Thursday, 23 January 2014

American Crow - Book review

 American Crow

English freelance journalist Jack Lacey has released his first self-published novel on Entitled American Crow, this is the first release in a series of books called The Missing Series featuring the lead character Sibelius Blake.

Whilst unashamedly endebted to the work of Lee Child and his novels featuring the iconic character of Jack Reacher, this is most definitely the work of one author seeking to get his workout in the bigger world with his uniqueness.

Whilst Child is also an English author, he is one who has very much become an Americanized author with Reacher going from state to state like Child is touring the nation. From coast to coast, valley to mountains; Reacher overcomes all comers due to his immense size and even bigger intelligence.

Blake in contrast is a battered investigator suffering from the trauma of the death of a family member. Vowing to finding missing people as a promise to the dearly departed, he is coaxed into one last job which means going back to America. A country where a warrant remains for his arrest.

Arriving in a snowy Canada and then ushered into the USA by being smuggled in the underbelly of a lorry. Blake encounters many characters in search of a missing girl which brings it all too close to home for our hero.  The brilliance of Blake is that he still maintains an everyman quality, having to think on his feet in some tough situations; whereas Reacher is the sort of guy who is the smartest guy in the room, and will act upon any mistakes made by his enemies.

Lacey excels in the briskness and pacing of the novel. From exposition to dialogue to set pieces, Lacey has a good eye for detail and painting an effective picture of the world Blake inhabits whilst still doing a good job of keeping Blake as the fish out of water protagonist, borrowing a trope from traditional crime fiction in that Blake is like us the reader sometimes noticing things for the first time; we share his surprise and shock in response to events.

Also embedded by Lacey is an environmental sub-plot into the narrative with an evil mining tyrant who is ripping the heart of the Kentucky mountains so as well as moral implications to the characters there are also wider social leanings to impact the people.

American Crow is a page turner that I digested in three sittings, at times enthralling and at times funny, Lacey has created a character in Sibelius Blake this reviewer cannot wait to read more of.

You can purchase American Crow on here 
Jack Lacey is on twitter @JackLaceyBooks

Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming interview with the author, exclusively on NextToTheAisle


 Portrait of

Released on Friday on general release, following its appearance at the 2013 London Film Festival, Teenage is a documentary that uses archive footage to tell the story of the birth of youth and the creation of the term, 'teenager'.

Jon Savage, the author of Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture (1875-1945) first published in 2007 to critical acclaim co-wrote the film, which uses archive footage from those years and looks upon the youth movements of significant events.  These include the creation of the Boy Scouts and how the voice of this disillusioned youth (voiced by Ben Whishaw) says how the military exercise of the Scouts in the first decade of the 20th century helped build the boys into men ready for the Great War of 1914-18.

Other events are the creation of the Hitler Youth, whom Der F├╝hrer believed was the future for which he was doing so much and in Savage's eyes the Swing age of the 1930s where it had its own language, fashion and iconography.  This was a forebearer for the mods, punks and even cultural phenomenon like the fandom of the Beatles and the Bay City Rollers.

Savage notes that all; 'Pop culture often starts with frenzied youth' and in the baby boom period girls found a way to extend the independence that was garnered to them during the war years.  Much is made of females running factories and businesses whilst the men were in Europe fighting, so this freedom was extended to their children, especially the girls.

And in this post-war world with the birth of  the teenager, a word that was not the public consciousness until those years, you saw young adults/teenagers having their own income, purchasing their own goods.  This is in stark contrast to the years of working in a mill or coal mine for 13 hours a day with blisters virtually as a slave.

Expertly edited and wonderfully curated by director Matt Wolf, who lovingly renders Savage's vision from the page to the screen upholding the notion that 'those who get the youth get the future'.

