Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Conflict of Interest

The Carling Cup or League Cup to give it its more traditional title has suffered in the last 20 years more than any other competition due to the growth of football in England and the growing wealth of money available to successful teams in the Champions League.

As teams strive for success and glory in Europe - certain teams attempt to win four seperate titles - alas one competition has to take a backseat in terms of affection.  After the League, European and the tradition of the FA cup - something has to be given short shift.

Reserve sides, youth players, second XIs have all been picked by major sides most famously Manchester United and Arsenal - who use early round games as a chance to breed fringe players and give second choice goalkeepers a full game in case injury thwarts the first choice.  While these two sides have been criticised, they have nevertheless still reached major finals and even won on occasion; while for other teams it is seen as an opportunity to win a major piece of silverware in an otherwise disastrous season - Birmingham City, last year who surprised Arsenal.

Yet this week the Carling Cup is back in the spotlight owing not to negative team selection but poor scheduling by the governing bodies.  We have reached the quarter final stage and there remain 5 of the top 7 sides in the Premier League (Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea) and Cariff v Blackburn along with Crystal Palace.

Oddly, Blackburn who are suffering under the stewardship of Steve Kean are one game away from a cup semi-final;are they like Birmingham did last year going to have a day out at Wembley.  You expect Man Utd for all their poor finishing of late to still see off the challenge of Championship Palace.

However, the intrigue lies in the other two matches: Chelsea v Liverpool and Arsenal v Man City, less than 48 hours ago Liverpool played Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Sky Sports.  Both teams have had to travel to London for their respective quarter finals, both managers Kenny Dalglish and Roberto Mancini have bemoaned the fact that they have been subjected to poor scheduling whereas Man United who played Saturday afternoon have an extra day of rest and preparation.

Mancini has more reason to moan as this would be his team's third match in a tricky week which started with a defeat in Naples which jeopardised progress to the Champions League knockout phase - and due to suspension he is without Gareth Barry and Mario Balotelli.  Back ups and reserve players will get a runout amongst them - Costel Pantilimon, Owen Hargreaves, Denis Suarez, Karim Rekik and Stefan Savic.

Liverpool however are not playing European competition so the Carling Cup should be seen as a real incentive for a team and club in need of some glory.  To ask his squad to play another game is not so much a big ask - the problem has been the travelling south to London which would have occured on Monday morning, they may well have stretched and run out late afternoon and rest until late morning today to wipe cobwebs.  Liverpool are capable of fielding a competitive side with Jamie Carragher expected to get a first start in a month; Dalglish is pretty miffed by the whole thing.

What must be remembered is that the League cup is not the property of the Premier League it is run by the Football League the governing body of the Championship and its two lower tiers and the 72 clubs that play in those divisions.  Yet they invite the Premier League clubs to play as they need the exposure and allure of these clubs to take it seriously, otherwise the competition would become a bigger version of the Johnstone Paints Trophy.

Solutions would be to distinguish set dates for the competition, luckily none of the Europa League teams (Spurs, Fulham, Stoke, Birmingham) made it to this stage as they would have had to have their games rearranged to next week, which would have made further headaches.  Another would be to reduce the teams in the Premier League to 18 and therefore less games in total per club, this would mean more money from television deals yet the Football League would not like more teams to drop down to the lower divisions.

The solution must be sought by better dialogue between the Premier League clubs and the Football League body otherwise this will not be sorted and will just happen again; as for Dalglish's threat of playing youth players, someone should tell him that never hurt the progress of Arsenal or United players in gaining experience.

Friday, 25 November 2011


Lee Chang-Dong is hardly the first filmmaker to send a protagonist on a journey of discovery that changes their perception of the world, but no one’s ever put a sixtysomething granny in the early stages of Alzheimer’s through an adult-education poetry class as a way of crafting a social statement about a self-absorbed patriarchy’s paucity of human insight.

We watch and learn – about South Korea certainly, but about ourselves too – though this never becomes a duty, since Lee’s is a filmmaker with a conscience, who deploys it in an astringent challenge to our assumptions rather than sentimental pandering.

Lee is esteemed at home and on the festival circuit (he’s a regular in competition at Cannes), but this is the first of his five features to secure UK theatrical distribution. It’s fair to say that the subject-matter, encompassing poetry, dementia, sexual abuse and suicide, is likely to be a hard sell, but the quality of the film is such that it simply demands an airing.

Here the elderly Mija reacts to news of her irreversible Alzheimer’s by signing up for a poetry class,so  why even enter an arena that’s about shaping enhanced perceptions through the skilled command of language? In essence, that’s the puzzle which drives the story forward, as the viewer tries to make connections between poetry and the unfolding dilemma whereby the old lady is happens upon some blood money, and the other narrative string involving a rape.

Leading lady Yun Jung-Hee, a Korean screen legend who emerged from 16 years of retirement to provide the latest in a series of truly remarkable female performances in Lee’s filmography, proves uncannily adept at showing how Mija’s meek exterior hides a stern interior that can challenge the male dominated environment she comes upon.

The film is a companion to Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother (where the social observation stems from the matriarch’s determination to deny her slow-witted son’s guilt in a murder case), whereas that story took on the conventions of a crime thriller and procedural detective genre, here Lee is more of a naturalistic director who makes you think you have stumbled upon a real life conversation.

The results are powerful, and not just in the way we come to sense how Mija’s misadventures with the local poetry group that is frequently hijacked by men egotistically parading their would-be sensitivity – effectively dovetail with the rape storyline by highlighting the male sense of entitlement seemingly running through every layer of Korean society.

Lee proves himself to be an astute and delicate filmmaker who is able to make a film that is both beguiling and yet politically conscious of sexual politics in a very restrained nation.  The film was lauded at Cannes in 2010 and fully deserves this wide release on DVD.

