Editor-At-Large: Those 'Brokeback' boys ain't worth a place in your TV room

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The Independent Online

Thousands of supermarket shoppers who would never cross the road to see a movie about a couple of gay cowboys are now enjoying the award-winning epic Brokeback Mountain in the comfort of their living rooms. It's just out on DVD and topped the sales charts last week.

But has there ever been a movie that so seriously failed to live up to the hype? I picked up a copy, poured myself a large glass of wine and settled down for a great evening in. "Hold on a moment," I thought. "Has the DVD got a serious malfunction?"

Heath Ledger seemed to be speaking through a large piece of rolled-up toilet paper. And, as he wasn't looking at the camera but staring at the floor, it was impossible to lip-read the grunts. He obviously seemed to be emulating Marlon in The Godfather, but without the gravitas.

The first scene, where the two incoherent cowhands meet outside a trailer, both looking for work, was as stimulating a scene-setter as watching a sheep fart. Then our two lovers-to-be headed off into the beautiful mountain scenery, a fabulous travelogue I would have happily watched on the Discovery channel, but hardly the meaty stuff of a ground-breaking movie.

There was momentary excitement when the two simpletons finally coupled in a tent, then it was back to a conventional gay love story spread out over several decades as directionless as one of those bucking broncos at a rodeo.

Their wives- supremely shallow characters - gradually aged during the next hour or so, but for our two heroes this presented a problem. Director Ang Lee has done the Seventies before, in Ice Storm, where the wife-swapping, patterned shirts and flares drowned the plot in a mish-mash of design over content.

Here, Jake Gyllenhaal ages in much the way as Kevin Kline did then: first he grows a moustache, then sideburns, and en route his hair gets a couple of grey streaks. Stylistically, this emulated the brilliant epic Boogie Nights, watered down for Middle America. Heath Ledger went from 20 to 40 without a bulge, sag or wrinkle, but that's showbiz. Do we care whether these two lovers end up together? I doubt it.

Watching Brokeback Mountain reminds us just how frighteningly conventional most of America is. Want to watch a couple of really seminal movies made in the States in the past 20 years? Try Magnolia or Happiness, both of which tell you far more about social values and sexuality than anything here. Gus Van Sant's Elephant implies more about homo-erotic fantasies in five minutes.

With Brokeback Mountain, the Hollywood establishment tried hard to persude us it represented some kind of breakthrough - "Hey, homosexuals round up cattle, shag each other and get married too!" - but the reality is deodorised sentimental twaddle that doesn't know how to end and soon runs out of steam.

More importantly, it renders the homosexual community in America a disservice; compare it with the award-winning television series about Aids Angels in America, and you see how threadbare this enterprise is.

For Britons too, Brokeback Mountain is an embarrassingly soppy film, on an emotional level with Bridget Jones 2 or Love Actually. We have a strong tradition of making powerful and touching films that address sexuality in a sophisticated way, from Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette and Neil Jordan's The Crying Game to Beautiful Thing, written by Jonathan Harvey. I can believe that for many men, having a gay relationship in rural America in the Sixties was difficult. But this film doesn't really tackle the issues raised; it just skirts them.

The nanny state fat cats? Let them eat lentils

Last week, every doctor was ordered by the Department of Health to tell their patients if they are fat, encourage them to start eating healthily, and tell them to exercise to fight the big O, obesity.

Being overweight is going to be bracketed with other diseases, putting doctors in the front line in the Government's attempts to morph us from a nation of couch potatoes into trim and toned citizens.

To be honest, I thought this directive had already gone out: when I visited my GP in Yorkshire after Christmas he took great pleasure in announcing that I needed to lose weight.

"You've put on 14lb since I weighed you a year ago," he told me, but that was after I'd spent two-and-a-half weeks in the Australian jungle, living off meagre rations of rice, cold water and beans, with a couple of mouthfuls of wallaby, alligator or eel, carrying buckets of water and logs up and down 45 degree slopes 12 hours a day, a hard experience to replicate sitting at a computer back in Britain.

This GP is whippet-thin, not someone who comfort-eats crumpets slathered in taramasalata at 2am when they roll home drunk (me).

I have now embarked on a healthy eating plan, or misery meals as I call them. Every time I read about John Prescott's infidelities, I eat another plate of lentils, brown rice and spinach; there's no way I want a midriff like that.

But isn't it time politicians practised what they preach? Will the reshuffled Cabinet sign up to a government-approved eating and exercise regime?

Now, parents have said they want teachers to tell children what time they should be in bed each night. And doctors are telling us what to eat and drink. Where will the nanny state end? Will a Drought minister tell us soon how many baths we can have each week?

Digital age: Why those old hands will always betray you

The 'Daily Mail' has found a new way to cut successful women down to size: an expert calculates how "old" their hands look. Apparently, this is the one bit of the anatomy that betrays your true age, even when you've had your face frozen. Madonna may have the body of a fit dancer 20 years her junior, but her hands are deemed to be those of an old crone, according to the Daily Hate. I also noticed that in publicity pictures for the latest series of 'Footballers' Wives', Joan Collins is, inexplicably, wearing white gloves. Is there something we should know?

Silver surfers: Help the aged? They're far too busy on eBay

Help the Aged has launched an internet service designed especially for those over 50. A simple box plugs into your computer and phone-line, used with a helpline run by middle-aged employees. Surely this is all a bit late in the day: every pensioner I know is only too familiar with how to flog the contents of the attic on eBay and knows how to buy everything from cheap train tickets to patio heaters online. Perhaps the service should be aimed at the over-80s, stuck in residential homes. A bit of a frolic on the net would cheer them up no end, and they can find out about all the medication that's being rammed down their throats.