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Health’s foreign legion return to nasty surprise

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.

Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov: Definitely not the bogeyman. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov: Definitely not the bogeyman. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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 (, 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.

Senator Martin Conway had an awkward moment in the Oireachtas Members’ Restaurant. Photograph: Tom Honan
Senator Martin Conway had an awkward moment in the Oireachtas Members’ Restaurant. Photograph: Tom Honan

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.

A photograph of the Department of Foreign Affairs ‘champagne party’ posted on Twitter by then secretary general of the department Niall Burgess
A photograph of the Department of Foreign Affairs ‘champagne party’ posted on Twitter by then secretary general of the department Niall Burgess

‘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.

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U2 concert uses stunning visuals to open massive Sphere venue in Las Vegas | Culture

It looked like a typical U2 outdoor concert: Two helicopters zoomed through the starlit sky before producing spotlights over a Las Vegas desert and frontman Bono, who kneeled to ground while singing the band’s 2004 hit “Vertigo.”

This scene may seem customary, but the visuals were created by floor-to-ceiling graphics inside the immersive Sphere. It was one of the several impressive moments during U2′s “UV Achtung Baby” residency launch show at the high-tech, globe-shaped venue, which opened for the first time Friday night.

The legendary rock band, which has won 22 Grammys, performed for two hours inside the massive, state-of-the-art spherical venue with crystal-clear audio. Throughout the night, there were a plethora of attractive visuals — including kaleidoscope images, a burning flag and Las Vegas’ skyline, taking the more than 18,000 attendees on U2′s epic musical journey.

“What a fancy pad,” said Bono, who was accompanied onstage with guitarists The Edge and Adam Clayton along with drummer Bram van den Berg. He then stared at the high-resolution LED screen that projected a larger version of himself along with a few praying hands and bells.

Bono then paid homage to the late Elvis Presley, who was a Las Vegas entertainment staple. The band has rocked in the city as far back as 1987 when they filmed the music video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the Strip during a tour in 1987.

“Look at all this stuff. … Elvis has definitely not left this building,” he continued. “It’s an Elvis chapel. It’s an Elvis cathedral. Tonight, the entry into this cathedral is a password: flirtation.”

U2 made their presence felt at the $2.3 billion Sphere, which stands 366-feet (111 meters) high and 516-feet (157 meters) wide. With the superb visual effects, the band’s 25-show residency opened with a splash performing a slew of hits including “Mysterious Ways,” “Zoo Station,” “All I Want is You,” “Desire” and new single “Atomic City.”

On many occasions, the U2 band members were so large on screen that it felt like Bono intimately sang to audience on one side while The Edge strummed his guitar to others.

The crowd included many entertainers and athletes: Oprah, LeBron James, Matt Damon, Andre Agassi, Ava DuVernay, Josh Duhamel, Jason Bateman, Jon Hamm, Bryan Crankston, Aaron Paul, Oscar de la Hoya, Henrik Lundqvist, Flava Flav, Diplo, Dakota Fanning, Orlando Bloom and Mario Lopez.

After wrapping up The Beatles’ jam “Love Me Do,” Bono recognized Paul McCartney, who was in attendance, saying “Macca is in the house tonight.” He acknowledged Sphere owner James Dolan’s efforts for spearheading a venue that’s pushing forward the live concert audio landscape with 160,000 thousands of high-quality speakers and 260 million video pixels.

The Sphere is the brainchild of Dolan, the executive chair of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers. He sketched the first drawing of venue on a notebook paper.

“I’m thinking the that the Sphere may have come into existence because of Jim Dolan trying to solve the problem that The Beatles started when they played Shea Stadium,” he said. “Nobody could hear you. You couldn’t hear yourselves. Well, the Sphere’s here. … Can you hear us?”

Bono pointed into crowd and shouted out Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Iovine – who took in the band’s spectacular show. At one point, Bono became emotional when he dedicated a song to the late Jimmy Buffett’s family who attended the concert too.

Afterwards, Bono spoke about performing on stage for the first time without drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from back surgery. He acknowledged Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg’s birthday and and filling in for Mullen.

“I would like to introduce you to the only man who could stand, well, sit in his shoes,” said Bono, who walked toward Berg as some in the crowd began to sing “Happy Birthday.” He handed the microphone to Berg, who offered a few words.

“Let there be no mistake, there is only one Larry Mullen Jr,” Berg said.

As U2 wrapped up their show, a bright light shined from the ceiling and the massive screen began to fill with images of birds, insects and reptiles above a lake. The band closed its first Sphere concert with “Beautiful Day,” which one three Grammys in 2001.

