Monday, 31 October 2011

The 2011 London Film Festival

Trying to navigate the London Film Festival schedule can be a daunting task, do you attempt to go see films from tried and tested tastes.  Do you seek out something new.  Do you follow a word of mouth hit or take a chance on something new and be bold.

I try to sample all manner of tastes - mainstream Hollywood glitter (The Descendants), French arthouse fare (De Bon Matin), the best of new British (Weekend and Wild Bill), independent American fare (Natural Selection and Return) and obscure European arthouse (Volcano).

In this article, will be a brief overview of all I saw - I could not see everything and I wish I did see Shame, Ides of March, The Artist and The Deep Blue Sea - yet these films are bound to get a general and perhaps nationwide release so the chance to see a film that will not see the light of day again is always tempting.

What follows is a brief overview of what I saw, with full reviews available through links or in depth when the films are released:

Weekend remains the one film I saw that has stuck with me, a tried and tested format but with amazing results thanks to the incredible lead performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New, and I hope this film is richly rewarded by a huge box office and award recognition.

De Bon Matin (Jean-Pierre Montout, France, 2011)
Moutout's film focuses on the life of Paul (Jean-Pierre Daroussin) a successful executive conglomerate bank. Paul slowly comes to see his job for what it is worth, as the higher-ups find himself more blameful for the debt the bank has created and how heads may have to roll.

The film has a complex narrative structure, with the outcome of Paul's action coming at the start of the film as we witness in flashback the downfall of him in the structure of the office workplace and how prevelant the politics of the workplace are. At times though, the narrative complexity works against what the film is trying to say - the film tries to paint Paul as a saint, yet his professional life too often darkens the lighter mood of his homelife and benevolent philantrophy.

The film does have some good moments, yet for me it left me a bit confused as to what it was trying to say, and yet had it not had the beginning of the film it does, I would not have stuck with it.

Volcano (Runar Runarrson, Denmark, 2011)
Hannes (Theodor Juliusson) is a retired school janitor who without a job contemplates suicide in the first five minutes, yet he decides to spend more time in his fishing boat. Yet the boat proves a metaphor for his life as it springs a leak and he then has to remain at home more. Hannes children visit with their grandchildren; the children are spiteful and condescending to their father and pity their mother, Anna (Margaret Helga Johannsclottir) for putting up with him for so long.

Yet following a late night sex session shot with genuine affection and tenderness for the elderly couple (similar to Cloud 9), and things seem to have taken a turn for the better. Hannes gets her fresh halibut from a friend so she can cook her favourite soup, and as they start to enjoy their food an unexpected and tragic event occurs to Anna.

Following her hospitalisation, Hannes takes it upon himself to look after his wife as much as the children feel he cannot do it and he is only doing it out of guilt. From there on in the action is restricted to the family home as children visit and Hannes attends to his wife and goes about fixing the leaky boat, with help from his grandson he has never really spoken to before.

The film is a strikingly honest portrayal of elderly care and the concessions people make to alter impressions of them. From the outset Hannes is portrayed as a curmudgeonly fellow but slowly thanks to the performance by Juliusson he slowly starts to thaw and the chemistry with Johnnsclottir you can sense the genuine affection and love between the characters.

The film is helped by some lush orchesteral movements to support the raw emotional moments, some beautiful landscape photography of Icelandic shorelines (one shot of Hannes on the clifftop shows how small he is in this world) and Runarsson who also wrote the screenplay for this his feature debut has a good use of cinema language, such as when the children arrive at the hospital to support their mother and father. Hannes is sitting on a hospital bench, the children enter through the door, walk past him and sit at the opposite end of the bench - the symbolism is powerful and deliberate.

A well acted piece with a true sense of realism based upon raw subject matter that treats the elderly characters with a quiet dignity, something that is sometimes devoid in other European language cinema.

Wild Bill (Dexter Fletcher, UK, 2011)
Fletcher's debut feature is an entertaining look at council estate life in East London, under the spotlight of a growing Olympic Park (Come on, lets go build a velodrome.) featuring a star studded cast from his black book of contacts.

It clevely subverts conventions of the western genre and supplant them into the gritty milieu of the East End of London; a story of an absent father who returns home to see his children after a spell in prison, tells how he must rebuild bridges with family and avoid pitfalls.

Featuring a star turn from Charlie Creed-Miles as Bill, and Will Poulter (School of Comedy) coming of age as eldest son Dean who resents then loves his father.  Fletcher borrows from Guy Ritchie's school of filmmaking but this is a good laugh with some fine acting, it could be called Wild Bill its alternative title should be; 'Man's Fear of Cleaning the Toilet'  Seek out this film when it gets its release.

Natural Selection  (Robbie Pickering, US, 2010)
Again I have covered this film in a more in-depth review, which you can find here.  The film is a great addition to the canon of screwball and road trip comedies.

Return (Liza Johnson, US, 2010)
Johnson's feature debut has at its heart a great lead performance by Linda Cardellini (from ER) who plays a returning soldier from the Iraq conflict and yet finds the adjustment to normal life a bit harder than expected, leading to tensions with her husband, played by Michael Shannon (unfortunately under-used).  The film uses a lot of close-ups to convey emotion and tension, and the performance is pitch perfect from Cardellini who embues Kelly with a real sense of bewilderment at her return to civilian life.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, US, 2011)
Payne's return to the silver screen for the first time since Sideways, is a film based on the novel by Kurt Kaui Hemmings starring George Clooney as Matt King, who attempts to keep his family together following the hospitalisation of his wife in a boating accident that has left her in a coma, and then realising she was having an affair.

Payne's deftness of touch and lack of hitting you over the head is helped by Clooney's brilliant performance, who never seems to let the material down when he acts.  This is up there with O Brother, Where Art Thou? as one of his best comedy roles.  Like Cary Grant, he is able to switch and balance between dramatic and comedic roles effortlessly.

A fine supporting cast and excellent adaptation of the source novel shows Payne is still a master of these sort of literate intelligent movies and Clooney is a class above other actors.

Hunky Dory (Marc Evans, UK, 2011)
Evans' most mainstream film is a nostalgic piece set in the summer of 1976 as Ms. May (Minnie Driver) attempts to put on a production of The Tempest with a rock soundtrack which allows some exhiliarating musical sequences of David Bowie and ELO songs.

For me though, whilst those scenes are brilliant I found the script to be a bit of a letdown as the narrative of want away youths, gay teenagers and back-stabbing teachers gave a sense of all been there and seen it before; a shame as Driver is game in her role as are some of the youngsters though I feel the script cannot elevate it above middling fare.

