Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Ex Machina Exceeds Expectations

EX MACHINA (Alex Garland, UK, 2014)
Widely exalted for his works as a novelist including the smash hit The Beach as well as providing screenplays for Sunshine, 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go, Alex Garland's directorial debut is an original work based on many famous facets of robots in cinema as well as expressing his love of science fiction with Ex Machina.

The film begins with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a competition at his fictional company BlueBook to spend a week with his elusive boss Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) in his reclusive home in Alaska. When there, Nathan asks Caleb to participate in a Turing test to talk to an AI robot Nathan has constructed and to see if his model Ava (Alicia Vikander) has consciousness.

What follows is a lot of smoke and mirrors as all three play games with one another, Nathan using Caleb to his will to see if the robot has feelings for him, Caleb realising he did not win a competition but is instead a pawn in an elaborate scheme and Ava herself planning to escape from her enforced prison by Nathan.

Garland's screenplay is expertly economical never wasting a word with unnecessary exposition, in essence treating his audience with the intelligence they deserve. Garland also shows a sure hand behind the camera creating an elaborate set design and changing the scene accordingly, helped by his cinematographer Rob Hardy who uses the sessions between Ava and Caleb as an ever increasing stand off as they are lit differently the longer the week goes on.

Garland exudes the movie with a wonderful tempo full of purpose and foreboding, helped by an excellent electronic score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.

All three of the leading players are exceptional, Isaac is all ego but not without the charm needed to succeed at the top of his profession, Gleeson gives Caleb a mixture of innocence and loneliness in contrast to the high minded Nathan whilst Vikander brings the correct type of iciness to her portrayal of a very real robot.

With twists aplenty, the final message from the film is not so much a warning but an extension of the most Darwinist of ideals - if as Stephen Hawking has mentioned recently that AI might well exceed humans sooner rather than later - Garland's film makes the statement that in the end it is very much a survival of the fittest and the final image of Ava amongst humans suggests how would we be able to tell the robot from the humans, our advancements in technology might create our own downfall.

Ex Machina is out now on general release from Universal Pictures.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Roger Ebert celebrated in Life, Itself

Steve James, renowned documentarian of the bonafide classic Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, returns with a paean to one of the great film critics of the 20th century and who morphed into a technological visionary for the 21st century, Pulitizer Prize winning author and Chicago Sun Times journalist, Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert was akin to a giant in film writing circles, widely respected and more beloved than his contemporaries Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris.  Ebert garnered nationwide celebrity in America thanks to his television show partnership with Gene Siskel (of the Chicago Tribune) on At the Movies, where they were famous for the 'Two Thumbs Up' endorsement.

Ebert's legendary grasp of film knowledge and history along with his appraisal of up and coming American filmmakers led to him cementing the careers of many first time filmmakers - among them this film's executive producer, Martin Scorsese.  Others who have been embraced by Ebert's praise in his writings include Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani and Selma director Ava DuVernay. All are featured in the documentary telling them how his positive influence of their work has directly influenced their output.

Following his diagnosis of cancer in his lower jaw, leading to multiple surgeries and operations, Ebert decided to have his lower jaw removed from his mouth and therefore leaving him unable to speak.  However this did not deter Ebert's work, he remained a force of nature in terms of copy, becoming a scion for the internet and a visionary in the power of social media. Without having a voice, he maintained the necessity to have one.  His writing which had become more fan friendly to the actors he adored in the 1990s had rediscovered his verve and produced some of the finest writing of his career in his later years before his passing in 2013.


James' documentary is part celebration and tribute piece from the directors whose career owe Ebert's input, his friends from the paper and his family.  Most notably his soulmate, Chaz Ebert, who like Roger was a recovering alcoholic when they met.  This bond they had helped galvanise him and stay focused on his work, sometimes all you need is a good woman.

To this reviewer it is ironic that in the same week I viewed Life, Itself I also had the pleasure of viewing The Theory of Everything; another film about another genius trapped in a wheelchair for the majority of the movie and yet helped by the love of a good woman, sometimes that is all we as men need.

Whilst not holding back punches in depicting the end of Ebert's life, James nevertheless serves Ebert with the dignity of not showing him at his worst, instead we see the final exchange of emails between Ebert and James - these are not only a fan and his idol reminiscing, but a conversation between two friends who have grown close over the production. 

