In search of meaningless entertainment this cold, wet weekend, I went to see Wimbledon at the cinema. It's from the same stable as Love, Actually, the odious Notting Hill and Bridget Jones -- and boy, you can tell.
I decided on that because it's a win-win situation so far as I am concerned: if I like it, hooray, if not, I can get a good, cleansing hate on.
I should have hated this. It concerns the usual trans-Atlantic romance between the diffident Englishman who lacks the killer instinct and the bouncy positive American woman -- a plot design I am so tired of that I could vomit.
But as it happened, I liked it a lot more than I expected. It had a good-natured charm about it. It's a film in which good things happen to fairly nice, witty people.
It wasn't as funny as Richard Curtis at his best but nor did it have that toxic metropolitan smugness that has infected every film he's done after Four Weddings. At the start, Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) admits that his life has actually been very privileged and comfortable, that his demons are of the wistful non-bitey lack-of-potential-fulfilled type, and that's rather disarming and clever of the writers.
The script is not as sharp but it's not as contrived as, say Love, Actually.
It's about an English journeyman tennis pro who has already decided to quit the circuit when he gets a wildcard entry to Wimbledon. It will not be a great plot giveaway to reveal that as this is a fairytale, he wins the thing. There are some interesting observations on choking and some suspenseful match moments but it's no Ron Shelton movie, it's not great on sports.
The romance bit fares a little better, chiefly because the love interest is more, well, interesting. Lizzie Bradbury is a young tennis champ under the wing of her strict father but she also clearly enjoys sex and gamesmanship and takes great relish in all forms of competition.
The real secret of this film, though, is Paul Bettany, who is completely adorable in the role. Adorable. I don't have much else to say. Just adorable. I'll be in the corner, dribbling, if anyone wants me.
If I were you, and you hadn't seen it, I would advise waiting until the DVD comes out and then hiring it for a boring evening when you're in need of cheering up. It's that sort of cosy heartwarmer but not worth a movie ticket, really.
II. Alone again, naturally
It's been a strange sort of week. My flatmate became my ex-flatmate on Thursday and I spent the weekend thoroughly cleaning -- bottoming out, as my mother would call it -- the bathroom and kitchen, doing all those jobs which seldom get done more than once a year.
It's peculiar. I miss her. I wanted to live alone so very badly but I do miss having a friend about. The next few months are going to involve a great deal of painting, plastering and woodwork, I can tell.
We're going to see One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest tomorrow with a bunch of people from journalism school who I first met 10 years ago. Shite. A decade. Anyway, it has Christian Slater and Mackenzie Crook in it, so it should be a decent bit of actor-spotting even if it ends up being a load of old nonsense.
It's only taken four days to return to my previous habit of yelling obscenities at the TV, but in my defence, it's the Labour party conference and I've got the government on my telly to be furious with.
III. May You Live In Interesting Times, Redux.
This week is the Labour party conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the British political system, it's like the DNC or RNC, except it's way less of a "we all stand together" style love-in. Rather, it's the time when all the shouty rebellious party members gather to bollock the leadership for their many and foul failures -- in the case of the Conservative conference, for their leadership's failure to move to the right of Attila the Hun, and for Labour, for their failure to declare a socialist republic with mandatory lentil bakes.
At this stage of the electoral cycle, the conference is usually all about the wrangles over what will be in the manifesto, and multiple pleas for unity.
But the issue of Iraq has hijacked this conference of course, because one of the Labour party's most sulphurous Faustian pacts was the deal struck whereby MPs agreed to back Tony Blair's decision to back the US in its Iraq venture.
Labour activists of the kind who attend conference traditionally dislike the Republicans and loathe the rightwing Christian radicals of the Bush administration, largely because of their leftwing secularism. They're not that fond of Blair, but had put up with him because he's seen as a winner.
Ever since the militants kidnapped Kenneth Bigley and his two American compatriots from a Baghdad suburb, attention has focused even further on Iraq, particularly as Bigley is the only one left alive at the time of writing.
Blair's Edith Piaf impression is playing very badly among the party faithful, as they believe he's lost the plot on Iraq and that there should be a pullout as quickly as possible before an entire generation has hatred of the west inculcated into them by foreign jihadis. They're furious at what they see as his blind backing for Bush's revenge attack on Iraq and believe he lied over WMD.
A large number were in the 'war at no price' camp, and this year has only sharpened their fury -- and I would describe it as fury, rather than anger. There's something very personal and slightly irrational about it, because it's tinged with a sense of betrayal, I think, and anger at themselves and shame because Blair represents them yet has almost nothing in common with them.
The party managers were desperate to avoid any sort of debate on Iraq for this reason. I think there could be real fireworks this week, particularly given the simmering row with the chancellor of the exchequer. It could be a fascinating week. There's a decent analysis here
Blair/Brown antagonist slash, it's like Mulder/Krycek in a way.
(Blair/Bush is more like Andrew/Warren)
IV. Any other business
(a) I just watched Dirty War on the BBC, which was a sphincter-tightening piece of what-iffery about the exploding of a dirty bomb in the UK. The film-makers kindly chose to shoot it somewhere I have to go every day on my way to work, and made the radiation cloud drift over where I work. Cheers for that, you bastards.
Actually, it was less scary than their "we're all going to DIE of SMALLPOX" special last year, and you could tell the writers knew what bothers Londoners, because one of the last things they mentioned was the effect on house prices.
They had one of those unbearably stupid audience discussion programmes on afterwards in which some people complained that the film unfairly demonised Muslims, which I thought was kind of silly given that the film-makers really stressed how the tips from ordinary Londoners of the Muslim faith helped catch some of the bomb-makers, one of the two main police officer characters was a Muslim and film highlighted the gulf between well, human beings, and the people who carry out atrocities.
One man (and if he was a Muslim or indeed anything other than a "more right-on than thou" bigmouth I will eat my office chair with ketchup) said that they could have made it about another group than Islamist extremists.
Like who, for goodness' sake? The whole point is that this is a new kind of terrorism, and that it's based on a very narrow, nihilistic and twisted version of a faith that is rejected by the vast majority of the practitioners of that faith. It has no real aims other than death, no real demands that can be carried out with any practicality, unlike, say, the Basque separatists or Irish republicans.
Perhaps when groups other than Islamist extremists start carrying out suicide bombings aimed at murdering large civilian populations, he'll have a case.
Only idiots fail to draw a distinction between Islamist extremists and ordinary people who are Muslims and most people are very aware of the dangers of these idiots acting.
(b) The Bosnia/Herzegovina volleyball team at the Paralympics in Athens are made up of disabled veterans from the Balkan wars of the 90s and they're one match away from a gold medal.
(c) So, Hurricane Jeanne. Eek. Best wishes to the poor sods in Florida and other affected states and countries.
More hurricanes than any other storm season on record. A handful of the hottest years on record all within the last decade.
Global warming != tooth fairy. Please note, current US administration and other miscreants.
(d) Re: Shaun of the Dead. I *told* you so.
(e) I resisted buying the Stars Wars DVDs for oh, a good week. Go me, with the willpower of steel. Or not.
(f) Ditto Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell