July, 2002

�9.99 by Frederic Beigbeder

Wow. This book is pretty good. Translated from the French and reset in London (not totally convincingly since the protagonist is called Octave). Maybe it’s because I’m a total cynic, particularly where advertising is concerned – despite working in the industry – but I empaphised with the feelings expressed here a lot.
The book is about a very senior agency creative who’s trying to get himself sacked. This plan is not quite working. At the same time he’s left his pregnant girlfriend, and taken up with a prostitute.
Anyway needless to say that �9.99 costs �9.99.

Millar wins a stage

Must admit that I jumped out of my seat on Saturday, when David Millar crossed the line ahead of the other 4 riders in his break. Nice one.
Of course Armstrong is amazing in the mountains at the moment, but Virenque did well yesterday to take the stage. Roll on the Alps this week!

David Thomson’s Top Ten Films

I read the Independent on Sunday this weekend for the first time in quite a while, and was very pleased to learn that David Thomson, the author of the awesome Biographical Dictionary of Film (new edition coming out I see) is compiling his Top Ten Films.
If there is one reason to buy the Independent on Sunday these days, it’s for its film coverage. David Thomson regularly pens articles and they have a decent amount of film coverage – and I don’t mean puff piece articles conducted with whichever star is in town and spent ten minutes with them in a suite at The Dorchester. The Sunday Times is an excellent example of the latter – they have a worse film review section than most of the tabloids. Of course Philip French in The Observer is unmissable. And for all his hobby horses, Alexander Walker in the London Evening Standard is well worth reading.
Anyway, back to Thomson’s Top Ten films. A couple of years ago Derek Malcolm compiled his century of cinema, which was published in weekly segments over a couple of years. Of course this sort of thing has been done before, but it’s much more satisfying when it’s someone whose opinion you respect, and who you know is going to open your eyes to many films that you’d not previously heard about. David Thomson is such a critic, so therefore I was very pleased about this top ten.
Thomson introduces his selection with a few rules – how else can you possibly pick a top 10? Thomson, does and here are my thoughts on the ones he’s chosen so far.
Number one is La R�gle du Jeu which I haven’t seen. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this, since I was moved enough by a previous article that David Thomson wrote about this film to go out and buy the video – but I haven’t yet watched it! I even cut out and kept the article which warned me not to read it unitl I’d seen the film. I’m still sticking to this principle, so I’ve printed out Thomson’s notes to read after I finally see the film.
Number two is His Girl Friday – a film that I know and love. I have called it my favourite film of all time, since it was made at a time when they knew how to make comedies. More on this some other time.
Number three is Citizen Kane (these are ordered by Thomson chronologically by the way), which is widely considered one of the best ever films. Considering when it was made, its subject matter and the like, this is an astonishing work.
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t even heard of numbers four and five – Ugetsu Monogatari and A Man Escaped. I shall have to read the articles like you to learn more. More additions to my DVD collection?
He also mentions that this September, Sight and Sound will once again be publishing its poll of critics of the top ten films of all time. This has been published every ten years since 1952, and as ever it will be fascinating to see where films come. I must admit to detesting the Empire magazine/Channel 4 school of best films ever, which see films such as Star Wars, The Shawshank Redemption and Gladiator, alongside true classics like Some Like It Hot. Of course Star Wars is a classic of its sort – but bearing in mind that it is essentially a homage to many other movies, in particular The Hidden Fortress – can it be the best film ever? It’s more down to the mentality of people who won’t watch a film that isn’t in the English language, isn’t in colour, and doesn’t have special effects. But we all know all this.

Thirteen Days

Spent yesterday afternoon convalescing with this Kevin Costner film. I missed it in the cinema and did mean to catch it since a trip to Cuba meant that I was interested in all things Cuban last year.
Really well put together film about a period of which I knew little. The only thing that I was bit concerned about was the import of Costner’s character, Kenny O’Donnell. The DVD that I watched had an impressive range of historical background material about the events of October 1962, yet O’Donnell didn’t seem quite the player that he was in the film. Of course to tell this kind of story you need to have one character who witnesses most of the events, and O’Donnell is probably that character.
So much additional material is there on the DVD, that no student can possibly be disappointed. There are two separate commentaries which I haven’t ventured into, as well a wealth of other stuff.

