Category: Review


I’ve just been up all night reading A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – which was actually an alright read, but I probably wouldn’t have stayed up all night if I wasn’t having a rare insomnia attack.

Anyhow, one of the things that struck me about it was that the setting is mildly ambiguous. It seemed to be contemporary at first, then my suspicions were aroused when the narrator refers to her husband’s ability to cook polenta.

Now I hadn’t noticed this, but it seems that the Ruth Rogers-induced polenta craze has quietly died away. In more ways than one polenta has become to the nineties what white dog-poo was to the seventies. It wasn’t very nice, it was everywhere… and now it has gone. Anyway, good riddance to Italian peasant semolina!

The other thing I noticed about the book was that despite being published by Viking in 2005, it has already achieved translation into 27 (27!) languages. I thought that the worldwide market for comic fiction was about 27 people! But here we have a book that has been translated into 27 languages within a year of its publication in its original language. The anachronistic reference to polenta and the speed at which it has been translated into all these languages leads me to believe that this manuscript has been kicking around a while.

I have just picked my copy up again and I notice it has been shortlisted for The Booker, The Orange Prize and The SAGA award for Wit (!) as well as winning the Bollinger Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction (!!). It does lead one to wonder, in such lean times for literary fiction, why there are more prizes going than there are books fit to win them. John ‘Plotless’ Banville winning the Booker, this winsome, mumsy, middle-aged piece being put forward for four awards… what is going on?

Just saw a great / hilarious interview with Michael Caine on TCM. Great high-light was him admitting that The Quiet American was probably the last leading role that would get him out of retirement – it probably was / is his finest hour (although I’m yet to see The Cider House Rules). Interestingly he posited that ‘failed’ films should be remade on the basis that the original Quiet American was a flop, as was the original Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (under another name) which starred David Niven and Marlon Brando! Hilarious moment was when he suggested that he changed his voice and character to suit the role. Michael Caine is the last person to do this, he is very talented at assuming the burden of the characters he plays, but he always has the same hair, the same voice and is essentially the same person, he is just superbly talented at sharing the agonies of his characters. Great reminiscences of John Houston and Lee Marvin too.

Time to do some writing again. Saw this for the first time last night.

You cannot not deny that this isn’t a great movie!

As a piece of filmmaking, it is an absolute cracker. Both Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were at the absolute peak of their powers, and their portrayal of the driven Washington Post investigative reporters –  Woodward and Bernstein – all corduroy suits, dishevelled hair, cigarettes and half-mast ties is superb. The old stagers of the newsroom are also great, particularly Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee, the editor in chief. The cinematography is also superb, the aerial shot of the Library of Congress, and the shots of Woodward’s battered Volvo cruising the night-time streets of Washington DC give some clue as to Michael Mann’s formative influences. But there is art here too; the typewritten titles, and the Teletype machine accompanied by 21-gun salute narrating the denouement of the story are effective devices underscoring the words as weapons theme here.

The newspaper industry has changed a lot in the last thirty years, to the detriment of proper investigative reporting as is depicted here. A court piece about a break in at an office building could not possibly command the attention of two staff writers – particularly if the editor had some nice pictures of Madonna to put on the front page. The methodology of the editors fighting for the front page, and the journalists reaching for the phone book rather than referring to Google, shows what serious business journalism used to be. And the outcome of the story shows what power the press has and how it should wield it.

As a piece of historical drama it is incredibly informative. My knowledge of Watergate went something like: break in – blah blah blah – corruption – blah blah blah – Nixon resigns. Now I have well and truly filled in the blah blah blahs and the level of the corruption and double-dealing occurring in Washington and within the Republican Party is truly astonishing. It is a shame then that the film concludes with Nixon’s re-election before his resignation because there were doubtless more rotten links in the chain flushed out by Woodward and Bernstein. It is also, in a way, a pity that this corruption was exposed at all – for we all now expect our politicians to be corrupt. If it is their job to protect the best interests of the electorate should they not use every method at their disposal? If one side fights dirty, the only choice is for the other to fight dirtier.

While we’re doing films, I suppose I should get this off my chest: OK, it’s a good film in fact it is a great film. It’s just not a Bond film.

I’ve got some ranting to do here, so excuse the lack of narrative flow.

Casino Royale has just had its opening weekend here in the UK and it’s the HIGHEST GROSSING FIRST WEEKEND FOR ANY BOND FILM EVER!!!. That’s because cinema tickets are even more expensive than they were three years ago when Die Another Day came out. Also, since when has the weekend started on a Thursday? That’s when I watched it, along with a load of other mugs who netted the cinemas £1.7m on the first day / preview.

Daniel Craig is undoubtedly a fine actor. I was particularly impressed with him in the virtually unseen The Trench. He has also put in some time to go to the gym, which is something I certainly don’t have the discipline to do. He also looks bloody great in a suit while toting advanced automatic weaponry. I’m not so sure about the whole swimming trunk issue – if you want equality, fine, but that means some girls in bikinis too – that’s how equality works. The whole taciturn, monosyllabic persona is great for Jason Bourne – or possibly The Terminator, but this is Bond, with a cheesy quip for every situation: Sean Connery’s – “That’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing. I approve.” George Lazenby – “this never happened to the other guy” (perhaps Craig was thinking of that when he was putting on his trunks). Roger Moore – elevated eyebrow, Pierce Brosnan – “I thought Christmas only came once a year. It takes Craig the entire film to unfreeze his face for long enough to say “Bond, James Bond.”

Then the gadgets – oh well. James Bond is not a real person. He was never meant to be, he is a construct and a very important part of that construct is the gadgets. He is defined more by the car he drives and the clothes he wears than he is by his hair-colour or physique. To take this away from him is to empty him out rather than “strip him back” as everyone is so fond of saying of Craig-Bond. To be honest I’ve not been happy with the whole Aston Martin thing since Ford bought Aston Martin, the 1964 DB6 is a great hand-built bit of kit. The DBS is built in bulk for dull bankers who need something to blow their bonuses on. The whole travesty of the hire car at the airport is just completely beyond the pale. Okay Ford gave them £15m and a load of Jaguars and Astons, but Bond works for Queen and country, not for the highest bidder, and he is met the airport, not hanging about the Hertz desk while some fat tourists complain about their car not having a/c. So what have we got left? He has a defibrillator in the glove box of his car – old men with inappropriatly young wives have defibs in their glove boxes.

Eva Green is pretty easy on the eye, but her real name is better than her Bond name (Vesper Lind sounds like a limited edition chocolate moped (sorry Mr Fleming). Her accent was weird and all over the shop, and her motivation was pretty confused for one supposed to be so bright. And can we not have any more Bond falling in love? Please? Weirdly Lazenby and Rigg managed to pull it off, but really Bond is a swinger at heart and modern girls can get their kicks with them too. This debacle just makes the end of the film drag on and on.

Speaking of the ending, basically wtf! Bond films don’t end like that. They just don’t. I can’t believe I’m not allowed to spoil it for you, but I can take solace in the fact that it spoils itself.