All in all I was pleased with the films I saw and my choices, with only the French film being a disappointment.  This was Sandra Hebron's last year as Festival director and she has left some big shoes (even though they are small) to fill for the next person to come in.

www.bfi.org.uk/lff

The Consistency of Inconsistency

A feeling came over me watching the Premier League action this weekend not of pride and passion but of well being let down.

I love refereeing, with a passion. I love being a part of England's national pasttime. Being out on the field of play during a game amongst the free flowing football is wonderful.  It gives me a reason to stay fit, and for me to back my decision making.  Things are going well so far, yet often I feel that things that happen at the highest echelon of the games means that decisions trickle down to the level I officiate at.

When Chris Foy sends off Jose Boswinga for a denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity when still 25 yards away from goal and a goalkeeper to beat your eyebrows will be raised.  Not because of the decision, I saw the sense in it, just what will happen the following week with a different official.

And so at Stamford Bridge, Ashley Cole is upended by Arsenal goalkeeper Sczezeny when bearing down on goal.  Replays show covering defenders coming back, but if Cole had remained on his feet, he might well have got a quick shot away.  Result from Andre Marriner was a yellow card and a free-kick, from which nothing resulted.  Sczezeny admitted on Twitter that evening he was surprised to remain on the pitch, at that time I believe the score was 3-2 to Arsenal, who eventually won 5-3 with a full quota of playing personal.

The inconsistency remains; but ultimately it is down to how to manage the players and control the high tempo, high intensity game of football.  Foy felt that the indiscipline of Chelsea was probably getting out of hand; yet Didier Drogba's two footed lunge at Adel Taarabt left him no option but to dismiss.  Marriner had the option and refused it, feeling that there was a covering defender, yet how can there be if the last defender on this occasion is the goalkeeper - theoretically the last man possible.

Following, Vincent Kompany's sending off at Manchester City on Saturday, word has come out that from next season such a challenge when he fouled/pulled Kevin Doyle to the floor will not be a red card offence - instead a yellow card and penalty will be sufficient punishment.  Yet a challenge like that by Sczezeny will still be a red card due to the recklessness of it - red card and a suspension.  The feeling being that Kompany and his team is being punished three times - dismissal, penalty and suspension.

Again, this means it is down to the interpretation of the individual official, I think the wording of denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity is clear and most often (unless your Phil Dowd at Anfield this year) the referees call it correctly.

This will only lead to more inconsistency of decisions, but that is the point of this piece, it only goes to highlight the decisions will never be 100% spot on because nobody is perfect, and it will depend on the individual, the players, the game, the pressure and intensity of each and every match.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Holy Rollers DVD review

Holy Rollers is one of those rare conundrums, a film that aims to shoot high with ambition but unfortunately relied upon the critical acclaim of another film before it saw the light of day.

Following the critical reception for The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) which told the story of the forming of Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg, along with the Oscar nominated performance of Jesse Eisenberg, these trailers for a Jewish film started to appear.

Holy Rollers tells the story of Sam Gold (Eisenberg), a fair to middling loyal Jewish man who is about to wed in an arranged marriage set up by his parents.  To earn some extra cash, Sam becomes a drug smuggler led by community rival Yosef Zimmerman (Justin Bartha - The Hangover) which unfortunately has tie-ins to an Israeli drug cartel.

As with most easy money films, the pluses are exaggerated but unfortunately the net becomes tighter and tighter with mistakes starting to happen.  Can Sam set himself straight and return to the Orthodoxy before too late.

Kevin Asch directs his feature debut and he handles it very well, boasting some credible performances and a real zest in its directional flair coupled with a killer soundtrack, along with some great location shots of New York, giving the film a real sense of place and feel for the Jewish environment.  Asch also handles the material seriously, all the more credible considering it is a true story.

Holy Rollers is out now on DVD from Crabtree Films at all good stockists.  The DVD features a director's commentary with Kevin Asch; trailers; deleted scenes and an exclusive UK interview with Jesse Eisenberg.

Watch the trailer here.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

NFL - Week 8 Picks

Well, week 7 was a bit of a mad week.  The Jets came back from the dead; the Bucs and Bears put on a show in Wembley stadium; the Colts laid down on Sunday night and the Ravens did themselves no favours - best team in AFC, please, you have to be able to win at the Jaguars, who were up for it no doubt.

This week, the teams with the byes are: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, Oakland, NY Jets and Tampa Bay

But what about this week; some boring matchups and one sided looking contests:
Cardinals @ Ravens - a very short week for the Ravens, but have to bounce back with a win at home to the feeble Cardinals.

Vikings @ Panthers - a battle of rookie QBs but the more established name of Newton will be too much of a force for Ponder and his Vikings.

Jaguars @ Texans - a great win fror the Jags, but the Texans have an amazing player in Arian Foster and homefield is the key in this division tussle

Dolphins @ Giants - the Giants will want to cement their supremacy atop the NFC East, the Dolphins should be 1-6, instead they are searching for a win.

Saints @ Rams - the schedule has been awful for the depleted Rams, and the Saints are back to form following a 62 point smash on the sorry Colts

Colts @ Titans - the Titans were shameful against the Texans, but if Hasselbeck can control the ball then a win for Tennessee here

Lions @ Broncos - because of Tebow this is closer to call and the Lions are lacking confidence after two straight losses;they have to find another dimension following the injury to Jahvid Best

Redskins @ Bills - the Bills are fresh off of a bye, expect them to put up some big numbers.

Bengals @ Seahawks - a solid defensive display from Cincy here for the W

Browns @ 49ers - San Fran are off a bye and fresh so good to go.

Patriots @ Steelers - last season i picked against my boys and they put on one of their best displays of the season, no way I am doing the same mistake again.

Cowboys @ Eagles - no way Murray can have as big a game as he did last week, Andy Reid has never lost a game following a bye (11-0) big game, home win

Chargers @ Chiefs - San Diego have to close out games, although the Chiefs have seemed to turn a corner.  Closest game of the MNF season.

And how did I do last week:

Chargers @ Jets - 21-27 - I called it right though they left it late.
Bears @ Bucs - 24-18 - Josh Freeman needs to grow up
Redskins @ Panthers - 20-33 - Cam Newton continues to impress
Falcons @ Lions - 23-16 - No Best, no chance
Seahawks @ Browns - 3-6 - Worst game of the season
Broncos @ Dolphins - 18 -15(OT) "Tim Tebow returns to Florida, he leaves with a W"direct quote!!
Texans @ Titans - 41-7 - Embarassing display from the Titans. At home. After a bye.
Chiefs @ Raiders - 28-0 - I bet a lot of people called this wrong
Steelers @ Cardinals - 32-20 - Pittsburgh get the job done
Packers @ Vikings - 33-27 - Christian Ponder asked the most questions of the Pack since the Saints
Rams @ Cowboys - 7-34 - Huge rushing performance from Murray
Colts @ Saints - 7-62 - And I had the Colts to cover the 54 point difference
Ravens @ Jaguars (MNF) - 7-12 - Another awful performance in a weekend of bad football from Ravens

Week 7: 10-13
Total: 29-39

All the best and enjoy the American football, live coverage on Sky Sports 2 from 6pm Sunday evening. You can watch NFL action at Switch Bar, follow us on twitter @SwitchBarLondon

The Thing (2011) Preview

The trailer is live, the website is live, someThing is alive.  Already out in America and doing big business, the prequel of The Thing (a prequel with the same title I hear you ask) is scheduled to open on December 2nd in the UK.

