Monday, 28 December 2015

In The Heart of the Sea

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Coming along on the crest of a wave following their successful collaboration on Rush, Ron Howard directs Chris Hemsworth again in a big seafaring action-adventure In The Heart of the Sea, an adaptation of Nathaniel Pilcrick's novel itself based on Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick.

Told in flashback by the last living survivor of the Essex disaster, Thomas Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson) to a determined Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) who is eager to hear about the truth of the Essex following the whitewash of an inquiry.

Nicholson tells the story and how the two conflicting attitudes and backgrounds of Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth) spelt trouble for the cursed voyage from the departure.

With a demand to get 200 barrels of whale oil within a year paramount to the voyage, the men are at loggerheads with each other before they encounter the great big whale in the waters of the western coast of South America.  The ship is destroyed by the whale, and the men abandon ship yet 2000 miles from land.

Then begins the story of survival in the vein of Tom Hanks in Castaway or 1992's Alive, where men must bear witness to deplorable things and abominable acts to survive in the harsh waters more akin to a desert than an open expanse of water.

Ron Howard has done men marooned miles from home before in Apollo 13 but this larger crew allows a greater vantage of human experience on this palette of man versus nature. The cast are excellent throughout led by the ever improving Hemsworth who displays a stoic heroism befitting the  role, slowly becoming a key leading man in Hollywood and shows he does not need a cape to be heroic.

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Cillian Murphy does good things in his support role as mediator between the two leaders on the boat, yet the key scenes between Gleeson and Whishaw are the quiet most impressive scenes of note holding great swathes of gravitas and dramatic tension in the still of the night; the two actors grip in the short moments they have on screen.

The scenes at sea are wonderfully shot by Anthony Dod Mantle and the sweeping score by Joque Rosta adds to the epic feel. While the scenes with the whale may not match the glory of battle in Master and Commander by Peter Weir, you cannot fault the ambition or determination of Howards's intention in doing justice to the tragic event or the influence it had on Melville's epic tome.

Impressive and expertly produced, while the film has mind bogglingly been ignored by Americans in terms of box office the film deserves to be seen and especially on the big screen.

In The Heart of the Sea is released on Digital HD on 18th April and on 3D, Blu-Ray and DVD on 2nd May from Warner Bros.

Friday, 18 December 2015

EXPOSURE by Helen Dunmore

Set in London during the first year of the swinging Sixties, Helen Dunmore’s newest novel tells the story of a married couple whose life is turned upside down when a work colleague asks for a favour one night. In a world, where a spy could be a friend or a neighbour, or a colleague or lover.

The Cold War has made people very wary of trusting people, and the shadow of the Iron Curtain looms large over London. Simon Callington and his wife Lily, live happily in London with their three children while he works for the Ministry of Defence.

Simon comes from a privileged background and has turned the back on his family owing to his difference to his older brothers in size and style. Lily, was a Jew born in Germany, and her Mum left Germany before the war for England and made Lily forget about Germany and her language and she has to learn English word for word from scratch.

Simon’s work colleague with the favour is Giles. An older man who is going to be out of time during the 1960s. A man of more softer times who prefers the way things were after VE Day. Giles likes to drink during work hours and this drinking leads to an accident at his home.

From there on, the plot thickens as Simon becomes embroiled in espionage and ideas above his station promoting arrests, backstabbing and that puts Lily’s welfare in danger as well as the introduction of the villainous Julian Clowde.

Dunmore has created a good novel, in the sense that this reader found it engaging throughout with a delicate pace and tone, helped by the tricky notion of switching focus intermittently from initially Giles to Simon and then predominantly Lily for the second half of the novel. Dunmore delicately navigates the tricky matter of sexual behaviour with great candour and honesty, not apologising for it nor excusing the behaviour of those involved and how experimentation in your youth does not set a course for the rest of your adult years.

In the hands of a less accomplished writer, the book may well have floundered like the seaweed on the Kentish coast following a storm, yet there is enough intrigue to sustain the readers attention and enough characterisation of Lily to hold our sympathy.

The book has been brilliantly researched mentioning moments of the era to evoke a different time and place effectively such as the mention of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and even the way people talk with their mannerisms.

In a time where the notion of gender politics is very much at the forefront of the social conscience, it is pleasing to see a novel with a headstrong female character doing what she does not for materialistic values but instead for the core values of family, loyalty and hope.

Lily does what she does for the good of her family, and after the shocking revelation to her eyes and ears, she accepts the man she fell in love with prompting a fitting finale that will look good on the screen should that ever materialise.