Poetry is released on DVD by Rabbit Publicity on Monday 28th November, who I thank for the check disc.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Darragh Byrne's feature debut tells the story of Fred Daly (Colm Meaney) who having returned to Ireland after working in England has no fixed abode and so takes to living in his car in a seaside car park.  He seems settled and contented enough, while still winding up the local welfare services hoping for help with housing and benefits.

Then a young drug user, Cathal (Colin Morgan), arrives in his beaten up yellow car and they slowly bond and build a friendship.  They take to going to the public swimming baths, where Fred befriends a Finnish woman, Jules (Milka Ahlroth) and they have a sort of romantic courtship - whilst Fred is eager to engage with her, he is nonetheless shy about his current living environment.

Cathal is convinced Fred can sort his life out, and it works with Fred's story garnering some press attention; and so Fred wants to return the favour but his ever worsening drug habit starts to hit Cathal as drug dealers come in search of money.

Ciaran Creagh's first feature length screenplay is a brilliant work of characterisation and place - so little is told to us about the character's reasons for being were they are and why they are here that it is given subtexts of mystery and enigmatic qualities.  It is no surprise to hear that Byrne counts as his influences the two films from Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent and The Vistior

The film is helped in no small amount by the superb pairing of Meaney and Morgan as the male protagonists, Meaney that warm hearted soul and Morgan all fire and hostility - Fred and Cathal should not be friends, and yet sometimes in adversity the strangest friendships can ferment.  Both actors are able to shed themselves from their most famous roles; Meaney and his Star Trek association and Morgan and his eponymous role in BBC's Merlin.

Shot with a stream of lo-fi independent quality, lots of close-ups shot by John Conroy but Byrne is able to really shoot a sensethe cold environment and there is this lovely piano led melody - composed by Niall Byrne - searing throughout the film, a nod to Jules' character as a piano tutor. Yet this tinge of melancholy reminded me of Aki Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk (2006) - a story of impossible friendships with a tinge of bitterness.

It may not be original and the third act may go against all the goodwill of the previous two acts yet Parked's narrative about homelessness and outsiders from this angle is produced with a real tenderness and conviction rarely seen in British and Irish productions.

A Model of Consistency

Tottenham Hotspur, following their dominant 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday evening, sit in 3rd place in the Premier League.

A position that after the first two league games against both Manchester clubs would have been unimaginable - two games, two defeats, one goal scored, eight conceded. Tottenham looked brittle next to the two juggernauts of the North West.

Yet, slowly but surely Tottenham have turned the corner and navigated the fixture list with assurance. Admittedly during those two August fixtures there were still some unanswered questions concerning player personnel - the future of Luka Modric was uncertain due to the interest of Chelsea; Scott Parker was not signed until the penultimate day of the transfer window and there was a spate of injuries in defence meaning combinations like Bassong and Corluka were having to fend off the might of Manchester City - Nasri, Dzeko, Aguero and Silva ran riot at White Hart Lane.

The change seemed to come following the signing of Parker and the first game at Wolves - the sort of fixture last season Spurs would lose, this time they left with a 2-1 victory and then followed it up the next weekend with a resounding 4-0 home win over Liverpool (who admittedly ended with 9 men).
Then came the crunch game against Arsenal, who although had their chances it was their own defensive and goalkeeping frailties that led to Kyle Walker scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory.

Spurs have only drawn one game out of 9 games, a 2-2 draw away to Newcastle where they conceded only in the last five minutes to drop two points otherwise it would have been 27 points out of 27 and Tottenham would be only two points behind Man United in second place. Spurs still have a game in hand (home to Everton) which was unfortunately cancelled following the civil unrest in mid August.

A reason I feel that Spurs are doing so well is down to a consistency of selection and also not having the headache of serious European competition to worry about. Tottenham are in the Europa League but Harry Redknapp and his staff are using those games against Rubin Kazan, PAOK Salonika and Shamrock Rovers as breeding ground for his reserve team players - Jake Livermore has especially shone on these occasions. The same would have been said of the Carling Cup but they lost in a lottery of a penalty shoot-out away to Stoke.

However, the lack of fixture congestion and use of squad depth is helping one Ledley King especially. Ledley plays one game and he knows he has a week to sustain and regain his fitness before the next encounter. King's presence at the bag and coupled with the signing of veteran Brad Friedel in goal has led to youngsters like Younes Kaboul and Kyle Walker allowed to express themselves. King did the same trick with Michael Dawson, he has this unbelievable ability of making the man next to him look like he is having a blinder.

Spurs are benefiting from a fixed and settled starting XI - it has been the same men starting the last three and four games. The American in goal; Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto; Bale, Modric, Parker, Lennon; Van der Vaart and Adebayor.

This settled selection means the team knows they must perform to keep their places and their are players who can and will come in to do a job if necessary - Corluka, Sandro, Defoe and Bassong. Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson remain on the injury sidelines but will be welcome upon their return.

In contrast, Manchester City with all their highly publicised signings have made a rod for their own back. The constant requirement to keep everyone happy and the forging forward on four trophy hunts means that their is no fluidity in selection. Case in point, at the weekend Micah Richards and Gael Clichy had blinding games going forward in the 3-1 win over Newcastle from their respective full back positions. Yet in Napoli they were dropped for Kolarov and Zabaleta. This more defensive line-up belittled their attacking instincts and negated a negative performance away from home, where they went to not lose the game they did. Now City and their millions must fear the prospect of having to play Thursday night football like they did last year. It will be a big kick in the teeth to fail at the first attempt in the Champions League.

