Watching - August 2020

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Saturday dinner time family viewing, mainly for K who hadn't seen it before. A classic, obviously: silly but fun, lots of great lines ("strange things are afoot at the Circle K") and nice and short.
The American President (1995)
In my mind, this goes with Dave, which we watched a couple of days ago. It's a superbly made film, touching, funny and realistic - at least, in the trivial respects. Aaron Sorkin wrote it, and it seems fairly obvious where his sympathies lie - with common sense, to anyone who's not a right-wing, gun-fetishising nutjob. Sadly, watching this only points up the sorry state of affairs in US politics right now, which makes this film something of a fantasy - but I think it always was, really. Sorkin went on to create The West Wing, which also starred Martin Sheen, and Michael J. Fox's next project was Spin City, so this film was pretty influential, I think.
Moneyball (2011)
I haven't read the source book, although I mean to, as Michael Lewis's other books are really interesting. Since this is a dramatisation of a true story - the Oakland Athletics baseball team's 2002 season - I'm guessing it's pretty true-to-life. I didn't understand the baseball scenes at all, but as with Remember The Titans, it doesn't really matter, I still enjoyed it. Maybe I should watch some films about more English sport to balance things out though!
Groundhog Day (1993)
K was the only one of the kids who hadn't seen this, for some reason, so that needed to be rectified. Pleasingly, it managed to foil even her usually unerring ability to predict what would happen. I can remember C and I going to see this, in Harrow, when it came out, and it's still great. The fact that I can recite most of the lines doesn't spoil it at all (well, not for me, possibly this isn't true for anyone watching it with me).
The Holiday (2006)
High-grade, star-studded schmaltz. Pulls all the right heart strings, but as predictable as getting wet in rain. Maybe I am prejudiced but the British actors are superb (special mention for Rufus Sewell as a smarmy, two-timing cheat), while the US actors play things a little by numbers, particularly Jack Black who is mis-cast (or at least should have been told to act and stop playing Jack Black), although Eli Wallach is very good. Overall, a nice piece of fluff which I had seen before but didn't mind watching again.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004)
Family choice while eating pizza. Not the most amazing film ever, but undeserving of "near-universal critical disdain" (according to Wikipedia) - it's perfectly nice, and the presence of Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway make it very watchable.
Jumanji: The Next Level  (2019)
We started watching the first (second? I mean the remake of) Jumanji but I didn't finish it, for various reasons, until after we'd watched this. As a sequel, it has enough different to make it worth watching, while keeping the same enjoyable formula. Yes, it's a bit too similar to the first one in places, but if I'm honest, the main difference (that the avatars are inhabited by different people) felt a bit odd in some way, and I wished that they were all the same people as before - something the makers clearly realised, as they had them all swap back half way through. All good fun though and a great family film (although B & K bailed half way through for some reason).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Any film with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in it isn't usually on our radar, but we took a chance on this anyway, and just as well - we really enjoyed it. I haven't seen the original Jumanji, so I don't know how it compares, but the ideas here are good and handled well, and the actors look like they're having fun being avatars with other people's personalities inside them. There's plenty of action, lessons are learned and there are some very sweet moments too (I'm a sucker for a little sentimentality). And in fairness to Mr The Rock, he's very good.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Superb, quick-witted and fun teen romcom. Played for K, since I knew she would like it.
Le Mans '66 (2019)
Really enjoyable drama about the Ford GT40 win in '66, and the people who made. I knew some of the story (enough to know this film is something of a simplification), but hadn't appreciated the amount Ken Miles contributed to the design and engineering. Christian Bale is superb as Miles, and the driving scenes, while a bit fake, are wonderfully staged and a great opportunity to spot old classics.