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Star Wars: Whiny fans, nostalgia and streaming saturation: ‘Ahsoka’ and the most complicated moment of the ‘Star Wars’ universe | Culture

Satisfying the unrepentant, noisy, veteran fan, has become an insurmountable obstacle for the oldest money-making machine in cinema. Star Wars lives in constant fear of offending them. Their requests are long and obsessive. Don’t change the actors (better to rejuvenate them with artificial intelligence, instead – where will it end?), don’t alter the legacy of what they understand by “Jedi” and, above all, take note, don’t include too many women or racialized people. As everyone knows, there are only white men in this galaxy far, far away. This is ours and nobody else’s, those “true fans” seem to say.

That impossible balance between satisfying children (for whom Star Wars was always intended) as well as the most conservative followers has become a curse for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the entire Disney factory. But there is a guy who has known how to ride the wave and make everyone happy. His name is Dave Filoni. In his hands, even the concept of once again passing the force to the proletariat that those followers criticized in Rian Johnson’s magnificent and vilified The Last Jedi is applauded. He does it again in Ahsoka, the epic Disney+ series in which Filoni resorts to the characters of his animated series to delve into a space odyssey that is more fantasy than science fiction. The series appeals to the nostalgia of those prequels with which George Lucas returned to the saga in 1999, but at the same time it rewrites the mythology and its rules.

Disney+ 'Ahsoka'.
A scene from the Disney+ series ‘Ahsoka.’Lucasfilm Ltd.

A quick refresher: Ahsoka Tano is Anakin Skywalker’s padawan (Jedi apprentice) before the ill-fated hero became Darth Vader. This brave, wild teenager was created by Filoni and George Lucas in 2008 as an entry point for kids (especially girls) to the film and animated series The Clone Wars, an anthology of the conflict that overthrew the republic to give way to the empire. Lucas, thinking about his own daughters, wanted to appeal to the female audience whose interest Star Wars had not always caught. In the process, they gave depth and responsibility to Anakin (a Hayden Christensen today redeemed by nostalgia) in his passage to the dark side.

The critics first said that she was nothing but a half-naked girl designed to be adorable without much more depth, but, little by little, Ahsoka became the company’s newest toy (literally), a character that motivated women to join the club. Lucas was always clear that the secret was to convince the children, not so much the veterans. Girls around the world began to replicate her orange hue and alien pigtails, and her rebellious nature won over the fans – new and old – with a stroke of modernity. In the series, she even turned her back on the Jedi religion by throwing away her lightsaber and confronting them directly: you are a bunch of squares, you don’t understand the new times. Ahsoka was those new times, and her message was that the sect of monks was not as good as they thought they were. Thanks to her evolution, the young woman was already a Star Wars classic. Her story kept growing in books and comics.

Disney+ 'Ahsoka'.
A scene from the Disney+ series ‘Ahsoka.’Lucasfilm Ltd.

But how come we knew nothing about her before that moment? Did she die in battle? That was out of the question due to her growing popularity, so Filoni created a strategy for her to join the rebellion, but always in the shadows. Her journey continued in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as a veteran, less impulsive force, and the plots and relationships that became established there continue in the current live-action series (with the hero embodied by Rosario Dawson) after her encounters with the Mandalorian and Boba Fett. She is a modern-day Princess Mononoke, an unaffiliated Jedi Master. She is the perfect meeting point for the ocean of Disney+ content.

After paying homage to the western genre in The Mandalorian – also created by Filoni with Jon Favreau – Ahsoka’s own series explores the most magical side of the universe: flying whales that teleport, witches, prophecies, dreams of the afterlife and hero’s journeys. Doors that the franchise sometimes has had trouble opening, even if magic was one of the many pulp subgenre elements that Lucas put in the mix of his original idea.

Disney+ 'Ahsoka'.
A scene from the Disney+ series ‘Ahsoka.’ Lucasfilm Ltd.

That layer of fantasy is one of the breaking points within the canons. The other is the concept of the force. What are the Jedi? Are they born or made? That is one of the debates that the repudiated Rian Johnson film put on the table: not only a family can inherit the force, it can also arise in peasants and commoners, in people who learn it. Filoni has always had this in mind with Ahsoka, the most rebellious among those decimated samurai monks, who, as in the classic film Harakiri, hide questionable rules and commands under a veil of honorability. In her new mission, she takes her legacy one step further: we can all learn from the force, giving more power to the people and to learning than to consanguinity, she tells her apprentice, the true protagonist of the series.