Arsenal after an early season collapse at Old Trafford are profiting from a steady line-up and a full season from Robin Van Persie, who is scoring for fun. The return of Tomas Vermaelen has helped.

Manchester United due to injuries to both central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have also suffered from a lack of continuity, and the nervousness surrounding David de Gea's debut season means those in front of him might not fully trust him.

Chelsea are really suffering - a new young manager is struggling to impose his ideas on an old guard of senior professionals - they have lost four out of seven and themselves are struggling to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, having to defeat Valencia at home in their final game to avoid the Europa League.

In contrast, Tottenham in their first foray into Europe did not change their tactics and kept on attacking even when 4-0 down away in the San Siro - a 4-3 loss that galvanised that campaign and led to Gareth Bale being christened the best left back in the world. Whereas many people adored Tottenham's ability to adapt to the scheduling and challenges - there appears to be a certain type of pleasure in seeing City struggle as they attempt to keep as many plates spinning at once. They will be the most dominant side in English football perhaps for the next five years - but they need to get a more consistent system in place and like they have done with Tevez, if people do not want to fit the bill or play their necessary role, show them the door. As there will certainly be people willing to replace them.

Monday, 21 November 2011

NFL - Week 11 roundup

Whenever you survey the NFL landscape you are sure of one thing - you can never be sure of anything in the NFL.  Teams win convincingly on the road, yet lose humbly at home the next.  Injuries burden teams with insurmountable odds, heroes turn into villains from one week to the next.  Myself and other bloggers like picking the game results, no-one can ever be perfect as more than likely you will cock up somewhere, I myself went close to perfect but for two games. 

I picked the Jags to win in Cleveland, alas Blaine Gabbert could not convert four opportunities from within the five yard line to get the go-ahead touchdown; and the Vikings could not make up the half-time deficit though their future looks good as they played incredibly well -making that comeback without the influential Adrian Petersen.

Elsewhere, teams roll on though nothing is certain.  The Packers had their closest game of the season since playing the Saints in week 1 with the Bucs young team coming close to the upset, always staying tight and even intercepting Aaron Rodgers, though 35-26 was probably a fair result.

The Giants lost their second straight game this time in a divisonal match-up versus the Eagles who oddly won without Michael Vick under centre, this time Vince Young putting together a winning drive that gave the 17-10 victory in the MetLife stadium.  This was an ugly game, and could be a costly defeat for the Giants who now look like not being a 2 seed cos of the consistent Packers and 49ers, if they win the NFC East they will be a 4 seed cos the Saints will probably be ahead of them.

The most action packed game was Detroit v Carolina which ended 49-35 to the Lions though they were way behind at the half, yet the Lions who are slow starters in every game came alive behind Matthew Stafford's 5 TDs and they were helped by Cam Newton's 4 picks. The Lions play the Packers this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Lions have a chance but they need to start early otherwise they will find it harder to overcome such a deficit against the Superbowl Champions.

The Cowboys are building momentum and it continued as they overcame a resilient Redskins 27-24 in Overtime in Washington, Romo connected well with Jason Witten for a huge TD and thanks to the Giants loss they are tied atop the division.

The Bengals suffered another defeat to a division rival as they went down to Baltimore 31-24 on the road, although they have winnable games remaining on the schedule (Redskins, Rams, Browns) so they can still grab a wildcard spot and with Andy Dalton playing some good football (24-45, 373), one pass to Andre Caldwell (49yds) was inch perfect as the receiver caught it in stride and sauntered into the endzoen.  The Ravens remain unbeaten at home, yet they need to sort out their road form as there three costly defeats (Jags, Seahawks, Tennessee) have all been on the road.

Chicago stayed in the hunt for a wildcard spot by defeating the Chargers 31-20 at home, yet it came at a price as Jay Cutler has reportedly suffered a fractured right thumb (his throwing hand) which rules him out for the remainder of the regular season.  Whilst Matt Forte has been getting the numbers and spotlight in a contract year, lately Cutler's impressive leadership and being able to stay upright has dictated the outcome of the games like the dominant win over Detroit last week.  Yet without him, the Bears will struggle down the stretch although four winnable games against west opponents (@ Raiders, Chiefs, @ Broncos, Seattle ) are not now and they finish with a brutal road double at Green Bay and Minnesota - from 7-3 to 10-6 might be good enough but if the Lions keep winning it might not be, depending on the Falcons, Giants, Cowboys.

Kudos to the Dolphins in my pick of the weekend as they destroyed the sinking Bills 35-8 at a near empty home stadium.  Miami became the first team in NFL history to start 0-7 and then win their next three games, standing at 3-7 they are now a team full of confidence, Matt Moore not making mistakes and they are getting results off of turnovers.  And to think Tony Sparano (head coach) would not have made the bye week after a 0-4 start to comeback and get this sort of result.  There last six games are at Dallas, Oakland, Eagles, @ Buffalo, @New England, ending with Jets at home, the playoffs may be out of reach but each team they play has those postseason ambitions so they can certainly influence the playoff standings and seedings.

I am liking the 49ers but they were lucky they were only playing the Arizona Cardinals who completely stunk after winning in Philadelphia last week.  In the first half, Alex Smith marched his offense down the field yet they only held a 9-0 lead at the half as they could not convert redzone possession, David Akers could even afford to miss two attempts.  Better teams would not give you so many chances, so something to keep in mind.  San Fran have a short week travelling to Baltimore as brothers go head-to-head but I feel the 49ers may come up short here.

Tonight the Patriots are at home to the Chiefs who have lost Matt Cassel for the season, expect a big win for the Patriots and a great opportunity for a young defence to get some consistency and force some turnovers.