One moment that sticks with you is the admission by Ebert using his voice command on his computer, that he will more than likely have passed by the time the film itself is released. The shock of this realisation is not lost on Chaz and the testimonies of his step-grandchildren who reflect on the films they have enjoyed watching together all the more heartbreaking and tear-jerking.

This is a film not just about a writer and his legacy, but a film about a man fighting the deadly cancer within him and still fighting to combat the debilitating effect it has on you, the film does more than enough to cement the legitimacy of Roger Ebert as one of the finest cinephile minds of this or any era.  His memory rightly lives on and this documentary serves as the warmest of tributes to it.  Two thumbs way up.

Life, Itself is released on DVD from Dogwoof on Monday 23rd February
You can find Roger Ebert's vast work of film criticism at his website http://www.rogerebert.com/

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Time for The Turning preview

Soda Pictures is pleased to release the trailer and poster for The Turning, a unique cinematic experience from Australia. Based upon the best selling short story selection by Tim Winton, ten separate tales from extraordinary filmmakers including David Wenham, Mia Wasikowska and Warwick Thornton.


The Turning explores the impact of past on present, how the seemingly random incidents that change and shape us can never be escaped or let go of. All of the stories are bound together by recurring themes; the passing of time, regret, addiction and obsession.

Hugo Weaving as Bob Lang, Commission (based on Tim Winton's The Turning) - Photograph by David Dare Parker Commission David Dare Parker

Featuring the best in Australian actors from Cate Blanchett to Rose Byrne and Hugo Weaving to Richard Roxburgh, The Turning is released on February 6th in selected cinemas.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Good Kill good preview

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the writer of  The Truman Show, Good Kill sees Niccol reunited with the star of his other famous work Gattaca, Ethan Hawke.

Hawke plays Las Vegas fighter pilot turned drone pilot Tom Egan who fights the Taliban via remote control for half the day and then goes home to his lovely wife (January Jones) for the other half.

Yet following a comprised mission Hawke's character learns to question the objectives of his position in this war pushing away his family when he comes to terms with what constitutes a good kill.

The trailer marks the film out as a character driven piece taking a different slant on the war overseas by focusing on the torment it causes at home. Often soldiers or pilots are away from their loved ones, in Tom's case he goes home every night safely to his bed and his loving family, however the torment of war clouds his emotions and complicates matters such as is Tom creating more terrorists than killing them?

As Lt. Colonel Johns played by Bruce Greenwood states, 'Don't ask me if its a just war. For us its just war'.

With Hawke enjoying a hot streak following the critical acclaim of Boyhood, this allows Niccol to again bring a philosophical and intellectual slant on current affairs - with Gattaca it was about cloning and stem cell research, with the Truman Show it was about everyday celebrity and Big Brother. Niccol again seems to have struck the right note between entertainment and discussion.

Good Kill is out in UK cinemas on April 10th from Arrow Films

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Theory of Everything by Bridget Jones

Based upon the memoir by Jane Hawking Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking, this film directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, Shadow Dancer), tells the story of Dr. Hawking from postgraduate at Cambridge 1963 upto the awarding of a CBE by the Queen nearly 30 years later.

This is a lot of years past his supposed expiration date when upon the initial prognosis of the motor neurone disease in 1964 leading to his crippling physical disability, the doctor gave him a maximum of two years left in life.

The willingness of Jane (Felicity Jones) to provide emotional support led to Hawking completing his thesis on black holes as well as the creation of three children.

Image result for Theory of Everything images

This film hangs upon the powerhouse central performance by Eddie Redmayne, who in channeling the best Method style of Daniel Day-Lewis, gives a performance where you see him morph into the Hawking we more commonly recognise. Redmayne is rightly being lauded for this role which shows amazing range and ability from someone so young, his hat is firmly in the ring with Michael Keaton for Best Actor at the Oscars and Baftas.

Whilst the film is more keen on the love story it nevertheless wraps up all of Hawking's theories into pigeon English for this reviewer to understand helped by Marsh's visual tick of incorporating circles or whirls - a spinning staircase, cream in a coffee and the wheels of Hawking's wheelchair - as well as when Hawking preaches his theory to his peers and his friend, Brian (Harry Lloyd) speaks it over a pint in a pub.

