Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Real Reason Hollywood Stars Make the Big Bucks

Your faithful correspondent has a pet theory about Hollywood actors and their extra-ordinary levels of remuneration. An Spailpín doesn’t think that they pull down the big dollars because of the acting they do for the films’ two hour duration.

They pull down the big money for the acting they do afterwards, in keeping a straight face when promoting a film that they know, as surely as anyone can have knowledge of anything in this crazy, mixed-up world, that the film they’ve just made is a complete and utter pig.

There are two films in An Spailpín’s mind particularly at the moment; One Day, a romantic comedy starring Anne Hathaway and someone else, and Cowboys and Aliens, a science fiction actioner starring Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde.

There are some people who will like these movies, to whom the pictures will speak as works of art. An Spailpín’s brother Mayoman, Willie Joe, got rather a blast out of Cowboys and Aliens. But generally speaking, the movie industry will remember these two films as turkeys.

Everybody knows it. In modern cinema, there are no word of mouth hits anymore. A movie sinks or swims immediately it comes out. It may become a beloved DVD hit a year later, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, if a picture doesn’t open everyone concerned with it has a smell rising from them because of that, a smell that can only be cleared by a bone-fide box office smash.

Anne Hathaway knows that the picture is a bomb by the time the movie is released. Chances are she's known for months. But she’s still got to do her media, as she is the only star connected with One Day. She is the only person with whom interviewers wish to speak. What would Ryan Tubridy do for twenty minutes’ of Hollywood glamour on the Late Late Show this Friday night, instead of the scrapings of the RTÉ canteen, followed by a panel discussion featuring Terry Prone, Eddie Hobbs and Jason Byrne?

So Anne Hathaway does her interviews and smiles her million dollar smile and talks about Yorkshire and how much the book moved her and how hard it is to find good females roles in Hollywood and yes, she loves Kate Middleton and the wedding did remind her of the Princess Diaries and all the while she’s thinking: my God, will I ever have a hit movie to myself? Or will I be on the Hallmark channel for the rest of my days, playing alcoholic mothers who sell their daughters for crates of gin?

Harrison Ford hasn’t had a hit since Air Force One. The last Indiana Jones movie doesn’t count, because nobody can think of it without becoming incredibly sad. Jon Farveau, the director of Cowboys and Aliens, has the consolation of the guaranteed money of the Iron Man franchise (provided nobody has a hundredth-monkey-moment about these interminable Marvel comic movies), while Daniel Craig has the matchless consolation of knowing that, whatever happens to him in his future career he cannot possibly make as bad a call as Clive Owen already has.

While Olivia Wilde thinks: Tron bombed and this bombed. I have three, maybe four more movies left until I’m on the Hallmark channel for the rest of my days, playing drug-addicted mothers who sell their sons for crates of Acapulco Gold, the notorious bad-ass weed. Oh God, oh God, oh God.

But they can never voice that. Instead it’s all about how great it was to work with Harrison Ford, how much she learned from Hugh Laurie on House, and how she really got to explore what her character went through and developed as a person when Zolbat the alien wrapped his scaly tentacle around her milky-white neck, before Daniel Craig chopped it off (the tentacle now, not the neck).

And people say Hollywood actors and actresses are over-paid? Reader, they don’t get paid half enough for keeping a straight face through all this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mayo on Top of the World After Nine Point Defeat

Kerry 1-20
Mayo 1-11

There’s only one way to win a game but it seems like there are a thousand and one ways to lose one. But as the shutter comes down on another Mayo summer, everyone with an interest should realise what a fantastic summer it’s been.

Even at the end. Nine points is a whacking, but it’s also a fair result. Mayo did nothing wrong, really, yesterday. They executed their game plan. The misfortunate thing about it was, so did Kerry.

Kerry found their feet after about twenty minutes and the longer the game went on the easier it became for them. They had an answer for everything Mayo threw at them, and Mayo threw them their all. It’s just that Mayo’s all wasn’t good enough.

Kerry is a great football county and they are currently blessed with exceptional players and an exceptional manager. People talk about weaknesses in the current team; we’ll see just how vulnerable they are come the third Sunday. Kerry will start favourites in An Spailpín’s book.

So where does the defeat leave Mayo? It leaves Mayo on top of the world.

Under the current Championship setup, a good Championship for Mayo is one where Mayo win their quarter-final. Not making a quarter-final is the only bad year for Mayo. Everything that happens besides winning that quarter-final is a bonus. Staying in Division 1 – presuming there still is a Division 1 – is a bonus. Winning Connacht is a bonus.

