Stephen Donnelly was back in the Dáil this week following his trip to Dubai with Civil Service starlet Robert Watt, who is worth every penny of his ever-expanding salary (€294,920 and counting) to grateful Opposition TDs looking to embarrass the Government.
When the Minister for Health and his secretary general were away doing important “economic leverage” stuff at a medical expo in the UAE, TDs back in the House complained about having to deal with Ministers of State yet again instead of the main man.
Among those objecting was Catherine Connolly, who said the Minister’s absence was not only “entirely unacceptable” but that the junior ministers in his department (Mary Butler, Frank Feighan and Anne Rabbitte) appeared to be “totally overworked”.
However on Wednesday, Butler was able to confirm to Michael McNamara that Donnelly had returned.
“That’s good to know,” said McNamara, unconvincingly.
“The audacity of Mr Watt and indeed the Minister to go out to Abu Dhabi or wherever looking at best practice out there. In this time of Covid, look, that speaks for itself about how out of touch they are,” fulminated Mattie McGrath.
And indeed, Stephen D was back in Dublin and no doubt feeling chipper after a week immersed in the Expo’s health and wellness week. Happy days. Not out of the woods yet but the Covid restrictions have been lifted.
Maybe now the Minister might be able to relax just a little in the Department of Health’s modern headquarters on Miesian Plaza on Baggot Street? It’s been crazy since he took over the job.
But wait. What’s this?
On Wednesday, an internal email went out to all staff headed “Shower Facilities Legionnaires Detection – Miesian Plaza”. It said that following consultation with the landlord and the OPW, scheduled testing of facilities on the lower ground floor “has detected the presence of Legionnaires bacteria in the shower areas”.
As a result, the shower facilities will remain closed to staff until all required measures have been completed “all the way back to the storage tanks”. A decision will be taken to reopen following further tests and corporate services will ensure staff are kept informed of progress.
“All other facilities, including drinking water remain unaffected.”
Legionnaires disease. You couldn’t make it up.
Yes sir, I can boogie
A flurry of activity between representatives of the Irish media and a senior embassy official narrowly averted a disco inferno between Ireland and Russia this week. Emails flew during a tense 25-minute exchange after Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, unleashed Earth, Wind and Fire on a Government-commissioned report for attempting to portray his country as a bogeyman and a threat to Irish security.
4.24pm: Dublin-based press attache Nikita Isakin sends media outlets a short comment by the ambassador on the recently published report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It includes the passage: “While the subject of the report is clearly an internal matter for Ireland, one cannot but note an attempt by the commission to substantiate its conclusions with a notion of a threat, allegedly posed by Russia to the security of Ireland. Any unbiased observer would be hard put to find any evidence of such a ‘threat’. Attempts to portray Russia as a boogie are misplaced and regrettable.”
4.38pm: Simon Carswell, Public Affairs Editor of The Irish Times, boogies on up with a rapid response to Nikita seeking clarification for himself and his colleagues on the sentence “attempts to portray Russia as a boogie are misplaced and regrettable.” Carswell, wearing his polyester zip-up bell-bottomed jumpsuit, wonders: “In your statement, does the Ambassador mean “bogeyman” rather than “boogie”, which is a style of blues played on the piano with a strong, fast beat or a type of dance to pop or rock music?”
4.45pm: Neil Michael of the Irish Examiner boogies on down in his sequined platforms. “Hi – we’ve gone with boogeyman. Is that OK there Nikita?” he emails, explaining he is interpreting the boogie reference as the ambassador to Ireland saying Russia is not the “boogeyman” as portrayed by “biased” people. “That is what you meant isn’t it?”
4.49pm: Nikita hits the floor again. He remains firmly of the view that You Can’t Stop the Boogie. Which, of course, everyone knows is true. You can’t. The Russian attache doubles down on the boogie writing: “I believe (and am sure) that in this case this is a short version of the word boogieman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogeyman), i.e. “scarecrow”. Best regards”
So there you have it. A victory for diplomacy in the battle of Boogie Wonderland. Wars have started for less.
As the saying goes: don’t teach your babushka to suck eggs.
Fine Gael’s Conway fails to read the room
As we were away in Galway last week covering the trial of the century, we didn’t hear about a little incident in the Oireachtas Members’ Restaurant which had members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party sniggering well into this week.
