Monday, 30 March 2009

Excellent view of the Lifde of Brian (Clough)

OK, I know I am biased here – I became a Nottingham Forest fan in the 1980s to go alongside my beloved hometown team Tamworth FC simply BECAUSE I love Brian Clough so much – but I have to say the new film about him, The Damned United, is really very, very good and any football/sports fan will love it.

I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed the book of the same name (which is an absorbing read but is very dark and often quite depressing) and having seen the Clough family distance themselves from this film I was in two minds about seeing it. But I really hope the Clough family DO actually see it because although the book is slightly ambiguous the movie shows Brian at his very best and is a joy to watch from start to finish.

In case you don’t, know the film centres on two main events in Cloughie's remarkable life – his success and eventual resignation/sacking at Derby and then his bizarre 44 day reign at ‘dirty’ Leeds where he was motivated by his hatred for their title-winning boss Don Revie. Revie stood for everything Cloughie disliked and the tension between the two men when they meet is palbable.

The film as a whole is riveting from the ‘kick off’ and also (like Clough) it is both very funny and very unpredictable.

Cloughie made many mistakes – as Forest fan I know this - the signing of Justin Fashanu anyone? – but he also had the ability to make people walk over hot coals for him and to make the ordinary extraordinary and this film portrays both sides of this character perfectly. And it is perfectly acted too. Michael Sheen (pictured here) is simply brilliant (as he was as Tony Blair in The Queen and The Deal) in the title role and the supporting cast are equally impressive with Timothy Spall’s Peter Taylor and Jim Broadbent as Sam Longson, the Derby chairman especially impressive.

In addition it is also a wonderful evocation of the 1970s. I recall that Leeds side really well (I could have named them without much problem) and the film captures them all very well (even if Johnny Giles is a bit too tall!) but it is more than just the football that rings true. The film is brilliant on the fashion, the language, the cars and the fact that football was a bit of a tuppenny-happenny sport then compared to now (there is a great scene of Cloughie preparing the Derby County dressing room where each player just gets a mangy looking towel, an orange and….an ashtray).

It is as far away from Man United and their masseuses and chefs as well, Billy Davies’ current Nottingham Forest is from the European Cup which Cloughie won twice.

If you are nostalgic for the 70s, love football, love Cloughie and hate Leeds (but can’t exactly remember why!) then this is the movie for you.

Go see.

Get wired up the wonderful Wire

Tonight (Monday, March 30) the BBC will do something quite unprecedented in its long and proud history.

For, if my understanding of the situation is correct, they will be screening a 60-show American drama series from start to finish every single night. It will run on BBC2, after Newsnight, from Monday to Friday and whole swathes of their schedule has been arranged to fit around it.
The show, therefore, must be something pretty special. And trust me, it truly is.

Just by way of a starter, it is Barack Obama’s favourite show on TV, but beyond that, magazines and newspapers from Time and The Chicago Tribune in America to The Guardian and The Independent over here have hailed it as possibly the greatest television show ever made. One reviewer said quite simply that the world is divided into two sets of people – those who have seen this programme and love it and those who simply haven’t yet seen it.

The programme is called The Wire. Never heard of it? Then don’t worry, because large sections of the public haven’t either as it was only previously shown on television in this country on a very obscure satellite channel called FX.
What has catapulted The Wire into our consciousness is a modern-day phenomenon of watching television – via the box set. There was a time when the only way you could watch the next episode in a drama was to wait until the scheduler allowed you to do so, but as people have grown to love top-class, lengthy American dramas such as 24, Lost and the magnificent West Wing, people have been snapping up the box sets at an incredible rate. Then they watch the shows as and when THEY want to.

And this is why I think the Beeb’s scheduling of The Wire to run on consecutive nights to keep up the pace set by box sets is so inspired.
For the record, I would add my own voice to those who would argue that The Wire is quite possibly the greatest TV series ever made and I think you could only really enjoy its multi-layered, multi-faceted, in-depth story lines if you watch them close together as it is a series full of nuances, subtleties and seemingly random moments that only make sense in other, later episodes.

For those who don’t actually know, The Wire is focused on the drugs culture in Baltimore and it looks at it from every conceivable angle. It is a rough, tough and gritty and nothing is black and white, nothing is clean cut and there are no compromises whatsoever to language or to traditional beginning-middle-end storytelling.

OK, tonight's kick off time of 11.20pm is rather late but it's worth it. Get ready to get wired.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Movies, Marley and magic moments

I am, and always have been, a film buff and this week has given me two great reminders as to why I so enjoy movies and the cinema.

The first came on Saturday when I went to the Odeon in Bath to see the new romcom movie Marley & Me.

