Month: December 2014

The Final Cut – tape 2279

This tape starts just as the continuity announcer is saying ‘…scenes of explicit sex.’ Ok, then.

The Final Cut is the last serial in the ‘House of cards’ trilogy, based on the political novels by Michael Dobbs, and adapted by the almost omnipresent Andrew Davies. Ian Richardson is the villainous Francis Urquhart, originally the Chief Whip, elevated to Prime Minister during the run of the three serials. Younger readers might be more familiar with the recent Netflix series with Kevin Spacey, based on the same themes but with the setting transported to Washington, and (therefore) the story being almost entirely new.

This tape does not have episode one, but it does have:

Before episode three, there’s a trail for Ben Elton’s The Thin Blue Line. There’s also a trailer for tomorrow’s Panorama special, featuring (I presume) Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana – given that it’s billed as the Princess speaking for the first time.

After the final episode, the recording runs on. There’s a trailer for Roughnecks, then a trailer for a special Everyman report into a scandal in the church – the rave vicar – in 15 minutes.

Then there’s a BBC News broadcast – top stories are the stalled Northern Ireland Peace Process, Bosnian Serb leaders railing against the suggestion the UN might arrest them, and the priest at the centre of the ‘Nine O’Clock Service’ rave scandal has resigned – of which, there’s much more later on the tape.

There’s also a story about the end of a Scottish postal workers’ strike, with a young Alan Johnson as the head of the communication workers union.

Young Alan Johnson

BBC Genome: BBC One London, 26 November 1995 21.55

Following the news, a new series of Everyman starts with an interview with the controversial priest behind ‘The Nine O’Clock Service’ – a supposedly religious service, augmented by rave music, that turned out to be a way for him to molest lots of women. As the news reported, he resigned from the CofE, presumably because this programme doesn’t paint him in the best light, featuring as it does interviews with women he abused. Because it turns out that the leaders of a charismatic evangelical cult might just be in it for their own benefit.

There’s some excerpts from the organisation’s archive which bear a striking similarity to the brainwashing films from The Parallax View, or A Clockwork Orange.

It’s a fascinating programme, not least because of the massive lack of any accepted culpability either by the priest who led the service, and was a de facto cult leader, or by his Bishop, who practically threw his hands up and said ‘well what am I supposed to do?’ And, of course, even when women (and some men) spoke out about the abuse, they were ignored, sidelined and silenced.

BBC Genome: BBC One London, 26 November 1995 22.10

Following this programme, Joan Bakewell hosts a round-table discussion about the issues raised by the scandal. There’s a nice wide shot of the studio showing how the three-camera setup works, with all the cameras sharing the same tracks.

Heart of the matter studio

The tape finishes before the end of this discussion. BBC One London, 26 November 1995 23.00

The River Wild – Timecop – tape 2306

Two movies here, both fun.

The River Wild was recording on the movie channel. Meryl Streep plays an expert oarswoman and all around outdoor person who takes her family on a river rafting holiday. Her marriage is shaky, because husband David Strathairn is spending all of his time at work rather than spend time with his family. But she makes the mistake of helping out Kevin Bacon and his friend, who turns out to be evil, probably because he can’t get a 4G signal on his EE phone.

Streep’s son is played by Joseph Mazzello, off of Jurassic Park. He’s a similar character here, striking up conversation with Bacon about his Lollapalooza baseball cap, and saying he was disappointed not to have seen Jane’s Addiction in concert before they broke up.

Meryl Streep

Husband Strathairn turns up at the starting point of the trip, unexpectedly but the atmosphere between him and Streep remains frosty – she introduces him as ‘the father of my son’ rather than her husband.

At first, Bacon and his friend, John C Reilly, just seem like slightly inept, slightly creepy rafters, but it soon becomes clear they’re far more malevolent. It’s a tense film, with great performances all round – Bacon’s boyish charm works really well when coupled with a dangerous streak, while Strathairn plays the meeker husband who has deeper resources than it first appears. Streep is as wonderful as ever, exactly who you’d want taking you down a dangerous river, and it’s really her movie. It’s a shame she doesn’t get more action roles, as on this evidence she’d more than hold her own in the genre.

Following the movie, there’s a trail for Springhill, the weird Sky soap which had more than a few Doctor Who writers on its staff.

This is a run-on recording, so the next movie followed straight afterwards on the same channel. It’s Jean Claude Van Damme’s greatest movie, Timecop. Well maybe I’m biased as I love time travel stories, but this one’s a hoot.

It’s got fairly good credentials, too. It’s based on a Dark Horse comic book series, with a screenplay by the two creators, Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden, Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert are producers, and it’s directed by veteran Peter Hyams, who also acts as Director of Photography, as he likes to do on his movies.

Plus, Van Damme’s co-star is the much missed Ron Silver who probably plays Van-Damme’s loyal partner.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course he’ll be a bad guy.

Ron Silver

There’s a good opening set in the civil war – a lone man holds up a convoy transporting confederate gold, and when they draw their pistols on him, he blows them all away with two very modern-looking machine guns.

Cut to modern-day Washington (1944), where a Senate committee discusses a brand new technological development – a German scientist, formerly of NASA, has developed time travel. The committee is briefed by Scott Lawrence on the perils of this new technology: “You can’t go forward because the future hasn’t happened yet.”

While Lawrence is outlining the possible perils – “Saddam Hussein finances a trip back to 1944. He gets our technology, and Iraq becomes the first country to get the atomic bomb” – One of the committee, Ron Silver, is clearly doing some calculations in his mind. He offers to chair the oversight on the creation of the Timecop programme, to protect the past from the present.

Next we’re in a mall, and we meet Mia Sara, who plays Melissa, Van Damme’s wife. (For ease of typing, Monsieur Van Damme will henceforth be referred to as JCVD).

Mia Sara

Their initial conversation is borderline creepy.

                           JCVD
                 There's never enough time...

                           Mia Sara
                 To do what?

                           JCVD
                 To Satisfy a woman.

ewwww. This whole scene in the mall is all foreshadowing and foreboding. Clocks strike the hour, lots of dialogue about time, JCVD glimpses some heavy-set men who practically have ‘thug’ tattooed on their foreheads.

Then it’s back home for some surprise sex. When I was younger, this kind of thing never bothered me – when I was very young, I guess it was a plus point, but now I’m older, and have younger children, the amount and level of nudity and sex in so much of Hollywood’s output in the 80s and 90s now takes me by surprise. There’s a short scene here, but it’s racier than you’d expect, although it’s not quite Game of Thrones level.

But, there’s not much time for smooching, as JCVD gets a call from the station that something’s up. And as he leaves the house (in the pouring rain again) he’s beaten up and shot in the chest by the two thugs he saw earlier. But luckily for him, he was on his way to work, wearing his bullet proof vest.

Then his whole house blows up, with his wife in it.

Boom

Then we have a nice cut – to Wall Street 1929. A banker has already pitched out of a high window onto the pavement, but we follow another who doesn’t seem worried by this. He sits down at his desk, pulls out that day’s New York Times, notes the headline about the huge market crash (for those viewers who hadn’t clocked all the other clues in the scene so far), then pulls out another newpaper – an edition of USA Today from 2004. Now he could have used the NYT from 2004, but visually that’s harder to read as an anachronism.

Then, to underline that it’s even our future, he turns off the radio and pulls out some new-fangled music player. No idea what this is, it’s not a minidisc, it’s too big to be Compact Flash (neither of which existed in 1994, I believe) but it’s not a bad stab at a futuristic music player. Not quite an iPod, though, is it? Oh for a special edition…

Music Player

His market musings are interrupted by the appearance of none other than JCVD – from thin air in a cutting edge CGI effect.

Timecop manifestation

It’s Morphtastic. But this isn’t the Van Damme we left earlier. His hair is longer, ironically making him look more 90s, not less. The trader is his ex-partner running a scam. But he reveals he’s working with Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) to finance his presidential campaign. His partner is so scared of the repercussions of testifying against McComb that he tries to makes a leap out of the window, but JCVD jumps after him and manages to transport him back to the future before he hits the ground.

Cut to T.E.C. Headquarters, 2004 (which, to be clear, is in the future when this film was made). Silver is there, saying he wants to shut down the timecops. Van Damme all but tells him he knows he’s involved in the scams. This cannot be a good move, but JCVD is nothing if not obstinate.

Later, he’s attacked in his home, and has to fight off the heavies in his underwear. Van Damme in his pants can mean only one thing: The Splits.

Van Damme Splits

Enter Gloria Reuben as Fielding, from Internal Affairs, sticking with JCVD because his ex partner was crooked. When they’re preparing to make another trip to the past to investigate another possible alteration, the pervy tech guy is watching virtual reality porn at work. Surely that’s a sackable offence?

There’s a lot of background chatter about how McComb’s presidential campaign is in the toilet, ad he’s going to lose big. Rule Number One – if a radio or TV newsreader says something, it’s almost certain to be relevant to the plot.

We get to see how they actually travel through time. It’s a strange rocket sled contraption that’s fired at a concrete wall, morphing back in time just before it hits. Why they have to have a concrete wall in the way is never explained. False Jeopardy, probably.

Rocket Sled

Oddly enough, and the film makes no attempt whatsoever to explain this, when they appear in the past the sled has gone and they’re usually walking. Although this time they appear in mid-air above one of the reflecting pools in Washington DC.

They’re back to 1994. The time incursion is traced to an old factory. Isn’t it always the way?

Danger Extreme Cold

‘DANGER: EXTREME COLD’ I wonder if this will become somehow relevant later?

The factory is the fabrication plant for Parker McComb Data Systems, the chip maker which, we learned earlier, Senator McComb used to (and currently does still) co-own.

When we get inside, we find McComb demanding that his partner, Parker, buy out his interest, because the plant isn’t making money. But then, Future McComb makes a very cool entrance.

A cool entrance

JCVD interrupts the conversation, and McComb gets to outline his political philosophy.

“We need a president who’s so rich he doesn’t need to listen to the special interests.”

“It’ll be like the 80s again. The top 10 percent get richer, the other 90% can emigrate to Mexico where they can live a better life.”

JCVD has it all under control, until officer Fielding turns her gun on him. She’s a traitor! Cue a big fight in the factory. There’s a nice moment when young McComb gets cut on face, and a scar magically appears on older McComb’s face.

And a bad guy gets his arm frozen and broken off, of course. This was a nice effect.

Frozen Arm

When JCVD gets back to the future, everything’s changed. McComb now owns the technology, and he’s way ahead of the polls. They’re dismantling the Timecop headquarters.

One problem that a lot of these future films have, is with the cars. They have self-driving cars, fair enough, but they’re all blocky and covered in loads of unnecessary detailing. It would play havoc with aerodynamics.

Ugly Future Cars

This is supposed to be a limousine.

JCVD decides to make one last trip to 1994 to find the traitorous Fielding. She’s still alive, in hospital, but not for long as the big henchmen kill her while Van Damme’s busy discovering his wife is pregnant because her blood test happened to be right next to Fielding’s.

Then it’s back to the mall for JCVD. I wonder if it’s called Twin Pines Mall? Older JCVD tells his wife he knows about her pregnancy, and from now on we’re replaying the events at the start of the movie, but changed because of the presence of older JCVD.

They end up back at the house, where old JCVD is able to take on some of the heavies.

There’s a nice action moment when JCVD and Mia Sara are hanging from a gutter, or rather, he’s hanging on to the gutter and  Mia Sara, and the bad guy is treading on his fingers. They can see his gun almost in reach below the gutter. Cut to the bad guy and he’s shot full of holes. How dod JCVD manage that with both hands full?

He didn’t – it was Mia Sara.

Older McComb is also there, and intends to blow up the house with everyone in it. He doesn’t care that he would die, because the younger McComb will live, create a new future in which he won’t have to come back.

But JCVD has one last trick up his sleeve – younger McComb walks in the door. JCVD left a message with the Senate, and he turns up as requested. And to settle the matter, we finally get to see what happens when two incarnations of the same person collide. It’s not pretty.

Silver vs Silver

And after all that, when JCVD returns to the future, McComb is a distant memory, everything is a lot rosier, and for that final happy moment, his wife is still alive, as is his young son.

After the movie, there’s a Top Ten rundown of the top movies in cinemas. They play the Twister trailer that keeps cutting to black, and thus makes it look like the picture is faulty. They also play trailers for Escape from LA (Why wasn’t that a better movie?), Emma, Striptease and Independence Day.

The tape ends here.

Adverts:

  • Galaxy Caramel
  • Dolmio
  • Wash & Go
  • Flash
  • TV Licence
  • Uncle Ben’s
  • Discovery Channel
  • Centrium
  • trail: James Dean Day
  • Granada Channel
  • trail: Sky Sports
  • Orange
  • Uncle Ben’s
  • Microsoft

  • Raleigh
  • Dolmio
  • Discovery Channel
  • Haze 2in1
  • Mr Sheen
  • Fresh’n Up
  • Bacardi Spice
  • trail: Action Week
  • Granada Men & Motors – yuck
  • trail: Law & Order, New York Undercover

Room 101 – tape 2401

Either this tape started very early, or BBC2 was running late that night. It opens with the end of an episode of Rab C Nesbitt.BBC Two England, 1 August 1997 21.30

Followed by a fairly long trail for This Life.

Then, we get an apology for BBC2 running late, due to an earlier, live, Proms concert. So that answers that question.

Then, a new series of Room 101 starts, with Nick Hancock in the host’s chair, and Jeremy Clarkson as the guest.

Jeremy Clarkson on Room 101

This is an intermediate Clarkson. No longer the boyish, bushy-haired cub reporter for Top Gear, but not yet the greying, reactionary we now know and (sometimes) love.

Unsurprisingly, his first item for Room 101 is Caravans. He also chooses Flies, Last of the Summer Wine, and Golf, wherein he castigates golf for excluding people, sounding almost liberal.

When discussing his next choice, vegetarianism, he tries to walk in some marrow shoes.

Marrow Shoes

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 1 August 1997 22.00

Before the next programme, a brief trail for the Mark Radcliffe breakfast show.

Then a trail for Spanking The Monkey, a moviedrome presentation of a movie about incest, apparently.

Then, more Room 101, this time with Neil Morrissey.

Neil Morrissey

He picks Mornings, 3,2,1, Germany, The Bay City Rollers and American Football.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 8 August 1997 22.00

Before the next episode, there’s a trailer for Moviedrome showings of Logan’s Run and Farenheit 451.

Then a trail for Third Rock from the Sun.

Then, Terry Wogan joins Nick Hancock in Room 101.

Terry Wogan Room 101

His picks are Eric Cantona, sex in nature programmes, chat show guests who don’t want to talk (using Anne Bancroft as his prime example), Have I Got News for You, and Eastenders.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 15 August 1997 22.00

Before the next programme, the end credits of an episode of Rab C Nesbitt, then a trailer for the Mercury Music Prize which captions all the nominated acts, but spends considerably less time on John Taverner and Mark Anthony Turnage than, for example, Suede or Radiohead.

There’s a trailer for Mark Radcliffe’s breakfast show.

Then, Alan Davies joins Nick Hancock in Room 101, banshing Live Television, keeping birds in cages, posh people talking, jacket and jeans, actors eating, Liverpool

Alan Davies Room 101

 

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 22 August 1997 22.00

Before the next episode, there’s a trailer for Holding On.

Then, the next guest on Room 101 is Chris Tarrant, who is introduced as the presenter of the current programme Man O Man, which I seem to recall was pretty dire.

