (and loved), I watched the other night too. I must have seen it before, but the punchline is such a good one that it deserves repeated viewing. Richard Kiel as a nine foot tall alien with a huge forehead is also worth the watch. Excellent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(There's a bit of trivia relating to 'Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear' mentioned on the wikiepedia entry for 'To Serve Man'. If you know the punchline, it's a good one. If you don't, read the story!!!!!!!! And someone's put the episode on Google! I want to scream out the punchline!!!!!!!!)

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