Teenage is out on Friday 24th January and is released by Soda Pictures.
Watch the trailer here

Monday, 20 January 2014

Computer Chess


Andrew Bujalski the supposed figure head of the New York film-making movement termed as Mumblecore and the director most likely to break out from that group into traditional narrative storytelling cinema, returns with his newest film, Computer Chess, a love letter to chess playing but more so a love letter to the computer programmers who achieved the systems and programs that allowed computers to beat master chess players by programming moves into the computer prompting the next move.

Bujalski takes an unusual approach of the process.  The film is set in the mid 1980s at the cusp of the boom of Silicon Valley and the start of home video gaming with Nintendos and Sega's around the corner for our recreational use.  If you wanted to play video games you had to go to specially built arcades to play Pac-Man or Donkey Kong.

Shot with PortaPak cameras of the era on analogue video and in black and white, this gives the whole film a sort of archival look as if you are watching a fly on the wall documentary or footage before it is processed into colour in post-production.

Bujalski accomplishes another mean feat by garnering some brilliant performances from his unprofessional cast, many have been cast either because they look like computer analysts or the fact that they can awkwardly when in a larger group; the naturalistic performances make you feel at times like this is a documentary.

Computer Chess has its own flow and speed which some viewers may find a bit unnerving and surreal, this reviewer found the film to have its own charm that was based around the affection portrayed due to the limitations of the equipment and the nostalgic tone with the melancholic feel of the black and white photography.

In this current day of age of society overcome by technological advances, where computers and tablets are becoming increasingly smaller and smaller, it is nice to harken back to a time when computers where as big as a dining room table.

Bujalski even affords his cast a chance to laugh about the future of computer programming such as when one says, 'You know what the future of computers' 'What computers are going to date each other?'  That sort of dry humour and wit runs throughout the film that allows you to draw your own affection to these oddball cast of characters, who may seem a bit silly on their own, but they are special individuals nonetheless.

Released as a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of Eureka! Entertainment's award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series, Computer Chess will be available on home video from 20 January 2014.
Watch the trailer here

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Night of the Hunter

 Night of the hunter

Out in cinemas on Friday 17th January released by Park Circus Films, Charles Laughton's masterpiece The Night of the Hunter is released in a glorious new restoration that brings one of cinema's most beautiful films back to the big screen.  The Night of the Hunter will screen at selected cinemas around the country, but will enjoy a two week run at the BFI Southbank as part of the successful ongoing BFI Gothic film season.

Originally produced in 1955 based on a novel of the same name and adapted by James Agee (The African Queen), cinematically shot by Stanley Cortez and directed by renowned actor Laughton with Robert Mitchum in the leading role of the preacher Powell.  Big things were expected of the film upon its release, however, the film famously flopped at the box office and did not reach the audience intended despite the stardom of Mitchum and the return of silent film starlet, Lilian Gish into a film role as the matriarch who overcomes Powell.

The legend goes that the poor reception for the film led to Laughton never making another film again as a director, the scars were too much for him to bear and he remained an actor-for-hire until he died in 1962, only seven years later.

Now the film is held up as a marvel of cinema; at times horrifying and yet with moments of  poetic purity in the cinematography that is still and momentous in direct contrast to the maelstrom of horror that surrounds Powell; Laughton should be applauded for utilising the source material and expanding it to a wider vista of theatricality.

Garnering career turns from both Robert Mitchum and the newcomer, Shelley Winters as the naive conquest of Powell. Mitchum's performance as Powell is at turns both sinister and his famous love-hate speech as he explains the tattoos on his respective knuckles is legendary.

Many observers prefer Mitchum's role in Cape Fear (1962) as Max Cody, but without the role of Powell, Cody would not have been possible and the producers would not have considered Mitchum for the role.  And without the kind of work Mitchum did by bringing a genuine charisma to such a sinister role with questionable intentions, you would not have the influence he had on the film careers of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (who did his own Max Cody in 1992).