Tour de France

One of my favourite summer events is up and running again this year. I’m still annoyed at Channel 4’s jettisoning the event a couple of years ago, saying that that they could no longer cover it and cricket (this is the station that was putting out one-day cricket highlights at about one o’clock in the morning by the way). The only terrestrial coverage of the event last year was on ITV in the early hours of Tuesday morning each week, and sadly it’s the same situation again this year. Fortunately for those among us with multi-channel TV, Eurosport has always done a sterling job (even if their highlights programmes tend to be the last hour of the race snipped off). This year ITV2 is also doing live coverage and 11.00pm highlights programmes. I haven’t yet caught one of their highlights shows, but hopefully they’ll be similar to the old Channel 4 ones (it’s the same presentation team) since they did a better job of editing the day’s highlights down, showing major incidents from earlier in the day and so on. Roll on the mountain stages!

American Beauty

I must admit to having picked this up after reading something about the excellent new (to Channel 4 at least) series Six Feet Under. Both were written/created by Alan Ball, and here’s another film I saw once at the cinema and not at all since.
There are some wonderful lines in this film, and I was able to enjoy the film as much as I did first time round. And hasn’t Thomas Newman’s wonderful music been used in a lot of places since? I feel that I must go back and revisit Blue Velvet now for some reason…

The Contender

Spent yesterday afternoon watching this ahead of an enormously predictable British Grand Prix and very poor Mens’ Final at Wimbledon.
I’m disappointed with myself that I didn’t catch this at the cinema. The film takes a very cynical view of US politics, as Jeff Bridges’ President attempts to make Joan Allen Vice President, while Gary Oldman (who’s nearly as unrecogniseable here as he is in Hannibal) tries to prevent it. Lots of subplots going on, in a moderately believable White House. At some point I’ll have to set aside a couple of hours to listen to writer/director Rod Lurie’s commentary.

Men In Black II

Not a bad little film, but nothing spectacular. I must admit that I haven’t seen the original since I saw it the first time at the cinema, and I can’t exactly see myself rushing out to buy the DVD of this one.
Some good lines, and entertaining performances, but the CGI is not used with as much verve as it is in say Minority Report. Basically we seem to have reached a point with CGI that every action flick has to have copious amounts, and frankly it doesn’t really startle as much as it did. I remember getting excited by the monsters in Ghostbusters years ago, and we simply don’t seem to have moved on enough. It just gets easier to do. Did like the Peter Graves inserts though (undoubtedly extra material for the DVD release).

The Natural by Joe Klein

A concise book detailing the Clinton presidency by the author of Primary Colors. I must admit to having only really having read his novels, but he does seem to have a good understanding of Bill and Hilliary – at least in so far as anyone can have an understanding. Must get around to reading Stephanopoulos’s book which has been sitting on my bookshelf for the last 12 months.
It’s a shame that Klein’s recent series of articles for The Guardian don’t seem to be available online.

The Sum of All Our Fears

The new Jack Ryan film seems to take a James Bond approach to the character, in that you can introduce a new actor into the role, and totally reinvent his world. So following on from Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, suddenly we get a very junior Ben Affleck in the role. In actual fact I was pleasantly surprised by the film, and not knowing the premise, taken totally off-guard at one point (my tip is to read as little as possible about the film in advance).
It’s certainly entertaining to see lots of British character actors playing Russians in this film – although Richard Marner as President Zorkin (a Yeltsin type of Russian president) is hard for British viewers since he is forever Colonel von Strohm in the sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo. And then there’s a truly bizarre moment when Alan Bates’ Dressler is watching an episode of The Antiques Roadshow.
OK so the premise of the film, and why the bad guys are doing what they’re doing is on dodgy ground, and Ryan is a bit too all action at the end, and lines of communication seem atrocious, but aside from the tacked on ending, it all feels quite believable – or at least possible.