On the surface this isn’t the kind of film that would normally get me through the Odeon’s door but as a proud owner of an extremely mischievous labrador (that's my dog Snoopy pictured here as an innocent looking pup - oh boy has she changed!!!!) I was intrigued to see the film version of John Grogan’s book.

The film was pretty good (I won’t go much further than that), but why it had an impact on me in a ‘this-is-why-I-love-the cinema’ kind of way is that it produced a wonderful collective moment.

Without going into too much detail, although this is a lightly comic piece, there are a couple of scenes which do (quite spectacularly) tug at the old heart-strings and this is where watching a film in a cinema leaves seeing it at home on the TV for dead.

As we watched the somewhat sad events unfold on screen, I started to hear the odd snuffle. This snuffle started to grow into what sounded like something of an epidemic and soon we were all left in an uncomfortable silence broken only by people quietly letting their emotions show or desperately trying not to with fake coughs and yawns.

OK, you could have felt a little bit manipulated by all the schmaltz – but it still worked very powerfully.

Being in a cinema when emotions like this are expressed really does have a power. Whether it’s hearing a whole audience laughing hysterically or sharing that stunned silence at the end of a movie when nobody really wants to move (I certainly sensed that after The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas), this experience is something to behold.

Probably my favourite example of this goes way back to when I did my training as a journalist in Sheffield at the time ET came out. About 20 of us young reporters made a pilgrimage to see the movie and I should think half of these would-be cynical old hacks were blubbing like babies as that somewhat ugly alien looked like it was dying. Better still, and this still remains a one-off in my experience, the moment ET took Elliot’s bike off the ground and into the sky to avoid the police, half the audience stood up and cheered. It was an amazing spontaneous moment which reminded us again of the unique magic of the cinema.

Two days after seeing Marley, I spent a very enjoyable evening at the wonderful Little Theatre in Bath for one of their superbly organised film quizzes. It is always good to be in the presence of people who know their onions – and trust me, many people at this quiz were practically full-time onion producers.

We thought we had a crack team (me, our business reporter Rupert Hall, our leisure reporter Dan Biggane and my proud film snob son Oliver) and we went under the great name of The Bath Chronicles of Riddick. That name, however, turned out to be one of the few good decisions we made all night as we went on to crash and burn and muster a score of just 37 per cent.

I knew we were in trouble when, anticipating that we would get a question such as ‘Name the characters in the Magnificent Seven’ (pictured left) I asked one of our number (Dan) and he said ‘The Hulk’ as he thought they were a super hero team.
Despite (or maybe even because) we struggled a bit, we really enjoyed the night and it felt great to be in the presence of people (like) us who truly love their movies.

Next on my film agenda is the Brian Clough movie – The Damned United. Bet that won’t make me cry. ..

Friday, 13 March 2009

Editor on a 'power trip'? Surely not...

I am indebted to the good people of the excellent Venue magazine who have kindly (if just a tad embarrassingly) named me as one of the 100 most powerful people in Bristol and Bath.
I have to say I certainly don't feel that way but I am nethertheless very grateful and I promise not to spend too much money on the new hat to cover my vastly-swelled head.

For the record I finished in a 'challenging' 36th spot which I was bemused and pleased by as it put me ahead of such local luminaries as Ken Loach, the manager of Bristol City, Nicolas Cage (!), the artist Banksy and both our local MPs Dan Norris and Don Foster.
Rather more embarassingly as a Christian I find I am placed 12 places ahead of God because, apparently, 'acts of God aren't common around here'.

However, if that is hard for me or the rest of us to justify it is even worse for the the Bishop of Bristol Mike Hill who also finished nine places above his 'boss'!

Lies, damned lies, crocodiles, trees and statistics

This is a shortened version of my column in the Bath Chronicle of March 12.
I am sure you will all have heard the phrase “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”. Indeed, I have it on good authority that this phrase has been used 1,233 times before in the introduction to blogs like this.

But as the above comment proves, 67.4 per cent of statistics are made up on the spot so I think we should take ALL figures with a pinch of salt – unless they come from highly reputable sources.

Well, I’m happy to say a group of statistics released this week by a very creditable source – the NHS – has thrown up some amazing, intriguing and totally believable numbers which prove that yes, facts can be stranger than fiction.

The NHS’s Hospital Episode Statistics report has revealed the many reasons why people spend time in hospital - and trust me some are very odd indeed.

For starters, did you know that in a year, more than 1,000 people below the age of 60 had to go into a hospital bed because they had fallen out of their own bed? Or, that 404 people had to go to the hospital having had accidents with mowers? The one that really intrigued me, however, was the fact that 1,243 people had to go to hospital in a 12-month-period after falling out of a tree.