Exposure is a page turning novel full of twists featuring a bevy of characters entwined in a story featuring betrayal and menace.

It is published by Hutchinson Books on 28th January 2016


Marking his return to the theatre after 10 years away making hit films such as In Bruges, Martin McDonagh's new play Hangmen is a chamber piece set over two nights in an Oldham pub run by Harry (David Morrissey), the second best Hangman in England, who is being interviewed by a young reporter Clegg (James Dryden) for the Oldham Gazette, about the abolition of hanging and the death penalty in 1965.

From the outset, when we see Harry perform a routine hanging of a soul pleading his innocence alongside his assistant Syd (Andy Nyman), McDonagh does not hold back in depicting the broad strokes of the characters promptly. Harry is a man who likes his work, is respected and proud of the service and identity the work provides, whilst Syd is beneath Harry and will start there in stature and class.

The play has a real rat a tat about the dialogue, a back and forth usually seen in 1930s Screwball comedies, you have to keep your wits about you otherwise you might miss some information but McDonagh is always gracious enough to stop and take a breathe with a well placed shit or fuck to halt proceedings.

The introduction of Mooney (Johnny Flynn), an upstart Londoner into the pub looking to rent a room out, prompts a shift in tone from light to sinister as Mooney may well not be the lad about town people think he is.

The play at 2 and a half hours long with an interval is breezy and flies by, this is in part thanks to the writing ably helped by the stellar cast throughout lead by Morrissey's strong central performance, his arc from begrudging self-satisfaction to acceptance of his changing role in a changing time is delicately handled by such an accomplished actor.

Flynn as Mooney plays him with the right menace and needle as the diffident outsider with a hint of Malcolm McDowell from If... and A Clockwork Orange in there, and while Nyman as Syd does do meek and weak well, this reviewer would have greatly liked to have seen Reece Shearsmith's performance where laughs and pathos would have mixed better.

And a special mention to Simon Rouse as half-deaf Arthur who gets the cheap laughs as part of the three man Greek chorus of Harry's regulars, and brings the house down with an innocuous line 'At least Shirley is safe, that's the most important thing', a line of heartfelt intent but misguided context.

Matthew Dunster's direction is tight and the use of the conversation between Harry and Clegg where they look out to the audience instead of each other is handled well, and the set design and period detail by Anna Fleischle is pitch perfect to a tee from Harry's three piece suit to Mooney's pencil tie.

Stop hanging around and go see Hangmen before its life is cut short.

Hangmen is at the Wyndhams Theatre, Charing Cross Road and is a Delfont Mackintosh Theatre.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The 200th Americarnage

Americarnage  is one of the most entertaining podcasts across the world wide web, a show that covers all of the American sports - NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB - and all things pop culture from films to music in a show that runs for approximately one hour recorded on a weekly basis.

This week beginning 14th December 2015 the show celebrates its 200th podcast with all the crew
assembled, experienced NFL broadcaster Nat Coombs, American sports specialist Iron Mike Carlson, stand-up comedian Dan Louw and the esteemed producer Harry Holgate. This week's guest is one of the All-Pro line up who has featured frequently on the pod, comedian and actor Marek Larwood.

In the last year, the podcast has taken a leap forward from something of jovial fun and fraternity mantra, to the go to podcast for NFL fans in the UK thanks to Coombs and Carlson’s stellar work on Channel 4 last year and which is much missed this season. Although their work on the NFL games at Wembley in October and November were highly praised.

The show still pays studio rates for the studio time, it is a freelance production under the umbrella of Nat Coombs' MeMo Interactive, with sponsorship now from male grooming company ManCave, where customers can email the show weekly with many answered on the show.

This interaction with the listeners and subscribers is vital to the longevity of the podcast over the last 200 shows. The hosts like their fans want genuine heartfelt analysis on a sport that when the show started in 2010 was very much on the sidelines. Now when Tom Brady and Deflategate was rampant in the off season, the BBC put the story on their Sport website as a lead story, and now it shows highlights. The sport is now closer to the centre than the margins, and it is the output of podcasts such as Americarnage, Fourth Down and Out and Double Coverage.

The quality of the show is undisputable, the quality and knowledge expressed in the show is second to none. The continued on the hoof content serves the pod well and while people may get lost in the shuffle with so many strong personalities on display, it is where the straight man of Coombs can maintain control. Although the quality of the show is apparent when some parts are missing, last week's #199 starred David Whitney who with Nat and Dan (Mike is absent) they have three side splitting moments of high hilarity starting with Old Tom Coughlin still in charge of Whitney’s favoured New York Giants in twenty years time,

Get me a banana on the field. Take Beckham out and put a banana in!’
‘Sir, Beckham stopped playing for us 10 years ago’

As any podcast it has these slight tangents and diversions that in other less able producers hands would turn into a mess but Harry’s sure hand makes it a great lesson, even when he has little or one microphone to work with.

