Sunday, 29 April 2012

Public Enemies

Originally broadcast in January of this year on BBC One, the three part series which was transmitted on consecutive evenings was created by Tony Marchant, and starred Anna Friel (back from Hollywood) and the underrated Daniel Mays.

The story revolves around two people who are off the rails who are attempting to get back on track.  Probation officer, Paula Radnor (Friel) has an assailant under her supervision but who on release murders a young woman.  Under great scrutiny, Paula is suspended and pleads, 'as much as you want to, you can't hold their hand 24 hours a day.'

Three months later, she is given the case of Eddie Mottram (Mays) who is out 10 years after strangling his girlfriend , 'I am out, but I'm not free'.

The writer Marchant, has a penchant for writing gritty, hard-edged material that does make you realise you have not got it as bad as you might think.

The episodes have a real zip to them, conveying a lot of information without succumbing to needless histrionics. This is thanks in part to the formidable acting display by Mays, who is slowly coming to national prominence after being under the radar for so long.  Friel does what she can with a role that could have been unlikeable, and one written where she should not garner such sympathies, yet Friel is adept at being strong when her character is weak or put upon.

A really gripping and sustainable piece of British drama that is a competent mixture of acting, writing and befitting of the current social climate.

Public Enemies is released by BBC Films on DVD on Monday 30th April, and distributed by Arrow Films

The Iron Lady

When it came to the Oscars this year, there were two women up for Best Actress in roles where they impersonated famous female icons of the 20th century.  Meryl Streep (who won) portrayed Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who was as polarising a cultural and social figure during her tenure, more so than her successors Blair and Cameron.  Michelle Williams, played Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, the sultry screen siren of Hollywood during the 1950s and 60s.  It was a surprise that Streep (who has won two Oscars previously) beat out Williams who failed one her third nomination, as Hollywood usually salute their own history and the passing over of a Monroe imitation came as a shock as the Best Picture was awarded to The Artist a film about the silent era of the silver screen.

The Iron Lady is released on DVD tomorrow (Monday 30th April) and so many will get a chance to examine Streep's dead on impersonation and portrayal of Maggie, she is helped by a sterling turn by Jim Broadbent as her esteemable husband, Denis.

The film is not your typical biopic, and does not follow the generic structure of a biopic movie.  Usually you follow the star/idol from humble beginnings through to success via questions of loyalty and trouble to the height of acclaim to the eventual fall from grace ending with a triumphant return and comeback.  Much like the life of Elvis but set to film.

Recently biopics specifically Ray (Ray Charles) and Walk the Line (Johnny Cash) used the narrative structure of focusing on the height of those gentleman's success over a 10 year period and only focusing on their earlier life in short flashbacks upon incidents that caused them to be the conflicted characters they became.

The Iron Lady's script by acclaimed author, Abi Morgan, takes the route of meeting the former PM in an elderly state, retired from public life, battling dementia and having visions of her dead husband roaming around the house, which worries her daughter Carol (Olivia Coleman).

The script then goes into the flashback format of the biopic genre, we meet Margaret Roberts - the grocer's daughter - who after an initial loss in a by-election becomes a MP at an early age.  Then comes the promotion and a place in the Conservative government and eventual rise to leader of the party before her election as leader of the country in 1979.

The script by Morgan covers all the major talking points of her leadership - Falklands, coal mine disputes, poll tax riots, the Brighton bombing in 1982 - yet it does not do this chronological order instead it uses Margaret's wilting memory and identity as an excuse to skip from one event to the other; so we get the triumph of the Falklands in 1982, happening here after the coal mine riots and social clashes in Brixton and Toxteth which actually occured in 1983.  The triumph of the Falklands leads to a business boom in Britain and wonderful international relations with America and a darling of the media.

In actuality, Thatcher was always fighting and always up against it from unions, voters, media and even people in her party which led to the eventual leadership race with Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) and Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant), a race that actually crosses out the winner and future PM John Major.

The script whilst aiming to be something more akin to Peter Morgan's The Queen which starred Helen Mirren, is somewhat slapdash and attempts to be something greater than it is, and unfortunately does a disservice to the legend of Mrs.Thatcher, a woman who was always on her own in a fight and yet was strict enough to stand by her convictions and beliefs. The direction by Phylidia Lloyd offers nothing in terms of visual panache, although the focusing on hands as a motif of recollection and remembering is a nice touch.