The Thing


Click here to view the trailer

The directorial feature debut of Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim), Joel Edgerton (Fighter) and Ulrich Thomsen (In A Better World) - the trailer show us young graduate Kate Lloyd (Winstead) being transported to an Antartic research base where they have made a startling and frightening discovery of a specimen in the ice.

Choosing to go against protocol Dr. Sandor Halvorson (Thomsen) decides to break into the ice and yet it thaw out to do more tests, unbeknown to them all they have released an alien lifeform loose in the base with the ability to copy the DNA of a person it attacks, meaning there are deadly doppelgangers in the base and this Thing (because they are not sure what it is exactly) is killing them off one by one.

Still of Ulrich Thomsen and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in The Thing

Winstead promises to be the last girl, although just a graduate she seems a lot smarter than the scientists and experts at the base; Edgerton, as Sam Carter, is the eye candy and strongest support and also a recognisable face now that he has had added exposure in the critically acclaimed and commerically successful Fighter.  Thomsen is acknowleged as a key figure in the Dogme movement providing a sterling lead performance in Thomas Vinterberg's Festen (1997), and Hollywood returns to the expert scientist being foriegn with the rationale coming from American brains, hence Kate's role at the base.

The film is as much a remake of John Carpenter's classic 1982 film starring Kurt Russell, following a similar plot and narrative.  Unknown being identified in the ice of Antartica, the researchers decide to explore and only serve to bring horror and chaos to the base by setting free an alien lifeform hellbent on destruction and devouring human beings.

This version; call it a sequel/prequel or remake promises thrills and spills combined with brilliant CGI monsters; employing typical genre conventions of horror and slasher films with Kate becoming our last girl, the trailer promises a film that will entertain and add to the Thing canon with it now being the third version following on from Howard Hawks' 1950s The Thing from Another Planet, with Carpenter's 80s version itself being a remake of that particular film.
For more scares relating to The Thing, click here

Or alternatively go to the film's website:

The film is released and produced by Universal Pictures

This post is sponsored by NBC Universal Pictures.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Oslo, August 31st

Image result for Oslo August 31st images

A gripping, stylish film from Joachim Trier revolving around 24 hours in the life of Anders, a recovering drug addict who has been given special leave from the rehabilitation centre for a job interview in the city of Oslo.  On his day out, he re-visits old friends who he knew before he went into rehab and whose prejudices towards him still exist.

Instead of the more cinematic favoured roadtrip, this is more of a walking tour of Oslo, as we follow Anders as he meets Thomas - an old friend who used to party with him, in his family abode with wife and two children - where they have an extensive discussion of life and remaining ambitions and Battlefied on Playstation.  As he meets more friends, we see him attempt to resist the urge and temptation to fall off the wagon.

Image result for Oslo August 31st images

His job interview is virtually a non-existing part of the plot and the least memorable dialogue scene, as Anders own prejudice to being a junkie haunts him.

Throughout the film, there is a wonderful use of sound as a marker of place and goings-on; the scene where Anders just sits in a cafe listening and ear-wigging to other patrons conversations is exhiliarating and technically marvellous, it harks back to the credit sequence of invisible narrators talking about memories of Oslo.

Anders Danielsen Lie, plays Anders, and is a leading performance of sheer naturalism - part rebel, part loner - a whirling dervish of nauseas and trauma.  We make quite a connection with Anders, who insistently states he does not want pity, which is all the more remarkable considering his shocking final act of the film that leaves you feeling both reflective and angry.

Image result for Oslo August 31st images

The Scandanavian way of film-making seems to be a permanent model of restraint and purpose, Trier (in his second feature following Reprise) here is quite deliberate in his direction allowing the character of Anders to be both leader and navigator; giving him the responsibility to lead the narrative and not let events force their hand.  This keeping of the cards close to his chest is methodial and the lead performance is ptiched perfectly for this outcome. 

Another clever stroke is Trier framing Anders in doorways and archways - an attempt to contain him yet also heighten his isolation from society as a lone figure and individual, tellingly the last shocking act of Anders is done in long shot as we look on from the end of a corridor through a doorway, a voyeuristic viewing for us and considering we have been so up close and personal throughout why are refused one last look?

Image result for Oslo August 31st images

However, this is a professional polished film shot superbly and with an excellent soundtrack reflecting the isolated youth of Norway - that was so shockingly exposed and disturbed for real in August of this year.

Oslo, August 31st will be distributed by Soda Pictures on November 11th nationwide.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Natural Selection

The film starts with a prison escape, a literal rebirth for the prisoner as he removes himself from a lawnmower bag - his raw show of emotion and elation at his escape is not audible but the passion is evident.

Natural Selection is the debut featue from Robbie Pickering and swept the board at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It tells the story of Lynda White (Rachael Harris) who is happily married to Abe but unable to have children owing to an abortion in her youth, and Abe not believing in intercourse if it does not lead to procreation - they are a happily married bible-bashing couple from Texas.

Abe suffers a stroke whilst donating sperm at his weekly visit, unbeknown to Lynda. 'How often has he been coming?' 'I'm not sure, I only started in '88'. One night Abe mumbles something and Lynda believes that Abe wants her to find the first child of his sperm, and so after finding out the name she drives to Tampa to find the man she believes is Raymond (Matt O'Leary), Abe's son, the same man we have seen just escaping from prison.

The film is clever, in that after she convinces Raymond to come with her back to Texas the film has fun mimicking the road-trip conventions of the genre; two mismatched people thrown together by reasons out of their control, both need each other more than they realise, elements of farce and screwball comedy ensue.
The best American comedy always work when the characters are dumber than they actually think they are (Dumb and Dumber; Some Like It Hot). 

In Natural Selection, though the characters know they have been stupid in their lives at particular moments and it is their slight dumbness that leads to the farcial elements of the film but they always find the ability to make up for their errors.

Another clever element is that Raymond (after he is beaten up by some hicks) becomes a surrogate child for Lynda to look after - feeding him soup, washing him in the bath - and although he resists at times he cannot help to refer to Lynda as an angel.

