Watching - July 2020

I've been keeping track of what I've read for over ten years now, but for some reason it hadn't occurred to me to do the same for what I watch. Maybe it's because a film doesn't require the same time commitment, or maybe it's because I don't see myself as a particularly discerning watcher. But we've been watching a lot recently so I thought it worth noting down. Maybe I'll carry on, maybe there'll be months with nothing to say. 
The Notebook (2004)
I didn't know anything about this when I discovered it on the book exchange shelves at work, but apparently it's a bit of a cult hit (K tells me anyway). Then I enjoyed Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love recently, so thought I'd give this a go - and I always enjoy a good romance. I might be tempted to class it as superior TV movie fare; it's a bit syrupy and goes for the emotions a bit too obviously, and the "twist" was fairly apparent. But it brought tears to my eyes anyway and I enjoyed it.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
At the half term we got a free week of Sky Cinema (via Now TV), which I then forgot to cancel, and then when I did go to cancel it, we got a discounted offer for three months. So I'm watching things I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Although I'd heard of this, I didn't know what it was about and if I am honest, it caught my attention at least in part because it's got Marisa Tomei in it (who is coincidentally also in Crazy Stupid Love), who does a fantastic job as a sassy Noo Yoik gal. Enjoyable and funny, if slightly predictable.
Lady And The Tramp (1955)
We're working our way through some lesser Disney films for some reason. I think we've had this for a while but never watched it. Slight, sweet and dated, although as ever, you can't fault the animation. My favourite bit is Peggy Lee singing (as the Pekingese Peg) "He's A Tramp". The less said about the Siamese cats (also voiced by Lee) the better.
Field Of Dreams (1989)
I watched this a long time ago and didn't really follow it (at least, as far as I remember). Watching it again, despite knowing nothing and caring less about baseball, I enjoyed it. The mystical elements make no sense and there is no attempt to explain them, which I quite like. It's not a film about baseball, it seems to me, but about the power of sport to give meaning to people's lives. In atmosphere, it reminds me very strongly of Chariots Of Fire, which is no bad thing.
The Aristocats (1970)
A kind of cat-based Lady And The Tramp, which I was surprised to find was made as late as 1970. Amusing, and the child cats are very cute. I guess it would be carping to point out that the jazz being played by Scat Cat and his friends is at least twenty years too early for the film's 1910 setting?
Remember The Titans (2000)
C heard about this during the "Fake Doctors, Real Friends" podcast that Zach Braff and Donald Faison are doing (rewatching all of Scrubs and chatting about it). It was a running joke that Zach had never watched this film, despite his best friend being in it. A drama about race in Virginia and the bonding power of sports is not something we would ever have chosen for ourselves otherwise and the (American) football scenes are mostly a mystery to us, but we still enjoyed it. The expected shift from outright hostility between the different communities, to complete acceptance is unrealistically quick - but it's a Disney film, so a happy ending was assured. Very enjoyable.
Scrubs: Season 8 (2009)
For some reason, our collection of Scrubs only goes up to season 7, so it was good to find that All4 currently includes all Scrubs seasons. I actually watched this with B & K last month, but rewatched it with C this month. Before that it had been a while since I last seen Scrubs, so it was good to see everyone again. JD is a bit too goofy and the bromance between him and Turk is over-played, but  I was pleased (spoiler alert) that JD and Elliott finally got together, and the finale is genuinely touching. Shame they went and spoiled it with season 9 (don't bother).
Frost/Nixon (2008)
On the face of it, a story about a set of interviews - even ones as historic as these - isn't promising material for a film, but I found this fascinating. Michael Sheen is decent enough as Frost (even though I think he impersonates Tony Blair much better; the smile/not-smile he does all the time suits the former PM better), but Frank Langella is superb as Nixon. I'd never seen the real interviews themselves (I have now), but it's interesting to compare the film with Clive James's reviews of them at the time: he was unimpressed by the programme focusing on Watergate (which was recorded last but broadcast first), whereas in the film it's presented as a triumph for Frost after the "failures" of previous interviews. On the other hand, James found the earlier interviews worthwhile. So clearly some dramatic license has been taken. Still, a very enjoyable film.
Emma (2009)
I'm not sure who identified the glorious anachronism at the heart of Titanic, which was to take a film on which huge amounts of effort and money had been spent in order to achieve period-correctness - and then drop two late-90s teenagers into it as Jack and Rose. But it feels like the same was attempted with this BBC version of Emma. Everyone around Emma walks and talks like you'd expect from a Jane Austen drama, while Romala Garai has what looks like great fun basically pretending she's Cher in Clueless (still the best adaptation of the novel, by the way). Perhaps the intention was to make 18th century people seem more real, rather than robots - and perhaps my expectations have been skewed by previous dramatisations - but Garai comes across as vacuous rather than intelligent and there was too much that was jarring for this to be properly enjoyable. The story holds up, of course, but only just.
Some Kind Of Wonderful (1987)
This is perhaps a lesser-known John Hughes film, certainly not on the same level of reknown as, say, The Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink. However, I think it's better. Certainly the ending is more satisfying that the latter film, although overall it's a very similar plot. Mary Stuart Masterson is fantastic in it and, believe it or not, the first time I watched this, I didn't realise (spoiler alert) that she was in love with Eric Stoltz's character until right at the end. K, with whom I was very pleased to be able to share this, couldn't have been more disbelieving of my stupidity, but she enjoyed the film and that was good.
The Parent Trap (1998)
Searching on NowTV for something to watch with Z, we came across this. Not the obvious choice for a boy his age, but he enjoyed it, and why not - it's a well-made family film, with laughs, drama and some sentimentality, and it ends happily. I've seen it twice this year now (possibly I watched it with K, not sure) but I still like it. 
Inception (2010)
For some reason this has taken us ages to get round to watching, particularly given that I've had the DVD for almost two years and B has been nagging me about it for months (although he's been very patient really and waited so we could watch it together!). Anyway, we finally got round to it, split over three evenings, and very good it was too. As Mark Kermode pointed out, it's basically a heist movie, but a very well executed one. B and I were on tenterhooks towards the end (although K seemed very relaxed!) even though it was clear they would make it.
Dave (1993)
I've always really liked this film; it's very sweet and good-natured, while making a few good points about politics. And despite being twenty-seven years old, it hasn't dated. That helped when we watched this with B & K, who both enjoyed it a lot. K guessed the ending in about five seconds flat again - she's obviously watched way too many films!

