This year marks the centenary of the birth of John Steinbeck. He is one of the US's most passionate, poetic and socially conscious writers. His novels often give voice to those denied it, especially in the Depression years before World War Two in the US. His stories are those of the dispossessed.
"The real John Nash Jr was schizophrenic, and he did win the Nobel Prize, but that's where the similarity ends". So said a mathematician discussing A Beautiful Mind on the radio. Most biopics I've seen are either wildly inaccurate, boring, or so whitewashed as to strip the humanity out of their subject. This one falls in to the first and last categories, while also managing to be boring.
Nitin Sawhney recently received an award in Radio 3's celebration of world music. His response was to criticise the idea of world music: "The whole category of 'world music' is about apartheid in record shops. "Terminology which marginalises people on the basis of their cultural heritage I find deeply racist and condescending."
The "War on terrorism" has projected Islamism into the centre of political debate. The right wing equate Islam with evil fanaticism.
Set in occupied France during the Second World War, Charlotte Gray tells the story of a young Scottish woman who is recruited to the Special Operations Executive. Charlotte, played by Cate Blanchett, wants to defeat fascism and search for her missing lover. She is sent to work with the French Resistance.
Monsters, Inc is the latest film from the creators of Toy Story and A Bug's Life. It is set in Monstropolis, home to a population of monsters of all shapes and sizes. The Monsters, Inc scream processing unit supplies the town with its power.
The US ruling class would probably rather we watch the gung-ho war film Black Hawk Down than Ali, a biopic about a black American Muslim who took on the system. But as Muhammad Ali himself said in 1967, "I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky-my name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me." The film begins in 1964, when the civil rights movement moved from pacifist protests in the apartheid Southern states to riot and rebellion in the North.
Gosford Park, the new film from director Robert Altman, is a whodunit-style murder mystery set in a stately home in Britain in the early 1930s. It has a cast list that reads like a who's who of top British actors. But Gosford Park is more than an Agatha Christie-ish murder mystery.
Alan Clark, the Tory MP who died in 1999, is often portrayed as an eccentric, lovable rogue. Everyone agrees he was lecherous, rude and arrogant. But the general view is that his diaries are tremendous achievements, and that he himself was cheeky but irresistible.
First it was the film Behind Enemy Lines, and then the studios hit us with with Black Hawk Down. If, like me, you are sick of the jingoistic, racist and chauvinistic films coming out of Hollywood at the moment then Tigerland is a breath of fresh air. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of this film-it had a very limited release in UK cinemas.
The sudden attack of sickness I experienced since the day I was asked to attend the preview of Black Hawk Down has not yet dissipated. I was expecting to see images of the dead. I did not anticipate the depths of the film's cynical use of the pain of a nation to bolster an immoral purpose.
Black Hawk Down does not even attempt to explain why the vast majority of Somalis hated the US forces by October 1993. When the troops arrived they were welcomed and greeted as friends come to help. Within months their behaviour had alienated people who had cheered them. Once the US forces began clashing with Somalis, the US helicopters began what they called "rotor washing"-hovering above houses and markets so that the downdraft blew walls apart and tore off roofs.
OVER A million people tried to log on to the new 1901 census internet site. The History of Britain series presented by Simon Schama was a huge success. It was followed by the popular Timewatch and Blood of the Vikings series which showed the massive audience interested in historical events. Faced with the growing popularity of history, BBC2 has come up with the four part series Civil War to be screened on Mondays at 8.30pm.
THE BELIEVER is a difficult film to watch. It is centred on Daniel Balint, a character at war with himself. He is a Jew, but also a violent Nazi in modern day New York. Balint despises all Jews, saying that "the modern world is a Jewish disease".
AT FIRST sight The Death Ship by B Traven seems nothing more than a Boys' Own style story of adventure on the high seas. However, in the pages of this book you will find no glamour or heroism. Instead The Death Ship is a wonderful indictment of the absurdities of capitalist society, and a gritty description of life as the lowest of the low, full of burning anger, black humour and razor sharp wit.
WHITE RIOT is the new book by co-editor of the anti-fascist Searchlight magazine Nick Lowles. It tells the terrifyingly true story of the assorted racist psychopaths and crackpots who make up the Nazi terrorist group Combat 18. Combat 18 was formed in the early 1990s out of the gangs of thugs who guarded the meetings of the Nazi British National Party (BNP).
A selection of films for all moods that are worth catching, or setting the video for, over the Christmas break.
Baby Boy is the latest work from John Singleton -the maker of the film Boyz 'n the Hood, made in 1991. With an all black cast, the movie is aimed at a black audience. Singleton says Baby Boy is his version of "What's Goin' On". However, unlike the song by Marvin Gaye that challenged 1960s America, this movie is described by its maker as "like watching the soul of a black man on screen".
Alem is 14. He is both Eritrean and Ethiopian, and Eritrea and Ethiopia are at war. Alem's father finds that his family is unwelcome in either country. He brings Alem to Britain and leaves him there, where he thinks he will be safe. The book follows Alem as he gets to grips with England, the weather and the immigration system. He suffers many major setbacks.
Recent polls by Waterstones and other bookshops found that Lord of the Rings was the most popular book of the 20th century. The book (or three books) has stayed in print for almost 50 years and sold more than 50 million copies.