We seem to get a depiction of a famous leader who always had to fight but was shaped more by the events she had to govern over rather than putting her footprint down on her people; although the compassion and companionship between Margaret and Denis is never in doubt thanks to the wonderful performances by Streep and Broadbent.

The Iron Lady is out on DVD from Monday 30th April from Pathe Home Entertainment

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Hall of Fame: McNabb v Dawkins

Two players who will forever be remembered as Philadelphia Eagles have both made statements in the last week; one has done it with dignity and humility you would expect, the other is making noises that louder the more insignificant he has become.

Donovan McNabb is still an active player, an unattached free agent who is seeking a team to throw for.  He is currently unattached because he has two awful seasons with the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings.

Brian Dawkins, the 2nd round draft pick out of Clemson, became an irrepressible Safety who was a starter from his first season in 1996 and became an integral part of the team that went to five NFC championship games and one Superbowl.  Dawkins was the leader of the defence, the defence that scored points and allowed the offence marshalled by McNabb the opportunity to take them to these milestone games.

Whilst McNabb is making noises that he is hall of fame worthy, Dawkins is going to slope off into a quiet retirement.  The Eagles have even extended an invitation to the Denver Broncos player to return to Philly so he can officially retire in the green of an Eagle.  McNabb left on bitter terms with the Eagle organisation, and is not so welcome.

My argument and belief is that Dawkins is most certainly worthy of enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.  Defensive players of note and of great skill playing levels are few and far between, especially at safety.  John Lynch is a name who is first time ballot for sure, yet Dawkins work off the field and the fact he is so beloved in the city and the team still helps.  And even when he went to Denver, he elevated that franchise.  The work Dawkins did with Champ Bailey in the defence at Mile High, helped Denver win some of their games and got somewhat overshadowed by the hysteria of Tebow-mania.  Remember a prolific Ben Roethlisberger was expected to stomp over this leaky Denver defence, and did he?  No, Big Ben's numbers on that night were woeful (22-40, 289yds, 1TD, 1INT, 75.9rating)

It also helps that Dawkins has some great career numbers, 26 sacks, 37 forced fumbles (16 recovered) and 37 interceptions.

As for McNabb, his argument is a difficult one.  For a quarterback to be elite, you have to have at least one ring on your finger.  Look at all the active ones you consider they have the jewellry - Brady, Big Ben, Eli, Peyton, Rodgers, Brees, even Brett Favre did get one.  The only elite one at the moment is Philip Rivers and that is due to his productivity and efficiency, expect him to bounce back this season.

Dawkins is a shoe in because he played fair but played hard.  He was an exemplary model of professionalism with a clean sheet of integrity and respect from his peers.

As for McNabb he has now left three teams (Eagles, Redskins, Vikings) all with a cloud over his head.  Yet for a player you live and die by what have you won.  The Eagles never won the QB, ultimately the one they played in was against a good New England side, yet they had a chance to tie yet took too long.  That comes down to the QB and his coach.

There is an argument that if Jim Kelly is in, why not McNabb.  They share similar figures, McNabb has 37,726 to Kelly's 35,467 yet Kelly played in two Superbowls to McNabb's one, yet he was the franchise in Buffalo.

Should he retire now, McNabb's figures are ecliped already by the still very active Brady (39,979), Brees (40,742), Peyton (54,828).  He is also behind people who are questionable entries Drew Bledsoe (44,611), Kerry Collins (40,922) - two players who also lost in SuperBowls yet have had storied careers also.  I am not saying Collins is going to the Hall, Bledsoe might, but McNabb has thrown less than Collins.  Even someone like Matt Hasselbeck (33,150) is not far behind McNabb, and he is certainly not HoF but at least he has a job.

Interestingly, Kurt Warner (32,344) has thrown 5,000 yards less than McNabb yet when he becomes eligible in 2014 he is a first ballot certainty; he played in 3 superbowls and won one.  Yet he was the man who marshalled the greatest show on turf, and resurrected his career in Arizona where many thought he went to retire, he took a ragtag to the SuperBowl and very nearly got the upset.

People say McNabb deserves it more than Troy Aikman (32,942) yet Aikman won three titles, admittedly more due to having a great back like Emmitt Smith to complement him.

McNabb is in that group like Phil Simms (33,462) who although won a SuperBowl is not going to make it and Simms won a ring.  McNabb also has a career Passer rating of 85.6% , that needs to be nearer to 95% like Brady/Manning will be.

