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.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


After two of her students kill her four year-old daughter, a schoolmistress exacts revenge. Of course, that revenge sparks off more violence that sparks off more violence that....
As one gets older, the more the thought of punishing those pesky kids becomes more palatable. So it's not surprising that 'Confessions' entertains so well. Coupled to this is an appeal to the Thanatos in us all, that disillusioned sense of sheer frustration with the ineptitude of everyone and everything that occasionally makes us want to destroy it all. Ironically in a movie about children, it is this sense that is ultimately the most childish impulse of them all. And the one most selfishly indulged by the filmmakers.
Which is not to say this film is a stupid exploitation flick. Far from it. It acknowledges the argument that environment creates monsters, disregards it, then acknowledges it again as something too complex to allow for. In the face of such absurd cruelty the only option is to accept it as a given and indulge our own. Brief nods to the pain revenge actually causes the teacher are insufficient to offset the petty childish joy in hate that the film espouses. And that we espouse too, in our childish heart of hearts. Sometimes. When we're weak. Or at a movie.
Despite its Rashomon style delivery, with each character giving their 'confession' of events, the story itself is ludicrous. The acting is fine, but the film's execution is somewhat clunky at times (for instance the teacher's extended story-telling at the start), and the too obvious use of music by Radiohead etc. doesn't help. However, I say again, it is hard to argue with base instincts, and nasty revenge executed on nasty kids is as base as you can get.
A guilty pleasure.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

A Child Across the Sky

A Child Across the Sky
Part of the same fictional universe within which his "Bones of the Moon" and "Sleeping in Flames" occur, Jonathan Carroll's "A Child Across the Sky" is a strange meditation on evil, art and cinema. After director Weber Gregston's best friend commits suicide, he is supernaturally summoned by his friend (via videotape) to complete his friend's slasher movie. Among those aiding him in his task is a little girl who may or may not be an angel.
The more I read of Carroll the more I am torn in two, but in this novel that is not only right, but almost the point of the story. The complexity of life, both physically and morally, is a prime concern for Carroll. He wants a black and white order, and sometimes succumbs to its allure (witness the climax of 'Bones of the Moon'), but he is fully conscious of the falsity of such a perspective. I still feel he is a romantic who ultimately underwrites all his work with this binary division, but he's no fool and his explorations of the theme make for some fascinating writing. Good may be real, and Evil too, but they play a very bewildering game of chess. Everything is compounded of this confusion. The richness he almost fanatically brings to his characters is proof of this.
In creating a rich, fictional world (one with recurring characters and its own consistent history, eg. the great Californian Earthquake), yet one that shares some characteristics of our own world (eg. an airport terrorist attack from the Eighties) he inevitably generates a certain alienation in the reader. The constant references to films never seen (because they were never made) is annoying, for instance. It seems to highlight Carroll's hunger to be on celluloid (according to IMDB he's only participated in the production of one, 'B', movie).
His very real influence on Hollywood is all over this tale. From 'Drop-Dead Fred' to 'In the Mouth of Madness', the seeds of much of common cinema culture is contained (and originates) here. People have been 'borrowing' from his work for ages. (Ironically part of this story is concerned with just that kind of theft.) He does this kind of dark fantasy better than any of them (yes, including you, Mr Carpenter!). But, and this is probably part of the reason for his failure to be realised on screen, his bizarre events often serve as springboards to pungent philosophizing. The rationale for their happening (eg. a bird tattoo coming to life) loses much of its persuasive power (when indeed it is persuasive) once divorced from these ramblings.
Of course, he borrows too and much of this book is plainly inspired by the Freddy, Jason, Candyman and Pinhead movies that haunt the contemporary horror genre. 'Candyman', for instance has a score by that pop minimalist, Philip Glass. Carroll has rival minimalist Steve Reich as the composer for the films of his fictitious monster, Bloodstone. Of course what isn't acknowledged is that Steve Reich just happens to be Carroll's half-brother. Jokes within self-referential jokes is the Carroll way. If there is one common thread in his work though, it is the eruption of the fantastical into the real world and vice versa.
The ending to 'A Child Across the Sky' left me angry. Rightly. Tied up quickly, though ambiguously, it was a typical Carroll ending, but all the more memorable for that. I hated it. I loved it. Damn it, he's good.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Terry Gilliam's Storytime

I cannot believe I am only seeing this now.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Coincidence No. 23

Today after reading a particularly nasty story by Clark Ashton Smith called 'The Seed of the Sepulchre', it struck me that this type of horror is akin to a car crash; we know it's all going to end badly, but we can't look away. Indeed the 'enjoyment' is that almost 'pornographic' voyeurism 'enjoyed' by accident witnesses. Tired of this 'torture porn', but happy at my encapsulation of this subgenre with the term, 'car crash' horror, I picked up Jonathan Carroll's 'Child Across the Sky' and started to read it. To divert myself from Smith. A fifth of the way into the book (five minutes ago), I was reading a fictitious film maker's account of reading a friend's script, a screenplay for a horror film: "I called it car-crash art -- you don't want to look, but you have to...." Okay, my original idea wasn't so original (and neither was Carroll's), but really....