The script is at times ingenious dropping deliberate keywords in the film which when they are said again, perhaps by a different character, you cannot help to raise a smile at a word like 'potent.

Featuring two standout lead turns by Harris and O'Leary plus an excellent supporting role by as Peter (Jon Gries - Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) as the poor sap in love with Lynda, her sister-in-law, he delivers a nice speech about a car when really he is talking about Lynda.

The ending of the film uses another visual metaphor to bookend along with the birthing sequence at the start of the film, this time Lynda stands at an opening to a beach, on film it looks like Lynda is standing at the doorway to her version of heaven.

Pickering shows great maturity to treat the film and characters with a quiet tenderness allowing the dramatic moments to not slow down the film and avoid it descending into complete farce, instead punctuating it with pathos and laughs; this healthy balance bodes well and marks Pickering as a talent to watch in the future.

Natural Selection is on at the London Film Festival this weekend, and still requires UK and European distribution

The Yellow Sea

Starring and directed by the same two behind the success of The Chaser, Kim Yun-seok is reunited with Na Hong-jin for The Yellow Sea, a film that featured as part of the Un Certain Regard in Cannes this year.

The film follows the story of Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo), a Korean living in Yaniban, China who loses his job after being crushed by gambling debts.  We first meet him losing another game of mah-jong, but he ends up sleeping odd hours and being threatened by debt collectors.  We see him working hard as a cabbie, earning money but he cannot resist the urge of immediate cash of mah-jong.  He loses more money and ends up being beaten up also.

One day he meets a hitman Myun-ga (Yun-seok) and Gu-nam agrees to cross the Yellow sea (by train - allowing for some beautiful landscape photography) to kill a businessman in Seoul, in turn the hitman will help pay off his debt.  Gu-nam also hopes to be reunited with his estranged wife, who left for Seoul in search of work six monts ago and has not contacted him.

Gu-nam tracks down the target and just as he is about to make his move, his target is murdered in front of him and he gets framed for the murder.  Soon the police are on his tail and the man who did the crime is hoping to eliminate both Gu-nam and Myun-ga.

The film is moodily shot and darkly photographed, you get a real sense of the nocturnal air of Seoul - the dinginess, the squalor of the city as Gu-nam attempts to clear his name.  A stranger in his own homeland almost, Gu-nam plays the immigrant rather well, giving him an animalistic quality the role deserves.

Shot enthusiastically and acted impeccably the film fails in its execution only by giving us too much of a good thing; the film has a very simple noir storyline but unfortunately it goes on for nearly 30-40 minutes too long.  It should have a punchy feel, and yet you feel you are being punched too much and if not punched then stabbed.  A lot of the violence takes place clearly for the sake of violence and also because this is a crime movie.

Yet for that fault, the film remains a roller coaster ride with enough action to maintain interest and a chase sequence to rival anything that comes out of Hollywood.

The Yellow Sea is a Bounty Films release in association with Eureka Entertainment Ltd. and will be released in the UK on Friday 21st October.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

NFL - Week 7 picks

Byes this week belong to: Bills, Bengals, Patriots, Giants, Eagles, 49ers

The picks:
Chargers @ Jets - the Jets all of a sudden have a roll, they are at home against the Chargers who hate travelling; but have had two weeks prep so dont be surprised if Rivers turns up. But the Jets defense is waking up

Bears @ Bucs - okay not necessarily a home game for Tampa, but they are spending all week in London. Chicago dont turn up until Thursday.  The Bucs are bouncing around after beating the Saints and will continue.

Redskins @ Panthers - Cam Newton is still playing well and the Redskins are who we thought they would be.

Falcons @ Lions - big test for these Lions, if the Falcons can control the clock with Turner expect a road win here and the Lions have lost Best now.

Seahawks @ Browns - two awful teams, but go with the home field advantage.

Broncos @ Dolphins - Tim Tebow returns to Florida, he leaves with a W

Texans @ Titans - the Texans have to win this win to get back on the rails, Foster is back and will go big.

Chiefs @ Raiders - the Raiders are rolling; with ground and pound.

Steelers @ Cardinals - expect a professional display from the Steelers here, in a tough road trip.

Packers @ Vikings - how easy is Green Bay's schedule, and they are the champions.

Rams @ Cowboys - I want to see the Cowboys get angry, they should be 4-1 instead they are 2-3 and I pity the poor Rams for turning up, even with a break. They will wish you can have a 2 week bye week.

Colts @ Saints - the Saints lost a tough divisional match-up, like the Patriots did to the Bills (on the road), they are meant to lose. They are not meant to lose to the Colts.

Ravens @ Jaguars (MNF) - Ravens are quietly doing the business under the radar.

Week 6 picks - How did i do???
49ers @ LIONS -          25-19 : No handshake for me here
Rams @ PACKERS -    3-24 : Easy peasy
Panthers @ FALCONS - 17-31 : down day turned up
Colts @ BENGALS - 17-27 : the defence turned up for Bengals
Bills @ GIANTS - 24-27 : Giants bounce back
Jags @ STEELERS - 13-17 : Tighter than expected
Eagles @ REDSKINS - 20-13 : Grossman is bad
Texans @ RAVENS - 14-29 : Under the radar indeed
Browns @ RAIDERS - 17-24 : McFadden doing the business
Cowboys @ PATRIOTS - 16-20 : Give Brady two final minutes he'll give you the win
SAINTS @ Bucs - 20-26 : Big statement for the Bucs
Vikings @ BEARS - 10-39 : Damn the Vikings are bad
Dolphins @ JETS - 6-24 : The defence is here

Week 6: 10/13
Combined: 19/26

If you are going to Wembley Stadium this Sunday, enjoy the game and make sure you wear the colours of your team.  This is the 5th year (i've been every year) and it remains a great day out.  I expect points on Sunday as you have two offensive minded teams and if the weather holds and the turf does not cut up then expect a lot of things on the ground and through the air.  Although I am taking the Bucs, wouldn't it be great to see Devin Hester score a punt or kick-off return on the hallowed turf.  I expect him to run each time, so do not leave your seats when Tampa punts.

Monday, 17 October 2011

England Struggling in Sub-Continent

It can be called that old adage, what goes around comes around.  Swings and roundabouts. Good guys finish last.  Unfortunately, you can put each of these labels to the England Cricket team at the moment.  After a glorious undefeated summer of cricket against India, where India supplanted them from the top spot of test cricket with a 4-0 whitewash followed by a 3-0 victory in the One day series.  It seems that England have come unstuck on the sub-continent.

Following Friday's old friend collapse against some very run of the mill spin, England again where given a right good spanking this time by 8 wkts with a good number of the alloted overs remaining.