Like Skip Bayless says on First Take, if you have to think about someone being in the Hall of Fame for half a second, chances are they do not deserve it.  Love him or hate him, Brett Favre will be in the Hall of Fame with a click of the fingers.  McNabb may have to wait a bit longer, although depending upon retirements and eligibility he may well scrap in, but if it is the first year it will be surprising.

Asante Samuel and Draft thoughts

Asante Samuel, the four-time pro bowler, of the Philadelphia Eagles has left the city of Brotherly Love, and was willing enough to restructure his contract to make a move to Atlanta Falcons possible.

Samuel, was due to be paid $9.9m in 2012 if he stayed with the Eagles; the contract now reads as a 3 year, $18.5m deal.  Considering he is an elite player in his position, and seeing that the Falcons only gave up a 7th round draft pick in this year's draft- this is a deal that suits the Falcons down to the ground.

The Eagles will not cry, in thinking they have lost a player - they still have Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback.  Yet they needed to clear some players from the payroll, and now they have 10 picks in the draft.  Whereas Atlanta only have five picks total, with no first round pick.

In an interview, Samuel said, 'The Falcons already have an excellent team, excellent coaches...I'm just going to add to the bunch to get to the one common goal.'

That goal must be a legitimate play-off run for a team that has good regular season campaigns but seem to suffer in the playoff spotlight.  In 2010, they were 13-3 yet lost to the eventual champions, Green Bay Packers; and last season, a 10-6 record led to a defeat to (again) eventual champions, New York Giants were they scored only two points (a safety).

Samuel joins Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes in the Falcons secondary, yet whilst that is three top talents and questions remain over Samuel's inability to play man to man, and prefers the idea of zone coverage, he will no doubt help a defence that allowed the second most 30 yard passes to the defence's left side last season.

Whilst he only had 3 interceptions in 14 games last season, his 38 INTs since 2006 lead the NFL.

Head coach, Mike Smith seems pleased with the acquisition, ' Asante Samuel is a good football player and you can never have enough good players on your team. Our game has become more of a passing game, and you have to have the players who can neutralise how offences are trying to attack you.'

As for the draft, obviously you expect the Falcons to be quiet yet for the Eagles with 10 picks including three of the first 51 picks you can anticipate some movement in the first round.  Possibly a team that is high on the board like Jacksonville at 7 will be willing to trade down, and be willing to hear offers for anything available. The Jags are covered on offence, and are a stuttering team - so if they are still on the board at that time, the Eagles may well jump at the chance to get Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Fletcher Cox (Miss State), Courtney Upshaw (Alabama).

Other draft thoughts
Miami going for Ryan Tannehill is a reach and a mistake, they have two decent QBs who can get the job done, they have a resurgent Reggie Bush and decent receivers underneath.  Either they go for a wide reciever (Blackmon/Floyd/Hill), or sort out a leaky defence in a league where they are facing Brady, Sanchez and Fitzpatrick

All the talk of Matt Kalil not going to the Minnesota Vikings, who are instead looking at Morris Claiborne (LSU) at cornerback may well lead to Kalil falling into the St. Louis Rams' lap and such a great addition to their lineup.  Of course if Kalil does go to the Vikings as he should do, Fletcher Cox dwill not be a bad player either.

The draft will come alive at No.7 when the Jags pick becomes live, the first six picks will sort themselves out but once the Eagles trade for 7, then all the fun will begin all over the board.

Expect the Patriots to use one of their two 1st round picks to sort out their defence at safety - Mark Barron (Alabama) or Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) or at pass rush for Michael Brockers (LSU) or Quinton Coples, either by trading up or waiting to see who is available.

Long term - Michael Floyd will have a better NFL career than Justin Blackmon

Monday, 23 April 2012

Did Man Utd go to sleep?

At about 2.10pm on Sunday 22nd April at Old Trafford, the champagne could have been put on ice for next Monday evening, the people who polish the Premier League trophy could have thought about leaving the red and white ribbons on for this season.

68 minutes into the league encounter with Everton, Manchester United took a 4-2 lead thanks to a well converted strike from Nani.  Twenty odd minutes left to endure, to see out the game and take a seven point lead into the Manchester derby at the Ethiad Stadium next Monday evening.

