AMERICAN Beauty, which has been a huge hit in the United States, is about the collapse of the American Dream. The film revolves around the Burnhams, who are, by all appearances, the perfect family. They are attractive, well off and own a large, tasteful house in a small town. The parents' careers are well established.
"THEY ALL think we're scum." That is the view of two young Newcastle fans, Gerry and his mate Sewell. They are the main characters in Jonathan Tulloch's great novel Season Ticket. Gerry and Sewell live in Gateshead. Sewell's dad is doing a long stretch in prison. Gerry's dad is a violent, abusive drinker.
Wonderland is a really good film. It is about real people you might actually know, like your friends and family. That makes it an all too welcome change from the glitzy dross that Hollywood so often pumps out. The film uses a grainy documentary style to portray a weekend in the lives of three working sisters in London. One sister is single but using lonely hearts ads to try to find a partner. Another sister is a single mum just trying to have a good time. The third is married and about to have a baby.
CORRESPONDENT (Sat, 5.50pm, BBC2). Worth a look. This special edition from Latin America looks at the aftermath of the 1998 hurricane and how money intended for the victims has gone into the pockets of the international banks.
CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY is a respected journalist whose new book about John Lee Hooker and the blues has just been published. He writes for Socialist Worker about the blues.
"UNCONVENTION" is an exhibition with a difference. It has been assembled by rock group the Manic Street Preachers on the theme of love and revolution. The show brings together paintings by Picasso and Jackson Pollock with posters from the Spanish Civil War and photographs of the work ers in the south Wales valleys.
IF YOU were born into a Catholic family, attended a Catholic school, were sent to mass every Sunday and lived in fear of the local priest then Eamonn McCann's new book on religion is the one for you. Conversely, if you were lucky enough to escape the Catholic church, then you'll also find Dear God a fascinating and funny read. Not being one of the lucky ones, I devoured McCann's book and by the end thought that he had penned it especially for me.
THIS WORKERS' banner (above) is from the period of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is one of many fascinating items on show in the "Banners at Large" exhibition at The Pumphouse People's History Museum in Manchester until 30 January next year. The banner was sent from the textile workers of Moscow to the textile workers of Yorkshire in about 1920. It was brought to Britain by Maggie Jordan, a mill worker from Shipley.
THE FILM Fight Club has provoked much debate. It started even before it was released, when the British film censors decided two of the fight scenes had to be cut for being too graphic. The day I went along to see it an article appeared the Guardian praising the film as radical: "Thank god for Fight Club. It begins to challenge how we are manipulated, seduced, frightened and co-opted by politicians, advertisers and employers."
THE "Global Climate Coalition" and the "Global Climate Council" sound like environmental lobby groups. They were launched in the late 1980s as the threat posed by global warming became clear. A new book by former oil industry consultant Jeremy Leggett exposes how these bodies were fronts for the world's biggest polluters. Their horrifying aim was to fight to prevent serious action on climate change.
THE NEW Ang Lee film Ride With the Devil is about the American Civil War. It brings the issues alive. William Sherman, a leading general in the war, once said it was not simply a war between armies, but also between hostile peoples. He was right. The American Civil War split the country apart.
"THE CORPORATE giants are tuning into Britain's thriving dance market." That is what the Sunday Business newspaper declared last month. This will come as no surprise to hundreds of thousands of young people. I once queued for hours in the rain at a Tribal Gathering rave in 1996. When I got to the entrance I handed over my £25 ticket. All my food and water was taken off me to ensure I entered the rave arena ready to spend money.
There is something slightly satisfying about reading a history of the whole world. You find yourself thinking, "While I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, I can do the 11th century." A five stop train journey can get you through the decline of the Roman Empire and a bit of the Crusades (with a bit of concentration).
Glasgow's dustcart workers went on strike in June 1975. As they fought for parity of pay with other HGV drivers 60,000 tons of rubbish built up. The new film Ratcatcher is set in the slum tenements of Glasgow during the strike. James, a young boy, ekes out a miserable existence. His home is an overcrowded slum. His family has no money. He accidentally drowns his friend and has to watch his family mourn.
All The King's Men is a fictionalised retelling of the Sandringham Brigade, which went missing at the Battle of Gallipoli in the First World War. The battalion was raised from among the servants and day labourers of the Sandringham estate of Queen Alexandra (played by Maggie Smith). The green soldiers are swept away with the enthusiasm for war under the command of the queen's upright yet naive estate manager (David Jason). Her 14 year old footboy lies about his age to enlist, while the one objector is set upon by a patriotic mob.
THE NOVELS of J M Coetzee, who won the prestigious Booker Prize for the second time last week, are well worth reading. Coetzee, a white South African, was an opponent of apartheid. Disgrace, his latest work, tells the story of lecturer David Lurie, who has an affair with one of his students. Accused of harassment, he leaves the university and goes to live with his lesbian daughter.
THE MOST eagerly anticipated movie of the year has arrived - The Blair Witch Project. It was filmed for just $35,000. It has made $137 million at the US box office, making it the most profitable movie of all time. The film's plot is simple. Three young film makers disappear while shooting a documentary about witches in the forests of Maryland. One year later their film is found.
Scottish director Bill Forsyth's new film Gregory's Two Girls is on general release. By choosing to make a belated sequel to his 1981 film, Forsyth has taken a calculated risk. The original Gregory's Girl was a gem of a film. It was a story about working class teenagers set in the new town of Cumbernauld on the outskirts of Glasgow. It made Forsyth's name as an accomplished film maker. He went on to make the whimsical Local Hero and the much underrated Comfort and Joy.
Poet Benjamin Zephaniah has written a new children's book called Face. The story is centred around the character of Martin, who is a white school student who has a facial disfigurement. I read this book with my children, aged six and ten, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Every page brought a new twist.