Admittedly, the ODI game has altered with a new ball available from both ends meaning one ball gets 25 overs of action  This is interesting in that it limits the amount of reverse-swing available but the ball the batsmen faces is relatively new for the entirety of the innings - the ICC have made the 50 over format a slog-a-thon.  Unfortunately, England cannot get to grips with the pitches they are playing on.

On Friday, in attempting to chase down a formidable target of 301 (a target that was probably 30 more than it should have been) thanks to MS Dhoni's rallying call; England lost four wickets in the middle of the innings in just the space of four overs.  And the tail could not wag as the run rate escalated.

This time, Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to bat hoping to himself set a formidable target he and Kieswetter went against the grain and both lost their wickets meaning after two overs England were 0-2.  Cook was caught at backward point off an off-balance drive, whilst Kieswetter wafted outside his off stump when he did not need to.

Jonathan Trott seemed to be getting to grips and looked in touch but he was caught off the last ball of the mandatory powerplay meaning initiative suddenly went to India with Pietersen and Bopara.  The two most explosive hitters were together and set about building a respectful total, but both went in quick succession and the wind was suddenly out of the England sails.

Jonny Bairstow and Samit Patel accumulated runs rotated the strike, but again both were out quickly together meaning all of a sudden the tail was exposed without a batsmen.  Without a Stuart Broad in the side offering a left-hander down the order, England look poor with the bat for wickets 7-10 and resistance was not forthcoming as they reached only a paltry 237. 

That total was simply not good enough against a strong India line-up even without Tendulkar and Sehwag; here Virat Kohli scored 112 (off 98) and Gautam Gambhir 84 (off 90) as the bowling attack were torn apart, only Tim Bresnan having any joy as he got two wickets in his first three overs.

So why are England failing?
- For once, there fielding and catching are letting them down.  Trott's drop in the first over of the first ODI set a poor tone.  Ground fielding has gone lax with a lot of singles becoming boundaries after mistimed dives.  And India have been making crucial run outs when it counts.

- The timing of a chase, is built on the accumulation of runs and rotating the strike.  You sometimes get the impression that England would rather smash the ball as far as possible, this is alright if done properly as Bairstow showed in the warm-up match.  The absence of Eoin Morgan who can time a chase is vital here.

- They miss Jimmy Anderson's ability to bowl where necessary and restrict the scoring at the start of the innings; too often India's batsmen get easy balls to dispatch and get set.  Jade Dernbach is no Anderson, and his slower balls are easy to spot on these pitches.

- The batsmen need to make big scores; today KP got 46 and Patel 42, but nobody took the innings along to the higher total.

- England are also not used to playing in these conditions, in these temperatures and humidity; yet England have a whole winter in these conditions to muster with tours in UAE (v Pakistan) and away to Sri Lanka coming in the new year.

However, to blame the weather is a poor excuse.  Unfortunately, England still remain a limited team when it comes to one day resources with too much reliance on Kevin Pietersen and strangely too much emphasis on brawn - hence the elevation of Bairstow, when the finesse of Morgan was getting results. England needed a like for like replacement for Morgan, Jos Buttler of Somerset has shown he has the ability to change a game with his batting as he did at Lords albeit in vain as Somerset lost that final.  Buttler may well get a chancenow on this tour, as I hope does Chris Woakes an all-rounder eager to learn.

This is far from England's best ODI team, but at the moment due to injury and rotation it is the best.  Blame should not be put at Cook's door who admits that his team are well below par at this moment, but three games to go and already the thought of a whitewash is on Indian minds.

The Weekend Interview

NTTA is granted a too short half hour with the director, Andrew Haigh and the two stars - Tom Cullen and Chris New - of latest British film Weekend which received its UK Premiere at the London Film Festival and is released nationwide on Friday 4th November.

The film also just received 2 BIFA nominatons for best Newcomer for Tom Cullen and Best British Production.


When you meet filmmakers or hear of other reviewers having met filmmakers you only hear the horror stories, the director who is too opinionated or does not want to be found out if they mention a certain film as an influence, or the vain star who spends too much time looking out the window instead of at the person interviewing them. Which makes it so refreshing to meet three young men who have together made a film that is both refreshing, original and entertaining.

Chris New (extrovert Glen) sits sandwiched between Tom Cullen (reserved Russell) and the director, Andrew Haigh. We start off by asking about the response to the film in America.

AH: 'Yeah, well it is all about timing. We weren't ready in time for Sundance, yet we were for South by Southwest (SXSW in Austin, Texas - where the film won the Audience Award), and yes it was positive out there but there is sometimes a willingness for the praise to end, and you think that is alright the bubble will burst. But then we get picked up by a distributor in America, and then we open in New York and we get fully booked houses, so you become aware that maybe we have not just got a gay niche film but something for a wider audience, especially one who pays to go see it already.'

The shoot took 17 days in Nottingham, how did that go?

TC: 'It was the most pleasurable experience I can remember having in a working environment, because of the journey all three of us took together helped.'
AH: 'It helped that I had two good actors, because too often directors don't trust actors they've cast.'
CN: 'I've had experiences when you suggest something to a director, who will say no thanks. And then 10 minutes later will come back and suggest what you just told him.'
TC: 'And the script helped but it was an ongoing thing, because there was room to improvise such as I said a line about Russell kissing my chest and then my hand. I got the script and then saw that was in there'.
AH: ' I was constantly re-writing and re-writing the script.'
CN: 'That's what happened with the chocolate rolls. I read for Glen with someone else before Tom was cast and he bought chocolate rolls to the read'.
AH: ' So we were always adding to the script throughout, but the most important thing was to keep this film honest and not make it about aesthetics.'

Andrew your experience has been in Hollywood editing for Ridley Scott in Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, was that a deliberate act to not be over aesthetic on this occasion.

AH: 'I think people are liable to over-edit to death, on this occasion it was always my intention to let the film unfold in the moment, allow there to be a freedom for the audience as well to engage and invest their time more with a natural flow and create their own relationship as well.
CN: 'And the more specific you make the story, in this case about two men - nevermind the fact they are gay - the more universal it becomes.'

When you were reading the script, where you aware that is was a relationship movie and not just an addition to queer cinema.

TC: 'As I was reading the script it became less important what their sexuality was, and it read like two men talking and arguing and it was more a character study'.
CN: 'I liked the fact that it was romantic and dramatic at the same time, and that you could relate to these two characters as men, not just gay men'.

I asked the cast and director if they felt that gay men on British film is still a taboo subject, seeing as the film has been granted a 18 certificate.

