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August 25, 2013

Scúp – clár nua as Gaeilge

TV image
4 out of 5 stars

This year a hAintín Beeb aired a new Irish-language drama series. Scúp begins with Don Wycherley’s character Rob joining an an Irish-language newspaper and follows the team’s reportage on community issues.

[“I wish they would subtitle the Irish signs,” Claire grumbles.
Nuacht means ‘news,’” I answer.]

Tonally Scúp bounces along with a gentle-entertainment sort of air; it has a light feel despite the venture into heavier themes of enforced prostitution and suicide. However it’s strange that the writers would engage with this kind of subject matter yet not include any reflection on the politics of running an Irish-language newspaper in Belfast.

There are some curious inconsistencies in the use of language too; a central Irish-speaking character is ‘Michael’ rather than ‘Mícheál’. The subtitle translations can be erratic (idiomatic expressions used in English when there are established Irish versions). There are also some very enjoyable loan-words in the mix; hence a pair of sweethearts might be said to pass an evening ag shagáil.

Unfortunately some of Northern Ireland’s multiracial community appears to have learned no Irish at all and must make do with English. For shame.

The cast is strong and includes alumni of the Irish stage (and in two cases, Father Ted) Dennis Conway, Kelly Gough, Donncha Crowley and Caitríona Ní Mhurchú. Writer Colin Bateman – whose Murphy’s Law launched the career of the poisonously irritating James C. Nesbitt – may be forgiven on the grounds of this latest venture.

July 13, 2012


Movie image
The Amazing Spider-Man
2 out of 5 stars

The first time I saw a Spiderman film, I was very drunk indeed. Ireland had just been knocked out of the World Cup by Spain, on penalties. My sorrow-drowning had reached the point where I needed to ask why there were two Hobgoblins.
‘You’re fucked, Christ,’ Paddy said. Paddy liked to call me Christ, or Jesus; Iosa if he felt Hibernian, or Yahweh when the Old Testament tickled his fancy.
‘They played so well,’ I mourned. It was the year of Roy Keane and Saipan.
Some time later I saw the film on DVD and decided it was alright. Tobey Maguire was good for the Peter Parker role. Kirsten Dunst bugged me a bit; that dead expression of hers.

Now I am so very old that I have lived to see a Spiderman reboot. It is 2012 and the idea of Ireland getting to penalties against Spain is science fiction.

The Amazing Spider-Man – in addition to a hyphen – has the chap from the Facebook movie in it, and a love interest I care less for even than Dunst. It’s heavy-handed stuff. Morality-spinning Uncle Ben can’t die fast enough for my liking, and Spidey shouts ‘woooooo!’ in a very American way whenever he is swinging off things.

The cinema in Singapore is always freezing. People talk quite loudly during the film.

Spiderman needs to (a) become Spiderman, (b) indirectly cause the death of a tiresome relative to teach him a thing or two, (c) make a mortal enemy, (d) meet a girl who gives him a prospect of touching a boob some day, (e) prove his worth vs some low-ranking criminals, and (f) confront the horrible monster and smash up some buildings. The Amazing Spider-Man ticks all of those boxes in a perfunctory manner, by way of a giant lizard with an English accent. This is not a major spoiler as people with English accents usually turn out to be evil, or so cinema has taught me.

There’s a silly plot development with a mathematical equation. When will it end?

For a time I worked in a book shop under the management of a silly fellow who had a curling moustache, a cigar, a collection of Hawaiian shirts, a resonant voice and, I suspected, a closet of considerable size. Naturally I enjoyed imitating him, including an occasion when he phoned up the shop and I answered it in his voice. Hellooo-oo-oo! Anyway, I did a comic bit around the shop in which he was friends with Spiderman, and he would complain about one of his many foes in this world, ‘Well I can’t stand her, and my wife can’t stand her, and Spiderman can’t stand her.’ His dog was called Midge.

