Blue Blood: Screening & Symposium

From the Ruskin School website:

The film director Stevan Riley will be coming to Oxford at 4.30pm on Friday 27 February to screen his brilliant documentary Blue Blood in the auditorium at Magdalen College.

Blue Blood follows a group of Oxford students in the run-up to the Varsity boxing match and stars ex-Ruskin School undergraduate Charles Ogilvie.

Stevan will introduce the film and he, Charlie and others will contribute to a round-table discussion immediately afterwards.

Variety described it as one of the better sports movies in recent memory, but Blue Blood is also a wonderful story about obsession and the search for personal identity.

Admission free.

Bonnie Honig on Slumdog Millionaire

It turns out that Slumdog Millionaire is a much more interesting film than I took it to be. Faced with cardboard-cutout characters and an implausible plot, I rather switched off and stopped enjoying myself. My former-teacher-and-current-colleague Bonnie Honig, on the other hand, started thinking instead about what it all had to say about democratic theory — and her splendid essay on Slumdog has just been published on the website of the Indian Express newspaper (albeit under a not-entirely-ideal title). So go over there and read it.

Was Today British Values Day?

Regular Stoa readers will remember that in the unspeakable Liam Byrne’s comic pamphlet A More United Kingdom, someone made the rather good suggestion that we might introduce the much-anticipated British Values Day “by making more of an existing day e.g. Pancake Day”. Well, today (Tuesday) was Pancake day, and therefore potentially also British Values Day.

Among other things, today I ate some Stilton cheese (and a pancake!), and watched parts of a football match on telly (though I suppose I should keep quiet about the fact that I wanted the notionally British team to lose).

Britons! What did you do today (or, depending on when you read this, yesterday) that was distinctively British?

Dead Beardie Cricket Scorer Watch

From the TMS blog, on the late Bill Frindall:

All our thoughts are obviously with his widow Debbie and his family. But Aggers [= BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew] said to me: “You know Bill would always delight in telling us he was born on the first day of the famous “timeless Test” – the longest ever match between England and South Africa in Durban in 1939 which lasted 10 days.

“Well,” continued Aggers “it just had to be the case that Bill’s funeral was held on the day of the shortest ever Test.”

I think Bill would rather have liked that.

I like that, too.

“We know what cats do in our homes – they sleep”

I’ve often wanted to attach some kind of GPS device to Enkidu, in order to work out where – and how far – he goes at night. It’s good to learn that Reading University scientists want to do something similar, and that even they have “virtually no idea of what they [the cats, not the scientists] get up to outdoors, particularly at night.”

The article also suggests that Enkidu may be wiping out far more wildlife than he brings in to show us, given that the rabbits, weasels (apparently) and water-buffalo that he brings down won’t fit through the catflap, and so they are eaten where they fall. (I may have garbled that last bit.)

Thinking of wildlife, I liked the final image in this gallery. Much better than that stupid white horse (and the duck isn’t bad, either).

UPDATE [Wednesday am]: Socialist Unity weighs in.

First Test Match

Two wonderful things happened this afternoon, while I was watching the rugby. The first is that Ian Bell was out for 4. The second is that the West Indies reduced England, at one point, to 26-7, after a fantastic spell from Jerome Taylor, whose figures are 9-5-11-5, and have just dismissed them for 51, to win by an innings and 23 runs.

The first thing is wonderful, as it really ought to mean that the selectors call time on Ian Bell’s Test career. Since hitting 199 against South Africa, Bell has had a dozen Test innings, with scores of 31, 4, 50, 20, 24, 4, 17, 7, 1, 24*, 28 and now 4, for an average over the period of about 19.5. He’s always been vulnerable to the charge that he gets cheap runs — although his overall Test average is 40.59,  his average against the three strongest sides in world cricket (Australia, India and South Africa) is only 28.66, and (my favourite factoid), although he’s hit eight centuries, he’s never reached 100 in an innings when someone else hasn’t reached 100 first. So another Bell failure is a good thing, as it would just be embarrassing to have Bell batting in the Ashes this summer.

The second thing is wonderful, insofar as it’s not good for cricket to have an enfeebled West Indian side. They’ve been too poor for too long, and it’s high time series involving the West Indies became competitive again. It’s also a good thing that their fine performance has been based on several individual contributions, batting and bowling, but without anything special from Chanderpaul, who has been their most reliable player over the last couple of years. That bodes well for the future.

The trouble, of course, is that the second thing might counteract the first. If England had batted well, and only Bell had failed badly, it’d be obvious to drop him. But England’s batting was so bad, to the extent that Bell, with his scores of 28 and 4, was in fact the fourth-highest scorer in both innings. And given that the selectors have given Bell far too many chances in the past, this collective batting disaster might give the selectors yet another excuse to keep him in the side. Bugger.

The Virtual Stoa Goes To The Cinema (So You Don’t Have To)

And, given these three, you really don’t have to.

Frost / Nixon is quite fun, and bounces along, but there’s no point making films like this if you’re going to distort what actually happened as much as this one does, and for no terribly good reason, artistic or otherwise. I don’t think I was prepared for a film containing a depiction of a naked John Birt. Perhaps the poster should carry a warning. (“Warning: Contains Scenes Depicting a Naked John Birt”.) I wondered whether it was a problem that it’s impossible to watch Michael Sheen without thinking of Tony Blair, but I don’t think that it is. There is something of Blair in David Frost – the eagerness to suck up to the powerful, in particular – and so it becomes a useful association rather than an irritating distraction.

Slumdog Millionaire is a very bad film. I’m not sure what else to say. It wasn’t dreadful, but when I was trying to think of “films I’d seen in the cinema that were obviously worse”, the two that sprang to mind immediately were Ridicule and Life is Beautiful. Those two were much, much worse than Slumdog, admittedly, but what these have in common is that they are all the kind of foreign films or films about foreigners that get Oscar nominations, and perhaps in future I should make sure I avoid those.

Revolutionary Road isn’t very good, either, which was a bit of a surprise, as I enjoyed American Beauty, and had quite high hopes for this one. There’s very little drama, as what happens once the plot gets going is almost entirely predictable, and the general approach is to pile on every kind of cliché one can think of about suburban life in 1950s America. Michael Shannon’s two short scenes  are easily the best thing in the film, but even he’s just recapitulating another stale topos, the madman who talks more sense than anybody else. Part of me thinks that the suffocating layers of cliché and stereotype on all the various levels in this film must be part of its point – but then one just ends up wondering just what that point is supposed to be.