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Elephant & Castle: A Restaurant Review

Yesterday I enjoyed… okay let’s start that again. Yesterday I _endured_ a lunchtime meal at Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar. It seemed like a reasonably popular, hip joint upon first appearances, and I had heard good things on the grapevine, which is normally a reliable barometer for good food and good service. But this time it was off. Way off.
After ordering a beefburger with cheddar and fries not long after 1pm (a simple choice, yes, but I wasn’t in the mood for anything more complicated) I was left waiting somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes for the meal, if you can believe that. (My timing’s a little iffy there since I didn’t exactly set my stop watch, if you know what I mean.) There was no obvious reason for such a delay. Sure it was the lunchtime rush, but the restaurant was by no means full, and others who had been seated after me were being served in half the time. As the minutes ticked by, and my stoicism turned rapidly into passive-agressive bitching, I decided to decline having the dessert.
Eventually the meal arrived, without an apology. I mentally scratched the tip from the bill. Then I began to eat, tucking in to one of the most ordinary meals I’ve had the displeasure to experience in recent memory. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say I’d had more filling, even tastier food in the past at a fast food joint. To top it off, the burger — which I had ordered well done, but was obviously medium rare — wasn’t as much juicy as it was greasy; the mark of a cook who’s not really bothered.
The only redeeming feature of the meal that I can put my finger on was the delicious apple juice which kept me going through the arduous half-hour wait for lunch. That the juice — like eating a fresh apple without the chewing part, it was _that_ good — is made by an independent company (Llewelyn’s, at a farm in Lusk, north Co. Dublin; can’t seem to find any info online) and not prepared at the restaurant itself, is no surprise.
I think it’s safe to say that the staff of Elephant & Castle shouldn’t look forward to enjoying my custom ever again.

Friday Five #56

*1. If your life were a movie, what would the title be?*
I was thinking _It’s Not Easy Being Me: The M. Ellis Conroy Story_. But on second thoughts, that’s a bit too movie-of-the-week-ish, dontcha think?
Okay, howsabout _Being MacDara Conroy_? Too derivative, eh?
Oh well. Any suggestions are welcome. (Just don’t expect a production credit, ‘kay?)
*2. What songs would be on the soundtrack?*
This is a tough one. It would have to be at least a double CD, maybe even a box set. As such, to write out a full track-listing here would be far too time consuming. But suffice to say that no soundtrack of my life as a movie could go without those 80’s classics Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins rocks my socks), Maneater (gotsta have some Hall & Oates), Waiting For a Star to Fall (love that sax solo!), and of course, My Name is Luka (I live on the second floooooor!!). (Alternatively, I could just get a bunch of obscure underground rock bands to chip in some songs, with some incidental scoring by John Zorn to fill it out. The hipsters will love it, for sure.)
*3. Would it be a live-action film or animated? Why?*
I’m thinking live-action, but some stop-motion animation will be necessary to recreate my battle with that dastardly ED-209. You must remember that one — I ran down the stairs, it tripped trying to follow me, and I saved the world once again… What do you mean _that never happened_? Are you sure? That was _Robocop_? Oh.
*4. Casting: who would play you, members of your family, friends, etc?*
For the lucrative part of myself, I believe that not one, but _three_ actors would be necessary to convincingly essay my character throughout the various stages of my life: I’m thinking Philip Seymour Hoffman (early years), Jeff Bridges (middle years), and to cap it off, the great Gene Hackman. Meanwhile, all of my friends and family would be portrayed — in a tour-de-force, Oscar-worthy performance — by the incomperable Luis Guzman, utilising a variety of costumes, disguises and make-up effects. And John Malkovich will assume the role of my arch nemesis, Doctor Doom… wait, that wasn’t me either, was it? Darn.
*5. Describe the movie preview/trailer.*
The scene: a blank screen in almost total darkness, viewed from afar… a solitary figure, a male, enters the frame from the right, moving along the bottom of the screen, trailed by a spotlight as he walks… there is total silence apart from the echoing sound of his footsteps… the figure stops at the centre of the screen… a microphone appears before him… he taps it once, twice; the boom reverberates… he is carrying some papers; he lifts them up before the microphone, ruffles them in his hands, clears his throat…. he takes a deep breath…. and then…. the whole screen lights up to show the solitary figure on stage, dwarfed by the gigantic monochrome head-shot of me (yes, _me!_) on the screen behind him…. suddenly the camera crash-zooms in on the face of the solitary figure — it’s Gene Hackman, playing me! He gives a wry smile and says “Ladies and gentlemen, let the show begin”…
And that’s it. Don’t wanna give too much away, now; you know what trailers are like these days.
[http://fridayfive.org/]

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Spurred on by recent musings on the subject by Jason Kottke, and especially by Matt Haughey’s helpful walk-through essay, I am currently in the process of am now publishing my entire website (well, almost) through Movable Type.
That’s right. If you haven’t yet heard the news from the cool kids on the block, MT ain’t just for weblogs anymore. In fact, you don’t even need to keep a weblog as a reason to use it.
Pure genius. It’s so blindingly obvious, I deserve a smack for not realising this potential before now.