Reading - July 2020

Glued To The Box by Clive James (1983)
More TV reviews, this time from a period I can somewhat remember (1979-1982). As before, it's witty, learned and pithy - although the book's introduction has less pith than the columns, as it clocks in at about twenty-five pages. Some of the reviews could be from any time in the last forty years, as little has changed in some respects. He describes an episode of Panorama, in which the interviewer "strove heroically to pin the Leader of the Opposition down with specific questions, but it was like trying to drive a nail through a blob of mercury." If you didn't know otherwise, this could serve as a description of many such encounters with Jeremy Corbyn, rather than from an interview with Michael Foot, which is what it is.
I own this book, along with the two previous Clive James collections, in one volume, which cost me 70p from Oxfam and counts as one of the best value purchases I have ever made.
Watching The English by Kate Fox (2014)
There are two books I am constantly recommending to people. One is Adventures In The Screen Trade and the other is Watching The English. I picked this revised edition up in Cambridge while waiting for B, mainly because I seemed to have lost my original copy (my mum has it, I found out last week). It's still spot-on about English behaviour, of course, and very entertaining, but this time I found myself wishing it was slightly shorter and less repetitive. I also wish Fox wouldn't be so apologetic and self-deprecating; OK, I get it, those are defining English characteristics and it makes the point, but it seems out of place in a book, even though it wouldn't in conversation.
Guitar Magazine (August 2020 / Issue 383)
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (1997)
It's very unclear why Bryson suddenly decided to walk the Appalachian Trail; his previous travel doesn't really stretch to strenuous and it's a massive undertaking at over 2000 miles. However, the issues brought up are consistent with his concerns about environmental impact and so perhaps it was a way of highlighting these. It's amusing and light, as eminently readable as ever, and not too long (some of his later books could do with a bit more editing).
Don't Make Me Think (Revisited) by Steve Krug (2014)
B asked me a while back if I could recommend any good guides to user interface design. I in turn asked Tom, one of our designers at work, and he told me about this. It's not about UI design, it's about usability - possibly of more importance to someone who's more on the implementation side of things anyway. B bought it and lent it to me. It's great. It's nothing I haven't seen before - I remember reading all the Jakob Nielsen articles when I was first doing web sites back in the late 90s - but it's well-written and wonderfully concise. The focus on easy, informal usability testing is particularly important (Joel Spolsky said the same thing back in 2000). Basically, everyone should read it.
The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (2006)
A good writer can make just about anything entertaining, and so it is here. Bill Bryson's early life was unexceptional in most ways, but that doesn't matter because he can evoke the period so well. In this case it is Des Moines, Iowa in the fifties - classic small town US (although Des Moines was and is a city) - and Bryson portrays it with affection and nostalgia. It reminds me of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs, another superb autobiography in which, on the face of it, little happens, but in fact is made involving by the sheer quality of the writing.