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President Putin in Olympic track suit

Putin’s Olympic Dream

“There was only a mountain, no road. A forest, a river, nothing else. Nothing there at all.” Oligarch Vladimir Potanin, a (former) investor in the Sochi Winter Olympics says with just a touch of residual pride about Sochi, a spa town on the Black Sea that is now home to the Winter Olympics. He got involved back in 2002, when it was a smallish private project, before President Putin, as he was then and is again now (having made himself prime minister for a spell, so as to sidestep an annoying constitutional restriction on being president too often) involved himself and directed the full force of the state onto the event, making it … Read more
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen

The Queen

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 8 February Elizabeth II proclaimed queen of UK, 1952 On this day in 1952, Elizabeth II was proclaimed queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She had actually become queen two days earlier, on the death of her father, George VI, which she heard about while on a tour of Kenya. Proclamations were read out starting the next day. But according to time zone or geographical location, some parts of the new queen’s realm had not completed the formalities until the day after that. In keeping with protocol, the queen took different titles in different jurisdictions; in some she was … Read more
Party hats on for the finale of Import/Export

Import/Export

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 7 February Maastricht Treaty signed, 1992 On this day in 1992, the Treaty on European Union, aka the Maastricht Treaty, was signed by members of the European Community, in Maastricht, Netherlands. Its purpose, as its name suggests, was to create a union of Europe. It proposed and established three pillars of the Treaty –the European Community, a common foreign and security policy and a similar arrangement for justice and home affairs. In effect it formalised arrangements that had already existed, but it also extended them – the European Community was the continuation of the European Economic Community, with the “Economic” being … Read more
James McAvoy builds bridges in the community in Filth

10 February 2014-02-10

Out in the UK this week Filth (Lionsgate, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) An adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about a member of her majesty’s constabulary – aka the Filth – and his glorious, drug-fuelled, wretched, sweary stumble towards the abyss. For anyone who has only seen James McAvoy as a lean-limbed X-Man superhero this badger-rough portrayal of a whisky-breathed Scottish cop will be a revelation. As it will for anyone not used to Welsh’s basic MO (see Trainspotting). Filth is a real film of two halves. There’s a big, chest-beating and vividly debauched Rabelaisian part one – with McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson smarter, faster, more aggressive than any of his more politically correct fellows. But after the … Read more
Savion Glover and Tyheesha Collins in Bamboozled

Bamboozled

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 6 February The first minstrel show, 1843 On this day in 1843, the Virginia Minstrels led by Dan Emmett became the first full-length black minstrel show in the USA. They’d tested and previewed the show at other venues but it was on 6 February that the show opened at the Bowery Amphitheater, New York. The show had a three-act structure – four guys sitting in a semi-circle, singing songs, telling jokes and just generally being entertaining; followed by a front-of-curtain variety segment; finishing off with a spoof/skit/satire piece. Minstrelsy goes back as far as you care to look – to the … Read more
Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 5 February John Boyd Dunlop born, 1840 John Boyd Dunlop, Scottish inventor and accidental businessman, was born on this day in 1840. After studying to be a veterinarian at Edinburgh University, he moved to Ireland and set up practice with his brother, in Downpatrick. His most famous invention was the pneumatic tyre, which he developed in 1887 as a way of making his son’s tricycle roll easier over the hard ground of his back yard. Dunlop was immediately struck not just by how much smoother the ride was, but by how much more easily the wheel rolled with a pneumatic tyre … Read more
Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man

Repo Man

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 4 February Radium synthesised, 1936 The element radium had been discovered by Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre in 1898. They had taken a ton of pitchblende and from it separated out a tenth of a gram of radium chloride. From that, by 1910, Marie Curie had managed to isolate pure radium, along the way coining the word “radioactivity”. Sources for this useful metal (it was what made luminous watch faces and instrument dials glow) were scarce and when the Austrian government banned further export of silver-mine tailings, the search was on to find other radioactive elements, and to produce radium … Read more
Ian Bonar, Kieran Bew, Lyndsey Marshal and Mathew Baynton strike the indie pose in 1234

1234

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 3 February Buddy Holly dies, 1959 On this day in 1959, 22-year-old Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. He was in a plane because he had suddenly become insanely popular – his songs That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away and Oh Boy! had seen to that – and was hopping between gigs on the Winter Dance Party Tour played with a pick-up band posing as his regular band, The Crickets. With him in the plane were fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson aka The Big Bopper, plus the pilot, Roger Peterson. Peterson was not licensed to fly without … Read more
Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 2 February Groundhog Day Today is Groundhog day. In areas of Pennsylvania where a High German dialect known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deutsch) is still preserved the event is marked with a fersommlinge (Versammlung in modern German, meaning meeting) at which much interest is shown in a groundhog, a type of marmot, and whether it throws a shadow when leaving its burrow. If it does, so the folklore says, there will be another six weeks of winter. But if it is cloudy, then spring is on the way. The largest of these celebrations is held in Punxsutawney, where … Read more
Martina Gedeck in The Wall

The Wall

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 1 February Alexander Selkirk rescued, 1709 On this day in 1709, a Scottish sailor named either Alexander Selkirk or Selcraig was rescued from an island in the South Pacific. But the model for Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe wasn’t the victim of a shipwreck. In fact he’d asked the captain of the privateer (ie pirate) ship he was sailing on, the Cinque Ports, to leave him on the uninhabited island known as Más a Tierra in the Juan Fernández archipelago about 700km off the coast of Chile. Known since his youth as a quarrelsome sort, Selkirk had been loudly protesting … Read more
Roxane Mesquida grabs lunch in Kiss of the Damned

3 February 2014-02-03

Out in the UK This Week Kiss of the Damned (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) There’s a scene early on in Xan (daughter of John) Cassavetes’s vampire film in which a man (Milo Ventimiglia) with the hots for a woman he’s just met (Joséphine de la Baume) is pawing at her passionately through the centimetres-wide gap in her intruder-chained door. What Paolo doesn’t yet know is that Djuna is a vampire who’s struggling with her vow to stay off human blood, which is why she’s reluctant to unchain the door and let him in. Cassavetes shoots the encounter from above – their arms snaking through the gap, his head thrusting forward, their mouths meeting … Read more
Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd in Frida

Frida

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 31 January Leon Trotsky exiled, 1929 On this day in 1929, Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, aka Leon Trotsky, was exiled from the country he had helped create. A member of the victorious Bolsheviks in the revolution of 1917 (having earlier switched allegiance from the Mensheviks), Trotsky rose quickly through the party, proving himself decisively in the civil war against the Mensheviks in 1918. Ideologically he was loosely aligned with Lenin, believed in mass democracy, permanent revolution and internationalism and was opposed to the “socialism in one country” of Stalin. Trotsky found his ideas and those of the Left Opposition increasingly marginalised in … Read more

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