May, 2005

New French PM

I know it’s really bad to admit it, but I just know I’m going to struggle with not thinking that the new French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is a man.

US Paperbacks

One of the most remarkable things I noticed on my recent visit to America (about which, I really really will write something soon. Not that there are any readers here on tenterhooks or anything), was the fact that The Da Vinci Code is not out in paperback in America. This is a book that became a hit back in 2003, and went on to become an international hit.
In Britain it was published directly as a paperback in March 2004, and hasn’t been far from the top of the bestsellers since.
That remains the case in the States, where it has yet to be released in softcover since it hasn’t left the charts. It seems remarkable to me that everyone who wants it in hardback hasn’t now got it. But with sales continuing apace, the US publisher isn’t in any rush to release a paperback.
This is all just a long winded way of saying that The New York Times has a good piece discussing this very thing.
I wonder how far down the line Dan Brown is to producing a follow-up. For my thoughts on the book check out here.

Live 8 Press Conference

The BBC are about to start streaming the Bob Geldof “Live 8” press conference. At the side of their player is the following disclaimer:

This news briefing may contain some strong language which viewers and listeners find offensive.

Top Selling UK TV Programmes

Well that’s actually a misleading headline.
The BBC is carrying a report about television programme exports. Based on a survey carried out by Pact – the organisation that operates in support of independent television producers.
The report goes on to list Gillette World Sports as the biggest selling TV programme in terms of countries (or do they mean “markets” – they’re different), going to 220 different countries (Sidebar: Are there 220 different countries? Only if you include territories. See this article for a good precis of the situation).
But of course, you don’t really think Gillette World Sports is actually “sold” to all these different countries do you? Surely it’s a very successful example of advertiser-funded programming. That means Gillette pays for the production of the programme in return for having its name splashed across the TV screens of 220 countries (or territories, or markets).
Next up is Midsomer Murders (204) followed by Pop Idol (“200+” Huh?) and Miss World 2004 (169 – this counts as British does it? Did it even get shown here?).
Anyway this is all very well, until you go to the Pact website to delve into the report a little more fully. A disclaimer at the bottom of the list says “This is not a definitive list, but does give a flavour of popular programmes overseas and shows the diverse range of UK programmes sold overseas.” And that’s not surprising since of the 25 programmes or formats listed, precisely none are made by the BBC.

Listen To Something Interesting

The BBC’s extended podcast rollout has started this week. Keep up to date on this page with what’s available. The Today programme interview is up now along with a 1Xtra show. Look for more in the coming days. In particular, From Our Own Correspondent is a must listen.

Blatent Advertising

The more alert reader may have spotted that my last couple of book reviews have now become adorned with tasteful Amazon ads.
I should explain.
Obviously this site isn’t quite one to put The London Review of Books to shame just yet, but I do like to read books (and to be honest, I like to buy them even more). A while back when playing with plugins for MT (the system that this site runs on), I a became an Amazon associate. Riches awaited me.
Thousands of readers would buy books off the back of my recommendations. Amazon would do well because I link to them by default, and I’d reap the dividends.
Except it didn’t quite work like that. I was pretty poor in my linking policy, and most of the time, I just put a straight link into the text.
Anyway, I didn’t give it a second thought until a Q1 summary of my earnings dropped into my inbox, and I noticed that I’d earned some money.
That is, some revenue from the sale of a single book. And it’s not even one that I’ve read or linked to, so God knows how that happened.
So this is my subtle attempt to see what happens if I pursue a proper linking policy on this site. And it does make the site a little more colourful with nice cover images. Who knows, I may eventually be able to buy a book with the proceeds? But let’s not run before we can walk.

Screening Rules

As I said at the time, they made everyone with a cameraphone check it in at the recent Hitchhiker’s screening. Yet at last night’s Star Wars screening, they just wanted to make sure we switched our phones off (and didn’t bring in video cameras on tripods – that kind of thing).
All I needed was a 1Gb Mini SD card for my phone dammit!

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

So finally the second trilogy ends in a full circle and we meet ourselves back as we once were in 1978 (or 1977 if you lived in America).
The first thing to say about Episode III, as we must call it, is that it’s much better than both Episodes I and II. Overall, Lucas has improved on his work over the course of the three films, but it’s still not brilliant.
The film opens with the traditional scroll, and I’d hate to be an 8 year old trying to make head or tail of the political intrigues. When I saw the first Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope, since it certainly wasn’t called that at the Odeon Barnet where I saw it), it was an 8th birthday present and for a long time to come, rebels were always to be the good guys. I think confustion set in when some terrorist activities reported on the news were said to have been committed by rebels. But I digress.
We’re fortunate that Lucas flings us into an elongated action sequence taking in space fights and the works. We quickly encouter General Grievous, and battles ensue. When the action is moving along like this the film is at its best.
It’s almost an unfortunate necessity that we have to keep letting the “story” get in the way as Anakin must become more and more besotted by the dark side. The problem is that we all know what’s going to happen to him – we have done for the past two films. Everything else is just eating up screen time.
Some of the problems of the earlier film remain. Aside from the political nature of the story, the dialogue remains clunky. Now I know that when I saw the first film I was 8, and what I regarded as the best thing in the world ever at that age, might not be the same now. But that first trilogy still stand up. There was more slapdash about. Certainly the effects are far superior now, and everything’s that much more polished, but sometimes too much. The rawness of the snow battle on Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back felt real. That’s because they did do it in a real snowy landscape (of course they also had models and stopmotion), but you knew that snow was going everywhere when explosions happened. Now it’s just CGI bits and pieces that fly everywhere.
OK – now this all seems terribly negative, but it’s not meant to be. The emergence of the Emporer is powerful, and seeing Vader “rise” is a genuinely chilling moment as he takes his first respirator breath.
Some parts owe a little debt to Peter Jackson – particularly the scenes set on a vulcanic planet surface. And there was a lack of space flight time. Everyone could get everywhere pretty much instantaneously. Indeed given the presumed timeframe of the film taking several months, you could be mistaken for believing that it all happens in the course of a long weekend.
But at the end of the film, you’re handsomely paid off. The spacecraft have been subltly getting closer to what we recall from the earlier films. Uniforms are slowly becoming close to those amazing stormtrooper outfits. And it’s great to see things settle down to be setup for the earlier trilogy. So overall, a good ending to an underwhelming trilogy.

Grifter’s Game

This is the first of the Hard Case Crime books that started being published in the States last year. They feature fantastic period-style covers and are a combination of newly published works and re-published older pieces. In this case, it’s a 1961 vintage book that was originally titled Mona. Block, of course, continues to be a bestselling crime author.
This book is short and to the point. A seedy, world-weary grifter gets embroiled in a block of heroin, a girl and her husband. Things happen quickly and I won’t spoil the story. It’s first person, and obviously owes a lot to those 40s noir films. Great fun.