Monday, 25 June 2012

England v Italy review

So once again, lady luck proves to not be an England fan as Roy Hodgson becomes the latest England manager to succumb to the dreaded penalty shootout.

England lost 4-2 on penalties after 120 minutes of stalemate football, as England struggled to create chances against a strict Italian defence led by the mighty Gianluigi Buffon in goal.  England were thankful themselves for the continued form of Joe Hart in goal, as he kept at bay his club team-mate, Mario Balotelli and the engineer Andrea Pirlo who was unanimous as man of the match.

Pirlo dictated the pace of the game, able to pull the strings and orchestrate the action at a pace he suited in his advancing years.  He was helped by the fact that he had two midfielders along side him, this meant that Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were outnumbered in midfield allowing Pirlo a total freedom of the Kiev pitch.

Yet England looked lacking in ideas and originality, unable to create anything, not getting anything from the wide men, relying on set pieces to count as attacking opportunities.  So where did we go wrong?

1. Wayne Rooney failed to step up
Whilst it would be unfair to single out one man for England's defeat on a shootout, Rooney was expected to return to the England side full of vigour and intensity following his two match suspension.  He can be forgiven for ring rust in the first game against Ukraine, in which he scored, yet his anonymity for much of the two hours of football cannot be.  Rooney was in his fourth tournament, and yet it still feels that he has been unable to replicate good club form to an international platform.

2. Injuries ruined England's gameplan
The dual injuries to Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry denied England the opportunity to fully employ Roy Hodgson's gameplan of flooding the midfield.  If Barry had been fit, he would have joined Gerrard and Parker in the centre able to combat the three man Italian midfield, and also allow Gerrard to support the front pair more often; something missing from the game.  Too often Young and Rooney were isolated with lack of support runners.  Lampard's form for Chelsea at the end of the season was mightily impressive with his mix of stern defence, tackling and bombing runs into the box.  Lampard would also have been a definite penalty taker last night.  Barry and Lampard's presence would have allowed the opportunity to rotate and rest Parker's ailing ankle ligaments; the fact that Jordan Henderson was his substitute spoke volumes.  The introduction of the Liverpool player at the bar where I watched the game, was met with a mixture of 'Oh no not him' and sighs

3. England need creativity
England were seemingly hoping to soak up the pressure from Italy, and possibly counter them on the break with the pace of Young and Welbeck.  Yet too often the final ball was poor and by the end England were hoofing the ball from Hart to Andy Carroll, a good ploy has Carroll won plenty of ball but had no options when he gained possession.  England need a player with a creative streak in him like Paul Gascoigne or Glenn Hoddle,someone who can run at people with the ball from midfield with an air of fearlessness whilst being assured, sadly that player was also one who was injured, Jack Wilshere.

4. Defence is key
Hodgson in his six games thus far has had four clean sheets; he has a pedigree of sorting out this problem.  He was helped by having a Championship winning keeper defender combination in Hart and Joleon Lescott, two Champions League winners in John Terry and Ashley Cole, and the reliable Glen Johnson who has grown in this tournament.  It would have been interesting if Kyle Walker had been fit what impact his darting runs down the right would have made.  Yet with Terry in the twilight of his years and pace alluding him, England have backups in Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Phil Jones.  Thankfully also they have a world class goalkeeper for the next 10 years.

5. The FA picked wisely
The FA should be pleased with their appointment of Hodgson over Harry Redknapp, Hodgson did what was expected of him by getting England out of a difficult group.  He showed some tactical acumen as you would expect but also got a rub of some green and allowed the squad to display some harmony and unity from a press that were not expecting the world. You imagine if Redknapp was in charge, the gameplan would have been more gung-ho which can lead to it blowing back in your face.
Hodgson has laid the groundwork, now in conjunction with the FA and the new St.Georges Park complex opening in Burton; the head coach must have a say on what must be done technically to improve England in terms of ball retention, possession and ball retrieval.  At times Italy had three people swarming over Ashley Young to win the ball back; this is something Spain do effectively also.