Chris Tarrant

His choices are Sooty, Nouvelle Cuisine, Mystic Meg, Opera, soap stars who release records (prompting Nick Hancock to show some DJs – DLT, Wogan and Tarrant’s own Bucket of water song), and clowns.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 29 August 1997 22.00

Next, Mark Lamarr joins Nick. This is a change to the programme billed in the Radio Times (BBC Two England, 5 September 1997 22.00) which was supposed to be Ulrika Jonsson. The reason for this change is not stated, but there’s a clue later on..

Mark chooses the song YMCA, chatlines, baby talk, Subtitled films (illustrated by Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane), and men’s toilets.

Mark Lamarr

After this, recording switches to a shock appearance of Dave Lee Travis as one of the contestants of Shooting Stars. It’s the end of an episode, and one I’ll wager won’t get repeated. There’s quite a bit of this episode, since programmes are running ten minutes late (according to the continuity announcement).

There’s a trailer for Holding On,

Room 101 this week features the great Arthur Smith.

Arthur Smith

He cooses Skiing, Puppet on a String, dinner parties, Mike Powell beating Bob Beaman’s long jump record, and balloon modelling.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 12 September 1997 22.00

After the programme, a caption trail for VR5 the virtual reality SF show. Remember that?

VR5 caption

Then there’s a trail for Radio One Night celebrating 30 years of Radio One.

This is followed by Newsnight with Kirsty Wark, on the scottish referendum for a Scottish parliament. They voted Yes for that one.

There’s a few minutes of this episode, but then the recording stops, and underneath is another Newsnight. This one is on the eve of the funeral of Princess Diana, which might explain why the recording of Room 101 with Ulrika Jonsson was postponed – perhaps where was a reference to Diana or the Royal Family.

This episode closes with a reading of a new poem by Ted Hughes by Ian McKellen, along with other poems used by mourners to mark the occasion.

This was supposed to be followed by the first episode of VR5, but in its place, there’s an episode of The Outer Limits, the modern incarnation, which is, oddly, about virtual reality.

The recording stops a few minutes in to this episode.

Star Trek Voyager – tape 2403

Some Star Trek Voyager now. Not my favourite Star Trek series, in fact I didn’t really warm to it at all.

It does, at least, have a better theme tune than all the others except The Next Generation, thanks to Jerry Goldsmith.

On the other hand, it also has Neelix, one of the more annoying characters in the Star Trek universe. And the first episode here is Neelix-heavy as he goes on an away mission with the hard-to-please Tuvok, their shuttle is damaged and Neelix has to jury-rig another spacecraft to get them back. Meanwhile, there’s something on the roof. Gremlins perhaps?

The next episode is Favorite Son. Harry Kim suffers from debilitating bouts of deja vu, because he turns out to be an alien.

Next, Before and After in which Kes starts to live in reverse. Cue lots of timey wimey nonsense, plus Robert Picardo with hair.

Robert Picardo with hair

Talking of the Doctor, the next episode, Real Life sees the Doctor create a perfect family for himself on the holodeck. But his crewmates bully him into making them realistic, so his daughter dies in an accident. That’ll show him.

After these episodes, there’s the start of an episode of Poltergeist – The Legacy, during which the tape stops.

Adverts and trails:

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  • Knorr Marinade in Minutes
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  • trail: Tarzan, Sinbad
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  • trail: Football
  • McDonalds
  • Johnson’s Baby Lotion
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  • Felix
  • Inland Revenue
  • WH Smith
  • Paper Mate Flexgrip Ultra
  • trail: Heat
  • trail: Outer Limits

Under Siege 2 – Dark Territory – tape 2399

It’s the sequel to the better-than-it-ought-to-have-been Under Siege. I haven’t watched that in a while, so I hope I can keep track of all the great Under Siege characters and plot from the first film.

Under Siege was one of the better “Die Hard in a …” movies, it being ‘Die Hard on a ship”. So they try the same here, and make it ‘Die Hard on a train’. (There’s a possibly apocryphal story that tells of a young screenwriter pitching ideas, one of which is ‘Die Hard in a skyscraper’. I hope it’s true.)