Leinster House is slowly getting back to normal and the TDs and Senators are delighted to have use of the formal restaurant again. In the first week of its full opening, groups of politicians from all sides enjoyed shooting the breeze around the starched white linen, away from all the nosey journalists. We hear Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar was having a Wednesday night bite to eat with some of his senior team including Helen McEntee, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris, Simon Coveney and Patrick O’Donovan when the affable Senator from Clare, Martin Conway, ambled into the restaurant.
Martin, who is the first visually impaired member of the Oireachtas, saw Harris as he made his way around the tables.
He beetled over and gave him a hearty greeting, slapping him on the back and loudly declaring: “There’s the next leader of the party!”
There’s a bit of an awkward silence. Then Senator Conway glances across and sees a stony-faced Varadkar staring back at him. Harris doesn’t know where to look. The others are saying nothing.
Martin makes a brave attempt at chit-chat (not reciprocated) before beating a hasty retreat.
‘Champagne party’ scandal deepens
It’s the question to which nobody has got a satisfactory answer yet: what exactly were they drinking in the Department of Foreign Affairs on that night? Though widely reported as a “champagne party”, DFA gossip has suggested that the glasses may have been filled with rather more humble prosecco.
Certainly, though some slightly tipsy accounts have identified the tipple as Moet et Chandon champagne, the bottles in the infamous picture do appear to be from that particular house.
This week Simon Coveney and his secretary general Joe Hackett appeared at the foreign affairs committee to answer questions about the episode. It was a more restrained and humble Coveney who appeared and Hackett – only appointed last year and regarded as very young for the role – did much of the talking.
It was a polished performance – suitably contrite but strong in his defence of the department, polite and helpful to the committee while standing by the conclusions of his report. His Minister has good cause to be thankful for his cool response to the controversy, which has now fizzled out.
But one aspect of the affair unresolved despite the best efforts of Solidarity/People Before Prosecco’s Paul Murphy: what made the corks go pop? Hackett’s report specifies only “sparkling wine”.
Murphy asked the burning question: “What exactly were you drinking?”
Hackett hesitated. “Do I have to answer that?”
He did. “ . . It . . . It was sparkling wine,” stuttered the Iveagh House mandarin.
Meanwhile, a furiously googling Fianna Fáil member of the committee says he has solved the mystery and the bottles in the photo are . . . Marks and Spencer Prosecco. Could be a resigning matter yet. The Minister must be mortified. If word gets around the yacht club he won’t be able to show his face in the Royal Cork.
Extremely violent, cruel and uncomfortable: How ‘Saw’ became a 21st century phenomenon | Culture
When Australian filmmaker James Wan defends the Saw series, his life’s work, the cornerstone of his empire, he often resorts to an intuitive gastronomic analogy. It’s not sirloin steak. It’s not steak tartar. It’s not beef entrecôte. It is a hamburger. Burgers are generously seasoned, processed pieces of meat and are usually served with large amounts of mustard and ketchup. People like them. But they are not fine dining.
Wan has always described himself as a voracious cinephile with a rather coarse palate, a consumer of gory flicks, slasher movies, giallo films and all manner of irreverent horror films, from Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978), The Ring (2002) and Braindead (1992) to Blood and Black Lace (1964) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Privately, he has a place in his heart for Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (I), but his influences are primarily people who are none-too-subtle and carry heavy caliber ammunition in their cartridge cases. His heroes are guys like Tobe Hoper, Mario Bava and Hideo Nakata.
That’s the film diet the Malaysian-born Australian, now 48, has consumed since he was a teenager. It’s also the kind of movie he set out to make — when he was just 20 years old and still a student at the Melbourne Institute of Technology — with his partner and friend Leigh Whannell, an enthusiast of “zombies, monsters, serial killers, grotesque and sappy horror and Hollywood action blockbusters.” As Andrea Albin recounts in a sympathetic Bloody Disgusting article, Wan and Whannell resisted the fine steaks — intellectual and auteur films — their professors and fellow students tried to get them to appreciate. But they could never stomach Godard. They always knew that their films would be raw, unadulterated fast-food cinema. And so they tried to sell that, first to a series of Australian independent production companies and eventually to Hollywood studios.