Next for England is the qualification for Brazil 2014 in Group H involving Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro Moldova and San Marino. Whilst we should qualify as group winners and worst make a play-off, the away trips will be a big test of character for much of the squad.  Whilst we will not win the World Cup, and no European team has ever won a World Cup when it has been held in the Southern Hemisphere (you can include both Mexico World Cups in that also); the omens may not look good but then they did not four weeks ago.  Roy did the best he could do and so he should be applauded for that, having served himself with such distinction and class thus far.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Man on a Ledge

The premise of this film is typical B-movie fodder, helped by the self-explanatory title (like Snakes on a Plane), you know what you are going to get.

Sam Worthington stars as Nick Cassidy, a former cop wrongly convicted who seemingly wants to end it all by jumping from the ledge of a high rise building in Manhattan.  Attempting to talk him down is psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks, always useful) but slowly like any good B-movie, it slowly shows you its hand by having layers.

Nick is in charge of a team hoping to rob a bank, a raid led by his younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Angie (Genesis Rodriguez - who wears pink undies to the party)

This allows for a lot of action to take place cutting between the high rise exterior allowing for helicopter shots and vistas in contrast to the claustrophobic feel of the bank raid.  You can maybe be cynical with these heist films that require a genuine sense of detachment from reality - where everything has to go so smoothly for the whole plan to come together.  Yet unlike some films that overstay its welcome with an extended running time, this has a real zip to proceedings which keeps hold of your attention.

Nick has to stay on the ledge long enough to deflect attention from alarms and persuade the cops that his need to end his life is more important. Too some extents that is hard to believe, but in Sam Worthington there is a real everyman quality about him in all his performances, so convincing was he in a wheelchair during Avatar, you could sense his elation when he became his avatar.

A good solid supporting cast of Ed Harris, Ed Burns (doing his typical New Yourk bit as a grumbled cop), Kyra Sedgwick and Anthony Mackie, give a sense of reliability to a film that will give you exactly what it says on the tin.  Think of it as the Ronseal of movies.

Man on a Ledge is released by Entertainment One on DVD now

England v France review

England have not had a great record in opening games of the European Championships; they have failed to win on numerous occasions.  Even Euro 1996 on home soil started with a less than thrilling 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

Monday night they opened Euro 2012 with the daunting task of playing France in Donetsk, Ukraine.  Following two 1-0 friendly wins, it was also Roy Hodgson's first competitive fixture as England manager.  Since being appointed 42 days previously, Hodgson has had little time to prepare the team due to Chelsea's Champions League exploits, mounting injuries and even Wayne Rooney's suspension for the first two games means continuity has been amiss.

However, England performed well drawing 1-1 with the ever improving French team who are being steered by Laurent Blanc and extended their unbeaten run to 22 games.

England took the lead on the half hour when Joleon Lescott headed in a free-kick, yet the lead did not last long as Samir Nasri replied on 39 minutes fizzing a shot by clubmate Joe Hart, who maybe should have covered his near post better.  One rule of goalkeeping, never be beaten at your near post.

With the group England are in, having the France game first was a blessing.  You can focus all your efforts on that one game, to garner a positive result and England did enough with potency to maybe snatch a win; James Milner had a glorious chance in the first 15 minutes when he rounded Hugo Lloris and with the goal at his mercy could only slice wide. Admittedly, the ball was on his weaker left foot yet the ball should have been tucked away easily.

England played with a definite defensive midset; once the goal was scored they like Chelsea did against Barcelona famously - set about having two banks of four when they did not have the ball making it difficult for France to get round them.  Yet this came back to bite them as they sat far too deep, inviting pressure and possession.  Nasri's goal came from a shot that was not shut down quickly enough, he had ample time (too much time at this level) to get the ball out from under his feet and blast the shot in.  A good accurate shot, Hart may have been blinded by bodies but the ball could maybe have been pushed round the post.