With Carlson off this week, the guest is David Whitney (stand-up comedian) whose knowledge of NFL is as strong as any die hard fan, and in spite of his absence Carlson has still produced a 60 second NFL round-up of the week's action - an example of how much the show means to him. In an email I ask Carlson about the show, 'the biggest problem is reach, on C4 we can reach a hundred thousand people, many of whom aren't fans. We're always looking for ways to reach potential audience; we're better on sports than any humour site, and funnier than most sports sites.'

This continued mix of light heartedness and serious analysis is a facet of the shows popularity and staying power.

For this writer, having met the crew behind the scenes I am overjoyed they have reached this milestone. Usually you say here is to the next 200. But how about a different toast, here is to the first
TV show, After Dark Americarnage.

If you have not listened to the show please attempt to do so at and follow the show and stars on twitter: @Americarnage @NatCoombs @DanLouw @dwhitters

Follow me @NextToTheAisle

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I Am Big Bird

In the last week I have watched two movies about the artistry of being a puppeteer. Last week it was Being Elmo, the story of how a young black man from Baltimore, Kevin Clash, became the star of Sesame Street in the form of the beloved Elmo.

This week it was the turn of Caroll Spinney, a 79 year old man (at the time of filming) who for nearly 50 years has been the man inside of the other character synonymous with the Children's Television Workshop, Big Bird.

Beginning with his appearance on a panel show where contestants have to figure out who of three people is the real person, depicting both the unheralded acclaim of his work but also his anonymity of his profession.

Throughout his career, Spinney has been a collaborative force in the role of Big Bird on Sesame Street, from Jim Henson meeting him in happenstance in Salt Lake City to his conflictive relationship with writer-director John Stone.

The film naturally focuses on the milestones of his career, from the live shows on the road with the human members of Sesame Street to the PBS special Big Bird in China, to the feature film Follow That Bird, up to the present day when he has been usurped by Elmo back to praise for his longevity.

There is much to admire in a career that has spanned this length of time, and how it challenges the man himself from his work with Big Bird but also the character Oscar the Grouch, another seminal Sesame Street icon.  The director makes sure to show you opposing sides of the Spinney personality. While Big Bird is the child inside of Caroll, Oscar is the darker side but maintaining a heart of gold.

Yet as praise worthy as Caroll's career is, the film also tells the love story of his marriage to his second wife Debbie, who embraces his career and art - unlike his first wife - and this union is imperative to the love and warmth that surrounds Spinney's work from his puppetry to his drawing and painting. This balance of work and home is a good recioe for success and love in equal fold.

There are moments that will make you cry, such as when Big Bird learns about death of a friend ('But he will be coming back won't he?) to his amazing performance of 'It's Not Easy Being Green' at the Jim Henson Memorial Service in full costume and character, you will be aghast at how Spinney was able to maintain composure when grieving for the loss of a friend and the man who gave him his break.

While Being Elmo was the more cuddly story about the character breaking out and becoming a huge star, I Am Big Bird is a story of more humility, subtlety and heart felt emotion more in keeping for a career rich in longevity and happiness.

In a way the title is misleading but explains why people have this connection with the Muppets and Sesame Street, they reflect the best of us in a form we find comforting and reassuring. So perhaps not only is Caroll Spinney, but maybe I am Big Bird to.

I Am Big Bird is available and was viewed on Netflix.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Michael Robotham Interview

Michael Robotham: "I truly believe that <i>Life or Death</i> is the best one I've written."

Last month I reviewed the book LIFE OR DEATH by the Award winning author Michael Robotham, in a follow up to my enjoyment of the book, I wanted to ask the author some questions directly about the creation of his CWA Golden Dagger novel.  Mr. Robotham was very forthcoming with his time and here are his answers.

Follow him on twitter @MichaelRobotham

 Life of Death UK cover

What was the genesis of the novel?
Almost 20 years ago I read a few paragraphs in a newspaper about a man escape from prison on the eve of his parole. The idea stuck in my head. The big question was why?