Wan and Whannell produced the first of their flicks nearly twenty years ago, in 2004. As Chris Coffel explains in the blog Film School Rejects (III), shortly after landing in Los Angeles, the twenty-something Australians won over Lions Gate, which delivered a million dollars and a couple of high-profile performers, Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, and gave them 18 days to try to turn the script they had brought back from Australia —the curious story of a homicidal maniac bent on subjecting his victims to intricate and cruel sociological experiments — into a film that was “at least palatable.”
A feast of blood and gore
Despite its intense appetite for fresh blood — it’s not suitable for the faint of heart — and meager budget, the first Saw was an overwhelming and unexpected hit that showed Wan how in tune the public was with his taste. What’s more, the movie served to revitalize a horror genre that, at the time, was at a low point and helped popularize one of the most controversial and reviled categories in the history of cinema: torture porn, which is synonymous with explicit extreme violence with an added dose of psychological cruelty.
Ross Tibs, editor of Far Out Magazine, considers the film to be “brave” and disruptive. A more than worthy product in its assumed modesty, the movie also gave cinema “a timely mix of philosophy, psychology and extreme physical violence,” thus paving the way for Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). For Tibs, “these films brought back the logic of ‘go see it if you dare’ that had been anticipated by the most hard-core classics of horror released in the 1960s and 1970s,” from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left.
In a way, this demented ultraviolence energetically reclaimed the right to “surprise, horrify and shock” an audience that had already grown accustomed to the great contemporary horror franchises, like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, which were falling into self-parody and becoming increasingly bland and innocuous. The genre had become indoctrinated and was crying out for a jolt to avoid losing its immediacy and relevance. With all its virtues and flaws, Saw provided a jolt.
Of course, not all critics were taken by Wan and Whannell’s gorefest. On the contrary, reviews of the film ranged from skeptical to furious. It had plenty of detractors and found few allies in the press. David Germain of the Associated Press called it “vicious to no end,” and was outraged by its “cruelly empty” script and “clumsy” mise-en-scène, lamenting that actors of some standing like Elwes and Glover had compromised their reputations by participating in such nonsense. Germain concluded that the director and screenwriter were a pair of talentless opportunists who had attempted to dress up something that was nothing more than a degrading display of perversion and stupidity as a morality tale.
Peter Travers, of Rolling Stone, needed just three lines to pan Wan for his “creepy” display of unscrupulousness and bad taste. Mike Clark, of USA Today, felt that the film engaged in constant assaults on sanity and the most basic sense of ethics, and that it did so through “shamelessness” rather than true cinematic skill. Scott Tobias, of AV Club, considered the movie to be the epitome of imbecility, starring a “random freak pulled out of the screenwriter’s ass.”
Of the rare praise in the first reactions, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, found the film to be “an unhealthy and eccentric atmosphere” worthy of cruel thrillers like Seven. In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman chose to be condescending, observing that, beyond its nightmarish atmosphere and commitment to unadulterated physical horror, the movie had a remarkable ability to entertain the audience without insulting its intelligence (at all).
Count to ten
Two decades later, the film that Gleiberman considered to be honest in its own way — an atrocious movie without much ambition, whose success he never would have predicted — has eight sequels with earnings of between $40 million and $169 million; the franchise is about to premiere its tenth installment, Saw X, which opens on September 29. The latest installment is directed by Kevin Greutert, who also made Saw VI and served as editor on up to six of the franchise’s installments. Saw X brings back the original villain, John Kramer, also known as Jigsaw (played, once again, by the very competent Tobin Bell), the cancer patient whose resentment and excessive attachment to life have turned him into a twisted and merciless predator.
In a telling Reddit thread about what to expect from Saw X, fans of the franchise are more than willing to take the bait again and go to the cinema as enthusiastic as ever, but they have a number of conditions for the film. The first is that they don’t want “a new disciple and apprentice psychopath,” a plot device that has been abused since Kramer died at the end of the third installment. Nor would they accept “an excessive use of computer-generated visual effects” (Saw has always boasted of a certain “handcrafted” style that makes its most violent scenes particularly shocking), the introduction of paranormal phenomena or the representation of the villain “as a kind of vigilante and not as the bitter, moralistic and hypocritical individual he has always been.” If none of these things happen, they are all for the new movie.