This was a shame as minutes previously, Hart pulled off a brilliant point blank save from Alou Diarra and he looked assured at other long-distance shots from Karim Benzema later, yet he nearly had egg on his face by a Franck Ribery in the second half when an opportunistic shot nearly sneaked in at Hart's near post; something you would not have expected.  Luckily, the curse of bad England keeper performances in tournament play did not appear.

The team England played was set out to flood the midfield and combat the creative influence of Nasri, Yohan Cabaye and Ribery who played with free licence behind Benzema.  England had Scott Parker and Milner play in holding roles, with captain Steven Gerrard just ahead hoping to give him room to roam and support Danny Welbeck up front, whilst Ashley Young and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain patrolled the wings.

Teenager Chamberlain started off brightly, being direct and showing intent to attack the full backs, yet he petered out by the end and it was no surprise he was substituted, the picking up of a caution did not help his freedom.  Young did well and showed his experience, yet he was not helpful in linking up with Welbeck who ran tirelessly.  The front three at times seemed to be fighting on their own; one attack in the second half had Young on the left wing, with possession but only two targets near the area.  This can be considered a missed chance as France left a lot to be desired in their defensive scheme; Glen Johnson got a lot of joy down the right wing and Ashley Cole sometimes found himself of acres of room on the left wing - a sign that France play too narrow and too often down their left side with Patrice Evra overlapping Ribery.

There was hope that Gerrard would be talismanic during this tournament, due to being entrusted with the captaincy and not having to take turns of going forward with Frank Lampard (injured but clearly missed), Gerrard does not time his runs into the box like Lampard expertly does so, or like Cesc Fabregas did for Spain's goal against Italy on Sunday.  Gerrard at times looks laboured with his running, and got tired by the end.

Whilst England's defence was stout and solid, the French did not offer much though you expect the French to improve as the tournament go on.  However, both sides should be wary of the other sides in the group.  Ukraine and Sweden served up a great encounter as the co-hosts won 2-1.  Ukraine have the home support, play with a unity of a team and now have a folk hero scoring goals, Andrei Shevchenko scoring two well-taken headers to cancel out Zlatan Ibrahimovic's opener.

Sweden who play England next on Friday 15th looked good in defence and Zlatan looked deadly at times, they will be a tough team for England to break down.  Something England will struggle to do so if they play the same team as expected; ultimately, England (like Sweden) need to win the game to consider reaching the quarter finals meaning the game could well be open as both teams seek a victory.  If the game is open, this could suit England with their pace up front.  A victory over Sweden would be welcome, as having to play Ukraine last and if a victory is needed then would be a tough task irrespective of the returning Wayne Rooney.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Arirang

Kim Ki-duk returns with his award winning film Arirang, the first film he has made in three years.  Kim was quite a prolific filmmaker from South Korea until a tragic event occured on the set of his 2008 film Dream, in which an actor nearly died whilst filming an attempted suicide.  The near death experience of that actor, coupled with the responsibility Kim felt towards the actor, led to a creative breakdown of the director married with a crippling writer's block.



Kim attempts to use the power of film to harness his creative juices again, by looking back upon his career whilst in his self-imposed exile and solitude.

Kim was born in 1960 and studied art in Paris before returning to Korea to begin his career as a screenwriter, he made his directorial debut with Crocodile in 1996.  Since then he has been lauded by critics and developed a following on the art house circuit thanks to films such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (2003) and 3-Iron (2004).

Whilst the documentary form is manipulated into a form of confessional and Alan Bennett-esque talking head format as Kim Ki-duk talks to himself, the product nevertheless serves as a great document about the commitment and focus auteurs have; it may resemble much of a rambling man yearning for calmer days when he had more freedom and less responsibility, yet sometimes a tragedy has to befall you for you to find an answer to yourself.

The film may not be as beautiful as some of his fictional work, and this is harsh to the extreme of showing us a person who is fraught with self-doubt; yet we cannot deny the extent to which the director chooses to show us himself in this naked and honest persona as he battles his inner demons.

Critics may say that such self-indulgent filmmaking should be reserved for biographys and not grace the silver screen; yet we should be thankful that such a strong Korean cinematic voice as his - along with compartriots Park Chan-wok, Oldboy and Bong Joon-ho, The Host and Mother - that was nearly lost has at least chosen to get behind a camera (and in front of it) again, however slowly it may appear, he deserves not to be rushed.

Arirang is released on Friday 8th June by Terracota Distribution and is on limited release appearing at the ICA in London for a week run - www.ica.org.uk

www.terracotadistribution.com
@ICALondon

Richard Moore Q&A


Out today (Thursday 7th) The Dirtiest Race in History on Bloomsbury Press and part of the Wisden Sports Writing - an imprint designed  to bring any and every sport the qualities that have made Widens Cricketers' Almanack famous since 1864, books not just about sport, but about life. Richard Moore is an award winning sports writer specialising in cycling and has written In Search of Robert Millar.  

Moore's new book focuses on one of the greatest and darkest Olympic moments - the Men's 100m final in the 1988 Seoul Olympics - when Ben Johnson won the gold for Canada in a World Record time of 9.79, denying Carl Lewis a second consecutive title as the fastest man on Earth.  Two days later, Johnson was disqualified and stripped of his gold medal.  Moore takes us into the narrative of the piece, how it was formed over years of training before by both men, their backgrounds, the need to win, the character building and why Johnson cheated and took drugs.

Moore is a great writer and is clever to not paint Johnson as the total villain of the piece, also bringing up the murky past of officials and administrators, most importantly Primo Niobolo of the IAAF, who would look the other way when there were positive drug tests.  Moore takes all the parties of the race, all 8 competitors and how 6 of them have been banned for drug cheating either during those Olympics or since.  Calvin Smith who finished fourth, feels he should have had the gold as he was clean and the three in front of him - Johnson, Lewis, Linford Christie - have all tested positive.

Luckily, I was granted the opportunity to interview Richard Moore before the book was released, and he was happy to answer my questions.

Jamie Garwood: You are known for your coverage of cycling, what drew you to this story in athletics?
Richard Moore: Actually it probably owes a lot to the fact I was 11 when the LA Games were on in 84, and at my most impressionable. I loved them, and loved Carl Lewis -- they were the Carl Lewis Olympics. When Ben Johnson emerged as a rival over 100m it only made the event more interesting; and the world champs in Rome in 87, where Johnson won in a new world record, set up the Seoul Games perfectly. You have to remember that athletics was huge in those days: the Rome world champs seemed as big a deal as the Mexico World Cup had been the previous year. That's how I remember it, anyway. When Seoul came along, the men's 100m was the race everyone was looking forward to. And yet it surpassed all expectations...
It took about a year to write the book, though I'd been thinking about it since the last Olympics. I was keen to do a non-cycling book, yes, just for a change, and for the challenge, and because this, for me, is one of the great sporting stories. 

JG: The story broke in 1988, what were your memories of it when it happened in Seoul?
RM: What I most remember is the sight of Johnson being bundled out of Seoul. He was jostled and manhandled as though he was guilty of an atrocity. I remember, at that moment, feeling sympathy for him. I thought: whatever he's done, he doesn't deserve to be treated like a murderer, does he? But I also felt sympathy for Lewis and the others who'd been cheated by him. I felt...conflicted. 

JG: Were you a fan of athletics growing up?
RM: It wasn't my main sport -- that was football, then cycling in my later teens. But you couldn't be a fan of sport in the UK in the 1980s without following athletics. Not really sprinting, though Allan Wells was a hero. I was just slightly too young to get really into the Ovett-Coe rivalry, but I really loved watching Steve Cram -- a beautiful runner. And, being Scottish, I was a big supporter of Tom McKean. He always seemed to be boxed in. And of course Liz McColgan. At school I ran 800s and 1500s myself, though preferred cross country -- the longer, the better. 

JG: Your tone of the book is very neutral. Where do you stand now, are you pro-Johnson and anti-Lewis or vice versa?
RM: I wouldn't say I'm pro- or anti- either of them, though I have sympathy for both for quite different reasons. But I really wanted to research the story, meet the key players, describe those people and events, and then let the reader make up their own mind -- or not as the case may be. 