Being the female side of the Hawking clamour of celebrity, you see through Jane's eyes the slow dissolution of the marriage as well as her growing affection for Jonathan Hellyer Jones, a winning performance by Charlie Cox (last seen in Hello Carter) who plays it with smiles, when if a male story would paint him as a villain. However, when in opposition to a man in a wheelchair as a handsome gentleman, the contrasts scream to the audience.

Yet this ethical quandary of romance, affairs and relationships leaves a somewhat uneasy feeling in the mouth, as we are well aware that the couple do not end up together it is odd to make a love story where the coupling has ended; this is not a fault of the filmmakers who have made a good fist of making a film with the material at hand, yet much like Foxcatcher when the ending is already known to the audience it is hard to not feel as subdued as Jane Wilde was when writing this memoir.

All in all The Theory of Everything is a pleasing film that tells the story of one of Britain's greatest minds and firmly embodies the notion that behind every great man is a good (albeit surprised) woman. The reason I mention another literary icon in Helen Fielding's creation is that the female authorial voice is clearly apparent, the ability to love above every obstacle is something Ms. Jones would aspire to.  Is it any wonder to notice the presence of the same production company as Bridget Jones' Diary are behind this winning production - Working Title.

Fantastic Carell offers master class in Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER (Bennett Miller, US, 2014)

Bennett Miller's third feature based on actual or true stories follows the odd occurence of billionaire eccentric John Du Pont (Steve Carell) funding the Dave and Mark Schultz in the run up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics in pursuit of a Gold medal in Freestyle wrestling, having both won gold medals at the Los Angeles games of 1984.


Mark, convincingly played by the ever improving Channing Tatum, is younger brother to Dave (Mark Ruffalo) the highly respected elder who is both coach, trainer and an accomplished wrestler in his own life.  Post-Olympics you see how even Gold medallists struggle day to day with life going from training session to training session, accepting elementary school speaking engagements for a measly $20.  There is no money once the glory has worn off, and so the promise of a steady income from Du Pont - in this case $25,000 - along with world class facilities and living arrangements is too big of a carrot for Mark to ignore. Team Foxcatcher is born

However, once in the Du Pont circle, things become very psychological between the two as a need for something in the relationship is apparent and something they lack is found. For Du Pont it is esteem from peers and colleagues, having grown up with no friends that his wealthy mother did not pay for; and for Mark the chance to have what resembles a father-son relationship.

Glory comes at the World Championships in France and then Dave with crises all coming to a head in preparation for Seoul, Dave becomes the hand to guide Mark and thus dismissing Du Pont from the circle of trust.  Mark grows resentful of Du Pont and following the Olympics leaves Foxcatcher for Brigham Young University. Dave stays on board as coach for the team but the withdrawl of Mark, Du Pont's ideal man, from his home leads Du Pont to shoot and kill Dave.

Considering the pedestal the United States of America puts its champions and Gold medallists on to during and after their career to this elevated status of immortality, it is surprising that this story involving athletes and billionaires did not garner a documentary or feature film beforehand.  It encompasses those great American traditions - endeavour, wealth and power.

Yet the film which although a great character study in psychological deteoriation and disintegration feels like more an acting showcase for the three fine leads which is let down by some sloppy direction.

This is not to denigrate Mr. Miller who has done some fine work with Capote and Moneyball but he seems to garner great acting performances from his cast and yet he is devoid of any artistic style of his own.  There is no panache or flair with the camera, although the film does not warrant it and no mise-en-scene stylistics with very much an observant camera from the medium distance throughout.  The tone for this film is very grey and unloving, perhaps to reflect the lack of warmth and love in the lives of Du Pont and Mark, the only time colour appears on the screen is when Dave is on screen - from his white trousers of his suit when he arrives at Foxcatcher to his happy BBQ at his home with family and friends in contrast to the drab home of Mark.

Steve Carell more famously known for his comedic roles is amazing in the role of Du Pont, only a comedian could deliver a line like, 'My friends call me Eagle or Golden Eagle', with a straight face and he gets to the core of the character as someone who although powerful and rich is very much unfulfilled. Much like Robin Williams' best dramatic roles, he can find the sorry in the self.

