Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Alas, I am only an O'Brien enthusiast rather than any kind of expert. All I know of the man is what I gleaned from Anthony Cronin's excellent biography of him, which, as far as I recall, does not have much, if anything at all, to say on his attitude to religion. I have always liked to think that he was an irreverent pagan like myself, but I can cite no evidence to support that notion.
Therefore, I fear I must decline your kind offer - on grounds of lack of time, lack of knowledge, and lack of interest in matters of religion.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
That concept is more fully elaborated on the page, and they point out that for many action heroes almost everything they do would be a crowning moment of awesome for anyone else; so, what counts as a 'crowning moment' for them really has to be something especially awesome.
Here, then, are a few of my favourite character-defining moments.....
William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) in A Knight's Tale
I watched Brian Helgeland's zestful historical romp again just recently, and it's irresistibly good fun. The acme of our young hero's career in the lists is, for me, the tournament where - to indulge his capricious lady love's distaste for macho competitiveness - he accedes to her injunction to try to lose, and simply sits passively on his horse as opponent after opponent charges down mercilessly upon him (eventually, of course, she relents and tells him to start trying to win again; but by that time he's been beaten to a pulp by dozens of lance blows). The climactic showdown with villainous Rufus Sewell, where Ledger goes into the final joust without his armour, is, I feel, just a tad too over-the-top; 'moments of awesomeness' are - sometimes - compromised if they become too exaggerated or unbelievable.
Britt (James Coburn) in The Magnificent Seven
Sometimes, the defining moment of 'awesome' will be encapsulated in a cool line as much as, or more than, in whatever remarkable piece of action prompted it. Particularly if it is a faux self-deprecating cool line. This film is, of course, chock full of awesome moments and awesome lines from the seven awesome heroes (well, five - Harry doesn't get to do much, and Chico is just irritating); if they were making it today, they'd probably call it The Awesome Seven. The pick of this awesome crop, however, is the moment when Coburn's character shoots a fleeing Mexican bandit off his horse - at extreme range, with a pistol. The over-excitable Chico crows, "That was amazing. The greatest shot I've ever seen!" Coburn replies calmly: "The worst! I was aiming for the horse." Perhaps the best faux self-deprecating line ever?
Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell (Tom Cruise) in Top Gun
The aerial combat sequences all rather blend into one, I find, and Mav's trademark "slam on the brakes and he'll fly right by" manoeuvre doesn't really seem like something that Iceman or any of his other rivals couldn't easily pull off. Flying inverted over the Russian MIG is pretty fancy, but.... well, I just never quite bought the idea that Maverick was that much better a flyer than everyone else. The thing that defined his character was what a relentless - and awesomely cool - lady-killer he was. Having the guts to perform the karaoke serenade of The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' to Kelly McGillis in the bar was pretty damned awesome (it softened her up for later seduction, even if it appeared to be a 'crash and burn' at the time). The culminating moment of cool, though - the moment that, when I first saw this in the cinema, had the women gasping in horror and frustration, and the men gaping in slack-jawed admiration - is when he's finally worn down her resistance and she is ready to fall into his arms (or, as some would more crudely put it, is 'gagging for it')..... and he makes her wait, deciding to go off for a shower first. Awesome.
Hans Grüber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard
Villains can be awesome, too. Alan Rickman, of course, steals every movie he's in; but this was the role that propelled him to stardom on the other side of Atlantic - quite an achievement to create a bad guy even more memorable than the impressively awesome action hero John McClane. He has such suavity, such élan; he dispenses evil so casually, with such world-weary ennui. His crowning moment is when he randomly adds to the list of his ransom demands the release of nine imprisoned members of an obscure Asian terrorist sect, a whimsical piece of misdirection which perplexes his henchmen; he explains, "I read about them in Time magazine."
Lucas Jackson (Paul Newman) in Cool Hand Luke
Almost everything that Luke does in this film is thoroughly awesome - from getting himself arrested for decapitating parking meters at the beginning to taunting the bosses with his impersonation of Strother Martin's supercilious Warden at the end. It is, of course, his outrageous bluffing in the poker game that wins him his nickname; but that seems like fairly routine awesomeness (and he only got away with it because most of the other players were profoundly dumb). It's his refusal to accept defeat in his boxing match with George Kennedy's Dragline that first wins him the respect of the other prisoners; that's always been the most inspiring moment of the film for me, but I'm not sure if it quite qualifies as 'awesome' within the TV Tropes conception because, well, he does get the crap knocked out of him. The egg-eating challenge is probably the best remembered scene in the film, but its awesomeness is undercut by its grossness (and its unbelievability: 50 boiled eggs in an hour just isn't humanly possible), and by doubts as to whether he's quite succeeded (it looks as though he's still got a mouthful of egg at the time-up, but he's somehow managed to get rid of it when they prise his jaw open to check a few seconds later). Luke's role is to impress and entertain his fellow convicts, and to inspire them with a renewed sense of their self-worth. The three key moments in achieving this are: energising the road gang into working faster, so that they will have some free time to kick back and relax at the end of the day (a feat which prompts Dragline to exclaim, "Oh Luke, you wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'."); while on the run, mocking up a magazine photo of himself on the town with a couple of glamorous female companions and sending it back to his friends inside; and still grinning contentedly, defiantly, even as he was being taken away to his death ("That Luke smile. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn't know it 'fore, they could tell right then that they weren't a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile."). I find it impossible to choose between those three. Who says you can only have one 'crowning moment of awesome'?