Yet a resilient Everton still smarting from a FA Cup semi-final defeat last weekend to their neighbours Liverpool, showed a true case of character as they scored two goals to snatch a 4-4 draw and spoil the Red Devils party atmosphere.  It was no surprise that once Everton got their 3rd goal the heavens opened to rain on the parade.

Yet this should not be considered a case of complacency or taking Everton lightly, as each goal the blue shirted men scored was true and down to their hard work throughout the game.  No deflected shots to bemoan, no dodgy officiating decision to bitch about - Everton scored four goals at Old Trafford and did not lose, they were value for the draw.

Everton took the lead, Nikica Jelavic sending a far post header back across a statuesque David de Gea.  United rightly responded with a Rooney header to equalise before half-time.

In the second half, United continued to prosper with Danny Welbeck curling a beautiful shot from the edge of the box when he sold a dummy to buy space.  Then Rooney rounded off a smart passing move to take a 3-1 lead, yet the Toffeemen would not go away.  Marouane Fellaini converted a Tony Hibbert cross with a smart volley when given room by the less than impressive Jonny Evans.

Then Nani's strike came to give a two goal cushion, yet their was never an air of comfort throughout the stadium.  And yet David Moyes did not give up.  Before the scoreline became 4-2, he introduced James McFadden a striker to operate as a man in the hole behind Jelavic and Fellaini who were becoming a handful for Rio Ferdinand and Evans.

McFadden became a passing option, his movement across in front of the front two becoming a worry as to who was to track him.  Phil Neville would then launch a ball into the box to the towering Fellaini.  The presence worked as both Ferdinand and Evans went to challenge for the aerial delivery, that left Jelavic free to convert his second with a sweetly struck volley from the dropping ball.

Immediately, after that Moyes brought on Tim Cahill for Sylvain Distin to throw caution to the wind and this added attacking presence led to the naivety of Rafael de Silva in defence to be shown up.  A neat passing move between Steven Pienaar and Fellaini led to Pienaar with acres of space to convert the equaliser.  Whilst people are pointing the finger at De Silva, Paul Scholes was also drawn into the ball rather than tracking the run of Pienaar who was untouched and ghosted into the path of Fellaini's return ball.

So yes maybe United did go to sleep, and Ferguson did bemoan the lack of his defence to stand up and be counted but this does a disservice to Everton's wonderful play and taking part in a great advert for the Premier League.

Thanks to Man City's 2-0 win at Wolves, City are three points behind and will go ahead of United on goal difference should they win next Monday.  City have the initiative, they have a home game and you can expect the atmosphere will be fierce.  Yet United can afford to draw and attempt to not lose, as they have games remaining afterwards against Swansea and Sunderland.

Ferguson says the ball is in City's court, yet United just have to go and not lose the game next week.  The emphasis is on City, if they want to win this League they better go and win this game.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Pat Summitt

Go check out my work for

I write sometimes for this website, which specialises in coverage of US sports written by diehard fans in this country who stay up late and watch too much NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL.

I have written a piece about the retiring Pat Summitt, female head coach of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers who retires with 1,098 wins more than any man or woman in NCAA Div1 College Basketball history.

Please read, leave comments and follow the website on twitter @1amsports where you can hear podcasts and leave your opinion.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Chelsea v Barcelona review

Chelsea take the plaudits, they beat Barcelona at home to take a 1-0 lead to the Nou Camp next week  for the vital second leg.

Barcelona could not beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in a rivalry that has been built up over the last six years as their paths have crossed in group stages and knockout matches. Barcelona have not yet won in West London.  Lionel Messi has still not scored against an English side in an away match (the final at Wembley does not count as it was a neutral site).

Chelsea won in spite of giving up 79% of possession to the Catalan giants, they had three shots at goal and scored with the only shot on target - Didier Drogba's first half injury time winner as he swept in Ramires' square ball following Frank Lampard's counter-attacking thrust as he dispossessed Messi in midfield.

The reason the Champions League holders always struggle at Stamford Bridge is the small confines of the pitch measurements.  Barcelona play an incisive, neat and patient passing game looking for openings in a defence which may crack under the constant pressure.  Yet in contrast to the vast size of the Nou Camp dimensions, the Chelsea home is tight and so the tactic of Chelsea employing two banks of four as walls in which Barcelona had to get past was impressive.