Tatum is continuing this trend of creating a great body of work irrespective of how you feel about his body image and Ruffalo is the calm centre amongs the storm, stooping around the screen and being the equal to Carell.

Foxcatcher is out now in cinemas from Entertainment One.

It garnered Oscar nominations for Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Carell) and Supporting Actor (Ruffalo)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

2015: The Year of Chris Hemsworth

2015 promises a lot in the world of film with undoubtedly the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in December having half the world frothing at the mouth and the other half wiping up the froth and wondering what the fuss is about.

Yet for one actor it may be the year he goes truly global and creates a market for himself, with three known films coming out in the calendar year that may well guarantee box office returns for him and the films themselves.

A few years ago there was a game where you could do a fantasy box office team like pick five actors or actresses that would star in the films that make the most money for example you pick stars like Gary Oldman or Samuel L. Jackson who appear frequently but in films that garner large returns.  For the first six months of the year you should put your money on Chris Hemsworth.

The Australian actor is following a career path not too dissimilar to his fellow Antipodeans, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, like him actors of immense presence, whereas he has not had the great role like Crowe in Gladiator his casting decisions are nonetheless impressive.

Released this week in America is Blackhat, where he plays Nicholas Hathaway, a crack hacker who is the government's only hope of beating an even better hacker.  So far, so Swordfish a la Jackman; but the film is directed by Michael Mann who again films in that digital camera where it feels like the camera is merely floating about the action and yet is very much kinetic when it comes to the balletic gunplay as eschewed in the trailer. And there is no blowjob under the table going on as far as the trailer tells us.

This is one of those roles where Hemsworth appears in a degree of normalcy, of this world and not of his alter ego Thor whom re-appears in the other must see blockbuster forthcoming in May Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Whilst Thor has already had two stand alone films of his own with another Ragnarok scheduled for 2017 from Marvel, Thor is nevertheless critical to the film. In the first film Avengers Assemble, it was his character who had some of the best lines - 'You humans are so petty. And tiny' and the classic 'He's adopted', when having to explain Loki's homocidal tendencies.

That film is guaranteed to be gold at the box office if Joss Whedon can work the magic again, however, the third film of his first half of 2015 may be his most impressive decision and grant him his best role of his career in In the Heart of the Sea.

Like Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, it will show a seafaring Hemsworth who will don the apparel of late 18th century sailors as Owen Chase aboard the Essex the infamous vessel that was attacked by a giant whale becoming the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick

Directed by Ron Howard with whom Hemsworth worked with on Rush, it appears Hemsworth has grasped a mixture of intelligence and charisma to work with such luminaries as Howard and Mann in quick succession.

Hemsworth has hit his purple patch it seems and whilst he will always have the character of Thor to fall back on and it appears he works best in an ensemble. Blackhat gives him the platform to carry a film on his own without a known face amongst the supporting cast, even the love interest is not known to American audiences, leaving Hemsworth to make sure the film can be elevated above a mere hacker thriller but to something more than that.

Blackhat is out in the UK on February 20th from Universal Pictures
In the Heart of the Sea is released on March 13th from Warner Bros.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is released on April 24th from Marvel

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Out on DVD and VOD from 9th February 2015 from Dogwoof, Manakamana is a stunningly original cinematic experience.  The film follows pilgrims as they make a journey to an ancient Nepalese temple by way of cable car to worship.

The journey up and down takes a total of 11 minutes, therefore the directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, take the approach of positioning a stationary 16mm camera in front of the varying commuters.


From an ageing grandfather and his grandson, to a young married couple, to a trio of elderly women who tellingly comment on how much things have changed, 'It used to take me three days to get up here'; to a herd of goats.  The first half of the film follows people going up, and the second half follows travellers going down with an eventual selection of passengers to book end the film.

Some critics have commented on the cyclical nature of the cable car being documented in this film, whereas I would prefer the more appropriate gesture of the film being literally about how life can be up and down, and how easy it is to forget to enjoy the ride.

Reminiscent of artistic installations but another step forward in the work offered by James Bening (13 Lakes/ RR) this film is nevertheless just as meditative in forcing the audience to accept the period of quiet and contemplation in a dark space.