Cited as an influence on many film-makers with the use of shadows and tone, the film itself was influenced by the German Expressionism films of the 1920s and 30s, as well as the early talkie films of fellow Brit, Alfred Hitchcock. The use of a fairy tale like feel coupled with the Southern Gothic nature of the environment, as well as the cynical attention served to bible bashers, no wonder this film could not garner an audience.  Film-goers probably liked the film but most likely found it hard to categorize the movie. This tends to happen with films that are unlike anything that has been seen before, think also Mean Streets and Blood Simple.

The Night of the Hunter is re-released in a new print on Friday 17th January

Friday, 10 January 2014

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview

After going a quite woeful 1-3 in my predictions in the Wildcard Weekend, it is time to mean business and go totally against the grain with my picks for the Divisional playoffs. This weekend the No 1 and 2 seeds enter the fray of the respective conferences. From the AFC the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots come to play and in the NFC the top ranked Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers arrive after the benefit of a two week break to rest weary bodies and prepare for their perspective opponents.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
In a rematch of the regular season encounter, when Seattle rocked the New Orleans hopes of gaining a bye themselves.  The Saints return to Seattle to derail the Legion of Boom and beat an undefeated team at home.  Seattle have the best defense in the NFL and will ask questions of one of the better offenses, however it is those extra dimensions of the Saints offense that may make this closer on this occasion.  If Brees can avoid overthrowing and over-egging the pudding, and rely on Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram to take some carries to the house.

The Seahawks for me rely too much on Marshawn Lynch, whilst Russell Wilson has shown great maturity in his sophomore season, I feel he does not have the weapons in the receiving core that Brees has (Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore and Sproles).

However, you feel the intimidatory feel of the ultimate home field advantage will serve Seattle well, although they have not ended the regular season as dominant as they would have intended.

Prediction: Seahawks by 6

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
The Patriots lucked out by having the Bengals eliminated, they get the higher remaining seed. In this case they get the comeback kings the Colts who came from a 28 point deficit at home to the Kansas City Chiefs to give Andrew Luck his first playoff victory.  While Luck was inspirational, let it not be forgotten he threw three interceptions.

That is where I feel the game will be decided, the Patriots secondary led by Pro Bowler Aqib Talib has improved significantly from previous early season nightmares.  Andrew Luck has only one receiver remaining in TY Hilton, and the one-two punch of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson.  Yet the Patriots run defense has been good despite the loss of Vince Wilfork.

New England will probably have the most un-Brady playoff game as they rely on the running back trifecta of Stevan Ridley, LaGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen for screens.  The Colts defense leaks points especially against the run. If NE find form and success with the rush, expect Brady to throw the ball no more than 30 times if that, and go to another AFC Championship game.

Prediction: Patriots by 10

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Carolina beat San Fran 10-9 at Candlestick about six weeks ago in a result that made people stand up and count these Panthers.  However, that was probably the nadir of the 49ers season, since then they have regained Michael Crabtree from injury which has given Colin Kaepernick options with the ball, something he has not had.  Anquan Boldin has had an amazing first season and Vernon Davis has been a stud as always, but Crabtree with his ball handling skills had 125 yards at Green Bay last week.

The Panthers probably could have done without a bye, the SF defensive line will be too much for the Panthers O-line with pressure coming from the edge to force Cam Newton to panic and scramble when they will then plug the gap sufficiently.

The worry of Steve Smith's health means that there are fewer weapons for Cam Newton to find and you cannot run on this 49ers defence. Whilst it is great to see Cam in his first playoff game, you feel it will be a one and done.

Prediction: 49ers by 7

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
The Chargers are that team that seemingly exists every year in the playoffs; the team that gets hot late on or fortuitously sneaks in using that momentum to gain shocks on teams.  San Diego went on the road to the Bengals and upset them massively, Cincinnati were a bit complacent and over-reliant on AJ Green who they shut down sufficiently forcing Andy Dalton to aim elsewhere and then intercept him twice.  Whilst Dalton was awful in his third successive one and done playoff game, the Chargers deserve huge credit for winning match-ups all over the field.