There were fears of Gary Cahill being overawed by the occasion, yet the ex-Bolton defender had his most impressive outing yet in a blue shirt.  He dived at every ball, was strong and indicative of the resilience of his teammates - John Terry, the recalled Ivanovic and solid Ashley Cole.

They were matched by the solidity in midfield by Frank Lampard, Jon Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles - a trifecta who knew they had to bide their time to make an impact.  Miereles fouled a few times in the first 10 minutes as he was outwitted by the tricky of the Barca midfield.  Yet when they did, Lampard made it count.  A glorious ball released Ramires who laid it on a plate for Drogba, who stayed on his feet for possibly the longest all night to convert the match winning chance.

The second half was a vertiable bombardment from Barca - they hit the woodwork twice in the match, and was thwarted by Petr Cech and the do or die blocking of the Chelsea defence.  The last chance in injury time summed up Chelsea's achievement - a Messi shot blocked by Cahill, it falls into the path of Pedro who strokes it to the far post, a slight deflection from Cahill makes it hit the post as Ashley Cole again goes back to the line to cover, the richochet back to Busquets is blasted over as bodies go flying.  The chance of an away goal has gone, and the opportunity for parity is squandered.

This was a game of respect, usually past encounters have turned into a shouting match overshadowed by refereeing inconsistencies and controversy yet this was a game when the magic of Barcelona went missing. Their body language was lazy, not arrogant just a general ennui with the surroundings and meeting head on the defiant rearguard.

Some players were absent without leave, Cesc Fabregas' return to London was a poor one.  He had a great chance yet his soft lift over Cech allowed the tracking back of Cole to easily clear away the danger, he wafted an air shot at a chance that went begging.  There was always the lovely caressing of the ball, yet the gaps to slide the ball into the net were few and far between.  Messi's best chance was a header from 18 yards out that failed to trouble Cech.

Oddly, it went exactly as Fabregas recalled past Arsenal v Chelsea ties, 'We would dominate the ball, keep possession, create chances and then....a counter-attack, Drogba, goal! They have a super fast counter attack', how odd that it should happen again.

You can expect more of the same next Tuesday night at the Nou Camp.  It promises to be intense, intriguing and immense. 

Pep Guardiola says Chelsea are favourites, this may be an attempt at psychology, nonetheless the chance for Chelsea is there to reach Munich.

The Story of Film

When I first began to really take notice of film as a cultural phenomenon and an artform, there were few good cinema shows on television.  This in a time when there were still just four terrestrial channels and little form on the satellite channels, beyond the cringing red carpet interviews and fawning behind-the-scenes footage.

There was however two esteemable men; the quintessential Barry Norman on BBC One's Film whatever the year was and the other was much younger, but just as knowledgable, Mark Cousins.  Cousins, a young man with a hypnotic Scottish voice, presented BBC Two's Moviedrome - a late night showing of a rarely screened film either Robert Siodmak's The Killers or something from Japan or Iran.  It opened my eyes to the work of Akira Kurosawa and Abbas Kiarostomi.  I also remember his ability to interview legends and get some great material, the best being his going to Paris to inteview Roman Polanski which touched upon his career and personal background.

Cousins has continued to be a writer, essayist and curator of many film programmes and festivals.  Now he has embarked upon his largest work to date and his own personal love letter to the art of cinema.  The Story of Film is Cousins' epic journey around the world encompassing the art form from all cultures, the evolution from silent cinema to sound to the most popular of cultural formats today.  Filled with passion and researched to the hilt, the documentary is produced by Hopscotch Films.

Originally screened on More4 last year, it is garnering a huge DVD release on 23rd April in a five disc, steel case limited edition for £49.99.

Whereas other critics who are more egotistical and arrogant (Kermode maybe) would be front and centre to any documentary, cutting back to him in front of a global landmark talking about that countries milestone moment.  Cousins takes the approach as an omnipresent narrator guiding us with little nuggets of information and research to back up the classic footage, as if it is the ultimate directors commentary on the history of film.

The roll call of people interviewed is a who's who of cinema - Robert Towne, Jane Campion, Stanley Donen, Lars Von Trier, Claire Denis, Buck Henry, Kiarostami, Paul Schneider - again there is no sight of Cousins but like any auteur his voice is all over the work.

The best insight is reserved for the moment when Cousins reflects on the two paths taken by Hollywood cinema in 1939 from John Ford's Stagecoach to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane how these two filmed are unified by the deep focus cinematography of Gregg Toland; and the new film language of Italian neorealism and the work of Rosselini, De Sica et al.