John Matrix (Arnold Scharzenegger) in Commando
For me, this is Big Arnie's finest achievement, a deliriously camp action movie that exuberantly sends up the whole genre, yet somehow still works as an action movie. It's hard to pick an ultimate moment of 'awesomeness' from a film littered with them: Arnie discovered at the beginning of the film casually carrying a tree - not just a log, but a whole tree-trunk - under his arm; finding his truck disabled by the bad guys, so setting it rolling down a steep slope and then hopping into it to drive it unpowered down the mountainside, nearly intercepting the fleeing villains' cars as they round each bend in the winding road; tearing a phonebooth off the wall with his bare hands to prevent the baddie inside from phoning in news of his escape; threatening the weasly henchman Sully with the line "I like you, Sully; you're a funny guy. That's why I'm going to kill you last.", and then - when dropping him off a cliff shortly afterwards - following up with "You remember how I said I was going to kill you last? I lied." (and then, returning to his helpmate, the seriously gorgeous Rae Dawn Chong, who asks, "What did you do with Sully?" "I let him go." Awesomely good kiss-off lines!). However, the topping-all-the-other-awesome-moments moment of awesomeness is undoubtedly the celebrated 'toolshed scene' - which follows fairly soon after one of the cinema's great 'tooling up' scenes, where Arnie prepares himself for the climactic battle by strapping and clipping on to his flak jacket a vast array of guns, knives, grenades, rocket-launchers and Claymore mines. Unfortunately, fairly early on in his storming of the chief baddie's villa, he gets nearly blown up by a mortar shell and drops all of this impressive armoury. Taking refuge in a toolshed in the grounds, he then has to fight his way out with whatever comes to hand - garden fork, axe, machete.... rotary saw blades used as lethal frisbees. Hilarious. Wildly over-the-top and unbelievable, yes, but marvellously appropriate to the lightly comic tone of the movie.
[The lovely Ms Chong has her own 'crowning moment of awesome' in this film when she rescues Arnie from the cops by shooting up the paddy-wagon he's in with a hand-held rocket launcher. Arnie, miraculously unscathed by the explosion and ensuing crash, is impressed by her resourcefulness. "Where did you learn to use one of those?" he queries. She replies, "I read the instructions."]
Friday, May 28, 2010
Sweating city moves outdoors:
Sidewalks come alive.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
[PS I discover, alas, that this pin-up of my adolescent years is not looking nearly so appealing these days: one of those awful warnings against the perils of too much plastic surgery.
PPS One of Flann O'Brien's punning Keats & Chapman vignettes featured a schoolboy who - through some convoluted prank involving honey and/or glue - had become inseparably attached to the academic gown worn by his irate headmaster. Chapman sagely observed of the incident: "I admire a boy who sticks to his principals."]
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
To conclude, here is the complete scene from Strangelove (well, unfortunately, I couldn't find the Miss Scott scene in isolation on YouTube, so this is a pretty big chunk of the movie, beginning with Slim Pickens briefing his bomber crew that they are about to go "toe-to-toe with the Russkies"):
Ah, Miss Scott. I'd happily spend 80 years down a mineshaft with someone like her.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
A class like that, you see, really needs to be held in a lecture theatre, with decent sound and projection equipment (and effective blackout curtains) and a nice big screen - and some space for the teacher to move around.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The War Works Hard
How magnificent the war is!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air
rolls stretchers to the wounded
from the eyes of mothers
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins...
Some are lifeless and glistening
others are pale and still throbbing...
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters
urges families to emigrate
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)...
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs
provides food for flies
adds pages to the history books
between killer and killed
teaches lovers to write letters
accustoms young women to waiting
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures
builds new houses
for the orphans
invigorates the coffin makers
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader's face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Nearing the end of his very superficial analysis of the summit, our author realised that he hadn't said anything about China (because none of the American commentators he'd been plagiarising had said anything about China), so he threw in a hasty paragraph about how China was so gosh-darned important these days that the summit would have been meaningless without its participation - and there had been anxiety beforehand as to whether comrade Hu might boycott it because of the tensions in Sino-US relations at the moment, so we should all be jolly grateful that he eventually decided not to. Really? Yes, the Chinese President saved the day by not behaving like a petulant child (for once).
Friday, May 14, 2010
Heat without humidity:
Blissful time of year.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)