Monday, 31 October 2016

The Killing of America

Released on DVD and Blu-ray by, The Killing of America is a film from the early 1980s that is being re-issued and is a prescient and telling documentary of it's own era and sends a shocking message about the problem America has with it's history of gun violence from presidential assassinations to race crimes with black on white crimes and vice versa.

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The film uses a wealth of archive and newsreel footage to tell the history of the gun in America beginning with the shooting of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  The film then goes to voyages past every major assassination both successful and unsuccessful from Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy to George Wallace and Ronald Reagan.

The film utilises an authoritative voiceover by Chuck Riley full of foreboding that does not attempt to provide answers nor sway the audience to follow a politicised agenda. The document simply wants to provide you with the (albeit shocking) evidence and you make up your own mind.

Huge credit should go to directors Sheldon Renan and Leonard Scharder, who had the vision in 1981 to foresee the dark road that their homeland was travelling down. We all remember Michael Moore's acclaimed Bowling for Columbine, and yet whilst that film made reference to gun violence and its influences, it nevertheless had an explicit political message at the heart of the film.

Yet in Killing of America you have killers kill random strangers because they feel bad for having killed a loved one, a killer say he wanted to be known and famous, Shiran Shiran killed Bobby Kennedy to free Palestine. The use of the Riley narration means you listen to his facts - such as gun purchases quadrupling following the JFK killing.

The combination of superbly edited sequences especially the memorable showdown involving John R. Hopkins who held a newsroom hostage combined with the startling facts make for a gripping and at times hard to watch experience, which nevertheless is a very important one that should be seen by all.

The Killing of America is on Blu-ray/DVD from Monday 31st October

Special features include:
Audio commentary with Sheldon Renan, Interview, 'The Madness is Real' with Sheldon Renan, 'Cutting the Killing', an interview with editor Lee Perry

Sunday, 30 October 2016

National Treasure

No, this is not a telling re-examination of the Nicolas Cage/Jerry Bruckheimer film from the early 2000s but a review of the DVD release of the Channel 4 drama National Treasure originally screened in early September starring Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and Andrea Riseborough.

The drama tells the fictious story of Paul Kingsley (Coltrane) an ageing television comedy legend who has to contend with an accusation of rape from over 20 years previously. Whilst happily married to his wife Mari (Walters), Kingsley has a sexual appetite as depicted by his affairs with prostitutes yet this has never succumbed to under age girls as he is accused of.  Kingsley fears he is being portrayed as Jimmy Saville, the spectre and recent history of Operation Yewtree hovers over this production as a very dark cloud.

This cloud is embellished by the visual hue of the cinematography which is very dark greys and blues with the camera lurking behind corners and doorways not showing us everything fully until a character calls another directly bringing them into eyelines.

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The drama is played with amazing panache by its three leads and is generously helped by key supporting player, Tim McInnery (Blackadder) as Finchley's comedy partner. Andrea Riseborough  as the broken and troubled daughter, Dee who we first meet in a halfway house being threatened with losing custody of her children and having driven her car through the accuser's house, Dee's descent into periods of madness will stay with you.

Yet it is the steady sterling presence of Julie Walters who is the star of the show, a performance of such reach and depth she puts everyone else firmly in her shadow. Her presence as a rock to Paul is very much absent by the series end.

The drama is very of the moment and in years to come may rescind into memory but it is great to see a brave production painting its narrative stars as very much that, a star who uses his talent and influence.

The script by Jack Thorne of Made in England fame had an opportunity to make a statement on star power and celebrity influence instead it singles out the women who accuse celebrities as hungry for fame themselves and to quote Mari, end up destroyed in the witness box and hard to believe.

National Treasure is released on Home Entertainment on Monday 31st October.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


With thanks to Orion Books for the review copy of this book before the February 2017 release date.

Written by debut novelist Daniel Cole, Ragdoll started life as a unproduced television pilot before Cole put it in a drawer somewhere and after many rejections decided to in his own words, 'do the selfish thing and write a book that I would love myself'.

Ragdoll tells the tale of the Ragdoll killer a serial killer who having already stitched together six victims to make a ragdoll of a corpse - separate head, torso, arms, legs. The head belongs to the infamous Cremation killer, a serial peadophile who would abuse young girls before disposing of their bodies in the aforementioned manner.

One detective William Fawkes stood up to his belief that one man Naquib Khalid was the killer, and this belief led to him attacking Khalid in the dock at the Old Bailey.  Now the case is brought back from the past, Khalid's own head is that of the Ragdoll, and Wolf is being used as bait by the Ragdoll Killer.