The actual story involved a convicted killer turned model prisoner called Tony Lanigan, who had spent most of had adult life in jail for violent crimes, only to escape from the Malabar Training Centre days from his release. In real life, Lanigan has never been seen since. It has now been 19 years since his escape and he’s probably Australia’s least wanted fugitive, but it’s still a mystery. And like all lovers a crime fiction – I can’t resist a mystery.

I kicked this idea around for ten years until I came with a reason why someone might escape from prison the day before his release. Then it took nine novels before I felt I the skills to tell the story properly. I needed to practice. I needed to learn. I needed to get better.

Most writers will tell you that the story in their heads is never quite the one that makes it to the page. They can never quite capture exactly what they envisage. With LIFE OR DEATH I think I’ve come closest to matching the two stories. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s very close to what I wanted to achieve.

Why write a stand alone novel when you've enjoyed such success with a recurring character? Was it a new challenge to yourself?
If someone told me that I would have to spend the rest of my career writing only about Joe O’Loughlin and Vincent Ruiz you would have to keep the sharp objects away from me. I love them as characters, but there is a limit to how long I can keep them fresh and create new stories for them. Another problem is that I have aged them both in real-time and given Joe Parkinson’s Disease. There is limit to how long they can both keep going.

Writing a stand-alone was important to me because I wanted to prove to myself and my publishers that my readers will come with me regardless of whether Joe or Vincent are part of my novels.

What does your normal writing day entail?
I start work at about 9.00 a.m. working in my garden office, which my daughters call ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’. Apart from periodic coffee fixes and lunch or a walk along the beach, I’ll work until 6.00 p.m. This happens every day, including weekends.
I usually begin by writing long-hand, to get me away from the Internet and the computer screen, often working in local cafes. Later I’ll transfer these words to the screen and do my editing.

How many drafts did you have of the book?
Usually six or seven. I spend seven or eight months on the first draft, which is very close to the finished product. Each subsequent draft takes less time, until the final few take only a matter of days.

Life of Death cover US

How hard is it to write a book with this pace and drive, the momentum of the book is a wonder of plotting, yet how can you maintain control of the plot without it becoming far-fetched? 
I don’t plot in advance, which surprised a lot of people. I begin with the premise and the characters and let the story unfold from there. It is a very organic and exciting way of writing, where I am constantly surprising myself with the twists and turns. It also means I end up throwing a lot of material away. Writers have to be prepared to ‘kill their babies’. Cut often and cut hard. Don’t fall in love with your prose. Storytelling is about conflict and pace.

You won the CWA Golden Dagger Award for the book, how did that recognition feel?
It is enormously gratifying to win one of the world’s great crime writing awards, particularly considering the shortlist and the past winners. I keep looking at the trophy, expecting them to call and say they judges made a mistake and they were supposed to announce Stephen King.
It was particularly gratifying to receive dozens of wonderful messages from other crime writers like Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Linwood Barclay, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

What are you working on currently?
I am working on two novels – one featuring Joe O’Loughlin as the main character, who discovers his father has a second family; and the other featuring Joe in a minor role, investigating the theft of a newborn baby from a maternity hospital.

Would you be involved if Life or Death was adapted to the screen?
The film rights have been optioned by a Hollywood company and I will hopefully be involved in script development and approval, but I have no great desire to take on a larger role. I don’t really care if my books are made into films or TV. I became a novelist because I love writing books and I don’t feel as though my career will be topped off or made complete by having someone make a film our of my work. What if it’s terrible?

You've worked in television, what crime shows do you watch?
I wrote for newspapers rather than work on TV, but I do like watching crime shows. The first series of True Detective was outstanding, but the second series a major disappointment. But the two truly stand-out crime series have been THE WIRE and BREAKING BAD.
And finally, what are you reading?
The best recent crime novels I've read  have been The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly, The Whites by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt) and Cartel by Don Winslow.

Life or Death is published by Sphere in the UK

Follow me on Twitter @NextToTheAisle

Monday, 30 November 2015

Manziel vs Osweilier

It is funny how the NFL has this unique ability to have continual narratives, even when you are nowhere near the field of play.

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns took the necessary step to strip Johnny Manziel of the starting QB role he was given the week before the bye week. During said bye week, Manziel three months after a 10 week spell in alcohol rehabilitation was seen at a club in Austin, Texas dancing with a DJ and clutching a champagne bottle.

The Browns took the step to reinstate Josh McCown as the starter for the Browns versus Baltimore on Monday night. While this can be considered another chapter in the hyperbolic life of Johnny Football, it should be the last episode of his time in Cleveland.

Cleveland should cut their losses and cut him from their franchise at the end of the season. Manziel needs to find his place somewhere else in the NFL, learn the craft and also become a better person off the field.