AH: 'The rating does not bother me, because that was always the plan to aim for that and with this subject matter it was expected. However what bothers me is the writing afterwards, where in the box it says "Hard Sex, Hard Drug use" which I think is a false representation of the film itself. The drug use is in one scene and the sex scenes...
TC: ' It's not Trainspotting is it'.
CN: 'If anything, the sex scenes are quite intimate and realistic'.
AH: 'And tender I thought. The rating and wording of their description makes it sound like a porno. A gay porno, which is not what we have made.'

But don't you worry that people may think you are making a political statement?

AH: 'But we aren't. We are telling realistic and naturalistic love story between two men'.
CN: ' When you are gay, the politics of the age overshadows your life and becomes part of your life. It is a shame because I thought we were living in a post-censorship age when clearly we are not'.

With that our time is up, to clarify there are two sex scenes in the film between the two central characters. Neither is graphic, they are shot realistically and with affection and care for the characters - unfortunately there is still this repression in British society surrounding gay men and their sexuality. Weekend is not ground breaking in its portrayal of gay men, but you will have to go a long way to find a film that is both intellectually mature and ultimately entertaining.

Weekend is released on Friday 4 November from Peccadillo Pictures, so do seek it out and support new British cinema. Read my review of the film here

Follow Peccadillo Pictures on twitter @peccapics and the film itself @weekendmovie

Blood in the Mobile

Frank Poulsen's probing documentary firstly asks the viewer a question, 'Did you know that the minerals used in the manufacture of mobile phones, come through blood and conflict in war-torn Congo?'



Poulsen is an engaging director and person to follow on his escapades of visiting the Congo, meeting people who know where to find the mineral mines where the work is carried out.  Poulsen envisages see the mines being worked on by proud young men who are unwise to what they are doing the work for, nor the billions of profit companies like Nokia make on the back of their hard work. 

The horror of the conflict is only brought sharply into focus when Poulsen discovers that most of the work is being done by young under-age children in a form of 21st century slavery in mines that are dangerous governed with little or no health and safety regulations.  There is usually a death every day in the mines, but unlike in Western civilisation there is no investigation or closure of the mine, the work continues.  And this same work funds the military action in these countries like Congo suffering civil conflict, warfare benefits from this work also.



The most frightening scene is when Poulsen goes into the mine himself and you see the cramped surroundings and witness how many people are working in such an unsafe and confined environment, men and children are clambering over one another with all in the name of profit.  One worker takes exception to Poulsen's camera and attempts to start a fight in the darkness.  Poulsen swiftly turns off his camera.

The Congo is really the second act or major part of the film, bookended by Poulsen attempting to gain answers from Nokia executives in terms of an actual on the record interview or statement.  Poulsen admits he is a Nokia user in his native Denmark, and considers not using a mobile when there is significantly blood on his hands and the companies'. 

Yet the deeper Poulsen goes in the more apparent he becomes to the fact that Nokia like other companies are not likely to change their ways.  It is only a business, and the demand far outweighs the resentment and criticism of what is going on in the African countries.  Phone companies are attempting to educate consumers about where materials do come from, and yet this attempted transparency will probably fall on deaf ears. 

Poulsen acts the eternal optimist rather well as our guide on his journey, and it is this viewpoint of consideration that holds the documentary in good stead throughout - borrowing the same docu-DNA as Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield; politically astute and intellectually accurate in his questioning of executives, he avoids showboating like Moore and instead lets his images and interviewees do the talking for him to make the point.

In the conclusion though, Poulsen should be proud of the document he has directed in raising awareness of an issue that has flown way under the radar.  But unless the phone companies receive a huge public outcry it is unlikely they will change their sourcing of materials in the near future.

Whilst not as entertaining as other documentaries in recent years due to the serious subject matter and political statement, this is nevertheless a well-grounded article that will open your eyes to problems in the wider world.

Blood in the Mobile is released from Dogwoof Pictures on Friday 21st October at selected cinemas and is receiving a week long run at the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Weekend (Andrew Haigh, UK, 2010)




Renowned editor of Gladiator, Haigh breaks out with his feature debut that tells the romantic coupling of a young gay couple in surburban Nottingham, Russell (Tom Cullen) is a little bit down at a friend's party and having said he would go home stops in a gay bar on the way home hoping to boost his esteem, there he indulges in a one-night stand with Glen (Chris New), a would be artist who is extremely more self-confident than the less introverted Russell.

Russell wakes up and makes coffee, and in a clever bit of editing and directing, we do not know if it is Glen (the guy he had his eye on) or the unfortunate hobbit we last saw Russell talking to whilst Glen watched. From there, Russell and Glen start talking about life, work, the size of each other's penis. Russell leaves for his work as a lifeguard, Glen meets him after his shift finishes and they talk some more. Glen asks if Russell is out to his parents, from this we learn that Russell is an orphan, and that the friends he was with at the start of the film is Jamie his life-long friend who is supportive of his lifestyle.

They then engage in some lovemaking on the sofa, Glen invites Russell to a party that evening - a bon voyage party as Glen is leaving for Oregon to study conceptual art. The inevitability of his leaving and the time constraints thrust upon the characters by the film's title means that the constriction of time allows a full blossoming of the relationship to take hold of you.

Unlike other gay films, the film does not over-do the explicitness of the film's overt sexuality, here you have two men coming to terms with their sexuality and the difficulty after having come out; at times you forget that it is two gay men talking but instead two people conversing about the difficulty of their relationship and feelings. This is a credit to the openness of the performances by the two leads Cullen and New, who embue a sense of naturalism into the roles, Cullen all full of guilt and confusion, whilst New handles the extrovert Glen well, never making him over-the-top when he could easily have been in your face.

Russell is the more romantic of the two, and yet this never becomes oversentimental even when they have their 'Notting Hill' moment at the end when the full exploration of the relationship reaches its crescendo.

Haigh's use of the tower block as a character is also important using some great landscape shots of the city at nighttime, and the naturalistic feel of the film flows fluidly throughout in pace with the freedom of the performances that elevate another boy-meets-boy film to the echelon of worthwhile movie in its own right.  There are some lovely shots such as when the camera is fixed on the pair whilst they talk on the tram on the way home on Saturday night, the camera holds and lets the two hold our attention whilst the tram is moving - that is a great element of faith and trust in the two leading men for a small film and from a first-time helmer such as Haigh.
 


Hopefully this film finds a far wider ranging audience, one that it deserves and needs to see it for all its worth.

The film is distributed by Peccadillo Pictures and is to be released in the UK on 4th November 2011.

www.weekend-film.com
http://www.peccapics.com/

NFL - Week 6 picks

This week there are some interesting divisional matchups and teams returning from the first Bye week of the season, for some it was a much needed break for recuperation and re-evaluation, whilst for others it is a chance to regain some composure and rebuild momentum into their second half of the season. Teams with byes this week are Denver, Tennessee, Arizona, San Diego, Seattle and Kansas City. Whilst returning we have the Cowboys who get a fit again Miles Austin and Des Bryant, and a Ravens team eager to continue their good form.

