Monday, 28 November 2016

The Missing: Series 2 review

The Missing was a successful television series written by the Williams brothers, Harry and Jack, which first appeared in 2014 starring James Nesbitt as a desperate father looking for his missing son after he disappears in France on a family holiday.  The series showed two parallel timelines between the incident when the boy disappears to the investigation some time later, led by the inquisitive detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo).

The series ended in a somewhat downbeat finale with Nesbitt's character traversing rural Europe still looking for his boy, with many characters broken beyond repair.  Many reviewers thought the series was a stand alone one, with little comeback expected.  Yet the Williams' have returned with a second series, this time however, Baptiste is the focal point of the drama.

Baptiste, is still on the trial of the missing girl Sophie Giroux, and his interest is pricked when a young British girl, Alice Webster, goes missing near to her home at the military camp of Eckhausen, Germany.  When Baptiste begins his investigations in 2014, he is of sound mind and his investigations begins to upset people as more skeletons are let out of the closet.

Again we have a dual narrative as we follow the fall-out of Alice's disappearance in 2014, along with the present day when 'Alice' supposedly returns to her home after escaping captivity.  However, as with most mystery-thrillers nothing is what it seems and the labyrinthe storyline takes the viewer on many twists and turns as Baptiste - who is fighting a brain tumour - becomes a pivotal figure travelling to the Middle East to uncover the truth when a military cover-up may be happening.

In this day and age, the sensitive subject matter of false imprisonment (Josef Fritzel among others) and the unsavoury detail of child sex abuse, the Williams' have taken these topics and used them to great effect to create a story of fear and mystery.

While the thread has been stretched over the eight episodes, we could have perhaps done without the sojourn to the Middle East, nevertheless the acting has been top notch. Karyo brings a rare humility to Baptiste, whose desire to find justice is all conquering even to the detriment of his short-term health.  Keeley Hawes, as Alice's mother, Gemma, continues her purple patch of recent roles bringing a steel to a grieving mother and while David Morrissey's Sam can come across a bit chauvinistic and ignorant, he portrays the rigidness expected of a stubborn man.

The entire ensemble helps elevate the series to your run of the mill whodunit show; from Laura Fraser as the cold Eve Stone, who is pregnant when we first meet her, sleeps with Sam and has to protect her weak with dementia father, Adrian (Roger Allam).  Yet the casting is superb across the board, from Julien's wife, Celia (Anastasia Hille) who share those brilliant intimate moments with Karyo pleading for him to return home to Derek Riddell as Press Liasion officer, Adam Gettrick; the performances are impressive throughout, not to mention the sterling work of the young cast especially Abigail Hardingham in various guises of Alice and Sophie.

Image result for the missing series 2

In a year of great drama on the BBC and the current clamour for true fiction such as 'Making A Murderer' it is great to see an original drama have you gripped from episode one to its conclusion; and even rarer to see a drama's second series be better than the original. The Missing Series 2 is the The Godfather Part 2 of television drams in that sense. That is the highest praise you can give this terrific series.

The Missing (Series 2) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 26th December from Aim Publicity.

Interview with Jason Vuic, author of The Yucks

What was the genesis or beginnings of your research for The Yucks?

Well, I grew up in Florida.  I was born and raised there in a town called Punta Gorda about 100 miles south of Tampa.  I vaguely remember the Bucs run to the 1979 NFC Championship Game, but became a Bucs fan myself when several team members came to my local high school in 1981 or 1982 for a charity basketball game.  That's when I met Doug Williams, the Bucs' quarterback.  He looked like a super hero to me, plus he was an African-American quarterback in a league with no African-American quarterbacks, which even then, as an eight or nine year old, I found fascinating.  So, from then on I was a Bucs fan, even when Williams left the team in 1983 in a contract dispute, and even after the so-called "the Curse of Doug WIlliams," when the Bucs franchise suffered a mind-boggling 14 losing seasons in a row.  Years later I became a writer, and decided for my third book that I wanted to do something on my love affair with what historically has been the losingest franchise in the history of the league. 

Did it feel like a story too good to be true?

Yes, in some respects.  But that's what you look for as a writer...a story that's funny enough and interesting enough and engaging enough to carry the reader through 200 pages.  I also look for stories that defy common tropes.  My focus with The Yucks was on the worst team in NFL history, specifically the 1976 and 1977 Buccaneer teams that lost an all-time record 26 games in a row.  I didn't want to do a worst-to-first story, or a "Bad New Bears" story.  Those are too easy, and to me, boring. I wanted to write about how the Bucs began as a franchise and how and why they suffered through such a horrible losing streak. 