They’re still duking it out, Spiderman and the lizard. Get a job!

I have just googled this film and the Wikipedia entry includes the utterance, ‘Rhys Ifans compared this film to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet on the grounds that Spider-Man can be redone many times on film.’ Well, there’s the only time this production will be mentioned in the same breath as a Shakespeare play.

March 11, 2011

Sub–Legendary Fisting

3 out of 5 stars

Pious, honest Chen Zhen would be the first to admit he’s a made-up person

Legend of the Fist

When the excellent but largely made-up Fearless was released in 2006, Beijing Film Studio was sued by the heirs of Huo Yuanjia, a prominent member of the legendary Jing Wu Athletic Association of martial arts. Huo’s descendents were offended by the film’s inaccuracies, particularly the characterisation of Huo himself, who seems a rascally fellow in Jet Li’s treatment. Why, Jet Li was even summoned to court to explain himself, under oath not to use his Northern Fist to get out of answering the questions. Given this fuss over an alleged biopic, one can only imagine Jing Wu’s bemusement over cinema’s fascination with Chen Zhen, a supposed disciple of Huo who never actually existed.

Chen Zhen first appears in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972) as a Jing Wu student who discovers that Huo Yuanjia was poisoned by the Japanese and sets about avenging the murder. In reality Huo’s death is a mystery, and he may have poisoned himself with a traditional medicine that contained arsenic. Yet the fiction of murder and the retaliation of Chen Zhen has remained potent, and Fist of Fury has been remade in versions staring Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, and Gordon Chan’s excellent reimagining of the fiction in Fist of Legend (1994) with Jet Li.

Legend of the Fist is a sequel to Donnie Yen’s 1995 TV series based on Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury. Presumed dead at the hands of the Japanese, Chen Zhen has skipped out to Europe to fight in World War I, and turns up in Shanghai to help the Chinese resistance of the Japanese occupation. Tonally the treatment is light, and very much in homage to Bruce Lee: Donnie Yen makes Lee’s obligatory cat noises when fighting, and – when he is not concealing his identity behind a moustache – Chen Zhen distributes vigilante justice disguised as the Green Hornet. Yet there’s too much plotting, far too long between action scenes at times, and falling back on formula makes much of the film predictable.


Two favourite clichés have driven recent kung fu films. One is the Chinese fighter challenging foreigners to restore national pride, as in Fearless, Ip Man and True Legend (in reality Huo’s Russian and British opponents backed down from fighting him and left town, while Ip Man never really duelled with people). The other is the showdown at the Japanese general’s dojo, a staple of Chen Zhen-based films and [spoiler alert] a major player in Legend of the Fist. Unfortunately, Donnie Yen expends a lot of energy trotting out conventional storylines.

The character of Chen Zhen is useful for imagining possibilities of heroism amid thorny Sino-Japanese relations, but in a limited way. Donnie Yen could do better for his career than recreating Bruce Lee, and there are real-life martial arts heroes that might deserve film treatments rather than rehashing the Fist of Fury fiction. Legend of the Fist attempts to peg a new ending to this fiction, but it’s not enough.

November 09, 2010

The Hoodlum Homecoming

4 out of 5 stars

He may be the mayor of Baltimore, but he’ll fucken burst ye


Good staff can be hard to find, and it seems to apply to henchmen as much as any other kind. Love/Hate opens with middleweight goon Nidge looking up Internet videos on how to operate his new firearm, but his girlfriend bursts in demanding to be taken to Dundrum Shopping Centre. So it goes: as playwright Stuart Carolan tells it in this series, nothing seems to unfold cleanly.