JG: The Johnson ban changed athletics doping policy due to the high profile nature of the crime.  How did it change athletics?
RM: I'm not sure if it changed athletics very much at all. It's always been a hard sport to police. I think things have got better, in all sports, since the formation of WADA, which was the IOC's response to the Festina scandal at the 1998 Tour de France. Really, though, such a body should have been set up after Seoul. The fact it wasn't meant things continued as before, I suspect. 

JG: Why is cycling still caught out?
RM: Because riders still cheat...

JG: Where is Athletics now in terms of drug cheating?
RM: I wouldn't pretend to have a really detailed knowledge of doping in athletics now. But, as I said earlier, it is a hard sport to police. I think cycling's slightly easier in that respect -- it's organised in teams and most riders race on a regular basis. Compare that to athletics and you can see some of the challenges. I'm sure people still cheat in all sports. There's stricter testing but, as one drugs tester told me last year, if there's still a gap between the testers and the athletes, and if there are still ways to beat the tests (and there is a gap, and there are ways to beat the tests through micro-dosing, undetectable drugs, etc), then people will still be cheating -- impossible to say how many. 

JG: If Johnson and Lewis were around today, would they be able to compete? Or has Usain Bolt taken it to the next level?
RM: It's an interesting question. Why is Bolt running faster? Is it -- as Johnson claims -- because the tracks are faster? Have training methods improved? Or is Bolt a physiological freak? If he is then perhaps he would beat Johnson and Lewis easily. But if he isn't then I suspect that Johnson and Lewis would be very close.  

JG: And as for cycling? Should David Millar be allowed to compete for Britain?
RM: I don't think there was any choice about whether or not Millar competed, and couldn't understand why the BOA went to the trouble and expense of taking on WADA. I think the only way to tackle doping is to take a global approach and have agreed, worldwide rules. Otherwise the anti-doping effort will become fractured and the rules will become impossible to enforce. I think now the time has come for four-year bans for a serious first offence, which would keep athletes out of the next Olympics. I'd have preferred to see the BOA put their efforts into lobbying for four-year bans rather than going out on a limb to preserve their bylaw banning British offenders. If rules aren't global there doesn't seem much point to them. 

JG: Will you be covering the Olympics? And what is next for you?
RM: I'm covering the Olympics. It seems to me that several athletes are close to medals but it could go either way. Perhaps home advantage could make a difference. I would enjoy seeing Mo Farah win a gold medal. I'm working on a photographic book for next year's 100th Tour de France... out next June. 

Kind regards and thanks for the opportunity to ask you some questions.

Next Wednesday 13th June, Richard Moore will be in discussion with John Inverdale at Bloomsbury Publishing about the book, drugs and the forthcoming Olympics, tickets cost £8 each and would be a great evening.

My thanks to Richard Moore for his time and to Bloomsbury for giving me the chance to review the book.
Follow Richard on twitter @RichardMoore73 and his website www.richardmoore.co

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final is out from Bloomsbury (www.bloomsbury.com) for £18.99RRP

ill Manors

Plan B the maverick singer and songwriter is born and bred in East London.  He is a proud Londoner, loves his city and the people in it.  Yet Ben Drew (his real name) can be thought of now as a renaissance man; a man of many trades.  He sings, acts (is about to star opposite Ray Winstone in the forthcoming Sweeney remake), produces his own music and now is a writer and director also.

Drew has written and directed ill Manors, a film set in and around his East End neighbourhood with a whole host of shady characters.  The film is just over 90 minutes long, but it uses a convincing labyrinthe plot where all the characters intersect and collide together.  At times the film can be very funny with its off the cuff remarks about authority and politics, or from the sharp angle of character themselves.  But Drew is not afraid to paint his characters in dark tones, at times the film is quite horrific in what some characters do - the prime example being when our hero Aaron (Riz Ahmed - Four Lions) and Ed (Ed Skrein) use a prostitute who they believe to have nicked Ed's mobile and use her to pay off his debt by sleeping with kebab shop owners.