The game plan of utilizing the running of a healthy Ryan Mathews and the duck and dive of the ever impressive Danny Woodhead led to big gains on plays, managing the clock and frustrating the opposition causing mistakes that they scored off of.

The same plan will be in effect versus Peyton Manning and the high scoring Denver Broncos at Mile High. The altitude and away trip will hold no fear to the Chargers who won at Denver on a Thursday night when Ryan Mathews had over 130 yards and Denver had the ball for only 21 minutes.  If that plan can be carried out properly it can work, and the loss of Von Miller on the Broncos defense will be sorely tested against a Chargers O-line that gives Rivers enough time in the pocket; Rivers is leading this team well marshaling the troops and controlling the tempo.

This could be an upset and the Chargers could do it again.
Prediction: Chargers by 3

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Tunnel - DVD review

From the makers of Broadchurch, The Tunnel is a dual nation television production between French television and Sky TV, which was originally aired in this country on Sky Atlantic.  It is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Acorn Media.

The ten part series tells the story of a heinous murder committed in the Eurotunnel where two bodies are left astride the dividing line of the French and British sides.  The top half of the body is a French Member of Parliament and the legs belong to an English prostitute.  The criminal states, that there is no equality in the law when it comes to murder and both people have been lost even though one is not worried about.

The first detective we see is Elise Wassermann (Clemence Posey) closely followed by Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane).  They are a partnership due to the nationalities of the murder victims and they are distinct opposites with their juxtaposition apparent from the off; British versus French, male versus female, skeptic versus serious and old versus young.  There first interaction marks out the difficulty of their partnership at first, Elise wants the body as the head is on French territory, Karl happy to not bother with the case says, 'Don't worry Joan, not wanting to start a war over this.' 'My name is not Joan.' The humour of the line is lost in translation, a familiar problem between British people and mainland Europeans.

In the tradition of recent European dramas especially those from Scandanavia (Borgen, The Bridge), this series is similar in terms of slow burn but not afraid to show its hand early in proceedings such as video footage of the bodies being found and then being broadcast online - is the killer making a statement about hidden truths or stating everything should be in the open, where secrets carry so much weight.

The series draws its intensity from the drawn out dramatic sub-plots involving ministers, policeman and sinister subjects.  There is a clear design to hide details from the audience such as when a Frenchman falls in front of an oncoming train, the suspected persuers are out of focus (a technique seen in that other Gallic hit series The Returned) whilst the fear is clearly etched on his weary face.

The series is shot in this cold greyness with hues of blue deriding tension but also indicative of a continent under pressure with its moral objectivity being put into question by a mysterious invisible enemy. Not to be outdone, the two lead detectives also have personal demons in their collective closets dans la maison; Elise is a timid soul devoid of social skills and intimacy issues, whilst Roebuck is suffering from the scars of a vasectomy and the tension between him and his eldest son. Nothing is simple for a television character especially when a member of the police force.

The Tunnel is tremendously gripping and suspenseful and helped by some excellent acting from the leads especially Dillane as the experienced old hand who runs the gamut of emotions.

This stunning 10-part drama stars an impressive support cast including Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs) and Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones) and comes to Blu-ray and DVD with some fantastic special features on 13 January 2014 from Acorn Media.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

CBB: Conference play begins

The College Basketball season kicks into conference slate of games after the competitive non-conference scheduling. Some teams came out of the non-conference with their heads held high and resumes boosted by big wins and reputation enhanced.

Currently Arizona are the No1 team in the country at 15-0. This could be surprising to onlookers considering the Pac12, only two years ago, had only two entries to the NCAA tournament.  This year the Pac12 is a much better conference. Oregon (13-1) have utilised the college transfer system and have a high scoring offence, however, they suffered their first loss on the road at Colorado giving up 100 points in the process. The Buffaloes themselves rise to 13-2 in the conference.