In a lot of the analysis I have witnessed, one statement stands out. No other sporting role in modern day America requires a greater level of professionalism than that of NFL QB as leader both on and off the field.

Antonio Pierce stated that the locker room believes in Eli Manning due to the way he carried himself off the field. Scott Van Pelt was interviewing Cam Newton on his show, live from a Thanksgiving Jam that Newton’s Foundation was hosting. This is a free meal paid for by Newton for the community of Carolina, on a Monday night three days from their next game on the road at Dallas. What character to still host an event such as that during a short week. In the interview, Newton stated that the reason for Carolina’s 10-0 start was a healthy locker room in mind and body.

An interesting comparison to Johnny Manziel is that of Brock Osweilier who started his first NFL game at Chicago on his 26th birthday. Think about that, your first NFL start on the road on your birthday replacing an injured legend in Peyton Manning.

Osweilier did well, he had no turnovers and showed flashes of a good arm especially the TD pass to Cody Latimer that proved the winning pass. But it was his presence and composure that helped the team, Osweilier is 6’ 8” a specimen and an archetype of confidence. Also his post game interview showed a level of maturity beyond his years, helped by his three years sitting behind Peyton and learning how to not just be a sportsman but representative of the team and the league. The first thing Osweilier did was shake hands with the referee on Sunday, make friends on the way up as they will remember you on the way down.

That sort of maturation period is what Manziel required when he entered the NFL, he needed to hold a clipboard, wear a headset and learn. Manziel is small in size, nearly a foot shorter than Osweilier and whilst small QBs can succeed such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, those two have arm strength and good mechanics. Manziel made his name by improvising plays and extending plays when he could not find receivers; last year I wrote how I felt him sitting behind Brian Hoyer would not be such a bad thing, because Hoyer sat behind Tom Brady and this thing trickles down surely.

Manziel will still have a place in the NFL but he needs to know his place in the pecking order, he is a relief pitcher, a corner specialist in hockey. Manziel is someone you turn to in case you need something magical to happen, just do not expect the magic to always be there.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Stop Making Sense

STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme, US, 1985)

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the seminal concert movie Stop Making Sense filmed at Patanges Theatre, Hollywood in December 1983, the film is released by Second Sight on DVD and Blu-ray on 16th November.

Conceived by front man David Byrne, the film begins with him entering the stage with a boom box and a guitar. He presses play, and begins a stripped back acoustic performance of Psycho Killer. Afterwards, one by one a member of the Talking Heads come to join him onstage as they play through their remarkable back catalogue.

Embracing the greatest of Hollywood musical conventions - let's put on a show in a barn - the concert starts with the hero alone performing and then one by one the troupe emerge to join him and embrace what he is doing. Byrne realises that the gig is one of of momentum and upwards to a crescendo, starting with slow songs and as the band gets bigger the sound gets bigger.

Rightly, this film is heralded as one of the great concert movies of all time. Oddly, there is another 1980s concert film in any list, that of Prince’s Sign O’ The Times from 1987, and in part you can see the influence of this film upon the purple wonder.

Gone are the silly backstage documentary and instead there is a determined focus on the performance and the performers.  If you have a front man, as intelligent as Byrne or as magnetic as Prince, who can hold the attention of an audience through any solo or dance number, backstage footage is redundant and unnecessary. In part, the dominance and ubiquity of Prince in the early 1980s has an influence on Talking Heads’ live performance.

The influx of funk and soul is epitomised by the cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River, and the introduction of Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love with the hip hop jam along with the shout out to James Brown makes sense and gives credence  to wearing your influences proudly due to the attempted band choreography and in unison harmonies.

There is an overriding sense of euphoria and joy in the concert from the performers across the board. It is helped by having in Byrne, a wonderful leading performance both artistically and vocally.

Byrne channels the great silent comedy performers of Keaton and Chaplin when he does his dance asides such as with the lampshade during This Must Be The Place, like Chaplin’s potato dance in The Gold Rush, it is seemingly a throwaway moment that is both special and hypnotic. Tellingly, during the same song the back projection behind the band has imagery on to it, was this the first time a band put up imagery as they played live making it a multi-platform event, check out U2’s Rattle and Hum for further evidence and influence.

Director Demme proves a useful foil for Byrne eliciting differing moods for certain songs from the
athletic Life During Wartime to the fear and horror of What a Day That Was, where the lighting of Byrne’s face paints him as a pastor giving a deranged sermon, earmarking his own Academy award winning work on Silence of the Lambs eight years later.