Least happy with this arrangement is the homesick Darren (Robbie Sheehan), who returns to Dublin to celebrate his brother’s release from prison, only for said brother to be gunned down before he’s even had a few scoops or gotten a ride. Revenge is a complicated matter, with Darren at the whim of gangster overlord John-Boy (Aidan Gillen), who reacts to all situations by curling his lip ambiguously and refusing to let us know what he gets off on (although it is bound to be something bad as he is emphatically a knacker). Meanwhile Darren attempts to get back with his ex, Rosie (Ruth Negga), currently in thrall of a man named Stumpy, Nidge decides to get married, and ultra-scobe Hughie (Brian Gleeson) reaches for a cue-ball in a sock if you look at him the wrong way.

We see a lot of Dundrum Shopping Centre as it turns out, and futility and frustration gradually edge out the simple pleasures of evading the police with a truck full of drugs, or some species of female companionship termed ‘Praha Prozzies’. The gangsters in Love/Hate drive around in SUV’s listening to hip-hop, but they don’t derive any satisfaction from the fantasy of being in the Wu Tang Clan or, indeed, The Wire. Poignantly, it’s a despairing sort of violence that makes them wonder why they bother, if it wasn’t that some other fella started it.

January 16, 2010


Movie image
Sherlock Holmes
2 out of 5 stars

What would ol’ Clay make of Guy Ritchie’s bare-knuckle boxing, Frenchman beating, second-act lulling, occult-battering bromance?

It seems that the best way to solve a mystery is to slap it about the head, or electrocute it, or give it a hearty spanking with one’s cane. So it is that we first encounter Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, who meditates on the best means of clocking some chap who obstructs his path to Mystery Solution and then – mark you – he knocks the fellow out, the confrontation proceeding exactly as he deduced it would in the cornball slow-motion sequence. ‘Aha’, we say to this internal narrative, ‘clearly this Sherlock Holmes fellow is some manner of Thinker.’

An IMDB entry for Sherlock Holmes tells me that ‘it is made to be a rollicking good time’. Anyone who says ‘rollicking’ is bound to be a total prick (even, if not especially, in that overworn mode of irony), but the prick has a point. The result of the commitment to Rollick is that Conan Doyle’s world and characters are merely the dressing for a fairly conventional action-adventure movie. Sherlock Holmes is given the 21st-century comic book reboot, and not much of the literary original turns up for the adventure. Look at the fucking promotional posters – they’re like ads for superhero films:


Ritchie has one good idea in livening Holmes up, as opposed to depicting him in his traditional screen incarnation as a pipe-smoking, contemplative bore. Robert Downey Jr is good as a troubled, eccentric Holmes too, but no-one can seem to think what to do with the character other than chase scenes and fighting villains or, when there isn’t a chase scene to be had or a villain to fight, boxing people after dinner. Aspects of Watson’s military past are evoked with the consequence that he is multi-dimensionally dull. Our ultimate problem, then – with Moriarty creeping into view, trying to nick stuff – is that we have reputedly brilliant characters under the volition of idiots. Thus our team of creators has Holmes rushing around in a sort of Victorian Dark Knight affair with explosions, and gadgets, and Holmes predicting in idle moments everything the next century of science will bring in a tongue-in-cheek manner that makes me wonder whether a bad script provides grounds for a cinema refund.

Anyway, there’s this evil chap called Lord Blackwood, whose name is evil, and who looks evil, and he’s trying to stick a knife in some virgin. Holmes stops him, to Blackwood’s chagrin, and the ensuing tussle inexplicably consumes over two hours of our time, with the subplots of Holmes trying to do some woman (Rachel McAdams) and Watson planning to marry some other, funny-looking woman (Kelly Reilly). Moriarty slips into the darkness, anticipating a chance to creep back for a sequel, although I’ll understand if he decides to give it a miss, and stays at home.


June 07, 2009


Movie image
Terminator Salvation
1 out of 5 stars

Grrrrrrr! Christian Bale growls as he emerges from some mud.

Roar! Christian Bale shouts as he fires a machine-gun at a robot that has beef with him.

Noooooo! The script-writers have watched Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and think it’s top drama to have upset characters shouting Nooooooooo! to let us know they’re ticked off.