As well as the Wildcats of Arizona who remain the only undefeated team in the conference, there is UCLA (12-4) and California (10-4). Don't sleep on Washington who are 9-6, but always play tough in conference play.

The best conference in America remains the Big10. Critics say it, fans say it and currently there are five teams from this conference in the Top 25; Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois.

Last night in a conference opener, the Michigan State Spartans hosted the Ohio State Buckeyes, who were an undefeated 15-0. In a barn-burner, the Spartans won 72-68 in overtime.  The Buckeyes ended regulation on a 20-3 run to force overtime.  Spartans lost Keith Appling to cramps and miss Trice through injury.  Buckeyes were led by Aaron Craft who is one of those special College performers, what he lacks in size he makes up for in graft and guile. Craft actually uses his brain, he banked an inbound pass off of an opponents backside to set up an easy lay up.

Year in, year out the Wisconsin Badgers hang around the conference standings. Many predicted the Badgers to have a down year as Bo Ryan rebuilt, however, he has assembled a vibrant group of players and unusually for a Ryan coached side they score heavily. Only four times have they scored under 70 points, they still have stellar defence as a 48-38 road win at Virginia can attest to, yet for Bo to have interior presence instead of being reliant on the three point shot is music to his ears.

The conference is ultra competitive, so expect a team to suffer four, maybe five defeats due to the intense nature of conference play. Yet the reason I mention the Spartans, Buckeyes and Badgers primarily is because they have a mixture of form, coaching and experience.  The Spartans have Appling and will be strong once they get healthy, the Buckeyes have the x-factor that is Aaaron Craft and he Badgers gave got Bo, coaching is so important especially in conference play.

The ACC has new blood in the form of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.  Duke, North Carolina and Maryland remain.  Duke have prospective overall Number 1 pick in Jabari Parker, but Parker was pulled during the loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.  Parker needs to find a bit more resolute nature to his play and find an answer against teams who will attempt to shut him down, as the Irish did.  Coach K benched Parker hoping it would motivate the freshman to reflect on his performance.  Duke have suffered three losses (Arizona, Notre Dame and Kansas) to ranked squads, no shame in that but losing the first conference game is never a good start.

How about a Cinderella? Although they are currently ranked 9th, the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones (14-0) are the current darlings of the College Basketball fraternity. A mixture of moxie, scoring and coaching has made them the current Big 12 big dogs over the established Kansas Jayhawks with Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis and Marcus Smart with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Tuesday night (7th Jan) they beat higher ranked Baylor 87-72 in a showcase for the dominance of DeAndre Kane (a senior transfer from Marshall) who has 30 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals. Helped by Melvin Ejim who had 18 points. Two more players along with the aforementioned, average over 12 points a game something Kansas cannot lay claim to.  Whilst the Cyclones have no problem scoring they can also defend the ball well by controlling the paint.  The Jayhawks meanwhile are struggling with scoring indicated by their four losses all coming by six points or less. That margin of error is costing the Jayhawks in terms of consistency and getting the best out of their players.

Other teams to note: Wichita State (15-0), Villanova (13-1), Creighton (12-2) and Southern Methodist (11-3) coached by Larry Brown, they beat UConn with Shabazz Napier 75-65 at home for a statement win in the American (former Big East) which includes Cincinnati (14-2) and National Chapions Louisville (13-2).

Monday, 6 January 2014

Meet Daniel Johnson - Part 3

"If you are going to tell people the truth,
be funny or they'll kill you."

- Billy Wilder

When you talk to a film-maker it is important you get to know people's influences and inspirations, as so many people have a direct impact on people's work.  Having previously skirted over such issues in my previous interviews with Daniel Johnson, I felt it important to get a bit more specific with him, what is it about his influences that strike a chord with him, and which films of his heroes are his favourites. Starting with the work of Charlie Chaplin.