Mayo achieved their primary goal of winning a quarter-final this year, and the bonus goals of staying in Division 1, winning Connacht and inflicting a terrible, searing defeat on Cork, the All-Ireland Champions. That makes for a hell of a year in the ledger. Any other judgment is nonsense.

And not only that. This year has been marvellous for reminding the supporters of Mayo football – which means everyone in the county – of what matters. That getting beaten early is not in fact better than losing in the Final. That what counts is surviving for as long as you can, with still being alive at five o’clock on the third Sunday the greatest achievement of all.

And this year has been marvellous for reminding the supporters of Mayo football that we are legion, we are proud and we are not junk bond status.

Willie Joe, Mayo football’s Baptist and the man who runs the superlative Mayo GAA Blog, called his people to Bowe’s on Fleet Street on Saturday night. Reader, they came in their droves.

People that had never met before, from the north, south, east and west of the third largest county in Ireland, came together to celebrate the unique colours and heroic feats of Mayo football, looking back through the years and forward into the 21st Century. It was an extraordinary night, and one that will be remembered for years by those that were there.

Because that night spoke about Mayo, who we are and why we are. Mayo people turned up in droves on Saturday night because we’re not fools; we knew the likelihood of a big night in September was unlikely. But we wanted to celebrate the team and the people and the county in the here and now, because it is a team worth celebrating, we are a people worth celebrating and Mayo a county worth celebrating.

Naysayers will sneer about nine point hammerings and poor Mayo and all this other old blather but the fools, the fools, the fools – even last night, as the remains of another Championship returned across the Shannon the undertakers will have heard signs of life from the back of the hearse. Signs of life that will have grown louder and louder as they went deeper and deeper in the West until, returned among the yew trees and the true-hearted boys, in the gloaming and the heather, Mayo football sloughs off the defeat, rises once more from its bier and turn its head towards the FBD League and the 2012 Campaign.

There will always be a Mayo. Now and forever. Up Mayo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seventy Summer Minutes

If a week is a long time in politics, seventy minutes is a long time in the All-Ireland Championship.

Because the Championship is a knockout and not a league competition, it’s a mistake to assess form the way you can assess form a league. In a knockout Championship, there is no form. There really isn’t.

Everybody knows now that Tyrone have got old. But very few knew it before the ball was thrown in on Sunday. Darragh Ó Sé told us in the Irish Times how he knew that Tyrone were shot because Kerry beat Roscommon in a challenge game. He didn’t tell us before the game though, when it might have been some use.

Mayo have been written off all season, but there is no basis for that, other than history and piseoga. To correctly analyse Mayo’s form, to find hints of what was happening, would take deeper study than a national journalist has time for. And he or she could still miss it.

At half-time in the Galway game the signs weren’t good. They weren’t. And then Mayo beat Galway and then Mayo beat Roscommon and by golly, Mayo went and beat Cork. But that’s not a smooth line of progression. That’s a series of evolutionary jumps.

Have Mayo jumped higher than their actual ability, and are now in for a fall? Or have Kerry flattered to deceive, just Tyrone did? Reader, your Spailpín doesn’t know. But I am eager to find out.

There are no teams named at time of writing, but it doesn’t take too much insight to see the battle ground. Midfield and breaks for both teams. Advantage Kerry upfront, advantage Mayo – maybe – in the backs.

There is no reason for Mayo to quake before the green and gold. Footballers are like mayflies – their lives are brief. 2006 is five years ago. It might as well be a lifetime.

There is a theory abroad that Mayo have nothing to lose in this game. It’s certainly true that all the pressure to deliver is on the Kingdom. If Mayo get beat, what harm? It’s been a better summer than any Mayo person could have hoped for when it looked like Tommy Lyons was going to be given the keys to the car back in October.

But Kerry. Kerry can’t lose a semi-final to Mayo. Jack O’Connor, genius that he is, has patched and minded and cajoled and coaxed his team but he has to wonder, as they all have to wonder, if time will claim them just as it claimed Tyrone.

Mayo are young and hungry with nothing to fear. Kerry are old and battle-hardened and have the best forwards in the country, but sometimes it’s Waterloo. It just can’t go on forever.

Does anyone remember Francie Bellew’s last game in Croke Park? Bellew was the full back of his generation. He was feared, which is what you want from someone back there. He was never fast, but he was able to, ahem, compensate.