Blair! (Is that character’s first name really ‘Blair’? Really?)

Help! Christian Bale looks around vainly for a way out of this franchise:

The Terminator films didn’t need, or deserve, another sequel. The first two were built around Arnie’s admittedly perfect performance as the relentless robot, and the attendant chase scenes. The films were set in the good old 20th century and the science-fiction storyline was pretty thin, and was alluded to more or less just to facilitate more high-speed chases and blowing things up. Terminator Salvation proceeds without the (now old and busily Republican) lead actor by building on the flimsy sci-fi mythos. From Judge Dredd to The Matrix, tales of machines taking over the world are commonplace, and the direction of a Mr MCG does nothing to avert the dangers of predictable plot and overall unoriginality. Many robots are harmed in the process, but even this seems detached and flat somehow, Bale is wooden and there isn’t an ounce of personality in the whole thing.

a terminator
Smiling doesn’t get you off the hook for this dross, sonny.

September 29, 2008

'The sun rises on a new dawn'

2 out of 5 stars

Once upon a time, before he made very bad movies, M. Night Shyamalan made very good movies.

One of these, called Unbreakable(2000), succeeded excellently because it was built on a solid premise. Shyamalan was well-versed in tales of superheroes. Having read many graphic novels and watched countless films, he realised that the common element that he found most engaging was the rite-of-passage of a character discovering his/her supernatural ability; he undergoes extraordinary experiences, but is a sympathetic figure because he remains identifiably human. Shyamalan decided to make this aspect of superhero myth the focus of his film, eschewing the usual main course of superhero narrative – the cosmic battle between demi-god hero and villain – and portrayed a man coming to terms with his powers at length. It worked well, and I think series 1 of Heroes worked well, at times, for the same reason. And in the successes of Unbreakable and the first series of Heroes, we have hints as to why the second instalment of Heroes is so bad.

What do you do when your superheroes have graduated from their Universities of Superhero Life, when they have bypassed the stage of self-discovery? To me there seem to be three possible directions. The first I call The Eternal Struggle, in which the developed hero is pitted against an endless gallery of worthy foes. The second option is to explore the aspects of the hero that remain human; our Superman needs a Lois Lane. The third avenue is to introduce new characters and start again. Heroes pursues each of these option in series 2, but, faced with the question ‘what next?’ it seems to come up with a wrong answer every time.

To start with, two observations:

1). Series two of Heroes begins with the line, ‘the sun rises on a new dawn.’

2). The person responsible for this felt entitled to join in a script-writers’ strike for higher wages.

This marvellously awful narration signals the standard of dialogue in an impending storyline that exemplifies all that induces sorrow in Heroes s2.

We find ourselves in oIreland.

This is not a typo.

Somewhere in Cork we encounter a family whose members speak with inexplicably different Irish accents that, if containing no regional similarity, share a common heritage of Irish Stereotype. T’be shore, t’be shore, t’isn’t it one o’ them he-roes? A pint o’ Guinness for me Hero friend in the name of Pete. We have arrived in Cork, via an act of Contrivance, in the company of Peter Petrelli, who – brace yourself – has amnesia! The amnesia storyline (such a hackneyed vehicle in drama that it is derided gleefully in Futurama to the tune of every character in the soap opera having amnesia) allows the series to tread water as Peter rediscovers what we already know, meets an oIrish slip of a girl he wants to poke, and weighs up whether a future global holocaust might not actually be preferable to an entire series of this nonsense.