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True Grit

An old-fashioned, truly satisfying movie.

Books and Brain-busting

I've read a few books in the last few weeks: Philip K. Dick's 'Galactic Pot Healer'; Philip Jose Farmers' 'A Feast Unknown'; Jonathan Carroll's 'Bones of the Moon' and tonight 'Sleeping in Flame'; as well as an assortment of short stories and philosophy. I hope to write about each in time, but 'Sleeping in Flame' has left me just a little annoyed(?). It has the feel of something developed as it is written, with all the unpredictability and fun that that implies, but also a lack of discipline and superficiality. There's a great mind at work, but doing what exactly? It's like having Faulkner write a script for 'American Pie'. The ending, the very ending, is so typically Carroll, and is appropriate on one level, but it's one that serves to trivialize everything that has gone before. Although the Magic Realists have been mixing fantasy and reality for ages, Carroll does it in such a 'full on', indiscriminate way, that the very nature of his fiction becomes the subject of his fiction. It's post-modernism on acid. And I've kind of come down rather abruptly. I'll write about it all again when I've gotten my mind back.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Music to be Murdered By

Tonight, to a less than full house, the RTE Concert Orchestra played a concert of film music focussed generally on the works of Bernard Herrmann. The composer of scores for films from 'Citizen Kane' to 'Taxi Driver' with a whole slew of Hitchcock classics in between, he was the Ennio Morricone of Golden Age Hollywood, and a personal favorite of mine.
Overall I was not disappointed. Strangely for a concert concentrating on Herrmann, I found their weakest playing was on some of his faster pieces ('North by Northwest' for instance) and the Concerto Macabre from 'Hangover Square' was a little underwhelming. But then I'm fussy when it comes to his music. I've been playing the same cd of his most famous pieces for nearly 15 years. And anyway they got some of it right. The saxophone on 'Taxi Driver', for instance, was spot on and for the suite from 'Psycho', they played a pizzicato piece I was not familiar with. And then they were very good on music by other composers, the highlight for me being a sumptuous account of Raksin's sentimental music for 'Laura' (the horn on that piece was quintessential 40's America). True, I could have done with more Herrmann (they ended with Rodney Bennett's 'Murder on the Orient Express'), but to hear this evocative music played in the concert hall was still a joy for nostalgic me.
Now I just have to dig up my old Hitchcock collection and have a marathon weekend.

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Black Swan

Silly, over-the-top nonsense. 'All about Eve' meets 'Repulsion' with director Darren Aronofsky thinking he's David Cronenberg. He's not.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Never Let Me Go

In an alternate Britain, three young people born into an organ donor programme, struggle with love and a short lifespan.
I'm sorry folks. How many times has this old chestnut been rolled out? Just because this is based on a Kazuo Ishiguro novel doesn't mean we have to forget a whole century of similarly themed stories. From 'Logan's Run' to 'The Island', this kind of thing has been done to death, and 'Never Let Me Go' adds very little to the mix. You'd need a donated imagination to find any of this original, and unlike 'The Island', which at least had the virtue of playing its barmy premise suitably absurdly, this po-faced retread takes its oh-so mannered time trying to reveal what we all know from the opening minutes. I suspect that more should have been made of the idea, expressed briefly at the end, that whether your life is artificially limited or not, we all must face the same problems. But again didn't 'Blade Runner' raise that notion a wee bit more entertainingly?
No, Niall, you cry, this is a LOVE STORY! You've missed the whole point! Well, no, I didn't, I just didn't find it very romantic. From the outset the protagonists are presented as children (again like 'Blade Runner'), but they stay that way throughout the movie. They have little depth, and fatally I found myself actually thinking maybe this organ cultivation malarkey isn't that bad if the donors are so, well, soulless. (The faux question of Soul is raised throughout, and again is a testament to just how little imagination is on display here. Of course it doesn't help that Carey Mulligan, so promising in 'An Education', seems in her latter movies (remember 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'?) to be playing the kind of insipid wallflower that usually populates a Jane Austen opus for the sole purpose of throwing the heroine into a strong light. Here she is meant to be the heroine, not Keira Knightly, but I just got bored of the whole bloody lot of them (Andrew Garfield is the other dweeb). Then of course there's the dreariness of the 'Brazil'-type 'Somewhere in the 20th Century' Britain; the whole thing looks like the '50s of our nightmares. Hell, I'd want to die young in that place!
(So we have 'Blade Runner', 'The Island', 'Logan's Run', 'Brazil'; how many more films do I have to reference before you get the point that there is nothing original here!)
'Never Let Me Go' is not a bad movie; it takes itself far too seriously for that. But let's not kid ourselves that it is some masterpiece. Much less elevated movies have addressed issues far more complex and generated far more emotion than anything this achieves. Best to just let it go.

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