Friday, 24 February 2012

Arsenal v Tottenham Preview

This Sunday, Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur in the second North London derby of the season.  In October, Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane thanks to a Kyle Walker goal from distance.  My overriding memory of that game was Arsenal's period of possession after half-time which resulted in an equaliser, the Walker winner came against the run of play almost.  Once ahead for a second time, Spurs held on for the win.

Tottenham are having a good season, a great season helped by the up and down performances of Arsenal and Chelsea, and Liverpool's continual ability to draw at Anfield dropping too many points.

Tottenham sit ten points clear of Arsenal in fourth place (for all their moaning, they are still 4th) and still with aspirations of the title although the failure to even take a point from the Etihad Stadium - a combination of Defoe's woeful dive and Ledley King's badly timed tackle - will come back to haunt them, considering they did so well to come back from two goals down.

That was Tottenham's season in the nutshell - a battling performane, exhiliarating comeback, a superb Bale goal, but a failure to take the opportunity that presented itself to you set Tottenham as a pretender rather than a contender.

Tottenham are getting plaudits for their attacking exploits highlighted by the 5-0 demolition of Newcastle in the last League game, yet it is the rock of defence that is getting less acclaim.  A 40 year old goalkeeper, a crippled centre half, a returning defender from injury, a reborn left-back and an English U21 international are keeping clean sheets.  Friedel is Spurs' purchase of the season, admittedly Scott Parker is the headliner but Friedel at 40 years old has been astounding.

Whereas the Tottenham defence is solid, the Arsenal defence has suffered from injuries and suspensions throughout the season.  The lack of stability and continuity has led to a leaky defence, evident in the 8-2 dismantling at Old Trafford.  Yet the defenders from that game have never been able to recover mentally.

Luckily, a whole season of Robin Van Persie has helped Arsenal secure fourth place at the moment.  His goals make him the Most Valuable Player of the season, but for RVP Arsenal may well be 10th or god forbid in the bottom half of the league.

This Sunday, Arsenal will look to contain Spurs counter attacking style which will be back to full tilt with Aaron Lennon returning from another injury.  Emmanuel Adebayor, Rafael van der Vaart are also available after short breaks and Harry Redknapp has a choice upfront with Louis Saha stepping in on loan and scoring immediately.

Arsenal will have to work hard to contain the wing play of Lennon and Bale, and do they have an equivalent to battle with Parker in the centre.  Arsenal could well choose to go for it with Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain bombing down respective wings in support of Van Persie.

The feeling amongst most Arsenal fans is one of worry and nerves.  When was the last time Tottenham went to Arsenal as overwhelming favourites.  Probably the last time they won at Highbury in 1993, when four days before an FA Cup final the Gooners played a second string side in preparation for the Wembley showpiece. Tottenham won 3-1.

My prediction for Sunday is the same scoreline.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Flavio Federico directs the visceral and intense dramatic depiction of Hiroito, the infamous King of Boca de Lixo, starring Daniel de Oliveira in the title role.

Following on from the cinematic appeal and acclaim of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, it seems Brazil much like British film in the late 1990s and early 21st century has found a niche by going to the dark past of its recent social history for dramatic intent.

Boca follows Hiroito from the violent murder of his father, which the young boy witnessed as he was stabbed over 40 times with a razor.  Oddly, the young boy was arrested and accussed of the crime, ultimately he was acquited.  Then two months later, aged just 21 he moved to Boca de Lixo (an area of downtown Sao Paolo in the 1950s renowned for nightclubs, prostitution, bars and drugs), purchased two guns and grew to become one of the most successful criminals in Brazil. 

The film richly depicts his violence against fellow criminals, the glamour of the girls, the viscerality of the guns as Hiroito becomes the legendary gangster figure in Brazil.

Gangsters remain glamourous figures in cinema, due to the intense nature of their upbringing - as young men who really want attention and yet end up on the wrong side of the law.

De Oliveira portrays Hiroito as a man with a big chip on his shoulder who backs up his words with lots of actions, whilst never hamming up or chewing up too much scenery.

The film is cleverly filmed with a lot of hand-held camerawork to make you feel a part of the action, making the experience a worthwhile one on the small screen.

Boca is released on DVD by Universal Pictures from Monday 13th February

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen's Oscar nominated movie comes out on DVD for the pleasure of Home Entertainment purposes.

Allen's love affair with Europe which has brought us such commerical work as Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, continues with his biggest and most profitable film to date.

Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a former screenwriter on holiday in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams).  Gil is attempting to write his first time novel, and is seeking inspiration on the streets of Paris with its endless reams of culture and sophistication.  A spanner in the works appears in the form of intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen), a former college crush, who is meant to be a superior of Gil.

One night after wine-tasting, Inez, Paul and his fiancee Carol go dancing.  Gil passes over the invitation, and goes strolling the streets.  When he gets lost, he sits and hears a church bell strike Midnight.  A car appears and in it is Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), who takes him to a party where he encounters Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill).

Gil has a better night with historical figures than the present day people he is on holiday with - he is in opposition to Inez's Republican parents due to his democratic, Hollywood beliefs - Gil's novel centres around a man who runs a nostalgia shop.  This stream of nostalgia flows through the film as figures from literature (Gertrude Stein), art (Picasso and Dali) and music (Cole Porter) co-exist in Gil's fantasies.

Problems arise when Gil has a connection with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a muse for Picasso, as they slowly begin to fall in love Gil begins questioning his commitment to Inez and whether they are in love.  There is a funny scene between Gil and Dali (Adrien Brody), who will not stop comparing a man to a rhinoceros in terms of love.

Allen does a wonderful job of making Gil a believable fantasist.  Although he is blind to his fiancee falling in love with her college crush, Gil has happened upon a world away from the mundanity and pseudo-intellectual falsity of Paul.  Whilst Paul is all book smarts and academica; Gil is a street smart and fittingly is an embodiment of never judging a book by its cover.

As an Allen surrogate, Wilson has this ease and charm about him.  In Frat Pack movies, which made his name it came across as a laissez-faire influence; but his laidback nature here compensates Allen's easy flow of narrative and plot.

Allen is helped by a wonderful original score by Stephane Wrembel, a jazzy Parisian score that chimes throughout the film like a long lost cousin of the score in The Third Man, another European movie.

My own criticism would be that Allen has concentrated so much on Gil and the historical figures; that he has failed to paint fully rounded characters in the real world especially the women such as Inez, who although beautiful as Rachel McAdams is, she comes across as a women who wants to control Gil rather than co-exist with him. You also wonder how their paths ever crossed in the first place, as she is so fixated with herself - a shame considering how well he wrote Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson in 'Vicky..'

Midnight in Paris is out on DVD now from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

My thanks to ThinkJam movies for the check disc.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Superbowl XLVI review

The New York Giants won the Superbowl for their second title in four years, defeating the New England Patriots for the second time in four years, for the bragging rights as they ran out 21-17 winners at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

History will show that Ahmad Bradshaw scored the winning touchdown with 65 seconds remaining - but that only tells half the story.

History will not show that New England let Bradshaw score the TD, in essence losing the lead so that the quarterback Tom Brady could get the ball back and attempt to win the game for the Patriots.  Unfortunately, errors came back to haunt the Patriots at the wrong time as they could not make the catches to extend the drive and at least give Brady a chance to throw for the endzone.  The last play of the game with 5 seconds left, was a 51 yard Hail Mary attempt that evaded the hands of Rob Gronkowski after being batted down.  When the ball hit the turf, time expired and confetti fell.

The old adage is that defence wins championships.  The Giants had the better defense, the Patriots defense is one of the most inexperienced groups in years.  The Giants forced the only turnover of the game, an interception by Chase Blackburn outjumping Gronkowski, a play that a fit Gronk may well have grabbed.

Twice the Patriots had forced fumbles, yet they could not recover the loose ball.  And when they did recover the ball on a fumble, the recovery was nullified by having too many men on the field.  A costly error as Eli Manning connected with Victor Cruz from 5 yards for the first touchdown of the game, to make it 9-0. 

At that point Brady and his vaunted offense had only had the ball for one play, which resulted in inside pressure from Justin Tuck forcing Brady to throw the ball way downfield to no recognisable or near receiver.  The officials correctly judged that to be intentional grounding resulting in a safety due to Brady's position in the endzone.  Had Brady moved five yards outside of the tackle box or thrown to the sidelines, it would have been second down and everyone would have shrugged their shoulders.

To me Brady seemed a little anxious throughout the match - there was a vacant look in his eyes especially after the interception.  The constant battle of evading the insistent pressure from the Giants front four led to Brady being out of his comfort zone - forcing some mistakes.  But credit to him for making some good throws such as to Branch on 4th and 16 in the last minute to keep a hopeful drive alive.