The film is not only the vanguard of filmed concert movies, it is a touchstone of influence and ideas. It remains seminal and memorable.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

In praise of..Back to the Future

Today is October 21st 2015, the furthest day in the trilogy of Back to the Future films. Things are not quite what they seem or how Robert Zemeckis imagined they would be through 1989 eyes or 1985 eyes to be more exact as Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer and Doc Brown take off in the DeLorean outside of his house and travel into the future to save Marty's children.

The 2015 envisioned by the filmmakers is nothing like now - no flying cars, no hoverboards, no self-tying shoes - the closest thing they got right is the Chicago Cubs being close to the World Series, the baseball team are currently in the semi-finals versus the Kansas City Royals.

But why is there all this fandom about this date? Why is it holding its own two days after the release of the final trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

Whereas Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek have fans who are close to the point of feverish delirium and hysteria, the Back to the Future (BTTF) fans are not like that considering it was a huge box office success.  In some ways, the BTTF trilogy is a set of films held in great affection due to the passion it was made with by Robert Zemeckis starring one of still most under-rated Hollywood stars of the late 1980s and a perfectly cast film.

The film is reliant upon the characters of Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and their friendship is prevelant across the trilogy, in essence a bromance more than a paternal relationship, Marty and Doc are best friends. Yet we are never told how they first met, we just believe that they are best buddies so it incorporated the buddy action genre of Lethal Weapon by taking two different strands of society - young and old - and bonded them together. Usually someone like Doc would be an outsider to a youth like Marty, a person you avoid instead Marty embraces his eccentricities.

The film was somewhat under the radar in 1985 with not a lot expected due to the lack of success for Zemeckis' previous films although Romancing The Stone did do a dent and gave the greenlight to BTTF. Yet it shot out of the gate and was a blueprint for forthcoming blockbusters; high concept, fast cars, funny scenes, action scenes, music and a kick ass theme tune in Huey Lewis and the News' The Power of Love, a seminal track of that summer and a song they are defined by.

The film is one of those that you can watch again and again, and still be struck by the freshness and zest of the production; the attention to detail in the production design of 1950s Hill Valley, the care in the script to poke fun at science fiction in that era (My name is Darth Vader! I come from the planet Vulcan!) and how Marty ends up teaching his parents how to be better people and not turn into the alcoholic Mum and stepped upon Dad they are in 1985 at the film's beginning.

The film is probably held in such esteem and appreciation by the film going public because it is a stand alone trilogy. There are no prequels, no sequels forthcoming. The destruction of the DeLorean at the end of BTTF3 is a knife through any notion of there being a reboot or reimagining. We do not need it, we are happy with the three films we have; unlike say Star Wars and Trekkie fans who are constantly salivating at the thought of something more to add to the universe.

Where those fans want an ever-expanding universe, the BTTF universe is restricted to a three film, five year span that was glorious, funny, spell binding and set the trend for what you can do if you get it right and have the right amount of faith put into you.

It remains one of my top 3 films of all time, and will continue to be so as it stars one of my favourite actors at the height of his powers in a seminal sort of role. And who would not want to be Marty McFly on his skateboard in 1955 avoiding Biff and his cronies.

Its a film full of dreams and showed you that dreams can come true. Marty dreamed of a better life, a chance to play on a stage in front of people and a better homelife. By chance by going back in time, he achieved that. And oddly in the aspirational 1980s of Greed is Good era, all Marty wanted was a family full of affection, his dreams become a reality but the film is fittingly shot like a dream.

Life Or Death - Book review

Life of Death UK cover

It is rare to write a book review for a book that has already been published in both hardback and paperback, yet for this reader and writer it is pleasing to write a heartfelt passionate review of a pleasing read without the necessity of having to beef up words for a pre release review.

The book I am reviewing is entitled Life or Death and is written by Australian author Michael Robotham and won the 2015 CWA Golden Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year.

Michael Robotham: "I truly believe that <i>Life or Death</i> is the best one I've written."
Michael Robotham - 2015 CWA Golden Dagger Winner
I was given the book as a gift by my girlfriend and it took me a while to get round to it due to other reading commitments. However, once I started reading the novel I must have read the entire 500+ pages in less than two weeks.

The reason for this gulping down of the book is a testament to the quality of Robotham's write which is brisk, gripping and page turning much like his contemporary Lee Child.