That is but my favourite piece, yet Cousins has so much to talk about thanks to the richness and uniqueness in the 100 plus years of film history.

The old adage of there is something for everyone has never been truer said than in this.  Whilst bound to be consumed en masse by film students and scholars up and down the country, it can also be treated as a cheats guide to all those films you haven't got to see yet.

THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY is released from Network Releasing on 23rd April 2012 in a five disc format, 15 hours running time with a £49.99 RRP

Monday, 16 April 2012

Spurs v Chelsea Semi-Final review

And so it seems that the season is over...for Tottenham at least.  Chelsea progress to their 4th FA Cup final in six years, and more short-term they enter the 1st leg of their daunting semi-final against Barcelona on Wednesday evening full of confidence.

Chelsea did beat Tottenham 5-1. An embarrassing scoreline for all concerned at White Hart Lane, yes the analysis will point to Chelsea's second goal on 49 minutes where the referee Martin Atkinson and assistant referee, Michael McDonough agreed that a shot crossed the line when four players appeared to block the shot including the Chelsea captain, John Terry.

In terms of momentum, that changed the game.  At half-time with the score 1-0 to Chelsea following an unbelievable strike from Didier Drogba - who played like his unstoppable, unbeatable past self - which came against the run of play as Spurs had a header cleared off the line and hit the post.  With the game separated by one goal, the next goal was crucial to the ultimate outcome.

Even though, the referees conspired to gift Chelsea a goal.  Tottenham did respond and make the scoreline 2-1 when Gareth Bale tapped in after Petr Cech upended Emmanuel Adebayor.  Again controversy, should Atkinson have sent off Cech and given a penalty.  Giving Spurs a chance to make it 2-1 whilst Chelsea see out the remaining half hour with 10 men.

Any referee will tell you, the game is about goals.  If a goal can save you from sending off a player, then give the goal and save the integrity of the game.  In this instance, Atkinson got it right.  Yet momentum was lost for Spurs, as a two minute hold up in play as David Luiz was treated for an injury that saw him leave the game allowed Chelsea and interim manager, Roberto Di Matteo to regroup.  The shift and balance of play ultimately left Spurs as Chelsea got the third goal.

And then the fourth and fifth to rub salt into Tottenham's open wounds - Mata releasing Malouda on 77, Lampard striking from distance with a free kick on 81 and then Ramires rounding it off on the stroke of full time.

Credit to Tottenham who saved their arguments and gesticulations for the officials until after the final whistle, whilst Scott Parker did lose his head at being kicked by Mikel in an incident similar to David Beckham's infamous red card against Diego Simeone and Argentina in 1998.

As for seasons end, for many it may feel like it has already finished for Tottenham.  They have five games remaining, all winnable games and they have form in returning from a low ebb.  Two years ago they lost a semi-final to Portsmouth then beat Chelsea and Arsenal consecutively to help secure fourth place, so it can happen and most of these players still exist. The games are QPR (a), Blackburn (h), Bolton (a), Aston Villa (a) and then Fulham at home on the final day of the season, May 13th.

As for Chelsea, the only chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season is to win the tournament, a daunting prospect as they face the formidable Barcelona - then either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the final.

Intriguingly, if Chelsea do win the Champions League, they will become England's fourth representative in next year's competition usurping the team that finishes in fourth place.  A place that could fall to Tottenham Hotspur.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Angel's Share - Preview

Ken Loach, the award winning and critically acclaimed director, has long been admired but following on from his Palme D'or win at Cannes in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, he is currently enjoying his most consistent and sustainable piece of bankable films.

After the Cannes victory he followed up with Its A Free World..(2007), Looking for Eric (2009) and Route Irish (2010).

Now Loach returns to Scotland, a place where he has shot films before - My Name is Joe (1998), Sweet Sixteen (2002) and Ae Fond Kiss (2004) - and continues his creative partnership with Paul Laverty, his esteemed screenwriter for The Angel's Share.

The story centres around Robbie, a young father who after narrowly avoiding a prison sentence meets three lost souls (Rhino, Albert, Mo) during community service who like him want a better life for some reason.  Robbie wants to avoid his newborn child having the same trouble as him, yet like the others he cannot get work because of his criminal record.