Electrical storm

It’s not often that I find myself directly beneath an electrical storm. But that’s where I was on Sunday evening, sitting reading in my room, when I heard the loudest clap of thunder I’ve ever experienced.

First a slowly building rumble, then a growl, and then all of a sudden SNAP! like a Christmas cracker. Believe me, it was loud.

It’s a real shame that I don’t as yet have any means of recording such events and sharing the audio with you, kind reader. Maybe in the future.

To Be and To Have

(or, _Two Films Recently Enjoyed_)
Though they appear to have gotten themselves somewhat of a reputation for being, for lack of a better term, _boring_, my own response to the two (very different) films I’ve had the opportunity to see at the IFC this week has been the exact opposite. I would not hesitate to say that both Être et Avoir and Dolls are two of the most exceptional films I’ve seen in quite some time.
Être et Avoir is a document of one year at a single-room elementary school in rural France. Now with that basic description out of the way, chuck away any preconceptions of what such a film might be. Because Être et Avoir is nothing short of brilliant. Lovingly crafted from hundreds of hours of footage by Nicolas Philibert, a filmmaker with an unmistakably human eye for detail, this is no Broomfield-esque expose of modern educational standards — it is rather a non-invasive, purely observational record of those early school days that we all wish we could remember that bit better.
If that sounds flimsy, well I suppose it is in a way, however Être et Avoir is much greater than the sum of its parts. So saying ‘it’s a film about kids at school’ doesn’t do it any justice, even though that’s exactly what it is. Frankly, there’s something really charming in watching an hour and a half of kids just being kids. There is no necessity for any frills, like exposition or in-depth probing. We don’t need, for example, to personally identify with the cheeky Jojo to fall in love with his antics, or to study Monsieur Lopez’s lesson plans in order to respect him as a teacher and a role model for his charges. Just in observing the class, they convey all of this and more.
Maybe it’s the subtlety that has rubbed so many people the wrong way. The lingering shots of swaying trees, deserted roads and empty driveways, the moments where nothing in particular happens, and the act-less structure have been points of criticism for many, but these merely reflected how I myself would experience such moments and events, as if I had been there; rather than boring, I found the aforementioned, and in particular an opening scene of two pet turtles crawling across the classroom floor, truly mesmerising.
And don’t worry, if you’re French isn’t up to scratch, it’s subtitled _en Anglais_, as is Dolls, the latest masterpiece from Takeshi Kitano (or ‘Beat’ Takeshi, as he’s better known). Remaining behind the camera this time out, Kitano has written and directed a trio of tragic tales of eternal love, based on the traditions of _bunraku_ puppetry.
In the first (the film’s main thread, as it were) a young salaryman flees his expedient wedding to the company president’s daughter to be with the lover he had spurned, when he learns of her attempted suicide and subsequent mental breakdown. They run away together, and become the ‘bound beggars’, traversing the countryside by foot through the changing seasons, searching for something… maybe what has been lost, maybe nothing at all…
In the second, and old Yakuza boss recalls a time in his youth, when he used to meet his love at the same park bench every Saturday afternoon. He remembers leaving her to find a new life, make a success of himself. And he remembers her declaring that she will wait for him, every week at the same spot, until he returns. Something inside urges him to revisit this place, to fill a void in his heart, to regain the happiness once lost…
The third and final tale concerns the meeting of a reclusive pop star — physically disfigued in a car accident and emotionally scarred by its consequences — and one of her most loyal fans, who has gone to extraordinary lengths to be close to his idol…
Dolls is steeped in a culture and tradition that is still very alien to the western world, much more so than Kitano’s more recent work, and as a result is not as immediately accessible as the likes of Hana-Bi or Kikujiro. The prevaling realism of those films gives way to a more loose version of reality here, an abstraction writ large in the boldest and brightest of colours — their boldness contrasting with Joe Hisaishi‘s charmingly appropriate, though a little unmemorable, score (not a patch on his music for Kikujiro). Kitano also takes artistic liberties with the laws of physics and perspective, just to telegraph for those who aren’t getting it. It is indeed a strange mixture at times, of grand gestures folded with small moments of great significance, switching sometimes unsettlingly from bold theatricality to harrowingly real, human emotion. The three stories appear on the surface merely ciphers, when they are really Trojan horses concealing the tragedies within; three stories with ostensibly very different but thematically woven tightly, like the red chord that ties the bound beggars together.
With this film it seems that Kitano shares with Philibert a love for shots that linger, maybe a little too much for the impatient to bear; maybe this is what has elicticed the complains of boredom that have been levelled against it. Personally, I found Dolls to be anything _but_ boring. In fact I was so touched by it — particularly during the coda, the tragic end of the rope — that I had to fight back the tears more than once. Yes, a big strong manly man like me, _crying at a movie!!_ Maybe this means that I’m a total emotional wimp who’s heart strings can be tugged just as easily as the strings of a _bunraku_ puppet. Or maybe I’m just not as cynical as I had thought, as cynical as the rest of you. Maybe there truly is such a thing as eternal love. And maybe the pain, the grief, the tragedy, maybe they all come with the territory.