Reading - August 2020

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett (1995)
Most of my copies of Discworld novels are secondhand. This one cost all of £1.49 - excellent value. This story is basically a whodunnit, with lots of jolly good fun and amusing nods to musical theatre (The Phantom of the Opera in particular of course, even down to referencing Michael Crawford obliquely). Read it in afternoon waiting for C at a hospital check up. I enjoyed it more this time than last time, for some reason.
 The Look of the Century by Michael Tambini (1996)
Despite owning this book for over twenty years, I don't think I have ever read it in full before. (Actually, if I'm being honest, I still haven't, as I skipped the A-Z of designers at the end). It's a look at design through the twentieth century, a big, glossy book full of pictures of arresting furniture, clothes, packaging, electronics, toothbrushes - you name it, it's probably here! - through the years. It's difficult to read, both because it's quite heavy and because it's very bitty. There's lots of interest here for the casual observer (i.e. me), although some of the text is a bit erratic and in a couple of cases I spotted inaccuracies which makes me wonder about the validity of all of it. It's also interesting to note that while Tambini can summarise each decade, he several times states that the 90s was impossible to summarise. This strikes me as a facet of being in the middle of changing times; twenty years later, I'm sure the 90s can be summarised.
White Picket Fences by Tara Taylor Quinn (2000)
Third, fourth or possibly fifth time around, and this still moves me. I'm such a soppy old thing sometimes.
The Guitar Magazine (Sept 2020 / Issue 384)
Plenty of interesting music profiled this month, and a nostalgic trip down Denmark Street. I never bought a guitar there (although I did buy a Strat in nearby Soho Soundhouse once) but I've been going there since I was a teenager and ogling the vintage instruments, and even occasionally buying a knick-knack or two. It's kind of sad to see it now.
Thank You For The Days by Mark Radcliffe (2009)
As he says, not an autobiography, but a selection of notable or interesting moments in his life. And it's not just a collection of celeb encounters (although there are a few, of course), but includes scenes from his childhood too. Entertaining and interesting, and I find his style of self-deprecation amusing rather than unconvincing. Nice bedtime reading due to its episodic nature.
She Did A Bad, Bad Thing by Stephanie Bond (2007)
Boilerplate romance: studly, alpha male and a shy, unassuming woman who comes out of her shell. Predictable but nice enough. (Side note: I borrowed this as an e-book from the library and read it on my Kobo, now returned by my mum who never used it, as far as I can tell! Very convenient.)
Wham! George & Me by Andrew Ridgeley (2019)
Interesting, if un-engaging, history from The Other One.


Wham! George & Me

Andrew Ridgeley


Cover image
Wham! were a part of my teens by default really; despite the fact that I was never that bothered about their music, it's an indelible part of my history. (And in fairness, it's grown on me and I can get quite into "The Edge Of Heaven".) The fact that they grew up not that far from me wasn't something I knew at the time, although it's quite fun to see the familiar landmarks in the early pages of this book.

I suppose they're now increasingly known as the band that George Michael was in before he became a global superstar, but he's gone and this is their story, by The Other One. Andrew Ridgeley sometimes gets an unfair amount of stick for being a passenger - and given his achievements since Wham!, you might even consider that epithet justified. But really, anyone who has the sense to walk away from celebrity strikes me as a much more balanced individual than someone who carries on, continually trying to prove something. He had about five years in the limelight and then more than thirty years of probably very comfortable living off the back of it. That's a deal I'd take.

It's still a bit of a puzzle what Ridgeley actually did in Wham! He was the driving force behind originally getting a band together, he says, and he had a hand in some of the early songs (apparently he still earns a handsome amount from the sales of Careless Whisper every year), but by his own admission, he handed the creative reins to Michael fairly soon into Wham!'s short life. But again, you could regard this as the action of a normal person. With what seems like a lot less ego to satisfy than most "stars", he says he could see how good George Michael was becoming, and was happy to take second place to him.

That said, Andrew Ridgeley obviously has enough of an ego to want to finally put his side of the story, and I was interested enough to read about it - in fact, I got through it in a couple of days. But although it's easy to read, the book is curiously un-engaging. It seems obvious to me that it's been ghost-written (even though there's no other credit), as the writing has a bland, practised, tabloid-esque glibness that obscures any sense of the real person, which is a shame.

What does come across is the story of an ordinary, normally talented teenager who was lucky enough to be best friends with the boy who became George Michael, and who got to live that life for a few years, and then went happily back to semi-obscurity. Good for him, I say.