You admire Charlie Chaplin greatly? Why does his work still resonate today? 

He was there at the beginning of cinema. He helped shape so many of the storytelling devices that we still use today. If you look at 'The Kid', from 1922, it feels so modern compared with everything else from that era. 

I think that Chaplin's 'The Tramp' was a real beacon of light, a piece of cinematic magic, the type that we have not had since. He was a character who brought out the best of human nature, both hilarious, heart-warming and heart-breaking. That image is iconic, and buried deep in the psyche of nearly everyone in the world! That's why it resonates.

My favourite film of his is Modern Times. It has so much originality. And more hilarious jokes in it than most writers are able to pull off in a lifetime. 

Cameron Crowe hit a rich vein of form with Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, why has his style or brand of film-making become less popular?

Personal movies are really hard to get made in the studio system. I love Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo too. In fact, even though We Bought A Zoo is an adaptation, it is still very much a Cameron Crowe movie. 

I don't know if he got less popular, or if he just worked on other interests for a while? I think every director has a golden period. Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous are two absolutely perfect movies. Does he need to match them again? No. I'm just happy he's still creating movies. 
Almost Famous - I just relate to it so much. The love for music, the drive and ambition of William -- so much in that film just resonates deeply. 

Woody Allen is another person you admire, do you hope for a career to match his output and longevity?

I think Woody Allen is one of a kind. I don't think anyone is going to match his output and longevity. To begin with, I don't even think his kind of career is possible in this day and age. But even if it was - who could match the masterpieces he's created? 

Manhattan Murder Mystery - It's a film Woody himself dismisses as being merely a trifle, unimportant, etc - but it's Woody at his best -- a truly hilarious film. 

Billy Wilder, the original cinematic sceptic, and the first writer-director auteur in fact who put his signature on many a film. Elaborate on your admiration for him.

I wouldn't say he was the first auteur, but definitely one of the best. My admiration for him is that his movies fill me with wonder. They're magical. How can you not get swept away in Double Indemnity or Some Like It Hot?

The magic with Wilder was in the screenplays, his care for the words. Who do we have today who can do the same thing? Aaron Sorkin, perhaps, but compared to Billy Wilder he's an amateur
The Apartment. Every frame of it, every piece of dialogue, all of the music ---- just makes me extremely extremely happy.

Is there anyone else I have missed out, where do you stand on the Coens or David O Russell?

Coen's I can take or leave, and usually leave. David O'Russell I enjoy, but his work doesn't resonate with me personally in the way the people above do. 

And Spielberg, I've never heard you speak of him as glowingly as the other people.

I love Spielberg in the way I think any film fan does. I go through stages every few years where I'll watch all my favourites of his, which are usually Duel, Jaws, E.T and Saving Private Ryan. Maybe Jurassic Park too. 

I think my mind has gravitated in recent years to smaller, independent movies, so I spend less time watching the work of Spielberg. But he's one of the greats, of course.

If you would like to see more of Daniel Johnson's short films then please seek out his website and follow him on twitter @danieljohnsonuk

Watch this teaser trailer of Sally the Life Coach, a web series Daniel has created with Natalie Gumede (Coronation Street, Stictly Come Dancing), the series should go live in early 2014.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview

After a personal break due to full time work commitments, it is nice to be back for the Wildcard Weekend with my preview of the four games involving the AFC and NFC 3 to 6 seeds with the chance to get one step closer to the Super Bowl in New Jersey this year.

There are some exciting match-ups and after the wild way Week 17 went down, the NFL must be hoping that these games do not fail to disappoint.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
It is interesting how the football schedule Gods work, as these two teams played each other only two weeks ago during the regular season.  On that occasion, the Colts were the road team and convincingly won 23-7 in Arrowhead as the Chiefs season slowed down to a stop once they could not overcome the Denver Broncos juggernaut and secured the No 5 seed.