It starts off with the launch of a brand new spy satellite so advanced that the first thing the guy operating it does is spy on a girl nude sunbathing. Yes, it’s that kind of classy film. Well, I suppose the first one had a topless dancer as the female lead.

On the plus side, Kurtwood Smith turns up early as a General.

Kurtwood Smith

Steven Seagal is introduced with a rousing fanfare, while his friend (a chef) is waiting. He says goodbye and salutes the man driving him, and his friend says “Were you on some kind of special op? I guess you can’t tell me though.” Thus, we quickly get the exposition about why a chef is a super soldier out of the way.

He’s soon off to meet his young neice, Katherine Heigl, whose parents died in a plane crash, so she’s harbouring some resentment. They’re travelling on a train.

But naturally, bad guys show up, one of whom is Mike from Breaking Bad.

Jonathan Banks

The chief bad guy is Eric Bogosian. Not quite Tommy Lee Jones, but just as talkative. He’s the designer of the secret satellite, which is not just a spy satellite, but a satellite that can generate earthquakes. And now that he controls it, he’s asking for 1 billion dollars.

His gang have state of the art equipment, too. Witness the latest piece of Apple kit.

Newton

The satellite is called ‘Grazer 1’ but Bogosian keeps calling it ‘Grazier 1’ for some reason. It’s a fairly predictable movie, aside from the final denouement, where the train collides head-on with a freight train, and Seagal escapes by running back along the length of the train then jumping on to a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter. I didn’t quite buy that bit.

Following the movie, there’s a short interview with director Roger Donaldson abut his movie Dante’s Peak.

Then, another movie starts. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the strange, extremely meta installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It features Wes Craven as himself, Heather Langenkamp as herself, Rober Englund as himself in a very self-aware movie. It might have pre-dated Scream by a few years, but it was playing the same games. The tape ends during this movie.

 

Adverts and trails:

  • McDonalds
  • Polo
  • Clearasil
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  • Kleenex for Men
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  • Playboy Channel
  • Peugeot 406 – Kim Basinger
  • Castrol GTX
  • Braun oral B
  • Stella Artois
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  • Snickers
  • Bacardi
  • trail: Boxing

Millennium – tape 2395

Here’s an embarrassing fact. I’ve noticed, on virtually every tape this programme appears, I’ve managed to misspell Millennium. Almost as bad as misspelling Frasier.

This first episode was recorded on Easter Sunday.

I recorded a lot of Millennium but never really watched it. I’d grown a bit tired of the X Files, and this seemed like a bit of a cheap knock-off of Will Graham from Manhunter (and Red Dragon). However, I like Lance Henrikson, so I’ll give it a try.

In the first episode, Frank Black’s sister in law is kidnapped by a serial killer, and Frank has to find her.

In the second episode, Frank is asked to provide a psychological profile of a convicted murderer on death row, in advance of a ruling on whether he should get the death penalty. It seems an open and shut case, as he admitted everything and wants to die, but Frank thinks there’s something else involved, and naturally he’s right. This is quite a wrenching episode.

In the next episode, Frank disappears and turns up having taken part in some sort of unlicensed medical trial.

The last episode has a Hannibal Lecter-like doctor who Frank had captured, who escapes from his hospital bed.

After this, there’s the start of an episode of Forever Knight, the vampire policeman show. Probably. Starring Geraint Wyn Evans. Tape ends shortly into this episode.

Adverts:

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  • Riesen

The American President – The Net – tape 2397

Merry Christmas. And as a special present, my collection has, totally at random, turned up a tape with two great films.

No, really.

First, we have Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s The American President. I like to think of this as The West Wing’s Peter Cushing movie, a big screen version that’s sort of the same material, but with a different (more expensive) cast. And you keep hearing snatches of lines and names that are familiar – Senator Stackhouse gets a namecheck – but that’s what we expect from Sorkin. He’s never met a good line he doesn’t want to use more than once.