Reading those comments, it is clear why Saw has not lost its ability to connect with its natural audience, mostly men between 18 and 25 years old. The installment has established a solid pact with its community of unconditional followers because it gives them what they want. It has understood their expectations and dedicated itself to satisfying them without denaturing the product. The red lines are clear: the coherence of characters and situations must be maintained; the violence should not be reduced, even though this particular ingredient makes it hard to accommodate in many cinemas; a certain level of verisimilitude and realism must remain, without falling into carnivalesque excesses; the sordidness and macabre humor must be retained, and, finally, while the quality of the script has deteriorated, the film must keep its ingenuity and capacity to surprise and not abuse previously used devices.
James Wan directed, co-wrote and produced the film that launched the franchise. He was also the one who made Saw 0.5, the short film — it’s just nine and a half minutes long — that started it all, now a cult classic, which was shot in a couple of days with a 16 mm camera for just over $2,000. Since then, Wan’s involvement in the franchise has been limited to participating in writing the Saw III script and serving as executive producer (along with Leigh Whannell) for all the other installments. The rest of the movies have been directed by the aforementioned Greutert and Darren Lynn Bousman, while the scripts have been written by different people, in a not-always-successful attempt to freshen things up and get ideas flowing. Saw’s creators have exercised increasingly distant quality control while embarking on other projects (Insidious, Anabelle, The Conjuring) and carrying the banner of revitalizing the horror genre in the process.
Through 2010, the Saw franchise continued its frenetic pace of releasing a new installment every year; they were always released in October to coincide with Halloween. Saw 3D, the seventh in the series, premiered as the final chapter that was set to end the story once and for all. And perhaps that would have been the case if its success at the box office (it earned $136 million and had a $17 million budget) had not made its directors reconsider the decision to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Ultimately, the planned cancellation became a seven-year hiatus that served to rejuvenate the product. They launched the franchise again with Jigsaw (2017), an update directed by genre cinema’s new bluebloods, the Spierig Brothers. Jigsaw ended up following the same path as its predecessors: it garnered tepid to lousy reviews but enjoyed notable box-office success. That’s also what we can expect of the next installment of Saw, that is, unless the filmmakers have found a way to bring back our horrified amazement at Jigsaw’s first crimes.
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The Benefits Screenwriters Will Enjoy After The Strike Include Juicy Bonuses, Better Salaries & Limits On AI
From the first minute of this Wednesday, the screenwriters’ strike will become part of Hollywood history. The leaders of the screenwriters’ union, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), have ratified the agreement reached with the studios on Sunday. On Tuesday afternoon, WGA leaders endorsed the final text of the contract, putting an end to the 148 days in which the scriptwriters turned off their computers, and brought the entertainment industry to a halt.
The agreement has an estimated value of $233 million a year, a much higher figure than the $83 million that executives put on the table in the first round of negotiations. Hollywood, however, is still a couple of weeks away from returning to normal. Actors are still on strike.
The 11,500 members of the WGA will vote between October 2 and 9 on the collective contract that is on the table. The WGA’s negotiating committee made it clear it was pleased with the deal struck on Sunday, describing it as “exceptional.” Following the tentative agreement, the leaders of the organization began to explain the benefits contained in the new 94-page text, which will be in force for three years.
The deal will 5% increase writers’ basic pay in the first year of the contract’s term, 4% in the second year and 3.5% in the third. It also includes bonuses for hit shows online, and restricts the use of artificial intelligence. Now that WGA leaders have voted to recommend the tentative agreement, writers will be able to return to work, starting Wednesday.
Talk show writers are expected to be the first to return, as they were the first to walk off the job when the strike was called. These shows are set to go back on air in the first days of October.
As the scriptwriters requested, the new collective contract will offer protections against the emergence of AI in the industry. Under the deal, the tool cannot be used to write a script or rewrite a new version of one, not can it be credited as a writer instead of a human. Studios will not be able to force a screenwriter to use an AI program, such as ChatGPT, to assist with a script. The WGA will have the final say, on behalf of its members, on whether or not to allow creative materials to be used to train or develop artificial intelligence software.