The comparison between Robotham and Child is interesting in that there works are predominantly based in America yet neither man lives in America. Child lives in the UK and Robotham resides in Melbourne, Australia; yet both use their vast wealth of research to base their stories in the heartland of America, with great detail paid to the interstates the characters drive upon, the dingy motels they sleep in and the way people live in these small towns.

Life of Death cover US
Life of Death - US cover

Robotham uses two locations - California and Texas - in this story across two different chronological times, a challenge for any writer to maintain the intrigue and suspense wanted for this story. In this story we meet Audie Palmer, a man who has been imprisoned for armed robbery for the last 10 years, who chooses to escape from prison on the day before his release.

We follow Audie as a fugitive trying to maintain his anonymity whilst trying to clear his name through the back woods and high rise of Texas, the chances Audie takes in the face of his pursuers is not so much death wish but come and get me mentality.  This narrative is coupled with the storyline as to Audie's background 11 years previously and how he came to be imprisoned.

As Audie takes chances so does Robotham withholding certain information here and there using Special Agent Desiree Furness as his investigating conduit, when she discovers something so do we. This is further enhanced by the character Moss Webster, Audie's closest friend in jail who is picked by the conspiring group to find Audie before the cops; Moss also acts as gumshoe in finding little tidbits here and there like Furness.

The moment when the reveal came to this reader produced genuine goosebumps on my arms as the realisation of Audie's involvement in the armed robbery became clear and how the life and love he made in California is something he would never return to.

All in all the book is written at a whipcrack pace, forcing you to keep reading to find out not only what happens next but how Audie got into this mess.  We have had a trend of page turning frenzy in the last 15 years led by Lee Child and Dan Brown, but while Brown was devoid of intelligent writing in spite of conveying a smarter than the reader subject matter, treating the reader as stupid whereas Robotham treats his readership with affectional respect.

Lee Child's books use Jack Reacher as the smartest guy in the room, always one step ahead of the rest. In this novel, we have a character Palmer who might not be able to clear his name due to the powers conspiring against him in a quest for justice.

A thriller in the same vein as The Fugitive and the wrong man thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, this book could easily translate to the big screen if done correctly and does justice to the characters.

Life or Death was a joy to read from beginning to end and this reader will seek out the other novels of Robotham, because if this first encounter is anything to go by he will not fail to disappoint.

Life or Death is published by Sphere in the UK
Follow Michael Robotham on Twitter @michaelrobotham

Friday, 16 October 2015

NFL 2015 Week 6 preview

Week 5 was a mad slate of games, with tight encounters, overtimes, upsets and teams making statements. None more so than the Cincinnati Bengals who defeated the Seattle Seahawks 27-24 at home to remain at 5-0 and in command of the AFC North, with a career best performance by Andy Dalton along with big days by Giovanni Bernard and Tyler Eifert (90 yards, 2 TDs).

The addition of Eifert back to the roster following his season-long injury last year, has added another dimension to the Bengals offensive output which seemingly was restricted to the two heading rushing monster of Bernard and the now quiet Jeremy Hill, and the down field threat of AJ Green.  With Green getting most of the attention from the Seahawks secondary on Sunday, this allowed Eifert to get some targets and he took advantage. 

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Is Dalton the 2015 MVP?

The victory also showed a grit and desire rarely seen by the Bengals in this Dalton era; they were 17 points down entering the fourth quarter yet there was little panic, the defence got some stops on Seattle who apart from Thomas Rawls (169 rushing yards, 1 TD) failed to get first downs when necessary, Jimmy Graham again restricted to a low day of 30 reception yards.  Seattle fall to 2-3 and have a lot of work to do make the playoffs due to the tough division they are in; yet they need to get more production from Graham, get Marshawn Lynch fit again and firing, and also protect Russell Wilson a bit better so he has time in the pocket, something he could not afford against the Bengals D-line led by Geno Atkins.

Three other undefeated sides, the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, all had a few slips in wins to maintain their perfect records.  The Broncos won 16-10 in Oakland despite no passing touchdown by Peyton Manning (226 yards) and again no rushing option.  Their defence made the plays with Chris Harris Jr. returning an interception by Derek Carr for a TD, can this defence keep saving Peyton's bacon throughout the season. A tough road test this week versus an equal defence in Cleveland with Joe Haden back is of interest.

Green Bay's victory of 24-10 at home to St. Louis looks convincing but Aaron Rodgers had two
interceptions, his first picks at home in nearly 4 years and the Rams gave Rodgers all he could handle but they won out despite Todd Gurley having 159 yards on the ground, the Rams failure was Nick Foles who had four interceptions on the day. The Packers defence is very unheralded currently.