At the start of every 11 minute segment, there is a moment of dark when the cable car is being loaded up with next passengers and as it pushes out into the light we are blinded by the light and then have to adjust to the new characters presented towards us; these changes initiate a response in the audience to participate in the journey.  Sometimes though the journey is reward in itself.

This is an intelligent movie that coupled with stunning landscape cinematography must be seen to be believed.

Manakamana is out on DVD and VOD from Dogwoof from Monday 9th February

Monday, 12 January 2015

Supposed Super Bowl

Following the divisional round of play off matches over the weekend where only one road team won but nevertheless every game was tight and entertaining. We are two games away from the Superbowl, the mecca of American Football, fittingly taking place in a desert.

For all four teams left - Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts - are just one game away from the game of immortals. I'd like to take this moment to size up the possible games we could have at Glendale, Arizona on Sunday 1st February.  What possible storylines could we envisage and forsee occuring?

Seattle Seahawks v New England Patriots
The team that is on the cusp of greatness goes up against the current dynasty of the NFL.  The defending champion Seahawks go up against the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions when the Patriots did it in 2004 for their third Lombardi trophy in three years.  Russell Wilson v Tom Brady is not so much the storyline as others but more that defence against an offence that can adapt and offer variations.  The last time these two played was two seasons ago when a Richard Sherman interception stopped a possible Brady game winning drive.  The handshake and exchange of pleasantries cemented Sherman's reputation as someone who can back it up off the pitch as well as on it, Brady would be wanting to put the record straight. And winning his fourth ring might just do it. And to think of West Coast muscle versus East coast brain power in the guise of Carroll v Belichick; the tan versus the hoodie.

Seattle Seahawks v Indianapolis Colts
Two of the three top quarterbacks taken in the 2013 draft, Russell Wilson v Andrew Luck.  The champion v the blueprint.  Luck was supposed to win a Super Bowl first but Wilson got to it first.  This would be Luck's legacy on the line, it would not be his last appearance and to spare the continual comparison to Peyton Manning he might want to win his first Super Bowl appearance.  Yet in terms of match up, with no running game to speak of, can you imagine Luck having to throw against this secondary and try to win the game.

Green Bay Packers v Indianapolis Colts
A gimpy Aaron Rodgers against a fast improving Colts offensive line with Jonathon Newsome off the edge and Cory Redding.  The only drawback of the Colts win in Denver was the tackling or failure to of CJ Anderson who gained yards when he should have been stopped, imagine a better runner like Eddie Lacy whose workload will be elevated based upon Rodgers fitness.  Luck would prefer to throw on this secondary and if it is a shootout would you not rather have a gunman with two legs.

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots
The two best quarterbacks of the season going head to head for all the marbles.  Rodgers going for his second Super Bowl, Brady going for his fourth to join his idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw in immortality. Should Brady get that elusive fourth ring, remember he has lost the last two Super Bowl appearances, it should put to bed the arguments over the GOAT debate. Brady with a compotent offence may appear to be overly reliant on Rob Gronkowski but that is the beauty of having a beast, try and match up with him which secondaries may do and that leaves options open in the form of Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. Never mind Shane Vereen and LaGarrette Blount in the backfield. And the defensive line of New England led by Vince Wilfork will match up well against Lacy and welcome the chance to reverse the scoreline 26-21 at Lambeau back in Week 13.

With it taking place in the desert not far from the Old West, what finer sight than to see Brady and Belichick head into the sunset with a fourth trophy on their back.

Mortdecai - New TV spot


With less than two weeks to go before its release on January 23rd, Lionsgate Films are pleased to release a new TV spot for consumption of Mortdecai starring Johnny Depp.

The film based on the novel 'Don't Point That Thing at Me' by Kyril Bonfiglioli is directed by David Koepp (Secret Window, Premium Rush) with a screenplay by Lee Aronson, stars Depp as the eponymous British spy with Gwyneth Paltrow playing his beautiful wife along with Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany and Jeff Goldblum.

The film seems to be glitzy and full of glamour, but this reviewer has the unnerving feeling that it bares a more than striking resemblance to Johnny Depp doing a Johnny English impression, with a moustache added for comical effect.  Although the running gag of Depp and Paltrow kissing with her gagging as she hates it, and he replicating the action as a reflex is funny, meaning the film may rely more on the chemistry between the principals than any semblance of plot.