Meanwhile, all your favourite characters are ticking over. Horsey Woman is on anti-hero meds. Annoying Cop is playing house with little girl. Dr Mohinder, the Asian Jose Mourinho, fancies a spot of infiltration, which does jolt a bit of excitement into this twitching corpse. Cheerleader is told by daddy that she can’t cheerlead, until the show’s producers realise it is perilous for viewing statistics not to have her bouncing around in a cheerleader’s outfit. Also, she is told she cannot date and ends up doing so! It’s teenage rebellion, my friends. But it is badly executed, and if there’s a fantastic element to her realtionship with drippy fellow-hero boyfriend, it remains mostly the kind of teen dross I spend my life trying to avoid. The couple of new characters retread old ground covered by special effects. Most times they’re all wondering what to do with themselves while the main villain has lost his powers, an inconvenience to him which also removes the risk of the series having much tension. On it plods through a not-so-mystifying series of murders and confrontations, ending with a visual quote from X-Men that hints we might be back to square 1 in series 3.

The sliver of entertainment that earns this series its two stars is delivered by the cuddly Japanese bear named Hiro. I’d like to tickle him. Hiro travels in time to feudal Japan. What larks he has in the company if a legendary Japanese hero, who turns out to be a white man carrying a much-needed Threat of Villainy. The backdrops are stunning, the storyline has more going for it than any of the others, and Hiro gets some well-deserved booty for a change.

March 23, 2008

Serj: Making Life More Tolerable

4 out of 5 stars

System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian has determined to take time out from his band to wear more top-hats, to sing less about porn, and to compose melodious meditations on antelopes. Elect the Dead is a likable record, constructed meticulously of layered of vocals and instruments, but at its heart pop melodies drive the songs along.

‘Empty Walls’, the opening track and first single, demonstrates the album’s best characteristics; it’s catchy and intense, it layers melodies effectively, and the vocal sounds unique in its blend of accent and crazed delivery. It’s a quirkiness that distinguishes ‘Lie Lie Lie’ also. By contrast, ‘Saving Us’ is quite straight-forward; the backing vocals and extra guitars don’t bring much to the table, but its core, the acoustic guitar-part and lead vocal, demonstrates strong song-writing. ‘Baby’ and ‘Sky is Over’, while not ground-breaking, are decent tracks, reminding me of Muse a little.

In turn, ‘The Unthinking Majority’ typifies the less-memorable songs on the album. The tune is plodding – deliberately, but not endearingly – and the transitions, to the loud chorus and to the to the low-key second chorus, don’t succeed dynamically, so the song feels disjointed. The lyrics, in straining to be topical, are laboured in places; ‘controlling tools of your system’, for example, is unnecessarily wordy (‘controlling’ is redundant in the phrase for starters) and comes across clumsily. Similarly, ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ is awkward, and in the album’s title track, ‘All I want is me’ is an exercise in inexcusable lyric. Lyrically, ‘Honking Antelope’ is grating political allegory. Let me tell you something about Hunters Becoming Hunted, Serj; it is one of the most worn-out allegories in the Annals of Cliché. In its alternative-rock context, the conceit reminds me of a Queens of the Stone Age video and I don’t think it’s desirable to echo such mighty competitors when making a case for your own music. But if I criticise the lyrics severely, I emphasise that it’s refreshing, and necessary, to find and encourage a song-writer who explores beyond the despair-inducingly narcissistic pop themes of doing people and tediously predictable teenage defiance.

Overall Elect the Dead is a rewarding record. Serj has an ear for a tune and the addition of piano, string and electronic parts to crunching guitars makes for a richly-produced album. Bonus points for naming a song ‘Beethoven’s Cunt’.

Download: ‘Empty Walls’, ‘Lie Lie Lie’, ‘Saving Us’

February 07, 2008

Road to Ruin

2 out of 5 stars

[To determine the rating of two stars I have devised a formula whereby Number of Stars = Utility ÷ Price where a utility score of 10 gives multiple orgasms, but a score of 1 results in the CD being thrown out the window.]

The scope of consumerism has been broadened in recent years as a matter of conscience. We no longer see the purchase of an item or the use of a service as an interaction solely between consumer and provider, but we consider the wider consequences of each transaction. The carbon footprint is a topical example, a term carrying an alarming sense that the pollutants emitted by our means of travel will have permanent consequences for the environment. Food miles too are totted up in view of the fuel consumption in their transport and the cost to local producers of similar goods. Fair trade is a movement that reminds us that the lowest prices usually imply that, somewhere along the line, someone is getting a bad deal.