This mentoring work will be key in an adventure triggered by something as simple as the search for the missing protagonist of Rebels. A small but crucial discursive break that preserves the spirit of what Lucas started in 1977. And, yes, all the protagonists are women again, just like the president of Lucasfilm. In that sense, it is not far from some of the deepest messages of Andor, the most revolutionary Star Wars series and the best work to come out of this universe in decades, one that was truly groundbreaking and that could not reach all the fans it deserved.

Disney+ 'Ahsoka'.
A ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ mural at the Star Wars Celebration.Suzanne Tenner / Lucasfilm Ltd.

A franchise that lost its way

Meanwhile, Star Wars continues to put filmmakers through the meat grinder. Many creators have recently abandoned their projects, frustrated by the lack of development of their ideas: Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi, Damon Lindelof, Rian Johnson, Patty Jenkins, the Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss… they are the creative corpses of a lost franchise that is not sure what its followers want in the theater and is saturated by the excessive costs of the series (it is estimated that Obi-Wan Kenobi cost about $90 million and Ahsoka more than $100), created to fill a streaming offer that does not yield the anticipated benefits. A product that does not convince neither children nor veterans.

Considering that excessiveness, Ahsoka is at least an entertaining, satisfying product (it never stops being a product, one that does not reach the levels of Andor or The Mandalorian). That is more than can be said for contents as emotionally and narratively empty as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett, which rely on nostalgia, are structurally rotten and have no soul or entertainment value whatsoever. Unfortunately, the context will not make it easy for Ahsoka to capture anyone outside the die-hard fans. Perhaps the Hollywood strikes will be good for the empire. A much-needed pause to become culturally relevant again.

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Revitalizing Fall Cinema As New York Film Festival Takes Center Stage

By Cindy Porter

The fall film season has been a muted affair, with major festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto lacking their usual fervor.

Hollywood’s luminaries have been notably absent from red carpets, leaving an air of dormancy since the heady days of Barbenheimer.

New York Film Festival Takes Center Stage

New York Film Festival Takes Center Stage

However, as the 61st New York Film Festival kicks off, there’s a palpable sense of awakening.

Labor disputes are inching toward resolution, hinting at a resurgence in the industry. Considering this, the festival promises to deliver an exceptional array of films, showcasing some of the year’s finest cinematic offerings.

The Festival Lineup

Dennis Lim, the festival’s artistic director, expresses optimism despite industry uncertainties, affirming that cinema’s vitality endures.

The opening night feature, Todd Haynes’ “May December” introduces a playful yet poignant narrative led by Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton. It sets the stage for a festival packed with noteworthy films.

Highlights at the Festival

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice sensation “Poor Things” starring Emma Stone, offers a compelling blend of wit and intrigue.

Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” with Cailee Spaeny portraying Priscilla Presley, promises to be a captivating exploration of a legendary figure’s life.

Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” brings Leonard Bernstein’s story to life, adding another layer of significance to its North American premiere.


The festival’s closing feature, Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” emerges as a masterpiece.

Starring Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, the film delves into a pivotal period in the auto maker’s life, culminating in the high-stakes Mille Miglia race.

Mann’s signature intensity permeates every frame, depicting the relentless pursuit of victory against the backdrop of impending peril.

Exploring Depth in Documentaries

The festival also showcases immersive documentaries, including Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” Steve McQueen’s “Occupied City,” and Frederic Wiseman’s “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros”.

These monumental works, clocking over 200 minutes each, delve into diverse realms, offering profound insights into the human experience.

“Youth (Spring)”

Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” unveils the lives of young migrant workers, toiling tirelessly in textile factories near Shanghai.

Their hands move with frenetic speed, a testament to the demands of their low-paying occupations.

Considering this, Wang delicately unravels their personal stories of love, heartbreak, and aspirations, painting a poignant portrait of resilience.

“All of Us Strangers”

Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” unfolds within the confines of a near-empty apartment building. Andrew Scott’s portrayal of a screenwriter, Adam, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, triggered by an unexpected encounter with Harry (Paul Mescal). Through intimate dialogues, the film navigates the complexities of memory, companionship, and the power of storytelling.

The New York Film Festival shines a spotlight on films that transcend the boundaries of time and space.

Its dedication to authentic cinematic experiences, unburdened by distractions, reaffirms the enduring power of storytelling.

Films like “Janet Planet” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker transport audiences to specific moments in history, immersing them in a world where silence and nostalgia take center stage.

As the festival unfolds, it offers a resounding testament to the indomitable spirit of cinema.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

— By Cindy Porter

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