Having opened the season 9-0, the Chiefs ended the season 2-5, however Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles both played really well.  The fault for that record falls into the lap of the Chiefs defence that succumbed to injury but hopefully the return of Justin Houston will be welcome news as the game plan of attacking the quarterback, and in this case, Andrew Luck will be key.

Luck has done well without his number one receiver Reggie Wayne lost to injury for the year.  They do however, have the one two punch of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson. Whilst Richardson's production has been questioned he has slowly become accustomed to his role and Brown has been making big plays to get Richardson the chance to punch it into the end zone of goal-line carries.

This could be the tightest of the contests over the weekend, but then you could say that about most of them. However, I feel the Chiefs will have enough in terms of game management and get more from their defence in this one off contest.
Prediction: Chiefs by 4

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
This should be a great match-up as you have two high scoring offences going at it head to head.  Tellingly, the Saints are not the same team outdoors as they are in a dome game, they have a losing record (3-5) this season including losses at Seattle and Carolina.  The Eagles are similar to both of those teams, in that they have offences with both weapons at receiving and in the backfield, with the key weapon being in the backfield. 

The Eagles have LeSean McCoy the 2013 rushing leader in the NFL as well as DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz; also Nick Foles has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions in his starts this season since replacing Michael Vick.

Foles has shown great leadership and game management, managing the ball, distributing it well and limiting turnovers helped by an O-line that has played all 16 games this season.

Drew Brees will keep any side in the game, and expect Sean Payton to have some trick plays up his sleeve for this testing encounter.  You just think the losing record of the Saints will be too much for even Brees to overcome, and the Eagles ended the season very well in both a professional and entertaining manner.
Prediction: Eagles by 6

San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Chargers must have been wishing for the late afternoon match up on Saturday, rather than the cross country early start on Sunday away to the Bengals.

The Chargers got in by the skin of their teeth in overtime versus a second string Chiefs side at home, helped by losses to Baltimore and Miami. The Chargers have Philip Rivers playing at a Pro Bowl level and Danny Woodhead has been a star for them as has Ryan Mathews playing at close to 100% capacity.

The Bengals have suffered their own injuries on defence to Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, however, the offence has been rolling along avoiding banana skins and making sure they won the AFC North convincingly in the end.

Andy Dalton is in his third consecutive postseason and should garner a playoff victory and a trip to Foxboro in this one.
Prediction: Bengals by 7

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Aaron Rodgers rode in on his white horse and helped the Packers win the NFC North by winning in Chicago thanks to a last minute 47 yard hook up with Randall Cobb who had two for the day, and the weirdest touchdown ever.

The prize for the Packers is a home playoff game in the freezing cold of Lambeau Field with the visiting 49ers coming to Wisconsin.

Earlier in the season, in the first week in fact, the 49ers triumphed 34-28 over the Packers at Candlestick. That match saw Colin Kaepernick's first 400 yard plus game and the huge hit by Clay Matthews on Kaepernick when out of bounds.  On that day, Rodgers had little joy against the vaunted Niners defence which is still intact and no new injury news. 

Whilst it may be cold and windy, in terms of match-ups the 49ers have the game with Frank Gore running and the returning Michael Crabtree to add to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. The Niners know though that all roads lead through Seattle.
Prediction: Niners by 3

Follow me at twitter @JamieGarwood and let me know your picks for this weekend.
Next weekend I predict it will be Bengals @ Patriots, Chiefs @ Broncos, Eagles @ Panthers, 49ers @ Seahawks (a week early, but not if New Orleans win)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Going

Take me as you come
Cos I took you as you was
I'll take you as I come
Cos that's the difference between us.

Even when you go
I'll still hold you close
Take you in my arms
And through the night i'll hold you tight

Even when you're gone
I'll still take you home
Even when the going gets tough.

Take it in your stride
For all your life
And the going will always stay just right.