I hope for a big win, but as week 11 like every other week shows Bo Diddley was right,'you never can tell'

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place

In 1964, Ken Kesey, the famed author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” set off on a legendary, LSD-fuelled cross-country road trip to the New York World’s Fair. He was joined by “The Merry Band of Pranksters,” a renegade group of counterculture truth-seekers, including Neal Cassady, the American icon immortalized in Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and the driver and painter of the psychedelic Magic Bus. Kesey and the Pranksters intended to make a documentary about their trip, shooting footage on 16MM, but the film was never finished and the footage has remained virtually unseen.

Alex Gibney is most famous for his Oscar winning documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Client 9, his take on the end of Eliot Spitzer's governorship of New Jersey.  Gibney is at times prolific yet his ability to be almost Winterbottom-esque to his output does not mean the quality of the material is diminished.  Gibney is versatile - overtly political most of the time, he is not an angry documentarian like Michael Moore, nor attempts to be front and centre like his fellow American.  Gibney remains firmly away from the camera, he chooses to use generic documentary conventions like voiceovers and interviews to tell the story.

For Magic Trip, all the material to tell the story has been assembled for some time.  The problem has been one of synchronisation between the visuals and the audio track.  For years, the tapes of film were put into a vault for decades until Gibney and his colleague, Alison Ellwood come to restore pride to the work, they were given unprecedented access to this raw footage by the Kesey family. They worked with the Film Foundation, HISTORY and the UCLA Film Archives to restore over 100 hours of film and audiotape, and have shaped an invaluable document of this extraordinary piece of American history.

The whole essence for the cross-country trip stems from a post-1963 funk that the author Ken Kesey has gotten himself into following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of that year.  The story goes that Kesey was in New York with friends to visit the forthcoming site of the World Fair in 1964 (archive footage of JFK phoning/dialling '1-9-6-4' is particularly poignant), and he hit upon the idea when driving in his Station Wagon and listening to news from Dallas of the President's death, Kesey fell upon an idea to drive cross country in a bus with friends and aim for the World Fair.

The film uses archive interviews with now older travellers reflecting upon their trip as they reminisce and view the footage for the first time in years.  So instead of a narrator, Gibney uses the actual passengers to tell the story and paint the picture along with the masses of visual evidence.  This is an engaging type of direction for this type of picture - instead of talking head interviews with people sat in a dark room, you have this alternative type of director's commentary going on that places you right in the action, making you feel a part of this alternative voyage of personal discovery across America.

Unlike other road trips that have characters who become crazy on the trip, a lot of them admit that they are not all there and are not helped by the doses of LSD they ingest on the journey.

The film apart from a solid documentary about the craziest bus ride it is also a potted history of the use of recreational drug use.  The document also notes about how America is slowly changing and when they arrive in New Orleans, they note how music changes there, how the feminist movement began and how the Civil Rights movement was slowly beginning to rumble as Dr. Martin Luther King made his speech in Selma.

At times the comedy can be a little forced as the group having lived, driven and slept together for so long do struggle for entertainment purposes, Neal Cassady becomes the entertainment chair of the group and at times the joke falls on deaf ears.

Yet that criticism is itself a minor one, as the film is cleverly about more than the trip but about the creation of friendships and life-long bonds between people who may not ordinarily have been grouped together during a monumental change of the American landscape as music, society and politics were changing forever - with the spirit of Kerouac and the first people who headed out west in search of new frontiers as wind in their sails, or petrol in the bus perhaps.

This group decided to go and see the America they thought they knew, their document stands up as a vital part of the counter-culture Sixties.

The film is in cinemas from 18th November and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 28th November and is distributed by Organic Marketing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The 17th Turkish Film Festival

The Turkish Film Festival is back again in London this year, and will be running from 24th November to 8th December and has moved from a familiar three day event to a full scale two week festival with some brilliant films on show and some wonderful attendees.

Claudia Cardinale stars in the opening night gala film, Being Italian with Signora Enrica, the debut feature from Ali Ilhan - a delightful film about an elderly Italian woman who takes in a young Turkish exchange student.  Cardinale is famous for her work with Fellini, Visconti and most famously in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West.  Ms.Cardinale will be in attendance for the Opening Night.

Other highlights include Tayfun Pirslimoglu's Hair which won Best Turkish Film and Best Director at the 2011 Istanbul Film Festival; the debut feature from acclaimed photographer Cemil Agacikoglu, September; Do Not Forget Me Istanbul, a portrait of Istanbul as seen through the eyes of six young International directors and Home, the first feature from actor Muzatffer Ozdemir, best known for his role in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Distant, for which he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

These fresh offerings from younger voices go hand in hand with the established directors who are on show here, Ceylan himself with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Dervis Zaim's Shadows and Faces and Sedat Yilmaz's Press.

Whilst other specialist film festivals are struggling to stay afloat, the unfortunate news a few weeks ago that there will be no Birds Eye Film Festival in 2012 came as a shock to many in the London film community, as it was a festival with a unique identity.

London has a whole host of film festivals with a specific genre or nationalistic strain (Korean, Jewish, Russian, even Kazakhstan) - the Turkish festival however, has been running for some years now and is now established as a vital platform for new emerging Turkish film-makers working both at home and abroad.  It also has a prestigious award - The Golden Wings Digiturk Digital Distribution Award - which offers a £30,000 prize enabling the winning film to be released theatrically in the UK and Ireland.
     Thanks to this prize a film like Bal (Honey) would never have received the great acclaim it did upon its release in April of this year.
     There is also a Golden Wings People's Choice Award presented to the most popular film as selected by audiences throughout the festival.

Turkish cinema is in a period of rude health at the moment, thanks in part to the auteuristic pedigree of Ceylan whose new film Anatolia received its world premiere at Cannes in the Grand Prix selection and was up for the Palme D'Or, and also selected as Turkey's entrant for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  Bal won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the much celebrated Men on the Bridge  (Asli Ozge, 2009) did some good box office and garnered critical attention when released also.

