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, October 25, 2011

Dublin Contemporary 2011

Dublin Contemporary was a nice way to while away a wet Sunday afternoon. Certainly a lot to see and a great deal of invention in the exhibition itself, let alone the art works. A good use of Earlsfort Terrace and I must confess to enjoying it a lot more than IMMA.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Broken Egos

My poor brother broke his arm fairly nastily at soccer. I went to the hospital following his operation to find that he is on the up; as well as could be expected anyhow. In fact it might just be the drugs, but he seemed upbeat. While I was there the night nurse came in to introduce herself. 'So you must be his father...." I'm three years older than him. I left him a little more upbeat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Viennese Zombie Cows

I was in Vienna a week or so back and took the opportunity to further my culinary adventures. Having convinced the waitress to read me the German menu rather than saddling me with the English one, I ordered and ate calves' liver dumplings in beef broth and then calves' brains. Cooked with eggs, you know they had to taste like scrambled eggs, and they did, though very delicately. I followed it up with some dumplings laced with ricotta in a berry sauce ('It is not what you have in your imagination...,' I was told when I jumped at the hint it was like a cheesecake). Perfectly edible. I enjoyed my Viennese fare. Great city, too.

Labels: ,

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder

I've also recently read James De Mille's 'A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder'. Claiming to be a castaway's account of a trip to a lost civilisation at the South Pole, it is also a clever satire (as most of these tales are; consider Butler's 'Erewhon'), on Western Civilisation. In this lost world, the locals are kind, considerate, selfless and completely in love with death, so much so that sacrifice and cannibalism are considered the highest honours. Only a few radicals believe that selfishness, greed and exploitation are the true, noble aims of life.
Written in 1888, it makes a heavy nod at Edgar Allen Poe, but, though coming after Verne, apparently still anticipates much that was written by Burroughs, Haggard and Doyle (this Antarctica features dinosaurs and Moas as well as cannibals and pyramids). As if in apology for its sentimental aspects, De Mille frames the whole tale by having the manuscript read aloud by a motley group of dilettantes on an aristocrat's yacht. One of their number insists on critiquing the manuscript as if it was a fiction, pointing out its sensationalism and absurdity, while the others supply the science behind its authenticity.
All of this is admirable and entertaining. Sadly the hero, the English sailor Adam More, is a pessimistic, often cowardly, and very often overly submissive fool, making it very hard to care for his adventures, even with the framing critique highlighting his double standards. Indeed, De Mille is trying to give us a rip-roaring adventure, a healthy dose of anthropology, biology and linguistics, and a sly, self-conscious black comedy that highlights the dangers of a first person narrative; all at the same time. It is incredibly ambitious, and were he to have achieved all his aims, he would be regarded as one of the best writers of his generation. Suffice to say he is not. However, there is no doubt of his importance in the development of the science fiction genre, and for that alone, this is worth a read.

Labels: , ,

Wise Blood

Just to say I finished Flannery O'Connor's first novel and masterpiece. It is notable how she keeps you close enough to her grotesque characters to think you're inside their heads, but actually just enough outside to surprise you. Then you think, yes, well, that does make sense. Dark, funny, and cold as Hell, with a small, warm heart beating somewhere within the ice.
For completeness I also watched John Huston's film adaptation again. I saw it years ago, and always remembered Brad Dourif playing Hazel Motes. This time around his relatively over-heated, one-note performance didn't impress me as much. Ironically he plays it as it is, and the film is generally very faithful to the book. Updating it to the Seventies didn't lose anything, but instead showed how relevant the whole nasty tale still is for America. However, the dreadful score by Alex North highlights the slightly off-key tone that the film makers adopted and that ultimately loses a lot of the book's power. The characters are not just the grotesques that the film portrays; they are warped, but real people, struggling for meaning, companionship and love. Ultimately the film works, but as soon often is the case, the novel works on a higher, finer plane.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris

'Midnight in Paris' is Woody Allen's latest, so there is no real need to summarise it. It has a group of rich people playing straight man to an Allen-esque neurotic artist in a beautiful city. Hhhhmmmm. Is it any good?
There is a genuine sense of warmth about the whole enterprise that has been lost from Allen's movies in latter years. You feel like he really cares about his subject matter, ie. Paris of the Twenties. It probably helps for me that I share his affection, but there is a nice thrill seeing Hemingway, Stein, the Fitzgeralds, etc. brought to life. For a while at any rate. Pretty soon, with no real belly laughs to distract you, it can all seem like name dropping ('Oh, look there's Djuna Barnes!'). I mean will anyone really split a side at Owen Wilson giving Bunuel the plot of 'The Exterminating Angel'? On the plus side, Owen Wilson makes one of the best Woody surrogates in a long time, Cotillard draws the camera, and Adrian Brody makes a memorable Dali. The rest of the cast spout their lines as needed, but with little real conviction or dimension.
Just an observation, but Allen does not use many close ups, at least not to convey real emotion. There is one of Wilson as his predicament dawns on him, but this is too broad to convey any subtlety. Another is of Cotillard, but really only to show how pretty she is. In fact when I think of Allen's movies, even the serious ones, this is almost a trademark and probably explains why I see him as rarely emotionally intense. He flits across the surface using quips and farce to distract us from the basic shallowness of his people games. Even 'Hannah and Her Sisters' features a man (Caine) in lust, not love, and the really serious films play, well, like plays. Which is not to say plays are without emotion, just that they are performed at a distance. Allen plays at a distance.
Yes, this is a glib analysis, but I think it says something that the most emotional close shot I can remember is also in one of Allen's more successful films, 'Manhattan', as he sees his 'true' love for who she is just as he must let her go.
Anyhow 'Midnight in Paris' has no real emotional depth and no real, deep insight, but it does ring more authentically than many another Allen film when you sound it for emotion. Granted it is the love of the director not any of the characters, but it is a feeling I can appreciate nevertheless. Guess he's just good with cities.