In the spirit of this enlightened capitalism I have invented what I term the Grohl Input Level. It measures what effect an individual’s activity as a consumer has on Dave Grohl’s life. For example, I have a quite comprehensive Nirvana collection, including singles and duplicate copies on vinyl and CD, every Foo Fighters album, many of their singles, a live DVD, and I have seen the band live on five occasions, as well as patronising some of Grohl’s side projects. Hence, I’d like to think that there is some tangible evidence of my custom in the Grohl estate. Perhaps the furry dice in his BMW can be attributed to my purchases. Or maybe when he has dinner guests over he asks Taylor Hawkins to be careful with the Chris Murray candlesticks, for crying out loud.

My latest doorstop chez-Grohl will be purchased when Dave and co receive their per diem royalty cheques for their latest record, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. The opening track, ‘The Pretender’, is typical, high-octane Foo Fighters, with Chris Shiflett providing some rockabilly-tinged guitar that I’m not sure about. It draws from a familiar vocabulary of aggression and contrariness. The second song, ‘Let It Die’ is great, building up gradually from pretty acoustic picking to enraged racket. ‘Erase/Replace’ bears the influence of producer Gil Norton, working with the band for the first time since 1997’s excellent pinnacle for the band, The Colour and the Shape. It’s really track 4, ‘The Long Road to Ruin’, that sets off the alarm bells.

I have tried hard to love this record.

‘The Long Road to Ruin’ is an objectionable piece of work. The lyrics are staggeringly awful lists of clichés that don’t mean anything:

Dear God, I’ve sealed my fate,
I’m running through hell,
Heaven can wait!

It’s also in this song, indicative of the band’s arena rock status, that for the first time we hear the Foo Fighters delivering a straight-up, scale-based guitar solo, which is like a slap in the face. It’s small fry, however, compared to the Leviathans of Wrong that are the two piano songs, ‘Summer’s End’, and ‘Home’, weepy and Springsteen-esque. Of the instrumental ‘Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners’ I ask what entitlement one has to name something a ‘ballad’ that does not have any words, and while I commend the dedication of music to two imperilled fans, I wonder whether it is a fitting tribute to commemorate them in a track that is devoid of emotion.

On Kerrang’s TV channel, the video for ‘The Pretender’ has been aired with a banner featuring Grohl’s comment that the band ‘threw this song together in the studio’. I think it’s indicative of the problem with this record: the songs are not written well, and this may be because they don’t put enough time into it. All the high studio-production available doesn’t paper over the cracks in this record. And so we leave them to their arena tours. Next time he’s out this way, I think Grohl owes me a coke.

November 20, 2007


Movie image
4 out of 5 stars

Parallel Worlds! Witches! Quests involving Object Retrieval! True Love! False Love!

Stardust puts us in pretty familiar fantasy-adventure territory, tipping its hat respectfully at Labyrinth, but most in debt to The Princess Bride, working off the same formula of fairy tale fuelled by comic cameos, with a smack of the Endymion myth about it too. Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert de Niro enjoy new leases of life in roles that defy expectations of typecasting, while Ricky Jervais also crops up touting his sole comic mannerism to any takers.

Our focus is on an Adventuring chap named Tristan (no relation to Sir Tristan). Fantasy aside, Tristan takes an unfeasibly long time to realise he should be poking Claire Danes, who appears as Star Personified in this Mortal Realm. It all proceeds pleasantly enough, if predictably; it’s well-crafted and enjoyable. Yet there is a Take That song during the end credits, so be prepared to make a hasty retreat.

Be warned that Stardust does get quite mushy, and if your love life falls short of being an amorous idyll at all you may end up tearing off your own arm just for something to hurl at the screen.

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