This year's festival will run at the following venues: Odeon West End, Apollo Piccadilly, Rio Dalston and Cine Lumiere.

For more information go to the festival website: http://www.ltff.org.uk/ for details of the schedule and screenings.

An African Election

Jarreth Merz's documentary is an eye-opening account of the 2008 democratic election in Ghana between Attila Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party.

While the film at the start is complicit in making clear that both parties are offering the same thing in a clever use of the world of agriculture.  Although many admit that if the distribution of wealth is not occuring, if people are still without work and do not know when the next meal is coming from then democracy is meaningless.

Once the voting starts on election Sunday, the film does really kick into gear.  Long lines begin to form and people are queueing for up to and beyond 10 hours to cast their vote.  Whilst this delays the declaration of victory for the eventual victorious party, with a run-off being declared by the electoral commission; you do get a sense of the importance of this democratic decision being taken by the country. 

Ghana was the first country in Africa to gain independence from the Commonwealth in 1957, but the continued troubles of politics especially during the military coup of Jerry Rawlings in 1979 led to an uprising of violence yet Rawlings remains as an ideological icon in Ghana (his presence here reminds you of Orson Welles in his formidable ability to control you with his grasp of the English language), he his allowed to indulge in a monologue about the influence of foreign terrorist in Ghana (namely American CIA operatives before and during the Cold War) and liking them as fighting a war on terror long before 9/11.

The run-off and this fly-on-the-wall document of the hustings does become exhilarating as both parties accuse the other of political shenanigans and chicanery, this is presented by the playful banter between party agents Rojo Mettle and Kwabena Agyepong, who seem more approachable than the party leaders.

Merz spent his childhood in Ghana, and the film is like a return home for him to understand his country better.  The honest assessments by everyday people are balanced with the talking head deliveries by politicians, analysts and journalists offering objective and subjective viewpoints and opinions.

It is rare to see a documentary that starts off as an educational platform to display an alternative election descend into a gripping and intense account of a country at war with itself to gain political integrity on a world scale, critics may say that he fails to show precisely at stake when really that is the failure of the candidates inability to distinguish themselves as individual when they are really wanting the same thing.  Politics it seems is the same wherever in the world.

An African Election is released on November 25th from Dogwoof Pictures and will be playing at the Empire, Leicester Square (to the 1st December) and Edinburgh Filmhouse (2nd-4th December)


Follow Dogwoof on twitter @dogwoof

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

In Praise of ...West Indies cricket

It has been a forlorn time of late for the West Indies Cricket Board.  How far the mighty can fall?  For so long the team were the most dominant teams in there and any sport, the envy the world over for the way they played and how they played it - always with a smile on their face.

Now when you think of the WICB you think of an organisation who struggle to pay their players, who cannot manage to come sort of arrangement with their most prolific player so he can play at the highest level and elevate a struggling team.

And yet it seems, very slowly and very surely, The West Indies cricket team are turning the corner. They are currently in Mohali playing the first of three tests against a formidable Indian batting line-up, newly bouyed by their demolition of England in a recent one-day series.

Tellingly, the West Indies for all their talent remain a team that have forgotten how to win.  Since the legends Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose retired they have won just one test match away from home (nevermind a series) when they surprised South Africa in 2007.  Now lets not get ahead of ourselves, the West Indies do not look like winning this test match or series of India with a fresh Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid returning to the line-up.

And yet for the first six sessions of this match, the West Indies were leading this test convincingly helped by another Shivnarine Chanderpaul century which allowed them to post a first innings 304, although they were 269-6 the adding of only 35 more runs would have been a disappointment considering Shiv was set.

Yet in the Indian's first response is when West Indies deciding to wake up dismissing India at that prolific line up for 209.  Fears in the Indian camp would have returned to the same worries when in England this summer, unable to match first innings and giving in to scoreboard pressure, although 304 is not usually a fright. 

The congratulations should be extended because India had put on 89 for the first wicket before the fortuitous run-out of Gambhir when Darren Sammy deflected a straight drive from Sehwag onto the non-striker's stumps, leaving Gambhir stranded and out on 41.  Sehwag would go onto score 55, and Dravid also scored a half century of 54 yet only two other batsmen (Yuvraj 23, Sharma 17) reached double figures owing to some disciplined bowling by Devandra Bishoo (2-55), Ravi Rampaul (2-44) and Darren Sammy (3-35). All bowlers took at least one wicket to give the Windies a 95 run lead.

Yet the West Indies are like that average NFL side who cannot seemingly play a full four quarters of the game.  Entering the third quarter of the game, the Windies had the opportunity to cement a dominance of Indisa and score a 300 plus lead, alas they ended up being bowled out for 180 with only Shiv 47 and Sammy 42 contributing to the scorecard, with Ashwin on debut gaining 6-47.

India require 275 and ended Day 3 on 152-2 with both Dravid and Tendulkar set with 148 more required, the pitch is not getting worse in fact these two mammoths of batting are going to pick off the runs easily, unless a miracle arises and a spinner can make magic happen.  Unfortunately, you feel the Indian batsmen have the discipline to see out these difficult conditions.

The second innings dismissals were more about their inability to play spin rather than a pitch gettting worse on the third day, also nobody was willing to play the anchored innings, even Shiv's 47 came off a brisk 58 balls.  This could be an indictment of the influence of Twenty20 forcing players to play more shots, even when the situation does not demand the expansiveness of shots.  The Twenty20 has been played a lot in the Caribbean, and the West Indies gained a morale boosting victory over England at the Oval when fielding a second string XI, but at least it showed youngsters coming to the fore and stepping up.