A man who is gripping the nation as he has provocatively claimed he will kill seven people on a specific date, with Wolf the last on the list. This showmanship of stating when and where he will complete his next murder is fitting for the current world fixated with multi-media platforms, the ultimate embodiment of 15 minutes of fame even for the victims. 

So begins a huge game of cat and mouse between the Metropolitan Police and the Ragdoll killer who is seemingly one step ahead of them, as the police try to put every next victim in witness protection, the killer beats them to the punch.

Daniel Cole
Daniel P Cole - the author

For a debut novel, Cole takes telling risks in his narrative by flirting with the possibility of following a tried and tested pattern yet then doing an about face which is as ingenious as his master villain. The risks are not restricted the narrative development, our allegiances to Wolf who is part Maverick, part wind-up merchant, part charmer is a risk taker himself, and our empathy for him is tested throughout culminating in the test of plausibility by the book's third act.

Yet Cole writes with such confidence and panache transferring from set piece to set piece whilst sustaining a romantic sub-plot and the growth of periphery characters coming front and centre by the conclusion.

The ending is both resolutory and yet ambiguous to the degree that there promises more to come from Wolf in whatever guise it may be. Whatever Cole chooses to do next, whether it is with or without Wolf, this debut novelist is certainly one to watch.

Ragdoll could possibly be the literary event of 2017.

It will be released by Trapeze Press on 23rd February on e-book edition and Hardback.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

NFL Fantasy Football Week 7

Haven't done this for a while but thought I would get some information out there for my fellow NFL followers who play Fantasy Football throughout the season.

This is all a bit of fun and is meant to be taken in jest. However, if you do benefit from my selections please let me know.


The dirge of Thursday night entertainment means that we are forced to endure a terrible divisional encounter between Green Bay hosting the Chicago Bears.  Brian Hoyer has shown some things of late in relief for Jay Cutler, whilst the Packers are anything but relaxing about Aaron Rodgers' recent form.  Rodgers is seemingly not being able to find open receivers, yet this match-up gives an opportunity to find some form. That form could be ignited by the unlikely hook up of TY MONTGOMERY, who worked well last year when Jordy Nelson was injured all season. Montgomery received nine receptions last week as well as some rushes as Eddie Lacy had a slight ankle problem. Montgomery has the combination of safe hands, speed and the trust of the passer.

While the news is the injury of Big Ben who is likely out for 4-6 weeks with a meniscus problem, this means LANDRY JONES steps in to the breach and whilst the match up is not favourable against a rampant New England Patriots team; the Steelers are still at home and Jones will be looking to find Antonio Brown who went quiet last week in Miami.  Playing the Patriots who score so quickly and heavily will allow Jones the opportunity to find receivers such as Brown and Coates. Jones could have a big day of up to 300 yards and 2 TD day.

This is the day that JAMEIS WINSTON will come out to play. On the road so with less home pressure on his shoulders, Winston has the opportunity against a woeful 49ers side to find his receivers as well as Charles Sims who can catch out of the backfield.  Winston has not had a day above 20+ fantasy points yet this season, if he fails to this week, questions of his form for the remainder of the season will be asked.

NEW YORK GIANTS @ LA RAMS - at Twickenham Stadium
In the second showpiece affair in London, the Rams host the Giants and with ODB hoping to put on a show and the Rams hoping to not lose the likelihood is that ODB will be shackled and for that reason look towards STERLING SHEPHARD to gain some big targets as the solidified 2nd wide receiver behind the prodigy.

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On the other side of the ball, BRIAN QUICK has shown some big numbers himself and with Case Keenum being serviceable at quarterback, Quick may be exactly that against the Giants.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Designated Survivor

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Designated Survivor, is one of those shows that makes you slap your hand squarely on your forehead when you hear the premise and wonder why has it never been made into a film or television series before.

On every occasion of the State of the Union speech at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, one member of the then President's cabinet is placed in a secure undisclosed location in case the very worst scenario takes place and all of the remainder of the cabinet are killed.  This individual would then be sworn in and become the new Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America.

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In the pilot episode, this worst case scenario takes place as the Capitol Building is blown up by a devestating explosion in an attack far worse than 9/11.  Our protagonist is Tom Kirkman, and is portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland; Kirkman is the Secretary of Housing and Development who on the morning on the speech was about to take an Ambassador role in Canada after being removed from the cabinet.  Kirkman's plans have now changed forever.

After being sworn in swiftly we cut to Kirkman throwing up in a marble bathroom in the White House as the size of the task before him dawns on him. This is the most human part of the pilot which is very by-the-numbers; it states that he is well over his head, he never wanted to be the President, his son is a rebel and the military want him out before he has even begun.