Labels: , , ,

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Telling the story of a young girl going to a new home, a new parent and coming into contact with mythological beings, featuring a maze and with the name Guillermo del Toro attached, you might be forgiven for thinking 'Don't Be Afraid if the Dark' is a remake of 'Pan's Labyrinth'. It's not. It's a remake of a 70's TV movie that had me sleepless for months after I saw it (right up there with 'Salem's Lot'). Though that earlier film scared the Cadbury's Creme Eggs out of me, no one could accuse it of a high budget or lofty aspirations, both of which this version has. I mean use the hallowed name of Arthur Machen, give your beasties a persuasive history, model them on the drawings of Arthur Rackham, and stick them in a wonderful old, dark house, and you must have a winner, right?
Sadly, no. I appreciate what the movie was striving for, but the back story involving tooth fairies(!) and the netherworld adds nothing to an otherwise run-of-the-mill, not to mention mechanical, horror. The direction tries to be fancy, but forgets to build tension, and very little is made of the classic 'they won't believe me' dynamic that the original made so much of. Clich├ęs like the knowledgeable old retainer, the boarded up cellar, and the dark history gradually discovered, are trotted out like disinterred ancestors caught rolling in their graves. And for all they look like creatures from Faerie, the CGI monsters are too obviously 'animated' to really terrify. The original had guys in furry suits wearing Doomlord masks. They would hide behind out-sized furniture and set wicked little traps. But hell, did they terrify me! All the budget and knowledge of the genre has done is blunt that crude, but sharp blade.
Nothing about this unfortunate movie can hold a flickering candle to the original. Don't be afraid of the dark, but don't go to it either.

Labels: , ,

Season of the Witch

The Nicholas Cage film, not the Romero one, and ain't that the pity. A pile of junk. If you want to watch how this kind of thing should be done watch the low budget Sean Bean film, 'Black Death'.

Labels: ,


Take the style of Michael Mann when he's actually being good, the moral darkness of Schrader (think 'Taxi Driver', 'American Gigolo'), and a good dollop of 'Shane' and you have 'Drive', a.k.a. the movie that's too cool for school. Slap on a cracking 80s style score by the likes of The Chromatics, and things start bubbling. Then add a confident Ryan Gosling, amiable Bryan Cranston and the always sleazy Ron Perlman, oh, and who's that? - well, who would have thought it, Albert Brooks as a convincing psycho (actually there's a lot of them about in this movie, including the 'hero') - and things just get better and better. If only Carey Mulligan would stop smiling in three different ways and actually act (I'd pay a lot to see her actually play angry for instance), we might have the perfect movie. Actually no, we wouldn't, because despite all that coolness - and this film fairly drips with it - there is actually nothing here that you haven't seen before. In fact a lunatic French guy behind me in the cinema claimed to prefer 'Man on Fire' (avec Denzel Washington) when it finished (I think I could smell his socks through the movie, the stinking French bastard's, not Denzel Washington's). Yes, it was similar to 'Man on Fire', among many other movies, though less so than most, but just because it's been done before doesn't mean it's been done better and this does it pretty damn well. 'Man on Fire', my ass! Anyhow though I too have seen this all before I did really like watching it all again. Though I kind of missed a little kid at the end crying 'Shane, Shane....' Probably wouldn't have been very cool though....

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Perfect Sense

You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
The premise of David Mackenzie's 'Perfect Sense' is so high concept it's practically Hollywoodian, though the movie itself is very far from that. Around the world a strange ailment causes people to burst out crying in uncontrollable grief. When this crying fit passes the victim has lost their sense of smell. Sadly this is only the beginning of bad things happening which is bad news for young lovers Ewan McGregor and Eva Green.
The good points: Green is not the most expressive of actors, but she pushes herself a little here, while McGregor, playing a self-professed arsehole, is excellent. Max Richter's melancholy score reminds one of the days when Nyman wrote simple music for simple films; more Mr Richter, more. And despite being set in Glasgow, it looks well.
On the negative side, the script falls short, with a story that is perhaps too simplistic, following an easy trajectory too easily. Despite being an epidemiologist, Eva's doctor really sheds little light on the 'illness'. Yes, this isn't Hollywood, but still if you're going to have a gun on the mantelpiece, use it by the third act. From a character perspective, the lovers really don't deserve the sympathy that the actors win for them, both being self-professed arseholes. Their sometimes portentous repartee doesn't always help. So problems in the writing. Besides the screenplay though, and almost fatally, director Mackenzie doesn't always know when he's pushing things into absurdity. The sight of a three year old standing in a sweetshop in floods of tears (about to lose his sense of smell), is almost too unintentionally funny to get past. For some in the audience I saw the film with it was too much too early on and they left. Yes, Mackenzie makes some errors of judgement, but if you stick with it and buy into his obvious delight in the things that make life worth living, 'Perfect Sense' might just strike an emotional chord.
Recently Malick's 'Tree of Life' was a cinematic hymn to life; this, in its downbeat, secular way, is a paean to the senses. Despite its flaws - and they are many - it just about succeeds in its praise.
You should see it ...while you can.

Labels: , ,