Letter to Seán Gallagher

I‘ll admit outright, I’m not a Gallagher supporter. I believe him to be coasting by on his relatively clean image, a campaign which has nothing to do with the office he seeks and generally keeping his mouth shut. But given his climbing poll numbers, he must be taken seriously, which is why I emailed a few points to his campaign for clarification. I do not expect a response.

Hi,

I am just wondering about a few central issues with Seán’s mandate.

Ignoring the issue of whether or not even the government can actually create jobs in the private sector or merely create the conditions for the same, how does Seán plan to focus on job creation? If it is merely about creating the atmosphere and culture for jobs, there is little in the way oratory can impact on culture, given the slow changes that occur within it over time.

More so, the last constitutional group found “The cabinet, led by the Taoiseach, exercises the
executive power of the State, in accordance with the Constitution, and is accountable to the people through the people’s representatives in the Dáil. The President has no executive powers apart from some discretionary ones that make the President the guardian of the Constitution.” This is in line with the constitutional provisions set down in Articles 12-14. In exercising what is effectively the role of minister for trade and/or enterprise if he were to take an active role in job creation, he would be over-stepping the remit of his constitutional role.

Articles 28.1.2 and 28.4.2 go on further to assess the collective role of ministers in the delivery of government portfolios and in the first instance, how executive power can only be exercised by the government or under the authority of the same. Considering the government is unlikely to abolish the post of minister for enterprise and cede the power to Seán if he were to take office, he would essentially be exercising powers outside of the approval of the government and violating multiple constitutional provisions in the prosess, not just the accepted responsibility of the president.

As symbolic leader of the state, by focusing centrally on such a concern, there is also the potential for an ideological deficit, one not of social and intellectual discourse but one ignoring the issues that were created during the Celtic Tiger period that led to the collapse that followed. How can two such conflicting ideas of money/returning us to what most economists will admit was an anomalous period in Irish history, (especially given most of that money came not from individual enterprise but FDI) and the greed and individualism it brought be balanced against each other fairly and justly?

Many Thanks,
Charles O’Sullivan

X-Men: First Class

Marvel has always irked me somewhat as a comic book imprint. Focusing largely on allegories such as segregation or simple teenage angst, its ability to offer continually inventive character evolutions has left me cold. Bar a few standout characters, I’ve never warmed to the overall style of storytelling they continually resort to. Be that as it may, I was a fan of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men feature installments, the third never quite hitting the mark. Matthew Vaughn’s work on both “Layer Cake” and “Stardust” was equally as impressive, leading me to assume I would enjoy the amalgamation of the two.

Sadly this prequel at best offered a slight variant of “Kick Ass”, which was at least bordering on the median.

Taking place in Argentina, England, Las Vegas, Miami, New York and a litany of other locations, there was no expense spared as regards filming locations but never story. The equally bright and charismatic Michael Fassbender and James Macevoy portray Magneto and Professor Xavier respectively, navigating their new found powers and 1960’s geo-politics with the gusto of “Weekend at Bernie’s”. The same overwrought adolescent hormones that remind me of Stan Lee ex machina fill out the boundaries of the plot with a spattering of auxiliary characters reduced to muteness or general ineffectiveness for good measure.

Kevin Bacon as the piece’s villain Sebastian Shaw does his best to act menacing, yet unfortunately only manages to channel Nicholas Cage in of his more “likable” roles. Where “Kick Ass” devolved into a moral vacuum, “First Class” suffers from characters being too mechanical, fulfilling subplots and character arcs in order to bring the picture in line with those that chronologically come after it. Thus we learn both little about them and are also subjected to a cavalcade of fanboy easter eggs, setting up story-lines many of us have already engaged with.

Plot points such as personal acceptance (in the form of Mystique and Beast) or backgrounds easily explained (Xavier and Magneto) are plodded through in such leaden detail for what is now the fourth time, it’s a mystery why such things even had to be revisited.