And then Armagh played Wexford when Mattie Forde was in his pomp. Bellew called on his powers, but they didn’t answer. He was gone, and Forde buried him. It was a sad end, but then, all endings are sad. Very few ride away into the sunset, as Darragh Ó Sé himself did.

Darragh remarked in the Times last week that the presence of young lads in the team made him stay longer than he wanted to, because he wanted to pick up a few more medals and knew the young lads could carry him. Does the fact he has retired now mean his medal appetite is sated? Or is there something else he’d like to tell us next week, when it’s all over?

Seventy minutes isn’t very long, but it’s a short time to grow old in this current wet summer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Smiling Public Man: Gay Byrne and the Presidency

Gay Byrne’s withdrawal from the Presidential race is disappointing. Vincent Browne was correct in his analysis in the Irish Times on Wednesday – although a vulnerable candidate in an election, Byrne would have made a fine President.

It all boils down to what it is the President can do. As remarked last week, all this blather about Presidents for the people and re-inventing the office is just that – blather. The President’s role is clearly defined in the constitution and woe betide any President who veers from that path.

A President simply needs to be a safe pair of hands to oversee the operation of Government. Once a President appears to interfere in the operation of Government, the house comes crashing down – vide Paddy Hillery in 1982, and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1977, may God be good to them both.

Byrne may believe Romano Prodi to be a “fat slug” – an insult that An Spailpín is baffled by not hearing about during the first Lisbon referendum – but he would be enough of a pro to keep that opinion under his topper for the duration of his Presidency.

Think of all the people Gay Byrne interviewed down the years – An Spailpín is willing to beat that he couldn’t stand half of them. He might think Newbridge silver is junk but as long as they keep sending the cheques he’ll keep rolling his r’s in the ad copy.

Byrne could have been the definition of Yeats’ smiling public man as President. Because there is a want in the Irish psyche to have someone to mind us, and it’s only that strange want in the Irish mind that explains why we suddenly place such store in the office of President.

It seems that the public perception of the President now exists outside of constitution definition – how many people can name the Council of State, for instance? – but in another part of the Irish experience; the insecure, needy part that always needs a reason to feel good about ourselves.

The needy part that always scans the British papers on the Monday after a Six Nations weekend to ensure that we’ve got the pat on the head we feel we deserve. Ninety years on from independence, we still need the nod from the Big House.

And that’s what the President does in the eyes of the people. Makes us feel good about our selves. Marys McAleese and Robinson did just that, the former though her human empathy and diplomatic gifts, the latter through expert spin.

That’s why David Norris was so popular, until it transpired he was the only man in Ireland who had learned nothing from twenty years of child abuse scandals. As a political activist pointed out to your correspondent recently, Norris wasn’t favourite despite his being gay; he was favourite because of it.

Electing a gay President would have been another kick in the teeth for the old order, about whom the modern nation feels such intense betrayal. But in Norris’ absence, Gay Byrne would have been the next best thing. Instead of a radical statement of intent, a return to a lovely old blankie of childhood.

The left wing commentariat are trying to portray Byrne as right wing, but his own description of himself as apolitical is the most accurate. Gay Byrne is a cypher in whom the nation sees what it wants to see. Gay’s great gift as a broadcaster and public figure was his ability to sublimate his own ego to let that happen, and never let actual Gay peep through. He was the smiling public man in excelsis.

And perhaps it’s because of that unwillingness to be seen in full scrutiny that Byrne has stepped down. There was a two part documentary about Byrne some years ago on TV that showed us precisely nothing about that man, which is no doubt exactly how he wanted it. After all these years, why lose it all now? There is no second Gaybo for Russell Murphy to burn.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The People? What Have They Got to Do with It?

David Norris yesterday remarked in his concession speech that “the presidency of Ireland belongs to the people and not any party or sectional interest.” That single sentence explains exactly why he was unelectable in the first place. The poor man has no idea how this country is governed. None at all.

If Oireachas na hÉireann were compared to the human body, the Presidency would be the appendix. It performs no function but it can, on very rare occasions, go septic and kill you. As nearly happened with poor Cearrbhall Ó Dálaigh.

The Presidency is a left-over office, just as the appendix is a left-over organ. It’s the office that took over from the Governor-Generalship of the Irish Free State, which itself took over from the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland. It doesn’t do anything. It’s an artifact. A relic. A ruin.

The notion that the office does do something is nonsense and propaganda. The Constitutional role of the Presidency hasn’t changed one little bit since Mary Robinson’s election in 1990, irrespective of the beliefs of her church. It’s locked in, nailed down, there in black and white.