People may well say the Welker drop was vital, yes a pick up of a first down at the Giants 20 yard line meant the Patriots could control the clock down to the two minute warning score a field goal for a five point lead at least, forcing Manning to go 80 yards minimum with less than two minutes and only one timeout - owing to some odd time management by Eli.

I would not blame Welker, the blame lies with Brady conceding that safety and the defence nullifying their own turnover.  Take away those 9 points and the Giants are struggling to keep up.

The Giants have played their last 6 games on a wave of momentum since beating the New York Jets, then beating Dallas, then destroying a weak Atlanta helped. They then became the road warriors with wins at Green Bay and San Francisco to get to the SuperBowl. 

The momentum and confidence was with the Giants before the game, the Patriots were worried about how to deal with Victor Cruz and the health of Gronkowski.  So in giving them a 9-0 lead in essence was something you did not need to do.

Yet Gronkowski was not fit, and Hernandez did his best yet he is not Gronk.  And yet the Patriots who successfully kept Cruz quiet in cover 2 all day, they forgot to go man to man on Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.  Brandon Spikes did not help by being unable to intercept or bat down passes by Manning.

The Patriots were guilty of having history in their hands yet silly basic errors - Ninkovich jumping offside on 3rd and 7, making it 3 and 2 instead late in 3rd quarter - coupled with a fine composed performance by Manning in the pocket who again did not blink when the game was on the line; means that the questions of legacy and dynasty are now being asked in New York and not Boston.  As for that front four of Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka are as good a front four I have seen in the NFL.

Whilst the legacy of Brady and Belichick is assured thanks to this amazing 11 year stretch of three Super Bowl wins out of five appearances, the record would sure look better if they just sorted out that defence.  Hopefully, a good draft can rectify matters as offensively they remain impeccable.

As a big fan, this defeat hurts more than XLII in Phoenix as in that game the Giants defense beat up Brady and deservedly won.  On this occasion, it feels like the Lombardi trophy was there for the taking and much like the two dropped passes in the last drive, the Patriots hurt themselves more than the Giants did.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Dennis Todorovic makes a startling and emotive feature centering on a frustrated young man, Sasha (played by debutant, Sasha Kekez), a would be pianist who dreams of studying at a conservatoire in his home town of Cologne, Germany.

Sasha though harbours a secret crush on his piano tutor, Gebhard Weber (Tim Bergmann), who is leaving for Vienna for a new job.  This announcement from Mr.Weber acts as the cause and effect of the piece, his leaving prompts Sasha to search his soul and declare to his best friend, Jiao (Yvonne Hung Hee) that he is gay.

The scene when Sasha comes out Jiao is one of aching heartbreak; she is expecting a declaration of love yet the film handles the scene beautifully shot against a lovely backdrop of the main river.

Once Sasha comes out, Jiao pretends to be his girlfriend to hide the fact from his homophobic father Vlado (Predrag Bjelac), a deadbeat Dad who never fulfilled his potential and lives vicariously through Sasha's achievements.  He is married to Stanka (Zeljka Preksavec), a beauty compared to the beast like Vlado.  She adores her son Sasha, yet so many of the film is concerned about identity and becoming who you are.

The film begins with the family, of Serbian heritage crossing the border into Germany. Immediately they are tarred with the outsider tag of being an immigrant, Sasha feels stressed to succeed at the piano due to the pressure of his parents.  Sasha's breakdown at his audition is marked for being a scene of raw emotion, thanks to the wonderful central performance by Kekez who enfuses his namesake with a mixture of optimism and cynicism, a product of nature and nuture colliding and going hand in hand.

Todorovic has a real confidence in his use of soundtrack the mix of classical and vintage music in comparison to the techno music to endorse the bold and new direction of the family and the decisions they must all make.  The film is as much about acceptance as just another gay movie.

The acting is all done well, a real naturalism stems from many of the performances - except Ljubisa Gruicic's performance as Uncle Pero, a role of comic relief that feels a little forced at times - and this is a really well directed and acted piece of cinema, which although can be categorised as queer cinema is anything but.

Sasha is released by Peccadillo Pictures and is out now on DVD.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cracks at Chelsea

When Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) was declared the new Chelsea manager in July of last year following on from his triumphant treble-winning season at Porto, he must have hoped it would have gone a lot smoother in West London.

A bigger club with huge expectations he nevertheless was a young - still novice - manager at his first job abroad but walking into an experienced dressing room. All with the ambition to win back the Premier League title that they have not won in three seasons, since Jose Mourinho left.