Week 6 picks
49ers @ LIONS - what a match up this will be but the Lions roll on because of their D-line, which will snuff out the threat of Gore and will attack Alex Smith and make him attempt to escape the pocket therefore make mistakes and force turnovers.

Rams @ PACKERS - i dare call this my lock, but this will be a long day for the sorry Rams.

Panthers @ FALCONS - Cam Newton is due a down day, and the Falcons are a better team at home and even though they lost to the Packers, a lot of teams will have the same fate but expect a home team to bounce back here.

Colts @ BENGALS - the Bengals are on a roll and will look to continue, the Colts so close to a first win might not get a chance for another in a few more weeks.

Bills @ GIANTS - the Giants need to bounce back and the Bills will need to make a statement. The pressure will be on the Bills to win again, the Giants play better when they are expected to lose, as here.

Jags @ STEELERS - Big Ben showed that even on one leg he belongs in the elite status.

Eagles @ REDSKINS - the Eagles make mistakes, Rex Grossman is being told not to. Ball retention and less turnovers wins this one, and the Eagles just make too many at the moment on both sides of the ball.

Texans @ RAVENS - the Texans go back to their stuttering ways and the Ravens with their older defense come back from a week's rest hungry for a QB to maul, beware Matt Schaub.

Browns @ RAIDERS - whilst the Browns have improved, the Raiders are rolling with a typical ball and air combo,expect big numbers from McFadden in this one.

Cowboys @ PATRIOTS - expect a close one here than any line suggests, the deep threat of returning Austin/Bryant will be important test for the young Pats defence but maybe the fact Brady does not turnover will be the difference, and Romo does.

SAINTS @ Bucs - oddly I consider this to be the only road win of the week, but I feel the Bucs will be eager to bounce back, but the Saints are growing into a major threat this season with a rejuvenated defence and always inspirational Drew Brees

Vikings @ BEARS - a slugfest on Sunday night in Chicago, but the Bears need to find this balance again on offense:give Forte the ball but allow Cutler to do his thing.

Dolphins @ JETS - the Jets are there for the taking, unfortunately they play a woeful Miami team still searching for a first win.

Last weeks picks
Eagles @ BILLS                    24-31     Turnovers that the Bills capitalised on 1/1
CHIEFS @ Colts                  28-24      Colts were close but seemingly not close enough  2/2
CARDINALS @ Vikings      10-34     3 TDs early from AP were enough to hurt heartless Cards 2/3
Seahawks @ GIANTS          36-25     Shocker, but a last minute INT cost Eli             2/4
Titans @STEELERS              17-38     Should have been my lock                              3/5
SAINTS @ Panthers              30-27    As close as i expected                                     4/6
Bengals @ JAGS                   30-20     2 young QBs, lot of mistakes                          4/7
Raiders @ TEXANS              25-20    Damn Texans, but RIP Al Davis                      4/8
Bucs @ 49ERS                      3-48       A San Fran coming out party                         5/9
CHARGERS @ Broncos       29-24   Tim Tebow made this a lot closer than it should have been 6/10
Jets @ PATRIOTS                21-30   Go my Pats!!                                                    7/11
PACKERS @ Falcons           25-14    These Packers are good                                  8/12
Bears @ LIONS                    13-24    Big TDs from Best & Johnson help Lions         9/13

Last week: 9/13

What do you guys predict, any shocks worth noting.

The Mentalist DVD review

Patrick Jane returns to DVD in the third season of the CBS crowd puller about a quasi-famous psychic who helps the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI).  Jane playing with typical wave of charisma by the suave Simon Baker (The Devil Wears Prada).  He has a track record for pinpointing the perp using razor sharp skills of psychological observation and body language analysis.

The show follows a familiar trend of police procedural; a crime is commited, Jane appears with his senior agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney - House) who takes the heat for Jane's non-protocol behaviour.  Lisbon's initial refusal to work with a non-officer has slowly relented to include him in the cases more and more as he is able to crack more complex cases due to his unusual abilities.

The strength and lineage of Patrick Jane can be traced all the way back to the creation of Sherlock Holmes, the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a character who led many people it seemed down a darkened path before finding the light and the answers seemingly on a hunch, but really displaying major abilities of deduction.  Jane like Holmes was also able to seek an answer from a witness/prisoner just by watching their physical behaviour and a look in their eye.

Critically, I would say the better the episodes are when Patrick Jane is left out of the loop and we the better audience are ahead of him as in the 'Red John' episodes, too often Jane can look smug and arrogant as a character who knows perhaps too much and suspects everyone.  Also the glorification of the rich and their lifestyle give the majority of the plotlines, whilst other police procedurals do not mind looking at the lowlifes.
In the same vein clearly as the Tim Roth vehicle 'Lie to Me' but with a second string cast; and along the same set up as 'Castle' which features Nathan Filion (Firefly, Serenity) as a crime novelist suffering writer's block who helps police officers with their cases.  Whilst not original by using a main character as anti-authority who is then used by said authority to help their deficiency in doing the job properly, the series now in its third season is nonetheless entertaining helped by the engaging performances and high production values.

Released by Warner Home Video on 10th October for £39.99RRP for the five disc set.  Extras include deleted scenes; a portrait of Red John - the serial killer and key recurring character and a featurette on 'Red Moon' directed by Simon Baker.

Friday, 7 October 2011

NFL - Week 5 Picks

Hey guys, here are my picks for this week in the NFL

Eagles @ BILLS
I take the Bills, at home, able to march down the field willingly, Bills offense more reliable whilst the inconsistencies of the 'Dream Team' are too apparent.

CHIEFS @ Colts
Two bad teams, but I think the Chiefs have woken up and right now have the better QB in Cassel, whilst the Colts are a mess.

CARDINALS @ Vikings
The Cardinals were unlucky last week against an under the radar Giants, they have a solid QB in Kolb, and the weapons of Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells. The Vikings continue to throw games away and now are playing with added pressure at home. The dome will not put off the warm climate Cardinals.

Seahawks @ GIANTS
Come on really, i have to explain this pick. The lock of the weekend

Titans @STEELERS
The Titans are better than people think, the Steelers are struggling with injuries but the home-field advantage will be sufficient for Big Ben and co.

SAINTS @ Panthers
The Saints in a Division clash will make a statement, but expect it to be tight.

Bengals @ JAGS
Jags are doing good things, they have Jones-Drew doing his thing and controlling the clock which is what it might come down to here, time-management and the Bengals are prone to errors.

Raiders @ TEXANS
The Texans are at home and without Foster and Johnson still have enough weapons to dismiss the resurgent Raiders.