The nomination process is proof positive of this. David Norris couldn’t have been more wrong in saying that the presidency belongs to the people and not any party or sectional interest. It is precisely the other way around.

This fact is clearly understood by Mary Davis and Seán Gallagher, the independents who got nominated because they saw what the system is and then worked it to easily secure their own nominations as independent – or quasi-independent – candidates. That’s what people who live in the real world do.

David Norris, for all his fine qualities, does not live in this real world. If Norris has a political antecedent in recent times, it’s George Lee. Another idealist who ignored the real world and got a dirty land when it bit him on the ankle.

The fact that Norris was so popular in the polls shows the distance that exists between Irish political structures and the nation’s understanding of them. Norris’ candidacy was hailed because he was a maverick; a maverick in the Phoenix Park means political crises for breakfast, dinner and tea. It can’t, can’t work.

So how do people have the impression that it could work? Does the nation understand how we’re governed at all?

We the People, the citizens’ assembly, looked at the political process and the best they could come up with was gender quotas – on a not-that-terribly-overwhelming 51-49 majority. Gender quotas. Dear God in Heaven. Would the nation not be much better off looking at the mechanism of government, enhancing what works and stopping what doesn’t? Would that be so hard?

In the meantime, the Presidential race rolls on without David Norris. Paddy Power’s 5/1 about Mary Davis looks very tempting. She got her nomination with ease, seems to have a war chest and most importantly of all, Mary Davis seems the least objectionable of the candidates currently in the field. In Ireland, the people who, in Pearse’s words, are august despite their chains vote for the person whom we despise the least. Put a shot of sodium pentathol in the next pint there Joe. I’m not sure I can take much more of this.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Down Goes O'Leary: How Aidan O'Shea Won the Day for the County Mayo

When he was learning about the great game of Gaelic football at his father’s knee, a friend of the blog was regularly asked what was the turning point. It was his father’s way of getting the gasúr to think about the game, and to realise that small events can have momentous consequences. Gaelic football’s butterfly effect, if you like.

Not every game has a turning point, of course. But yesterday there was a huge one, when an emperor was dethroned and a foundation stone set for a new world order.

Mayo were offered at 18/1 in running early in the first half of the game on Sunday. Cork had been gifted a sweet start, the last thing Mayo could afford them, and they were humming. Mayo were 1-4 to 0-1 down and in big trouble.

Noel O’Leary, a player whose praises your faithful correspondent will always sing, was in possession under the Cusack Stand around the 45 metre line and was thinking about where to launch it when he got a shock. The sort of shock you get when six feet five of Breaffy bone and muscle comes barreling into you when you’re not expecting it.

Aidan O’Shea, for it was he, put O’Leary on the deck. As tough an hombre as has pulled on a jersey found himself stretched, whacked, done.

O’Shea got a yellow card for the challenge, which may have been harsh, and may not have been. It’s hard to believe O’Leary considered the challenge anything other than fair; God knows he’s delivered plenty of them himself.

But the game was never the same again. O’Shea putting down O’Leary was the turning point.

O’Shea’s challenge on O’Leary was a primal act of defiance. You may beat us but you will not defeat us. We are not here to be bullied. We are not here to make up numbers. We shall fight you ball for ball and if we lose, we lose on our feet, not on our knees.

There’s more to it than that of course. A lot of things happen in a game of Gaelic football. But An Spailpín will believe until the day he’s called that Aidan O’Shea’s challenge on Noel O’Leary changed the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Of course, Cork were hampered by their injuries. No team can lose so many of its front-line players and still perform at its optimum. They were worthy Champions and Conor Counihan was gracious in defeat, which can’t have been easy. This defeat is very, very painful for Cork football and, with the bizarre way the inter-county calendar is currently fixed, it will be a long time until they can assemble again to deal with their pain.

While for Mayo, and perhaps for the entire football base of Connacht, it was a moment of justification. Not least in light of what passes for football analysis currently.

Whatever happens now, Mayo are playing with house money. Kerry are the best team in Ireland, and Jack O’Connor doesn’t miss much on the line. Cork were complacent on Sunday, but Kerry know the breed of the O’Shea boys, and they will be ready. It’s also to be hoped that Darran O’Sullivan can play in three weeks – his presence will make Mayo’s task all the harder, but his talents grace the game, and the game is bigger than any or all of us. Can’t wait.