Too often in the past the integrity of the West Indies has rested on senior professionals like Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo - now you have youngsters like Adrian Barath, Kraigg Braithwaite, Kirk Edwards and Kemar Roach; and when combined with the experienced yet mercurial captain Darren Sammy (at times inspirational, at times infuriating - why is he coming in at 9?) along with the x-factor Chris Gayle when he does finally resolve his issues with the WICB.

The West Indies will never reach the heights of the late 1970s and mid 1980s but Test cricket and cricket in general needs a solid West Indies team that competes and ultimately entertains, lets hope that half the work they did in Mohali does not go to waste in the remainder of the tour.

NFL -Week 9 review

Week 9 was a thrilling one for the NFL, lots of high scoring, some great divisional storylines and some great road wins for a few teams who were not fancied by many pundits.

Lets start off with the Monday night match up, where Chicago rode into Philadelphia and in a stellar fourth quarter comeback, behind the gun arm of Jay Cutler the Eagles had their wings clipped again.  The Bears scored 10 unanswered points in the final quarter, as the Bears defence matched up against the running part of Michael Vick's game, Vick was unable to extend plays and when he had to hurry and chase the game after the Bears took the lead, the Eagles could not make a hit.  The Bears won 30-24, going to 5-3 still in the hunt behind the perfect Packers (8-0) and the Lions (6-2), in the NFC North. It sets up a tantalising week 10 matchup as the Lions visit the Bears in a match full of wildcard ramifications.  As for the Eagles they are 3-5, and behind the better Giants - still they have a chance of getting the wildcard but they cannot afford another loss this week or for the next three games I would suggest.  The hype team has met the hyperbole, and the Bears supplied the pin to pop the hot air balloon of hype.

The Sunday night matchup was the week 1 rematch between AFC North rivals Steelers and Ravens.  In Week 1, Baltimore convincingly beat up Pittsburgh.  Since then, the Ravens have stumbled and stuttered, whilst the Steelers have returned to form culminating with the impressive defeat of the Patriots last week.  Many predicted that the Steelers would do much of the same, keep Flacco off the field and keep Rice quiet on the run; get a lead and make Flacco make mistakes.
     The Ravens though came up big as Flacco led a 92 yard drive in the closing minutes connecting with Tommie Smith in the endzone for the go-ahead lead as the Ravens became triumphant 23-20 owning a season sweep over their rivals and becoming 6-2 ahead of the Steelers 6-3 and sharing a tie with the Bengals(6-2)

Those Bengals again won, although this time it was Andy Dalton and not the vaunted D as the rookie threw for 3TDs this weeks as they beat the Titans (4-4) 24-17.

The Giants rode into Foxboro and upset the Patriots 24-20, in a mad last quarter were 31 points were scored, Eli Manning led a final second TD drive for his 5th final quarter comeback win of the season.  Four turnovers by the Patriots did not help matters, nor the still struggling defence that could not get a stop on Manning's vital drive also the lack of a down the field receiving target (like Moss) means defences know Brady will look for Welker or Branch underneath.  Brady still threw for 342 yards (3TD) which means you will always be in the game, but the over-reliance on him is coming back to haunt the Patriots.  The Patriots are suddenly sliding and have lost two games back-to-back for the first time in five years, and first loss at home for 20 regular season games.  They need to run the ball more and not rely so much on a Brady that will soon have another bad day like he did at Buffalo.
      Kudos though for the Giants who are quitely going about their business and now 6-2 leading the NFC East and coupled with the Eagles loss they now have a two game lead over the Cowboys (4-4) who the Giants will not fear.  The Giants are legit and will want to be avoided in the NFC playoffs.
      And next for the Patriots is away at the Jets (5-3), who were victorious at Buffalo (5-3) as the Jets defence forced 3 turnovers for a 27-11 win which included near 38mins of ball possession for Sanchez who was 20-28 and 230 yards.  The Bills needed to win to be considered legit, but unfortunately the Jets are just turning the corner.

Other notes:
Tim Tebow led the Broncos to their 2nd win out of 3 beating the Raiders on the road 38-24, a mixture of playcalling and solid showing by a returning Willis McGahee (20 carries, 163yds, 2TDs) and the inspiration of Tebow who threw better and ran well, whilst the Raiders look lost all of a sudden.

The Packers march on continuing their undefeated season thus far, beating the Chargers 45-38 in a shootout between Aaron Rodgers (247yds, 4TDs) and Philip Rivers (385yds, 4TDs); but slowly there are questions arising with the Packers pass defense but for two more interceptions by Rivers the sorry Chargers might have won this game.  Instead the Packers are perfect whilst SD are 4-4 in a division they should be walking.

The Suck for Luck sweepstakes are over, the Dolphins won their first game of the season 31-3 over the Chiefs on the road aswell.  The Colts remain winless losing to a professional Falcons unit 31-7, they have winnable games remaining on the schedule but the Dolphins have also, yet the question about Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck on the same roster can be asked.

The Saints got revenge for their loss to Tampa by defeating them 27-16 in the Superdome, Josh Freeman outthrew Drew Brees but the utilisation of the rush attack and his arm led to a vital victory, the Saints are 6-3, the Bucs 4-4 and falling out of the NFC wildcard picture.

The 49ers rise to 7-1 and their schedule looks handsome now.  They did the job against the tough Redskins (3-5), with defence coming to the fore.  Alex Smith is managing the offence making few mistakes (17-24, 200yds, 1TD) and is helped by another 100+ rushing display from Frank Gore in a 17-11 win.