The studios also agreed to a new model for residuals, the payment that is given to members of a production when a program is broadcast in a new market or platform. Under the new system, the bigger the viewership, the more a screenwriter will be paid.
This was one of the points that had stalled negotiations for weeks, as studios were adamant about not revealing audience numbers. In the new text, however, the studios will share with the union, through a confidentiality agreement, the total number of hours a title was streamed both domestically and internationally.
The new contract promises to compensate, from January 1, 2021, the screenwriters for a high-budget title that is considered a success. This is defined as any title that is viewed by 20% of domestic subscribers to a streaming service, such as Prime or Netflix, in the first 90 days of release.
Screenwriters will receive residual bonuses for series and films that meet this threshold. The bonus will be calculated with a formula that takes into account a production’s budget, the length of the series or film and the number of views. This means, for example, that writers of a widely watched TV series will pocket about $9,000 for a half-hour episode and $14,600 for an hour-long episode. For a feature film that has cost more than $30 million to produce, screenwriters can expect a bonus of $40,500.
Under the new contract, studios must also hire a minimum number of writers to develop treatments for a TV season. At least three writers will be needed for a six-episode show, while six is the minimum for a 13-episode show. Three of these writers may have the position of writer and producer.
The wins achieved by the WGA have raised the hopes of actors on strike. Currently, no negotiations are being held between the actors union SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Paramount, Sony, Universal, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., the major TV networks and streaming companies such as Netflix and Apple TV, among others.
Actors continue to picket outside Hollywood studios. The WGA has not called any demonstrations since Sunday, but the group’s leadership is allowing writers to show solidarity with their colleagues on the picket line.
On Tuesday, the creator of the TV show Mad Men, writer Matthew Weiner, accompanied his friend, actor Noah Wyle, at one of the protests. “We would never have had the leverage we had if SAG had not gone out,” Weiner told AP. “They were very brave to do it.”
Meanwhile, the industry is coming under greater pressure. Striking actors voted on Monday to expand their walkout to include the lucrative video game market, which recorded nearly $35 billion in profits this year.
The threat promises to extend the wave of strikes that the United States has been experiencing. The video game companies under fire are Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Take 2, as well as the corresponding divisions of Disney and Warner Bros.
“It’s time for the video game companies to stop playing games and get serious about reaching an agreement on this contract” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a statement. The studios must sit down at the negotiating table if Hollywood wants to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This Friday Is Going To Be The Busiest Day Of This Year For Moving House
Myra Butterworth paid more to move home on a Friday
Back in 2006, I was selling my third property and buying my fourth.
I knew the golden rule of not moving on a Friday.
Not only it is more expensive as it is such a popular day to move house and removal men are in high demand, but if anything goes wrong, you have less time to sort things out.
If things go wrong, you have to patiently wait for the weekend to pass and solicitors to return to their office on the Monday.
However, I still ended up trying to move on a Friday in December.
As well as starting a new job that week, I needed the weekend to settle in and it was December. Surely in the depths of winter, just before Christmas, fewer people would be moving and I could get away with moving on a Friday.
So I agreed to the long chain moving on that Friday, in the hope of getting the deal done.
However, what I forgot to factor in was Christmas parties, something my seller’s solicitor conveniently didn’t mention.
Indeed, that very morning on moving day, our solicitors and estate agents were all talking to one another, suggesting everything was on track to complete contracts and move house. My large removal van turned up to my home and the removal men started loading it up.
It was during this process, around lunchtime, that things started to go extremely quiet. I soon learnt that my vendor’s solicitor had left the office for the afternoon. Apparently, to go to his office Christmas party, I was told.
It meant that he could not confirm whether he had received my money, which was being transferred to the vendor.
At this point my vendor’s estate agent started negotiating with me so I could at least unload my removal van at what was going to be my new home.
They audaciously offered a one-hour slot to unload as much as I could, to store my items in my vendor’s property over the weekend.
This offer would cost me something to the tune of £1,500 (remember this was in 2006, which taking into account inflation is more like £2,500 today).
It also meant I had to deal with my buyer’s removal men who were just turning up to my property.
A deal was done and contracts were completed on the Monday. I hope my buyer’s solicitor didn’t have too much of a hangover during the weekend.
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