Mortdecai is out in UK cinemas on January 23rd from Lionsgate films

Thursday, 8 January 2015

How to beat Kentucky Wildcats?

John Calipari is at it again. He has assembled another great group of talented young men in Lexington who although merely stopping by en route to the NBA, yet this group in his much discussed platoon system have the potential to go 40-0 in the season, a feat never accomplished in NCAA history.

Image result for john calipari images

However, in their first game of conference play in the SEC at home in the Rupp Arena against Ole Miss, the Wildcats got a scare only overcoming them 89-86 in the dying moments when Ole Miss' best player Stefan Moody who had 25 points succumb to cramp and fatigue.

In part Moody fell victim to the style of game that nearly garnered the upset but will actually serve as a blueprint for the rest of the SEC to get that victory that will stutter history and possibly ensure a tournament appearance with such a big win on any resume.

The Rebels played hard in terms of tempo and attacking the big defenders of Kentucky. By having small guards and players who short in stature like Jarvis Summers but big in game meant that big forwards like Aaron Harrison (6' 8") found it difficult to defend against quickness.  Kentucky conceded the most points in one game and that was also helped by Ole Miss scoring 9 3-pointers, and yet even those 27 points were not enough.

 Image result for stefan moody images

So which teams in the SEC can score quick, score a lot and convert 3-pointers as well as defend against those bigs in the paint and on the perimeter.  The Wildcats are not exceptional from the field in terms of FG percentage nor from behind the arc.  They are not as outstanding nor formidable as the Kentucky aide led by Anthony Davis that won the National Championship and perhaps this close victory at home will galvanise the team and realise how big that bullseye is on their chest. As the big dog in the SEC, they can expect to get everyone's best shot, so long as it's taken quickly and from downtown.

One team who may have the answer could be the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team currently 12-2 (both losses came on the road at Iowa State and Clemson - two teams from stronger conferences) and yet they have the highest scoring backcourt in forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls.

 Image result for bobby portis arkansas

Sophomore Portis shows great touch for a 6' 11" guy in the paint off of both hands averaging 17.1 ppg and 7.6 rebounds whilst Junior Qualls offers the dynamism on offence and the hounding on defence around the perimeter averaging 15.5 ppg and 5.3 rpg.

As a team they are ranked 8th in the nation in points per game (84.1) and 3rd in assists (18.4) have a high free throw percentage and are decent from distance. Kentucky average 76.3 points per game but are big in the rebound statistics 41.4 in comparison to Arkansas' 38.1, that is in part due to the length of the team.  The only downside is they have to go to Kentucky on 28th February and also on the road to these Ole Miss Rebels on Valentines Day.

The SEC may have a king of the castle but there are sure going to be some more bumpy roads for Kentucky along the way to their supposed place in the Final Four with tricky road trips to Alabama, Florida and LSU to contend with.  If an athletic opponent can surprise and attack an up tempo game against these Wildcats then it might not be Kentucky purring during conference play.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

How to save the FA Cup

 View image on Twitter

The third round of the FA Cup is traditionally one of the great weekends in the sporting calendar. A great way to start a new year where giant killings can occur as equally as cricket scores on the football pitch take place.

However, the third round of the 2014/15 edition of the world's most famous cup competition had a somewhat poor showing on all fronts. Poorly attending matches, poor match ups and predictable television coverage meant that the magic of the cup is again put into question. Who to blame though?

Can you blame Premier League sides from ringing the changes after four league matches in quick succession over the Christmas period with many playing on New Year's Day and then again two or three days later.

Do you blame the clubs who scheduled their games on Sunday or a Monday in the case of Burnley v Tottenham that was so poorly attended they closed a major stand as pictures will attest to.

View image on Twitter

Do you blame the television companies for picking obvious big name teams no matter who they were playing.  Yes it was a repeat of the final in May, but did we really need to see an all Premier League tie in  Arsenal v Hull on a tea-time Sunday night slot when Wimbledon v Liverpool or Everton v West Ham would have been more appealing. Why did the BBC who have first choice pass over Yeovil v Manchester United, admittedly they clawed for the 1988 repeat yet the scheduling of that game on Monday night did no favours.