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Yet Kirkman knows what is required of him whilst his Chief of Staff Aaron (Adan Canto) tries to input his own ideology on the new man in charge, the same for the head of the military who wants him to command an attack on any Middle Eastern terrorist group so that America can have an enemy to face down.

Three episodes into watching the show on Netflix - which screens episodes weekly - the show is one of the better things I have seen on that service in recent months. It is a show fittingly of the time and portrays some of the best traits of America on to the screen; the ability to rise up from the ashes of a major disaster, the opportunism of individuals to make a difference and the pride of the nation circumvented through one role.  It also shows the worst; the class divide, the distrust of politicians and that glasses do not look good on TV.

Sutherland is a great piece of casting, taking the man who was Jack Bauer in 24 - the renegade who took over post 9/11 and would single handedly take on any terrorist with his bare hands, he was the best of America (brave and patriotic) and the worst of America (torture).  Here he gives Kirkman an air of nobility and decency reminiscent of President Bartlett from the West Wing and the current President Obama, but also a man who knows he is way in over his head but is capable of greater things if he has support.

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Support comes from his wife Alex (Natasha McElhone), his speech writer Seth Wright (Kal Penn - sarky and honest) and his former assistant Emily (Italia Ricci) who is now a special adviser.

There are some beats that fall flat, the role of Special FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) is a little bit misguided, would an agent really be this selfish and even at work following the disappearance and death of a significant other.  At the moment Hannah's story is one of the threads that is not ringing true at the moment, but as she digs deeper into the explosion at the Capitol perhaps her role will grow and lead to interaction with the President.

One more thought on his name. Kirkman. Is he meant to be Kirk-man, like a nod to Captain Kirk of Star Trek, the head of the Enterprise with a rag tag of people who do not have much faith in him and yet he must show leadership when others are better qualified (Republican survivor Kimble/Spock) and win over support from naysayers (Aaron/Bones) and entrust those vital to the cogs of the machine (Seth/Emily; Scotty and Chekov)

The series is gripping without shouting out from the rooftops saying look at this, it has plot points that are sometimes telegraphed - yes the teenage son would leave his illegal drugs and roll of money in his sock drawer - but it always ends on a genuine surprise that you do not see coming. Can it sustain this over 22 episodes in a full season and seasons to come? This reviewer sure hopes so.

My Sports Personality of 2016

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It is always difficult to make a case for the illustrious Sports Personality of the Year or SPOTY as it is now reduced to a hashtag in this day and age. It is even harder to nominate or make the case for someone during an Olympic year when the shortlist of 10 nominees is harder and harder to sustain.

The problem with it being only 10 nominations, they probably should extend it to a full dozen in this special year of British sporting achievement, is that the 10 nominations will be strictly limited to Olympian medallists and them alone.

While I am all for the rightful adulation of our British sportspeople, considering that 20 years ago we returned from an Olympic Games with only two rowers worthy of first class seats on the flight back. Now we have a flight full of first class seats it still remains the regular people sitting at the top table. This year you are guaranteed to see nominations for Andy Murray, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and the double Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who also got a bronze medal in the Individual Mens Time Trial.

My hope is that the nominees will draw up a shortlist and the fact that we did so well in minority sports will help the exposure for those same sports. Yet you add to those first four people the names Laura Trott (two Olympic Golds this year, four in total) and her fiancee, Jason Kenny (three Gold medals, making it six in total). That makes 6 people already.

Add double Olympic Gymnastic gold medallist Max Whitlock and Britain's first swimming Olympic Gold medallist Adam Peaty and you now have 8.  So based on the BBC criteria of 10 on the shortlist that leaves just two space. Luckily it has been a bad year for football with England doing so poorly in the European championships although the unlikely tale of Leicester City may generate a nomination for Jamie Vardy, yet when was the last footballer to genuinely have a personality?

Lewis Hamilton could garner a nomination if he retains his Formula 1 crown, although his poor media relations and childish behaviour in press conferences may put a dent in that.

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Perhaps a nomination to cover the successful British sports teams, Kate Richardson-Walsh was captain of the Women's Hockey Team who won Gold on a Friday night and had the nation rapt with attention, it would be a nice nomination to commemorate her service to the sport also. Joe Root has again been England's best cricketer in all three formats of the game. A nomination for the England rugby union team perhaps in the form of Maro Itoje who was dominant throughout the Six Nations and the triumphant tour of Australia.