Throughout this scene when the grubbiness of these late night kebab shops seeps off the screen, Aaron refuses to want to be any part of it.  Yet he has to remain by Ed's side like some lackey.  Aaron is the moral core of the film, a man with ambition to be true and get a career away from drugs and gangs of his youth.  We first meet Aaron as he meets Ed getting out from a night in prison, Ed sits there listening to people arguing (Drew's first funny scene is showing a verbal argument between a white man and a black man without showing them - instead focusing on their footwear as representative of who they are.  White trainers for the caucasian, and huge colourful trainers for the black youth), and from the outset Drew is attempting to do something different with the story.

Often he will focus on a character who you think will be the main character, but suddenly they are dispatched with by means of narrative or intervention by the soon to be character.  Yet Aaron remains for us to be the moral authority, by constantly doing the right thing.  In contrast to the sheer lack of authority figures visible in the piece, you need one character (like Spike Lee's character Mook in his own Do The Right Thing) to stand up for what is right.

Drew also does the soundtrack for the film, giving himself the chance to narrate as his alter ego, Plan B, gives his political slant on the action happening.  Plan B is very critical of the government and blaming them for the children of the nation being lost.  The film was being made during last summer and then the riots of Tottenham burst into the national consciousness in August, Plan B released his protest song 'ill Manors' and this vein of anger and resentment has grown into this message film.

The idea of a singer doing a film can sometimes be awful, but Drew has been keen to use popular film influences as a signifier, and they are not bad ones - Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction - are both films that showed you a harsher side of the perceived reality of city life. Whereas Scorsese used hyper-violence on occasion, and Tarantino had the benefit of plot devices.  Aaron flexes his muscles in front of a mirror with a gun a la De Niro.

The best thing to say about the film is that people will probably have low expectations going in to it, meaning that people will be pleasantly surprised by the funny, creative and refreshing film that is on the screen.  Helped by a fine performance by Riz Ahmed as Aaron, that should increase his profile definitely - hence why the poster has Aaron front and centre; the cinematography feels fresh, the music is good as expected.  Expectations may be low, but it is good to see Ben Drew/Plan B stick to his guns and come out with such a gratifying and pleasing film.

ill Manors is released by Revolver Entertainment and is out now.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Payback Season

Released on Monday 4th June by Revolver Entertainment, Bafta award winning Adam Deacon fronts this London set film about a Premier League footballer whose run in with his old crew from the estate brings more heartache than joy.

Adam Deacon rose to prominence by writing and directing the film Anuvahood, a film that parodied and spoofed the swath of urban gangster youth London films; mimicking the racial stereotypes and archetypes portrayed in low budget films.

What is surprising is that he would choose to star in a film that is fit for the same parody that he made his name out of.  Deacon plays Jerome who grew up on an estate whose rise to prominence is immediate and rapid. In his busy schedule and away from his penthouse flat, he still visits his mum and younger brother from the estate.  One night he bumps into his old crew and invites them to enjoy the pleasures of a lavish night out thanks to his new found riches.

Jerome is approached by Baron (David Ajala) who has cash flow problems, Jerome should walk away here but his misplaced service of loyalty and trust leads him to giving Baron £10,000 - an act of trust yet leads to tragic events as Baron's psychotic side reveals itself endangering the safety of Jerome himself and his friends.

The film could have been so much better had it attempted to make a social comment on urban youth's descent into trouble and anti-social behaviour, and how Jerome as a model of inspiration instead he is someone who enables those with no ambition but to cause trouble.

Deacon is a good actor, but this was the wrong vehicle for him to be a lead as he does not convince as a top rate footballer.  Ajala as Baron does convince bringing enough menace and fear to an unsettling character, who is rendered effectively.

Revolver Entertainment specialise in these sort of urban dramas - luckily they have a winning film forthcoming this week, as Plan B's (Ben Drew) directorial debut ill Manors is out this week having seen a preview of that particular film that is a significant improvement on this offering; with some brilliant sense of direction, political statement and inventive photography.

Payback Season is out now on DVD