A Cynical Business

Three weeks ago in The Midnight News, Hyatte had the following to say:
>A week or so ago, someone found me on AIM and asked if I loved wrestling anymore. I said no. He then asked if there was anything wrestling could do to make me love it anymore… I thought about it. I thought about how lame I feel whenever I tell someone I watch wrestling. It really is a white trash sort of business people… you know it and I know it.
   So I said no. I’m older now. I can’t see myself proclaiming my love for a business that has given me so little back like I used to do in ’98…
   …He asked again… was there ANYTHING that would make me love the business again?
   I had to admit… there wasn’t.
There’s a reason why I don’t write much about wrestling here, why I haven’t done so in a long time. And Hyatte hit the nail right on the head. As much as I’m loathe to admit it, the spark is gone.
I’ve been a wrestling fan since at least 1991. That’s over 12 years, people. I remember when wrestling meant WWF Superstars on a Friday night, WCW on a Saturday afternoon, and sometimes, even New Japan on a Thursday.
I remember when the Ultimate Warrior was locked in a coffin, _and_ when he was ‘possessed’ by Papa Shango. I remember when Earthquake squashed Damien, when Jake the Snake turned evil. I remember when the Undertaker was scary, would drop dirt onto his vanquished opponents, and Paul Bearer with the mysterious urn. I remember when Yokozuna crushed the immortal Hulk Hogan. I remember when Bret Hart became the WWF champion, and things started to change for the better. I remember Michaels and Ramon, _that_ ladder match. I remember Men on a Mission, though I’d rather forget.
I remember the fourth annual King of the Ring, where Steve Austin coined the phrases that changed the world, all in a single victory speech.
I remember when ECW invaded the WWF and took no prisoners.
I remember Jushin Liger wowing the New Japan crowds, laying waste with the Super Fisherman Buster.
I remember when Taka Michinoku and The Great Sasuke came to the WWF and tore the house down. Twice.
I remember when wrestling suddenly became cool, and it was finally safe to admit that yes, I am a wrestling fan.
And I remember when wrestling lost its cool again. I remember when ECW went bankrupt. I remember when Vince McMahon bought WCW and destroyed its legacy. I remember when the World Wrestling Federation became World Wrestling _Entertainment_.
I remember when the storylines served the _wrestling_, not the other way round.
>”Who DOES love wrestling these days?”
I don’t. I might _like_ it. I still watch it, week in week out. If only for those split seconds that make everything worthwhile, however few and far between…
Hyatte followed up his sentiments in the subsequent column:
>There was a time when I was very passionate about the busines (sic)… when I didn’t care about workrate or politics or when Benoit will get his push or any of that … all I cared about was what I watched on TV… the characters, the action, the laughs.
The laughs? The characters? The action? _Where did they go?_
Wrestling, for me, just isn’t fun any more. It’s all sub-Sunset Beach acting and politics. It’s all big juiced-up megastars obliterating their competition and giving the fans nothing to chew on. It’s racism and misogyny. It’s boredom and mediocrity.
And even as I sat there at the TV last weekend in awe of the amazing Ultimo Dragon, at the story he told with his moves and holds, his kicks and chops, his flips and dives, his sheer gracefulness and inventiveness in the ring, inside I knew that it wouldn’t last long, that five minutes later we’d be back to the same old same old and the Dragon would be on a plane back to Japan or Mexico, where people still appreciate _wrestling_. Where people _still love wrestling_.
But I still watch it, week in week out. Waiting, hoping for a change. After all wrestling is, as they say, ‘a cyclical business’. Though maybe they meant _cynical_.