Yet it has not been plain sailing. A dressing room revoltion led by old heads John Terry and Frank Lampard. A public falling out by the latter when dropped from the starting line-up, normally Mr.Lampard is only removed from the line up when suspended (rare) and injured (even rarer).

Lampard answered his critics when he scored a winning penalty in the victory over Manchester City; and he has remained around the side since then. In defence, AVB has had to contend with an unusual double act in the centre of a young enthusiatic David Luiz and an ageing and distracted John Terry.

Luiz undoubtedly is a talented footballer, comfortable on the ball when it is in his possession, not so when trying to win it back - at times he has looked out of his depth and has not learnt from Terry's experience. Terry meanwhile forever courts controversy, he is currently pleading not guilty to shouting racial abuse at Anton Ferdinand during a League game in October, and his body is slowly showing the signs of too many injuries and not looking after himself. He rarely sits out unless the game is a League cup or is concussed, his style is one of reckless abandon yet full of gung ho temperament. Yet as Terry gets older, the strikers are getting quicker and just as physical.

Even Petr Cech is playing like a goalkeeper who has had one too many knocks to the head, he looks a bit slower between the sticks and understandably less confident of the defensive pair in front of him which has never been a consistent selection based on form, injury or falling out. (Alex has been sold in the transfer window.)

Up front, AVB has unfortunately inherited a front-line of maligned talent. Nicolas Anelka had a falling out and has been sold to a Chinese side. Didier Drogba remains the talisman but is likely to be sold in the summer, Fernando Torres' slump in form continues since his £50m transfer from Liverpool which looks more and more like a mistake. Whilst Drogba is on African Cup of Nations duty, Torres has had an unbroken run in the side yet no goals. A natural talent would buy any goal. Luckily, Daniel Sturridge has been a bright spark for the season, his season long loan at Bolton paying dividends. He looks strong, runs at people with the ball and has an eye for goal. He looked most likely to score at Swansea last night.

The cracks that I refer to in the title have been apparent all season, yet they became all the more apparent during last night's fixture at Swansea, which ended 1-1 with Chelsea equalizing late in injury time through an unfortunate own goal by Neil Taylor who deflected a Jose Boswinga shot come cross to deny the Welsh side a deserved three points.

Swansea, have an impressive home form this season losing only once to Manchester United and defeating Arsenal last time out in a five goal thriller. Swansea are a team who man for man are comfortable on the ball, they play in a Barcelona style format of passing from defence to the front. The difference is that whilst Barca may be happy to maintain possession pass sideways, create triangles and bide their time - Swansea play with a typically Premier League vein of quick counter-attacking sometimes bypassing an opposition's midfield turning a phase of trouble into a goal-scoring chance in the space of four passes and 15 seconds.

This tactic renders the opposition midfield - in this case Malouda, Oriel Romeu and Raul Meireles - at times useless and rash in challenges. Malouda was at fault for a late challenge on Leon Britton on the stroke of half time. Swansea's dominance led to frustration from the Londoners, as Scott Sinclair (ironically once of Chelsea) struck on 39 minutes with a fine volley.

The second half led to much of the same, although Chelsea did slowly come back into the game thanks to a substitution of Michael Essien for the non-effective Romeu, Essien nearly struck a startling equalizer from distance.

Chelsea's frustration become more apparent as the previously cautioned Ashley Cole, needlessly and stupidly commited a rash challenge on Nathan Dyer nowhere near to winning the ball. Cole walked before shown his red card by Andre Marriner.

Yet I feel AVB missed a trick by playing Luiz and Ivanovic at the centre of defence instead of new signing Gary Cahill who has still not played for his new club. Cahill's experience of playing in the Premier League at away venues would have been of benefit next to the cavalier Luiz, whilst Ivanovic was played out of position. Luiz is too easily caught out of position - a mistake against the pace of Sinclair, Dyer and Danny Graham - and was also guilty of not making a challenge when it needed one.

The cracks are there at Chelsea, a point away at Swansea matches the result Tottenham got there but Chelsea remain seven points behind their London rivals in the battle for third spot and automatic Champions League qualification. In this season of six sides trying to fit into four, two sides with huge aspirations are going to be disappointed.

At least Chelsea's problems are not as bad Arsenal's yet they should be aware of a resurgent Liverpool who are only four points behind and completed a great week by winning convincingly 3-0 at Wolves with Andy Carroll scoring a goal. How much more on top of the £50m already paid would Chelsea give to get a goal from Torres.