A personal bone of contention is the character of Emma Frost, begging the question if the writers even read the biography of the character. Supremely intelligent, beautiful and merciless, the casting of January Jones was a mere capitalization on her role within “Mad Men”. What could have been and was already created was a strong, capable female lead, reduced by Vaughn into a rather dull, scantily clad anatomy lesson. Evidently the choice was made to give this strong female role to Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), but why only one such role was provided for within the script I’m not sure.

Lacking in personality or a coherent voice, in its two hour running time “X-Men: First Class” never managed to shine as brightly as it could have. Perhaps they should have asked McCoy to act as script doctor on an otherwise interesting concept; he always conveniently had a way out of every other problem.

Political Ideologies in Assessing the Mass Media

Political ideologies are a prevailing feature of 20th century thought, not least the battle between the left and right, the free market and the centrally controlled socialist utopia. Hans Magnus Enzensberger is perhaps the best example of this, transforming and supposedly adapting the socialist rhetoric into one which he believes can fit the model of the mass media within the society. Unfortunately, the result is one full of glaring ironies and ignorant of the reality, transforming the subjective into an objective fallacy. By viewing this transforming social construct through such a narrow guise, he perhaps did it its greatest disservice, one that also highlights the implicit problems held within Marxism as a doctrine, along with the lack of realism within critical thought. By focusing on the singularity of the enslavement/manipulation model, Enzensberger himself became a victim of ideological dogma. This is especially prevalent when considering his application of hegemony to the mass media and the manipulation of the lower class consciousness and inevitably allows further examination of bias within the area as a whole.

Mass Media

2 Days in Paris


Threading on familiar ground with her second writer/director credit, Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris” is just reminiscent enough of the Richard Linklater “Sunrise/Sunset” series whilst avoiding the pitfalls of rehashed material.

35 year old eccentric couple Marion (Deply) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) pass through Paris after a decidedly unromantic trip to Venice. Marion must pick up her cat from her mother yet feels compelled to stay, if only for 48 hours, to show her paramour just what it is he missed on her last trip here. Unfortunately introducing him to her ex-lovers turned friends forces them both to re-examine how well they know each other and also how comfortable they are with themselves.

Inevitably the comparisons are easily raised to Deply’s previous cinematography however for one to spend any real length of time actually examining the piece, it becomes an entirely different creature to what went before. Yes we still see a young couple in a foreign destination but gone is the verbose metaphysical ramblings of Céline, replaced by the direct and plainly written dialogue of the script. Neither is this merely a relationship based on intellectual attraction and longing, instead one real in its observations and witty sparring. A gross overstatement to say that the optimism of Linklater’s films are gone here, merely tempered by reality.

Such a plainness to the writing can often be a mixed blessing, lending it a vitality and vigour yet also rendering some of their more political and sociological conversations crass in how they would appease an audience of a liberal mindset. As I decided to watch the film without subtitles (to better relate to Jack’s cultural and linguistic isolation), the simplicity of both languages enables most to grasp some degree of understanding, just enough to understand what’s going on but still short of being fully included. More so, it is also what is not said, what is left to either a mute scene with attached voiceover that this simplicity comes across best. For instance the concluding scenes are told only by Marion, explaining not only what happened but also how she is the way she is.
Many will also argue that the story can often be poorly paced in terms of the consistency of story but Deply is merely allowing a deeper observation of the characters through each specific instance, even if we do not automatically know it.

That very idea could not have worked if not for Deply and Goldberg’s talent in portraying the characters. Marion, the lackadaisical yet impulsive photographer and Jack the hypochondriacal, hipster-tattooed interior decorator could otherwise be grating in the constantly neurotic states, especially with other actors in the role. Thankfully both slip rather seamlessly into character, adding a vulnerability that’s becoming of two otherwise wannabes. Juggling humour and the idea of changing due to circumstances and even how in some ways we never change at all, is not an easy task but one they handle admirably. It almost seems spontaneous; lived, rather than acted.

Deeply funny and inevitably scary in how it forces us to view the distance between us and our partners, “2 Days in Paris” is far smarter than it ever lets on.