All valid claims I am sure you will agree and yet my nomination goes towards someone whose early calendar success was a surprise, as pleasant a surprise as Leicester City; who kept on climbing her rankings ladder with a drive and ambition rarely seen in her sport by British people and whilst she did not perform well in the Olympic games nevertheless she has maintained her form all year and is now ranked in the Top 10 of the world.  An achievement unheard of certainly for nearly 30 years in the world of British tennis.

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My nomination goes to Johanna Konta, a young woman who plays with a determination and belief in her ability that stemmed from her unlikely run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.  A succession of five victories that started with her defeating Venus Williams in straight sets and ultimately succumbed to the eventual winner and now World No.1 Angelique Kerber.  This success maintained and despite poor showings at the Grand Slams at Roland Garros and Wimbledon by her now high standards, she returned again and won her first WTA title at Stanford beating Venus Williams on her home turf at the end of July.  

This led to her fourth round exit at Flushing Meadows, which again was a second week exit. Gone are the days now when British players apart from Andy Murray, turn up and leave a Grand Slam within 48 hours. Konta has eyes on making the end of season Tour Finals in Singapore, she did herself a massive favour by reaching the final of the China Open last weekend losing to Agnieszkwa Radwanska in the final. Konta sits in the 8th and final position to reach the payday week another good week in Hong Kong will do her a great help again.

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It is her ambition to keep improving, her desire to be a good role model to younger players and the achievement of getting as far as she does despite her limitations as a smaller frame in comparison to the taller bigger players on tour such as the Williams' sisters, Kerber, Kvitova and Radwanska. These players may be stronger, but the heart Konta has shown to come this far whilst keeping her private life out of the papers and doing it always with a smile on her face speaks volumes.

The award is Sports Personality of 2016, voters should remember that 2016 is not restricted to a two week festival in Rio.  It happens all year and all year Johanna Konta has played at a level beyond our expectation of her, for that she should be rightly lauded and acclaimed.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Amanda Knox

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Following on from the unparalleled success of Making A Murderer, Netflix return with another true crime documentary this time focusing on a highly publicised case instead of a stranger than fiction case as Steven Avery's was.

In November 2007, Amanda Knox a 20 year old American student from the University of Washington was doing a year of study and work in Perugia, Italy. There she was sharing a room with young British introvert Meredith Kercher. On November 2nd, Kercher was brutally murdered by an unknown assailant.  Five days before, Knox had met Raffaele Sollectio at an opera and they started an intense love affair.  Being the room-mate, and being very different from the quieter Kercher; the Italian police force in haste mode with the eyes of the world watching needed to make a quick arrest. Therefore, Knox and Sollectio were arrested and ultimately jailed for the murder of Kercher.

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However, the appeals court found that the DNA evidence given as fact in the trial was not sufficient and after review it was found that the presence of Kercher's DNA on the supposed knife that stabbed her was not collaborative with the belief that this knife killed her.  Errors from the police force and the mistakes forcing testimony from scared and innocent individuals, are themes were as an audience are used to following the goings on in Wisconsin.  Sometimes, if you say something enough times a lie becomes fact in the mind of the meek and weak.

The evidence given to us proves that Knox and Sollectio were innocent of the crime, the refusal to believe their collective alibi that they were together in Raffaele's apartment that night was detrimental to the integrity of the Italian Polizi.

You get a sense that the Perugian authorities were fascinated by the eyes of the world falling on their small city with a sex crime demanding action and results.  This need for results and creation of exposure is evoked by the presence of Nick Pisa, journalist of the Daily Mail at the time of the case.

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Pisa (ironic he has an Italian name) was the right man in the right place to tell the story for his career, but the way Pisa describes how he went about fabricating and fluffing up the piece to make it more a tale of sordid depravity and sex scandal leaves as bad a taste in the mouth as you had when watching the Prosecutor in the case of Steven Avery. The constant use of words such as sex and the creation of 'Foxy Knoxy' is indicative of a journalistic profession now becoming as sordid as the stories they supposedly cover, with moral integrity jettisoned for the front page headline. The old adage is 'sex sells' and Pisa followed this motive to the nth degree reveals an ugly face of tabloid journalism.

Interestingly, the film by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn start off the film making you think Knox was lucky to get away with it, she acts aloof in front of the camera and the establishing shots of her in her home cooking surrounding by her cats are shot like a thriller before becoming a mix of talking heads and archive footage a la Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line.

They may well have had an intention to do something different to normal documentaries, and the poster of her eyes only refers to a line she says, 'You look in my eyes for guilt' but calls back to the films of Hitchcock and the girl in trouble who is more than she appears, but the truth is out and she was found innocent.

All in all, the documentary is restricted by the 90 minute running time when something closer to two hours would have been warranted for a case that gripped the world.