As a devoted West Wing viewer (I’ve watched it all at least three times) the disorientation starts early, with the first scene in the oval office, when Michael J Fox is talking to President Michael Douglas – Fox is playing Josh, mostly, but with aspects of Toby and Sam as well – and suddenly, there in the background…

Not President Bartlet

Holy cow, it’s President Bartlet. No, it’s Martin Sheen playing the Leo McGarry role as Chief of Staff. Not to mention, in the very same scene, Anna Deavere Smith, Nancy McNally from TWW, playing the CJ Cregg role, although we never really see her do her stuff with the press.

Anna Deavere Smith

The story concerns Michael Doglas as the widowed President, who meets lobbyist Annette Bening and falls for her, and has to negotiate the crucible of public opinion, as his political opponent seeks to attack his character, and Bening’s character. There’s typical West Wing political manoeuvring as they try to get two different bills passed, And naturally, their relationship is put in jeopardy when he decides to prioritise his own crime bill over the environmental bill she’s been working towards.

And, again like West Wing, the story climaxes with an impassioned speech from the President about what’s important in politics. This is nicely directed and acted – Douglas is speaking about how his opponent has smeared his girlfriend, and when he gets to the line “and you go on television and you call her a whore.” he looks directly into the camera. It’s a tiny move, but because it doesn’t happen often in movies, it’s very powerful. (Oliver Stone gets Kevin Costner to do the same thing in the summing up scene of JFK, and it works there too.)

President Michael Douglas

It’s all stirring, inspiring stuff, inhabiting exactly the same fantasy political world as The West Wing, which is precisely why I love it. It’s like a science fiction, alternate universe of politics. With lots of snappy dialogue.

The next movie on the tape doesn’t have quite the same pedigree as Rob Reiner’s movie. It’s Sandra Bullock’s techno thriller The Net. Now, it’s easy to laugh at the many ludicrous technical gaffes this movie makes, with its ridiculous scenes of computer hacking which seem to consist of loads of windows popping up randomly. I know it’s supposed to indicate a montage of actions, but something a bit more realistic would have been nice. The problem with anything like this is that computer work is fairly dull, and consists of a lot of staring at screens and thinking, interspersed with short bouts of typing. It’s not easy to make this exciting.

When you put aside technical accuracy, the film is a lot of fun, and is helped enormously by Sandra Bullock’s effortless charm. She plays a computer expert, specialising in debugging viruses and security. When we meet her, she’s playing Wolfenstein 3D – apparently helping them remove a virus that got attached to their disks.

Bullock Plays Wolfenstein

Just before she goes on her first holiday in ages, she’s sent a disk with a security issue by a colleague and asked to take a look. He flies his small plane to meet with her before she leaves for her holiday, but something goes wrong with his navigation, and his plane crashes.

She goes on holiday, where she meets a charming man who also works in technology – it’s Jeremy Northam, who we last saw as the lovely Mr Knightley in Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow. They start talking, hitting it off, but he soon tips his hand by arranging to have her bag stolen, so he can steal the disk her friend sent her.

He tries to impress her with his swanky boat, but she finds his silenced pistol and asks him about it. He suddenly turns snappy, mocking her with her description of her perfect man, from an earlier scene in a chatroom, clearly upset that she might not see him as the perfect paragon of manhood, before turning the gun on her and pulling the trigger. (She was smart enough to unload it.) This is suddenly an incredibly prescient scene – he could be a GamerGater if this film were made now.

She escapes, but has an accident, and a few days later wakes up in a mission hospital. On returning to her hotel, she’s told she checked out days ago. And so begins her problems, as her entire identity appears to have been erased. Her house is for sale, her name has been changed, and her new identity has a long criminal record.

The astute watcher will probably guess fairly early who the ultimate bad guy might be, when every news story shown seems inordinately interested in the specific type of security software being used to protect the various computer systems that had been attacked.

So basically, the villain of this move is Doctor Solomons.

Poor old Dennis Miller turns up as one of Bullock’s few friends, so you know he’s not going to make it into the final reel.