The Kids Are Alright


Positioning itself simply as any other family dramedy, Lisa Cholodenko’s third significant directorial outing goes to great lengths to create a self-superior attitude in order to mask its deeply neurotic and insecure base.

Married lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore), a failed architect turned landscape gardener and Nic (Annette Bening), an obstetrician have each conceived a child through the same anonymous sperm donor. With their opposing views on parenting and life, their relationship has begun to run more on routine than real communication. Their youngest child Laser (Josh Hutcherson), eager to find his birth father he enlists his 18 year old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) in doing so. Contacting the sperm bank, they’re able to meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a man who may not meet the typical requirements of a father but who interests them all the same.
Forming a close bond with Jules and the children, Nic becomes threatened, a fact that only escalates matters further.

Needless liberalism flows almost as freely as the self-styled intellectual prose. A child called laser, organic growing sperm-donor and weighted references to wine, food and even philosophy; the eye rolling it induced made me wonder if my pupils would ever descend again. Perhaps its done to persuade us that something new is actually being offered when in fact the plot never breaks out of laboured convention and cliche.

The great irony is that despite a lesbian writer/director helming the project, the insults towards lesbians and gay people in general. That a lesbian couple would watch gay porn, that one of them would sleep with a man out of loneliness, that they would assume one of their children is gay reeks of narrow-mindedness. If the film didn’t take itself so seriously, blissfully ignorant to how pompous it all sounds, it could almost double as good satire. One outburst by Bening leans towards self-aware but even that is done with such hurt, it fails to grasp how silly it all is.

As for the overall quality of acting, Moore illustrates how to abandon all the skills one has picked up through a diverse and successful career, resorting to such painfully generic lengths. Similarly Bening, of whom I’ve always had a great admiration, never succeeds in being more than average, except from one silent dinner table scene when she disengages her auto-pilot. Ruffalo exudes a skittishness not uncommon of a user in need of his next hit. Perhaps one of the only genuinely natural performances is offered by Yaya DeCosta, demonstrating an ability I wouldn’t have associated with a former aspiring model.

Indulgent, poorly written and low point for several highly capable actors’ careers, there’s really nothing I can say to offer this piece any real praise.

The King’s Speech


As awards season moves closer and closer to nominations and the inevitable big events that we both deride and celebrate in equal measure, it falls on the studio to push the last of the hopefuls before the deadline approaches, hoping that they might grasp a nomination of some sort. This drive to get nominations can indeed be called cynical but simply look at the atrocious quality of movies capable of even being considered simply because they ticked the right boxes. I simply can’t stress it enough.

Yet from this category of “Oscar fodder” this year we get “The King’s Speech”, which in spite of its apparent eagerness to please, is generally a smart and insightful story.

Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) has a long time suffered from an uncontrollable stammer, a fact that has offered a huge source of both satisfaction and annoyance to his father King George V. After failing to make it through a speech at the Empire Exhibition, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) suggest one final attempt at help; the controversial Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who believes there is something altogether emotional rather than mechanical at fault. With the death of the king, potential abdication of brother Edward (Guy Pearce) and even the outbreak of war, “Bertie” is thrust into the public in a role he never thought himself capable of performing, the fate of the nation reliant on his ability to orate.

Beautifully shot and styled, it is the typical period piece with the quintessential upper-class britishness intact that most reviewers would lap up without a moments thought. David Seidler’s script however has a vitality capable of transcending the potential stuffiness that other similar projects tend to become weighed down by as they progress. The sharp, acerbic and self-deprecating sense of british comedy and identity treads the line of becoming cliché yet refuses to give in.
One of the few faults if any, is the area of time that requires coverage within the story in the name of historical accuracy. Yes I have in the past argued for fact rather than complete dramatizations that bastardize history but the passage of time and truthful representation of the same means that the picture can appear to drag. Having recently watched “Mesrine” which boils down to little more than structured anecdotal vignettes but covering an even greater period of time, there must be a way to streamline it without affecting pacing.
Similarly, this issue of scale and chronology takes time from the characters, meaning the secondary cast suffers greatly and even Firth can often seem too passive a lead, too unsure of himself to maintain an audience’s interest indefinitely.