Wimbledon v Liverpool was a showpiece event, but for Steven Gerrard would have garnered the giant killing the competition so desperately needed. Yet the BBC who have put the main round proper draws on Monday night to increase awareness and attention decided to screen the draw live from Wimbledon in the main clubhouse, thus belittling the draw from the professional and formal occasion it deserves to that resembling a church raffle.

Why pass over the chance to screen Sheffield United away at QPR, a known cup entity in Nigel Clough's side from Yorkshire versus Harry Redknapp's strugglers. Many knew Redknapp would play a reserve side and focus on Premier League survival, gifting the Blades another top flight cup scalp.  Perhaps United are guilty of their own success, they are on televison twice later this month playing Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, so maybe schedulers felt why give them anymore exposure than they are already getting. Yet United held up their part of the deal by eliminating QPR easily in a 3-0 victory, chance missed for programmers.

My biggest gripe is the positioning of replays for the competition. The tournament's history has been flooded with great memories in replays down the years but this is a knockout competition, lets make it knockout competition, one game to a finish on the day with extra time and penalties.  As much as we hate them, penalty shoot-outs bring added drama to proceedings and for all those travelling fans and home supporters who have to fork out so much for their ticket post Christmas; I feel the bonus of seeing a final result will instigate a renewed interest and fervour in proceedings. This alteration will save our eardrums from the constant moaning of managers about fixture congestion and fatigued players

The argument will be that lower league sides will relish the opportunity of drawing the first match to get a bigger share of gate money in the replay.  Yet those games are replayed in midweek, an immediate precursor of lower attendances and if there are not many replays will more than likely get screened on commercial broadcasters; the teams split the gate money anyway during cup games so as much as it was great for Cambridge to draw Man United at home in the fourth round, do not be fooled into thinking Cambridge would not mind an away draw at Old Trafford with all those receipts coming their way. The television fee for the tie will help swallow that pill for certain.

A resolution to the problem of teams missing out on big away days and also the big clubs always being drawn at home, would be to follow the Davis Cup method of drawing.  In that tennis competition, the home nation take turns in playing host due to the long gaps in playing opponents.  For instance, Great Britain had to play away at Italy last year as they hosted the Azzurri the last time they were drawn together many years previously.  A similar sort of method in football would mix it up and avoid such issues as Arsenal playing at home in every round as they did last season and remove the big boys from their comfort zones; and once the draw is done throw more intrigue into the competition.

These are merely ideas and this writer does not envisage anything changing drastically but changes must occur if the competition is going to keep its allure for years to come.  The FA itself needs to be stronger and not allow games to be played over five days as we had in this round and restrict it to Saturday to Monday play only; otherwise the competition will fall even further down the pecking order of priorities behind the race for Top four and the need for Premier League survival.

Erebus: Into The Unknown


Out in selected cinemas on 9th January and available DVD/VOD from 12th January, Erebus: Into the Unknown tells the true story of the men who came face to face with one of the world’s worst aviation disasters and became part of one of the most extraordinary police operations in history.

On November 28th 1979, a jet with 257 passengers went missing during a sightseeing tour over Antarctica. Within hours eleven ordinary police officers were called to duty to face the formidable Mount Erebus. But as the police recovered the victims an investigation team tried to uncover the mystery of how a jet could fly into a mountain in broad daylight, did the airline have a secret they tried to bury?

Directed by Charlotte Purdy, who cleverly mixes the format of documentary and factual cinema, she uses face to face interviews with key men from the search and rescue team - Stuart Leighton, Greg Gilpin, Mark Penn and leader Robert Mitchell. Mitchell led the team from the ground while the three other gentlemen along with other policeman, mountaineers and volunteers led the investigation of the crash site to save bodies.  Of the 257 passengers, 214 bodies were brought home for burial, this remains the highest percentage return from an aviation disaster.

The film makes clear though that due to the cold climate there was a greater chance of reclaiming more bodies, however, the harsh reality of the elements come to the fore in the recreated scenes and the testimonies of the heroes.