Atlanta had the closest call needing overtime to defeat Washington at home 25-19, a pick six return by Robert Alford off Kirk Cousins ended the game. The Falcons needed all of Davonte Freeman 153 yards and the TD in the final minute to take the game to extra, but the Falcons survived despite a quiet day for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan who had two INTs. Washington are not as bad as people suspect, but these constant Kirk Cousins turnovers are proving the difference between their current 2-3 standings and being over .500

The New England Patriots came off the bye and rode into Cowboys Stadium and left undefeated with a 30-6 victory over a depleted Dallas Cowboys side.  After initial effort by the Cowboys defence with the now eligible Greg Hardy and returning Rolando McClain, they pressured Tom Brady a lot but once they got the looks right Brady found Edelman (120 yards, 1 TD) and the dimension offered by Dion Lewis in the backfield is proving a difference maker as he scored another TD, one that caused 5 Cowboys defenders to miss him.

Byes: Dallas, Tampa Bay, Oakland, St. Louis
ATLANTA @ New Orleans
DENVER @ Cleveland
CHICAGO @ Detroit
Kansas City @ MINNESOTA
Washington @ NY JETS
ARIZONA @ Pittsburgh
Carolina @ SEATTLE
San Diego @ GREEN BAY
NEW ENGLAND @ Indianapolis
NY GIANTS @ Philadelphia

Match of the Week
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
There are a few good games on paper. The division rivalry that is the Giants at Eagles on Monday night; with the Giants seemingly trying to lose games always yet still winning against the now working offence of the Eagles. And the Bengals in another test of their resume versus the Bills in Buffalo; yet I am picking this as my match of the week.

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Will the Bell toll for Arizona?

The Cardinals took no pity in picking on the remaining bones of the Detroit Lions last week going on
the road and winning 42-17 is as dominant a performance as you can imagine. Carson Palmer was the picture of efficiency 11-14, 161 yards and 3 TDs (to Darren Fells, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald).  Palmer even sat out the fourth quarter and the welcome return of Andre Ellington (3 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD) along with the continued resurgence of Chris Johnson (11 carries, 103 yards, 9.4 ypc) means the Cardinals are possibly the best team in the NFC West with a two game cushion over the Seahawks.  Their defence made a regressing Matthew Stafford even worse with three interceptions and restricted them to only 57 rushing yards.

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Palmer's experience is key for Cardinals
That last number is key to this match up as the Cardinals go across country to Pittsburgh who
somehow won at San Diego as time expired thanks to a Le'Veon Bell wildcat touchdown that barely broke the plain to get a 24-20 victory on the road. Bell had 111 yards and that touchdown. The key could be that with Michael Vick still trying to embed himself in this offence, Bell is the staple of the offence and if the Cardinals can keep the bal in Vick's hands perhaps the Cardinals will get the victory; and if they can get pressure to Vick and force him out of the pocket and create mistakes and/or turnovers perhaps they can leave Pittsburgh with a big win.

Upset of the Week
Baltimore Ravens @ San Francisco 49ers

If you are considering an upset this week then consider the 49ers at home to the Ravens one, albeit two 1-4 teams facing off against each other. The Ravens have probably been the biggest disappointment this season - considering I picked them for the Super Bowl - and the lack of deep threat means that Joe Flacco is limited in his play and there is no pass rush due to the season ending injury to Terrell Suggs.

That lack of pass rush gives an opportunity to Colin Kaepernick to continue his return to form, gives him time in the pocket and a chance to make decisions. His deep ball connected well with Anquain Boldin last week and oddly if Kap is in the groove, Carlos Hyde reciprocates.  Last week, the Browns dual threat of Crowell and Duke Johnson had big days so expect more of the same; and for the Ravens to be 1-5, unheard of in August

Fantasy Advice
- Roddy White (Falcons) with injury concerns over Julio Jones and Leonard Hankerson, and in a good match up versus the sorry Saints, is this the week Roddy gets his groove back?
- Anquain Boldin (49ers) the weak Ravens secondary bodes well in this match up
- Andre Ellington (Cardinals) slowly getting back into the line up; the fact he can catch and run provides ample PPR dividends
- LaGarrette Blount (Patriots) in the rematch of DeflateGate, the Patriots will not take their foot off the throttle and Blount can wreck havoc on the poor Indy D-line

(Please note, last week's fantasy advice was Antonio Gates, Larry Donnell, Doug Martin and Duke Johnson - all had double digit fantasy days. Gates was the No.1 ranked Tight End and Martin a Top 5 running back)