Carter essentially plays the role for which she was largely raised, the dotty English gentry of one sort of another. Though that is not to belittle her contribution, her ability to emote with her personal physicality has grown immensely, adding a new dimension to a role we’ve otherwise seen her play many times before. For a role relegated outside of the two main subjects, the princess who would be queen is never as rudimentary as the remaining secondary cast.
Timothy Spall as Churchill and Pearce epitomize this frailty within the script; two characters who despite their key roles within the historical context and the possibility they represent are reduced to tools by which the role of Bertie is furthered, the latter explaining in part how he became the man we are first introduced to.
As Lionel and the King are the main focuses of the piece it would stand to reason that they receive the most development and key moments, all of which are beautifully evoked by Rush and Firth respectively, yet similar to how historical points of reference are presented rather quickly for the sake of exigency and flow, one or two moments of character development appear rushed in how they are explored, the case in point being a important scene for Lionel within the Abbey.

Undoubtedly, this is not a perfect picture and it may add little to the cultural conversation as a whole but it’s certainly not just another tired vehicle for statuettes.

Tron: Legacy

Not a day goes by without some news of a reinvented franchise or another addition to an already existing mythos, yet when Disney announced that they would be producing a follow-up to the (for its time) technologically advanced Tron, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Even putting myself in the mindset of one who would have originally seen and been amazed by the first’s production value was impossible, being that I grew up in an age where CGI gradually became the norm, if not a crutch for poor storytelling.
In a lot of ways I knew never to expect too much, as the story was always in some way ancillary to everything else going on with the original and in most ways, it would not stray too far from its namesake.

Both positively and negatively my expectations were met and often exceed in this Joseph Kosinski feature debut.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), enigmatic CEO of Encom and software engineer disappears not long after promising to revolutionize the world. 20 years later, a mysterious page received by Flynn’s former partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) pushes young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) to investigate his father’s former arcade. Quickly drawn into The Grid and saved by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and a now aged Flynn, Sam must battle Clu, a program identical to Sam’s father who believes perfection is complete uniformity.

Story has been rather ancillary to the original Tron and this new outing is essentially no different. Character development is plotted but not necessarily well executed, along with a convoluted allusion to open-sourced software yet in comparison to “Avatar” which takes itself far too seriously considering the source material to back it up, Legacy knows not to take itself too seriously or severely outstay its welcome.
A huge benefit comes with Disney largely ignoring the plot of the original, meaning it can establish itself without complication, with “Avatar” the weighted message and constant abuse of the same was distracting and taken far too seriously for its own good.

Kosinski manages to create such a purposeful picture, each scene crisp and effective in presentation. The world he creates and inhabits with such power despite it’s hugely alien elements is so believable, so well crafted, visually it is not outside the realms of possibility. His apparent undergrad in architecture is evident in every building, every line. Unfortunately, despite his background in video-games and CGI, the facial animation for Clu and young Flynn may look some what genuine, but are distractingly obvious. Benjamin Button he is not.

Acting like the story is often spotty at best, Hedlund begins the movie with a degree of discomfort it’s palpable though he does grow into the role somewhat as it progresses. Bridges comes with his usual swagger in tact yet often he has issues between uttering the lines with irony and quickly switching to a more serious approach, disjointed in a lot of ways. Wilde’s Quorra is more than capable in the role of ingenue, controlling her usual hyper-sexuality, forming a more concrete character out of the usual stock variety. A cameo by Michael Sheen goes beyond even the surface campness of Richard Frost that he achieved earlier, entertaining but rather empty.

Overall, despite the failings of the plot, there is plenty here to build upon for another installment in a way that was simply not there in its nearest comparative. Light, entertaining and enough mythos to maintain our interest in the long term, “Tron: Legacy” often has squandered potential but at least it has it to begin with.