Leighton was 22 when he went to Antarctica, and you can still see the fear in his eyes when he recounts the memories.  Gilpin was fearful of never seeing his two daughters again, while Penn was the gun ho individual who saw it as a great opportunity for his career.  Many people reacted to things differently, even when facing the same challenge of constant daylight, huge emotional turmoil and the chattering of birds that keep you awake.

Purdy does take moments to reflect upon the beauty of the surroundings by having characters sit and look upon the landscape and juxtapose the devastation of the crash site with the beauty of the snow, there is some poetic lyricism somewhere out in the wilderness.

However, the methods used in the middle of nowhere by Mitchell and co-ordinated by Gilpin led to those same methods to be used in crash sites from there on. The work led to some answers for the bereaved families and the discovery of the pilot's log led to the realisation of the wrong co-ordinates being relayed.  

Hence, this could be considered the first big business cover up of an aviation disaster.  And in this day and age of airplanes missing and more answers required for more bereaving families, this film could offer hope to those related to the crashes involving Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and Air Asia QZ8501.

EREBUS: INTO THE UNKNOWN is in cinemas 9 January and DVD/On Demand 12 January

The cinemas the film will be showing in are the Genesis Cinema, Mile End and Lowen Cinema, Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire

Friday, 2 January 2015

In praise of...Steven Gerrard

End of an Era
With the sad news of Steven Gerrard choosing to leave his only club Liverpool at the end of this his 17th season, it is another indicator of a player not being able to end his career on his terms. Unlike his team mate, Jamie Carragher who chose to call it a day by not wanting to play for anyone else; Gerrard still feels he can play a part at some level of football. The initial intention is that this means he is heading for the pasture of MLS in America like Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane, however, could he do what Frank Lampard did and come back to the Premier League on a loan move which ultimately upsets more people yet still maintains his desire to play at a high level.

What does it mean for Gerrard? Already this season, you have seen Gerrard slowing down or unable to play the two games a week needed for a Champions League outfit. At the start of the season, he was playing his number four or deep lying midfielder allowing him to spray passes to sprinting forwards. Yet due to transfer dealings and player injuries, Gerrard has had no outlet for his creative input. His best game this season came in early December away at Leicester where he played as a number 10 behind the front man of Rickie Lambet. His link up play was good and his cut and thrust led to chances aplenty. 

Perhaps, Brendan Rodgers cannot find a position for him or the fact that Rodgers dropped him regularly meant Gerrard could not commit to a club where he could not start every game, yet maybe Gerrard needed to accept the advancing of time.  His legs were effectively shot at the World Cup after the gruelling culmination of a potential championship season.  The image of Gerrard slipping and handing possession to Demba Ba to score for Chelsea at the Kop End will be an indelible image yet should not be considered the only reason Liverpool did not win Gerrard's only league title.

Like his contemporary, Frank Lampard, Gerrard needs to find a space and role in a team going forward where he can be creative and integral to the team performance. How ironic that on the day Gerrard made his decision, Lampard was scoring his fifth goal of the season for Manchester City with his first touch when coming on as a substitute with 20 minutes remaining in a 2-2 draw with Sunderland. Lampard had the last word. Gerrard did score two penalties for Liverpool in a disappointing home 2-2 draw with Leicester. Apart from those two goals, Gerrard's impact was minimal and deflating.

Whereas, Lampard has the engine and fitness to run all day, Lampard seems enthused by the idea to become a veritable super sub as he showed when scoring against Chelsea earlier in the season. Gerrard's modus operandi is having an influence on the game from the outset means it may take longer for him to realise and adjust. Based on form alone this season, would Gerrard start for any team in the top six should he become available. And would he want to play for anyone else. Can you imagine Gerrard playing for either Manchester side or even Arsenal?

In a sport where money is no object seemingly, the price of loyalty has diminished and the opportunity for any player to depart or leave the scene on his own terms has vanished. Unlike Ledley King who had to retire due to injury as a one club man, the loyal servant of football like Carragher or Paul Scholes has gone.  

If Gerrard had lifted the Premier League trophy in May instead of Vincent Kompany it may well have given him the perfect ending to a glittering career. Instead, Gerrard becomes that very typical modern footballer, a talent who has become a nomad. That is no way for any talent to end. With no direction or clue of the journey that he has navigated so proudly ending.