More storylines to come and we still have 8 weeks left of the season. Here are my playoff picks at the moment in seeding order:
AFC -Ravens, Texans, Jets, Chargers; Patriots, Steelers
NFC - Packers, 49ers, Giants, Saints; Falcons, Lions

Big picks I know as teams like Bills, Bengals, Eagles and Cowboys may miss out. But the season is still only halfway done, and I am never fully right.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

NFL - Week 9 picks

What did we learn from week 8 in the National Football League; well Tim Tebow is not ready to start yet in the NFL; the Cowboys still have work to do; the Steelers had a masterplan to keep Brady off the field and it worked; the NFC North will be the most competitive division in football soon as the Vikings have a star in Christian Ponder; the Dolphins will win a game meaning the Colts will select Andrew Luck and have a huge dilemma come draft day.

This week here are my picks, the teams with the byes are: Detroit, Minnesota, Carolina and Jacksonville.

Dolphins @ Chiefs - the Chiefs continue on their roll, a great job by Todd Haley in coming back from 0-2, the win over the Chargers, though undeserved is huge for momentum.

Falcons @ Colts - The Falcons will carry on putting pressure on the Saints in their division.

Bucs @ Saints - huge game here but the Bucs and Freeman are susceptible to mistakes whilst the Saints know they cannot afford another loss.

Jets @ Bills - tough game to call, but the Bills are better and this is the test for them, Jets need to make a statement.

Seahawks @ Cowboys - the Cowboys to bounce back but not have it their own way.

Browns @ Texans - the Texans have Foster, though Hillis may return

49ers @ Redskins - San Fran to carry on to the playoffs

Bengals @ Titans - this defense of Cincy are good

Broncos @ Raiders - both teams last time out had awful performances, this could get ugly but homefield advantage here.

Giants @ Patriots - the game of the weekend again, the Pats at home are different to the team that has lost twice on the road, but if Manning stays solid and the Giants control the clock it could happen again.

Rams @ Cardinals - the Cardinals have to turn up at some point but if Steven Jackson plays then the Rams win.

Packers @ Chargers - the Chargers need to bounce back, shame they are playing the best team in the NFL.

Ravens @ Steelers - I feel the Steelers have hit their stride, the Ravens won last week but only for Ray Rice and Flacco stepping up but the Steelers are playing smart football.

Bears @ Eagles - the Eagles will soar to victory here, although expect all purpose yard numbers to go through the roof with Vick, McCoy and Forte all playing at one time.

And in Week 8, I like most people stunk up the joint with my picks:
Cardinals @ Ravens - 27-30 - a huge comeback by Ravens here, from 21-3 down
Vikings @ Panthers - 24-21 - Newton impressed but Ponder gets first win
Jaguars @ Texans - 14-24 - Texans will be least impressive divisional winner this year
Dolphins @ Giants - 17-20 - Fins get close but no cigar
Saints @ Rams - 21-31 - The Saints are suspect away from the dome, hang on, this was a dome game
Colts @ Titans - 10-27 - a nothing game but still no Chris Johnson
Lions @ Broncos - 45-10 - Tebow was just plain awful, 7 sacks, 1 fumble for a defensive TD
Redskins @ Bills - 0-23 - the Deadskins go from 2-0 to 2-5 and done
Bengals @ Seahawks - 34-12 - another impressive defensive display from Cincy
Browns @ 49ers - 10-20 - The 49ers are rolling and will win the NFC West
Patriots @ Steelers - 17-25 - the Pats get only 20mins of possession the result is about management
Cowboys @ Eagles - 7-34 - the Cowboys flip flop again, hot and cold, up and down.
Chargers @ Chiefs - 20-23(OT) - I said it would be close, just picked the wrong side.

Week 8: 8-13
Total: 37-52

The Taarabt Problem

Queens Park Rangers are back in the Premier League and have adapted to life pretty reasonably sitting on 12 points which after 10 games in a competitive division is not bad and considering they have lost 4-0 (on the opening day to Bolton - who are now below them) and 6-0 away to Fulham (again who are below them), it should be considered a marginal success.  They sit mid-table and right now there are three teams worse than them - Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn.

However, there remain two problems.  Their lack of firepower up front will come back to haunt them - I saw them dominant a Newcastle team at home but failed to find the net resulting in a goalless draw.  They drew 1-1 at home to Aston Villa, again they dominated but required an own goal from the doyen Richard Dunne for that point.  And in the result of their season when they beat Chelsea 1-0 they needed a penalty (that was nearly saved) to win, and even after two Chelsea players were sent off, they were lucky to walk away with three points; as the nine men of Chelsea played much better.

Interestingly, Neil Warnock did a brave step.  During the second half knowing that Chelsea with two less men were winning the midfield battle - Lampard, Mikel, Miereles remained - he dragged off Adel Taarabt and put on Tommie Smith to stretch the field and hope Smith and Helguson could keep the ball for a long time.

Unfortunately, Taarabt's reaction to his substiution was followed by a typical hissy fit as he stomped down the tunnel to the changing room and did not sit and watch his teammates famous victory. 

At White Hart Lane, following a dominant first half display by the hosts that resulted in a 2-0 deficit Warnock again withdrew the Moroccan for Jay Bothroyd who did score the consolation.  Warnock must have done the change in the changing room to avoid another embarassing display of respect from his gifted midfielder.

Taarabt is finding how difficult it is to step up to the Premier League from the Championship is significant.  Much has been made of the glut of goals being scored in the EPL this season so far, but the defending is so much better at this pinnacle of our domestic game.  Taarabt has harder midfielders to push off, most are international players who watch the ball not the man and whilst Taarabt has the skill and audacity to attempt anything, he nevertheless remains a slight figure not strong enough to push off opposing players like a Paul Gascoigne and apart from the odd bit of inspiration he does not offer anything in terms of tracking back and defending to the team effort which asks a lot of Shaun Derry and Antoine Faurlin.