Bucs @ 49ERS
Possibly the matchup of the weekend, two good teams. The Bucs came back to win against the Colts but the short week and long journey across the country to face the 49ers who have talented players playing well - Gore, Crabtree and Davis

CHARGERS @ Broncos
Expect big numbers from Rivers for the first time this season, against a Broncos team who dont know what to do.

Jets @ PATRIOTS
The Pats are ready whilst the Jets are in a muddle whether to pass or run, expect the Jets to dictate the clock but with Brady flinging it everywhere points will be scored.

PACKERS @ Falcons
Good tussle, but the Packers are playing so well right now, dont expect them to mess up here even though it is on the road. As they return to where their play off run began.

Bears @ LIONS
National exposure for the Lions, a great MNF match but the Lions are hot they have won two games somehow from behind back to back. Now they are home and will be wanting to make a statement.

My picks are in capitals.

Will let you know how I do on Tuesday

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bal (Honey) - DVD review

From Drakes Avenues Pictures comes the DVD release of the 2010 Golden Bear Award winner at the Berlin Film Festival, Bal is the last in the Yusuf trilogy by Semih Kaplanoglu.  The writer-director is one of the most revered contemporary film-makers currently working in Turkey, second to Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

The film is set in the isolated part of Northeast Turkey, Yusuf has just started primary school and is learning to read and write.  His father Yakup is a honey-gatherer, a risky trade which involves climbing up ropes into the tops of trees where the beehives are.  The forests that Yusuf goes to see are full of mystery and wonder, they are shot with this wonderful feel of the light receding from the frame but you know the child is safe with his father nearby. 

Yusuf suffers from the social affliction of being tongue-tied and stammer's when at school, yet the strong bond between father and son allows Yusuf to feel at ease and communicate most easily when addressing him.

The fear and ridicule of his paralysis is only heightened when Yakup must travel faraway to a forest in a mountainous area, from which he does not return and days pass forever.  Yusuf eventually summons up the courage to go and search for his father himself.

Following in the footsteps of similar European films dealing with missing/returning fathers, The Return from Russia comes to mind, this film forms the last part (yet in reverse order) of Kaplanoglu's Yusuf trilogy serving as the grounding for the lead character as we see him in his infancy.  The lead performance from the young actor, Bora Atlas is startling in its strength.

Whilst the film is certainly meditative in its narrative progression, and shot beautifully in the wonderful rarely photographed regions, calling to mind the reflective personal projects of Andrei Tarkovsky - you do get a sense that the slowburn nature of the film did need a kick at some point. 

However, this along with this year's earlier Men on the Bridge and the forthcoming Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, from Ceylan (featuring in the 2011 LFF).

The film is released from Verve Pictures on DVD for £10.89RRP and is rated PG, the extras include a trailer.

My thanks to Rabbit Publicity for the disc.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Pats make a comeback

Following the unfortunate road loss to the vibrant Buffalo Bills last week, the Patriots on the road again this week had to respond with a big performance in the hostile environment against not just the Oakland Raiders teams, and their loyal fanbase.

Not just performances from Tom Brady, who threw for a career-worst four interceptions but also the ranked last defense that could not stop Ryan Fitzpatrick in the last drive of the game, as he easily went 74 yards allowing the easy chip shot of a field goal to win the game 34-31 and avoid overtime.

Who is to know that the Patriots might have won in OT but the chance was gone.  Gone was the chance to make a 3-0 start, instead they were 2-1 reliniquishing AFC East supremacy to the Bills who own a tiebreaker already.

But the Patriots needed a performance from their defense and in spite of giving up 504 total yards this was an improved showing.  It is no coincidence that the return of Patrick Chung helped matters.  Chung is in his second year with the organisation but already he looks like a leader on the field when having to win the ball back.

Chung had his moment in the second quarter when the Raiders were knocking on the door trailing 14-10, the chance was there to go in at the half ahead.  Alas, Jason Campbell threw straight at Chung with no receiver near him allowing an easy pick.  The Patriots marched down the pitch and kicked a field goal to take a 17-10 lead, and then on the first possession of the second half scored on a Steven Ridley rushing TD. So following his mistake, Campbell went from four points down to 14 by which point the game was up and even a faltering defence like the Patriots could not give such a lead away again.

Brady meanwhile was faultless, throwing for at least 2 TD's in a game for the 12th consecutive game (tying a record with Peyton Manning), but he again relied totally on the work of Wes Welker who had 9 catches for 156 yards and 1 TD, the over-reliance on Welker may come to haunt the Patriots as the other catches from other receivers were 7 combined, Ochocinco had 2 catches.

There was a nice balance between the run and the aerial route as the two punch of Ridley and Green-Ellis led to two TDs; but the lack of Aaron Hernandez for another week meant that Welker had to be seeked out and the run game was necessary to kill the clock and keep McFadden out of the game for the Raiders.  So long as they had to chase the game, Campbell would have to throw (25-39, 344 yards but 2 picks).

Next for the Patriots are the Jets in a big divisional clash.  The Jets lost again to the Ravens in a defensive match-up but one in which Mark Sanchez had no protection from his O-line, hopefully the Patriots will be able to call upon Albert Haynesworth to do more of the same, but with the loss of Jared Mayo the injury curse hits the Patriots again.

The defense may be the worse in the league and having Tom Brady may cloud those numbers but one day they will have to step up and make a good account of themselves, but the lack of cohesion and constant injuries may mean the identity may be lost in the shuffle.

Other notes and thoughts:
The Lions are for damn real, coming back from 24 points to win at Cowboys Stadium, where Tony Romo threw two interceptions run back for touchdowns.  A huge momentum change in the third quarter led to Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson in the fourth for the winner.

The Eagles lost again (1-3) to the 49ers at home, more questions even without Michael Vick to blame.

The Carolina Panthers punted to Devin Hester, why kick to a man who can return and did so for the 12th time in his career setting an NFL record.

Problems are fermenting in Minnesota who are 0-4 and lost to the equally terrible Chiefs (1-3) and now lead the Andrew Luck sweepstakes although the Colts look likely to lose on the road to the Buccaneers.

Aaron Rodgers continues his impressive form as he tore up an awful Denver Broncos team throwing for 4 TDs and running for 2 personally in an allround effort.

Is it just me or is there just a handful of good teams this year - Patriots, Packers, Saints, Lions,
Some good sides still with question marks - Ravens, Texans, Bills,
The fair to middling - Steelers, Bucs, Jets
And then the rest with no level of consistency or form what so ever.

Three weeks to the game at Wembley, cannot wait.  Should be a good win with two explosive running backs - Forte v Blount.  A sharpshooter with Cutler and a growing pedigree of Freeman.