Out of as tree!

What on earth were they all doing up there? What is so great about being up a tree that makes you risk life and limb to do it? If your response to this is ‘kids have always climbed trees’ then answer me this – how come 12 of these people were aged over 75? I want you to picture somebody of the age of, say, the Queen falling out of a tree. Now you can see how weird it is.

If these physical mishaps are ones you can at least relate to (accidents will happen etc etc) , then there are other unusual reasons why people enter hospital which are probably a little bit more worrying. Did you know that in the period this survey covered (2007/2008), 21 people had to spend the night in hospital after being bitten by rats.

Does that unnerve you?

If not, then how about the fact there are also instances in the report of people being hospitalised (here in the UK remember) after bites from lizards, snakes and spiders? Best of all (although certainly not in his case!), there is also details of one gentleman who had to spend three days in hospital after being bitten by . . . a crocodile.

Try explaining THAT one to a nurse....

A little bit of research shows that even our super-fit sportsmen get hospitalised for the oddest reasons. I have seen reports of the great and good of the sporting world having to face doctors after injuring themselves doing everything from rupturing a knee cartilage after stretching to pick up the remote control or even getting injured while doing the ironing which hardly fits the macho world of sport.

Probably my favourite instance of a sporting injury, however, concerned a Red Sox baseball player in America. He wore false teeth and always took them out every time he went out to face a pitch. Sadly for him, one day he forgot to put the dentures back in his mouth and he left them in his back pocket.
As a commentator famously said, when he later slid onto second base, he then quite literally ‘bit himself on the ass’.


Thursday, 5 March 2009

Happy birthday? Baah humbug........

On Tuesday it was my birthday. Well, hip-hip hooray.

I won't reveal how old I am just yet but I had a perfectly pleasant day despite the fact that I spent more than 10 hours of it at work and it rained constantly throughout.....
The truth is, however, when you hit a certain age, birthdays just ain’t what they used to be. I can still remember the thrill of waiting for the big day when I was younger – and to be fair, I still see it in my two teenage children today – but these days it can all just feel like another hurdle crossed on the path to leaving this mortal coil.

It is very much the sign of the times that I received most birthday messages from 'friends' on my social networking site on Facebook. I put the word ‘friends’ into inverted commas because when you add someone to your site who you know, they are automatically classified as your friends. Thus, according to cyberspace, I have more than 200 such friends, but if so, how come I only received about half-a-dozen birthday cards from non-family members?????

To be fair though I was very touched by all their kind messages on tinternet - even the two who said 'happy birthday Adrian' in light of my apparent looka-a-like sound-a-like to Mr Chiles. As you can see here there is no connection.....

Anyway, the truth is, the older I get the more I fail to understand why we even celebrate birthdays at all. Now I don’t want to come over as the birthday equivalent of the ‘bah-humbug-Christmas-deniers’ but I wonder why we should be congratulated and lauded for something totally out of our control?

Indeed, I came to the somewhat startling (and possibly unique) conclusion a few years ago that on our birthdays we should actually have our own individual mother’s days, because it is them who did all the work. Being saluted on your birthdays is a bit like when you go to a social function and win the raffle for a box of Quality Street and people clap as you go up to collect the prize. Why??????? You didn’t achieve anything by buying a ticket and nor did you when you took your first breath after hours of motherly agony. . .

The other thing which I find different now is that I often forget my age or birth date. As I recall, this never happened when I was younger when it was etched on my brain and I started ‘planning’ for my birthday from practically the moment I had unwrapped the last Christmas pressie.

It is because I know how much children take their ages seriously that I came up with my own ‘Dragons’ Den’ idea (just admit it, we all have one!) which I’m now happy to share with you on the strict instruction that you can’t nick it as it is here in print and so I duly claim the copyright.

I was having a chat once with a former colleague of mine – the former circulation director in Bath, Mark Stroud, pictured here somewhat worse for wear. He is a fantastically funny guy who has a wonderful business brain and is always looking Del Boy-like to how he can get his first million.

So we tentatively shared each other’s Dragons’ Den ideas (his was a rubbish one by the way about how you keep your takeaway curry hot in the car) and I told him mine. And I could see him mentally counting the cash we could rake in . . . .

My idea is half-birthday cards. Ask any child of between seven and 10 how old they are and there is every chance they won’t just say eight or nine but eight-and-a-quarter or nine- and-a-half. These things matter to them so I think there is millions to be made (and huge misery to be put on parents and grandparents!) by having half-birthday cards to be sent six months after an official birthday.

Would-be investors can contact me at the Bath Chronicle – but please don’t do so on October 3 because I will be out celebrating my 45 1/2th birthday!