Yet on a visit to a whiskey distillery, Robbie finds the answer may lie in drink where the most obscure and reserved whiskies are sold for huge profits at auction.  Robbie and his friends have the nose.

Following in the tradition of The Full Monty or Waking Ned, the trailer promises a laugh a minute, with some insightful character observation from aspirational figures, some great cameo roles by policeman and nuns.  Yet this is also a calling card for Scottish tourism also, set in and around Edinburgh the distilleries and grandeur of Edinburgh castle get a good location shots.

Yet for Loach, this may well be the most laissez-faire film of his storied career.  Whilst, he has always been wise to having an underbelly of humour in his more serious films, and vice versa; he has never done an out and out comedy in this vein before.

Also helping is Loach's touch of finding young, unknown talent like he did with Martin Compston in Sweet Sixteen and years ago, Brian Glover in Kes (1969); on this occasion he has found Paul Brannigan as Robbie, a young man who has a notable scar on his face which adds authenticity to his past plight.  Brannigan is shepherded by some stellar veteran actors Roger Allam and John Henshaw.

The title from the film refers to the 2% of whiskey lost to the air whenever a barrel is opened - The Angel's Share - as the tagline says, Enjoy Responsibly from June 1st.

Watch the trailer here


Marco Berger is one of those rare beings, a voice in queer cinema, who wants to be heard upon the conscientious and stereotypical musings of homosexual cinema.

His latest work, Absent, inverts the teacher and pupil dynamic of seduction.  In this case it is the pupil, Martin (Javier de Pietro) acts upon or teases the reactions of his swimming teacher, Sebastian (Carlos Echevarria).

Martin is much like a femme fatale, a person who will not stop at anything until he has crossed the unholy line - and once that line is crossed there is not turning back.  As the twists and turns occur, so the expectation of desire and lust is lost, as regret and loneliness takes hold.  Martin can still grow into a man, whilst for Sebastian a career and reputation can lay in tatters.

The real-time first half of the film is shot quite brilliantly, using the naturalism and testosterone filled air of a male changing room to good effect; however, the effect is somewhat lost once the changing room is left for the outside world, so to speak.

Whilst the professional Echevarria delivers a soulful performance as the emotionally fraught teacher, the newcomer de Pietro, shows himself to be a novice and does not quite convince on the basis of this performance.

However, there is a smoothness about Tomas Perez Silva's cinematography - yet for me the film was not as definely told as a German counterpart, Sasha another piece of queer cinema which dealt with the proceedings with a bit more tongue in cheek and had an all around better resolution.

Yet, Berger (who also edited and wrote the screenplay) remains a distinct Argentinian auteur to watch out for in the coming years and works.

Absent is released by Network Releasing on DVD and is out now.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Las acacias

Following in the footsteps of fellow Argentinian directors - Lisandro Alonso, Pablo Trapero - to garner critical acclaim with a debut feature (Las acacias won the Sutherland Award for Best First Film at the London Film Festival in 2011), Pablo Giorgelli's debut receives a home entertainment release today on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Giorgelli co-wrote the script with Salvador Roselli (who also authored Bombon el perro (2004)), tells the slight story of truck driver Ruben (German de Silva) who delivers lumber from Paraguay to Buenos Aires.  He is informed by his boss he must transport a young mother Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her five month old son also.

Little is informed or given to us of the two actors pasts, so we are told details about them as they learn about each other.  The film refuses to leave the confines of the truck cab, not allowing location photography to overshadow the human story being told here.

Giorgelli was given the gift of De Silva, a professional actor, who uses his presence and nobility (not to dissimilar to the same acacias' he transports), to tell you more when very little is said.  Duarte is an untrained actor but her striking, alluring face makes you want to know more about her.

In the same vein as his contemporaries, in terms of physical restraint and keeping narrative clues close to his chest Giorgelli portrays the blossoming of a beautiful friendship taking place between two strangers; Ruben never got to know his son that was taken away from him, so the connection between the five month old child, allows us and him to see how good of a father he could become or could have been.

Neither flashy, nor boring the film is another creative exponent of the cinematic explosion occuring right now in Argentina and surrounding South American countries with so much good viable work being released and viewed - a willingness to put individuals first with universal storylines about loneliness, isolation, love and companionship.

Las Acacias is released on DVD by Verve Pictures on Monday 9th April
My thanks to Rabbit Publicity for the disc