Yet I got to thinking of what would be the best formation for Warnock to adopt to allow the best of Taarabt, last season as they ran away with the Championship QPR for the most part played two strikers with Taarabt playing off of or behind them allowing him to pull strings and influence play.  This season, in an attempt to shut up shop and consolidate in an attempt to be a team difficult to break down and score against.

Currently the formation reads 4-2-1-2-1: with Taarabt the first individual in front of Derry and Faurlin and behind Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips with one of Helguson, Smith and Bothroyd the lone striker.

Taarabt has not been given the opportunity to play behind a two prong attack, perhaps the formation should be closer to the 3-5-2 which took off in the Balkans and Central Europe during the 1980s because it allows a central midfielder to play allowing the use of a playmaker or most talented player, giving him leash to play knowing that there are two players behind to fulfil defensive duties (Wilson 2010: 282-285).  This has not worked yet becasue Warnock has not tried it.

I would suggest a formation of 3-5-2: Young, Hall, Ferdinand; Derry, Faurlin, Barton, Wright-Phillips, Taarabt; Helguson, Bothroyd.  This would allow allow Taarabt to put some influence on the goal-scoring opportunites, he is not even providing assists to the front line.  By moving Taarabt to the left wing and coming in like say Thierry Henry, would allow him to be explosive and move Barton into the middle of the park where he would be intimidating to the opposition.  By having Taarabt be in the centre is inviting more physical midfielders to tackle him and frustrate him.

Obviously though, the players are getting certain results and once Taarabt departed Rangers did play better and scored the goal to make it 2-1 with a chance to equalise before Gareth Bale's sublime second goal to seal the 3-1 victory.

This is not the end of Taarabt, even though he restated his wish to leave in the January transfer window.  Yet unlike other mercurial wonders like Gascoigne and Matt Le Tissier who even on off days would provide something to the team morale, Taarabt is a confidence player and maybe one goal will change the tide and resurrect his season.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In Praise of...Newcastle United

In the week of demonstrations and thousands of people clambering to be heard in the centre of London to the masses, it is pleasing to see the most revered fanbase being able to sing at their loudest for the start of the season.  Newcastle United remain unbeaten this season, they sit 3rd in the English Premier League a model of consistency as the teams above and below struggle for that trait.

Last night on the rather more English version of Monday Night Football, Newcastle United travelled to the Britannia Stadium to take on an always resilient Stoke City.  A team whose home ground has become somewhat of a fortress, yet lately they seem unable to win more games than they should. Played Nine. Won three, drawn three, lost three.

Newcastle United went to the game and carried on where they left off, exuded confidence based on a team basis.  Following the departure of key figures Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, it was feared that Alan Pardew was on a hiding to nothing with a squad that was fine on quality and was being tipped to struggle for survival.

Yet Pardew has found himself to be a keen scout - the signing of Demba Ba from West Ham has proved a master stroke as he completed his second hat-trick of the season from the penalty spot in the 81st minute, after Stoke were planning a raid following Ba's brace before half-time.

The victory was based on a team who defended resolutely to Stoke's aerial bombardment from set-pieces and who broke down the wingplay of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant who remained mute throughout much of the game.

Being a Tottenham fan I only really watched Newcastle during the pleasing 2-2 draw a few weeks ago, there they showed much of the same but the spirit and unity of the team spoke volumes as they twice came back from behind to garner a point thanks to Shola Ameobi's superb finish.

Ameobi has since picked up a hamstring injury, this was Pardew's first test as a manager dealing with an injury that upsets the normality and serenity of a dressing room.  Luckily, the next game was at home to floundering Wigan who although Pardew called it a lucky 1-0 win, it was another of his signings - Yohan Cabaye who supplied the winner with a rocket from 25 yards.

Newcastle's solidity is based on someone turning up with the good when required.  The consistency of selection helps with a back four - Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Federico Coloccini and Ryan Taylor - all doing their part and supplying a backline that protects Tim Krul who is slowly establishing himself as a mainstay between the posts.

In front of those four you have Gabriel Obertan, Danny Guthrie, Cabaye and the inspirational Jonas Gutierrez, perhaps the most recognisable individual of the team due to his jet black ponytail.  This a solid midfield base not without some additional flair when required such as Obertan's pin point cross for Ba's first goal last night which he headed back past the despairing Begovic.

And then you have Leon Best the workhorse who tracks down loose balls and bites defender's ankles next to the goalscoring threat of Ba who takes his chances with relish as Newcastle gather up the available points. 

Pardew is doing this without the influential Cheik Tiote who has a knee injury but will probably return to the fold once fit at the expense of Guthrie, but Guthrie who had to leave hometown Liverpool for first-team football is doing his part to give Pardew a selection headache.

Some cynics may suggest that Pardew gladly let Nolan and Barton depart so that he could be the biggest personality in the changing room - instead of causing chaos, there has been a new level of trust instilled in these also-ran of players.  Steven Taylor so esteemable at England U21 level but sometimes unable to translate those talismanic efforts to his club form has grown into a leader of the team even if he is not the captain like Coloccini.

The tests now come for Newcastle, this Saturday lunchtime home to Everton followed by a visit to the Etihad and the league leaders Manchester City following the international break. 

Oddly, I was watching a pundit show who were all asked to pick a manager of the season so far; each went for someone different - Mancini, McLeish and Rogers - the fact that the third best team in the country did not get a look in nor garner any mention shows you how under the radar Newcastle United have been this season.  Not so much a surprise, but the football has at times been refreshing and it is nice to see an undervalued manager getting the rewards for his effort and bringing a team back from the veritable brink.