When she finally makes her way back to the software company she was working for, the nonsensical computer scenes really start. When she wants to find the location of the bad guy, code-name praetorian, here’s how she does it.

whois praetorian

Check out the IP address with a number >255 there. The IP address equivalent of a 555 phone number.

However, they can’t even keep their numbers consistent, because the very next shot is a close-up, presumably of the same screen, but the IP address has changed.

close up ip

This is literally four frames away from the previous screenshot.

There then follows the slowest WHOIS search in history. Or is it a traceroute? It’s hard to tell. The film spends a couple of tense, nailbiting minutes as the system laboriously goes through each byte of the IP address, searching for, I presume, the subnet of each one, a process which appears to take every possible address and eliminate it one by one.

The Net traceroute

All this time, the woman who has assumed her identity is coming back, and might discover her. As a device to generate tension it’s fine. As a representation of anything realistic, it’s bobbins.

However, just in time, her search leads her to the CEO of the security company selling firewall software to all the institutions affected by cyber attacks, Jeff Gregg, from the web address gms.wrld (a top level domain that I don’t think exists even today…).

Although why it took so long is a mystery, because at the start of this search, she put in two filters on the search – a name and a domain. Here’s the domain:

gms.wrld

and here’s the name:

Gregg filter

It’s almost as if she knew the answer before she started.

All the evidence is then stashed on a floppy – not much evidence, then – and Bullock retreats across the road to the Moscone center where there is a computer show in progress. She’s stalked there by Northam and fake Sandra, but she manages not only to upload all the evidence to the FBI, but also fool Northam into (somehow) infecting all his company’s servers with the virus that Bullock was analysing at the start of the movie, and like all movie viruses, it doesn’t just manifest as a complete system crash or loss of connection, but an artful depixellation of the web pages on the server. Utterly meaningless but it looks good.

Then Bullock is pursued high up in the lighting gallery of the centre, so you just know that someone is going to end up falling a long way. And it’s not going to be Sandra.

For all my griping about accuracy, none of it really matters. The film is a perfectly enjoyable thriller, Sandra Bullock is always watchable and likeable, and she never has to rely on a man to get her out of trouble. In fact, the only man she calls on for help turns out to be pretty hopeless.

But to me, watching it again, I’m struck by how, all of a sudden, the film has acquired a brand new metaphorical layer that probably didn’t exist when it was made. Northam’s character now seems like a metaphor for a movement like GamerGate, the ‘movement’ that has arisen online recently, supposedly concerned with corruption in video game journalism, but actually more concerned with harassing women who dare to suggest that videogames might be a little bit sexist. There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where Northam confronts Bullock in a funfair. He tells her “it was difficult because I was attracted to you. I still am, I’m genuinely attracted to you.” It’s as if he thinks his attraction to her will somehow make her more compliant. And when Bullock demurs, he tells her about the fake identity he’s given her. “Did you know that Ruth Marx has a criminal record. For Drugs. Prostitution.” The parallels to GamerGate are scary – criticizing women for have multiple partners, posting nude pictures, etc.

And even the computer stuff is fine as a general plot driver. Enemy of the State did plenty of similar stupid stuff – remember the security footage that could change the angle to see around something? – but people enjoy the thriller stuff. I think The Net works more often than it fails, and if nothing else, I think we should celebrate any film where Sandra Bullock clobbers the bad guy with a fire extinguisher. I want her on my team.

These movies were recorded off the Sky movie channels, so there’s fewer adverts than normal.

After The Net, there’s a set of interviews with David Cronenberg and the stars of Cronenberg’s Crash. “The film is funny, the book is not very funy.” says Cronenberg.

Then, there’s the start of the Stephen King adaptation Dolores Claiborne, and the recording stops about ten minutes into that.

Adverts and trails:

  • Pedigree Chum
  • Wash & Go
  • Ford Escort
  • trail: Tyson/Holyfield boxing (two different ones)
  • Tetley’s Bitter
  • Batman and Robin – in cinemas
  • Comfort
  • Direct Line
  • Ribena
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