You grew up in the Florida area, do you recall the Yucks when you were younger?
Absolutely.  To us, growing up, Tampa was the big city...a somewhat distant city.  Interstate I-75, the main thorough south from Atlanta to Tampa and on south to Ft. Myers and Naples and across Alligator Alley to Miami, hadn't been finished yet.  We're talking in the early 1980s.  So, as a kid, my father and I would leave the house early in the morning, and drive light to light to light up old US 41, "Tamiami Trail," to attend Buccaneer games.  We'd get there, sit for hours in the roasting sun, watch the Bucs get their asses beat, then return home.  We get back at dark, tired and exhausted but somehow satisfied we'd gone through the effort. 

Have you always been an NFL fan?

Yes, certainly.  I've wavered in recent years, preferring college basketball and football, but NFL football has been America's most popular sport since at least 1970, and as kids we were a party to that.  I imagine its like the Premier League in Europe.  You can ignore it, or you can try to ignore it, but the most popular teams and players are cultural icons.

The stories of McKay thinking his college ideology could translate easily to the NFL still resonates with how illustrious college coaches falter at the professional level like Nick Saban and now Chip Kelly? Why did McKay fail and why does that step up still trip people up?

Well, McKay failed in the short run.  But he was, by 1979, the only coach to take an expansion team to the playoffs in 4 years.  That was the fastest any coach had ever done it.  I would say that McKay's college-like offense was incredibly simplistic, but he proved that with an elite defense and the right personnel, he could ultimately run it.  But, because there was no free agency in the NFL at the that time, it took several years of drafts, of drafting young players from the college ranks, to do it.

As for the jump from college to the pros...It's a different game.  The players are adults, not kids.  They're professionals, and it takes a different sort of finesse to get them to play for you.  The techniques you use to motivate college kids are different from the techniques you use with the pros.  Offenses are far more complex, too, and everyone at every position on every team, is a 1 percenter.  By that I mean...roughly 1% of high school kids play football in college, and just 1% of those make it to the pros. So scouting is fundamentally important.  A good player-personnel director and a good general manager are fundamentally important, too, and college coaches sometimes find it difficult to relinquish control.   

Do you feel failing like Steve Spurrier did at the Bucs drive him to succeed in coaching?

Maybe not specifically due to his one season with the Bucs, but I'd say, after spending his career on the bench in San Francisco, he was certainly unfulfilled.  This was a guy who won the Heisman Award at Florida, the award for the nation's best college player, but then was a backup quarterback for 8 or 9 years with a bad 49ers team.  He then lost every game in 1976 with the Bucs. Maybe coaching was a way to scratch the itch, as they say, or maybe to prove himself to his peers. Who knows?

What was the funniest story you came across?

 My favorite story, or stories, involved the Bucs' first owner, Hugh Culverhouse.  He was, without a doubt, the cheapest owner in the history of professional sports.  A tax attorney by training, Culverhouse was a micro-manager and a bean counter, and learned that he could pocket his portion of the NFL's TV and merchandising revenues while squeezing the team to make money.  For years, the Bucs had the fewest employees and the smallest headquarters in the league.  He'd trade away costly first-round draft picks for older, cheaper veterans, and he scrimped on team expenses in a variety of ways.  The team's airplane, for example, was leased not from American or United, but from McCullogh Chainsaws.  Once, when a player separated his shoulder in a game and trainers had to cut off his jersey to treat him, Culverhouse billed him for it. He billed roommates 38 cents each for a 75 cent phone call. There was a Coke machine in the locker room that charged players for Cokes. He was so cheap, in fact, that he gave each team employee one season ticket, because he knew that no one went to a pro football game alone.

Was there anything you could not print?

There were a few funny stories which were off the record. I wish I could tell you them but I can't.  I've promised not to.

-Have you been pleased by the response of the book?

The response has been great. I've done 20 or so radio and TV interviews, and a Florida book tour, and recently did Only a Game on NPR.  Sports Illustrated also did a snippet on the book as did the Christian Science Monitor. It's been a good run.

I notice you are not on Twitter, is that deliberate?

Yes, I'm kind of a Luddite when it comes to new media. I also didn't want to get into a tit for tat with current Buccaneer fans who didn't know where I was coming from. I love the Bucs, and this book was my way of coming to terms with their difficult history and origins.

I'm thinking about a true crime story though I plan to return to sports someday to do a book on the coming of the three-point line and the shot clock to college basketball. Those two things really did change the game.  Who knows? Maybe I'll do a second Yucks book someday, something like the "The Curse of Doug Williams," about the terrible teams of the 1980s.

The Yucks is out now from Simon & Schuster in Hardback available from all good book retailers.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Interview with Roland Lazenby, Author of 'Showboat'

       Why Kobe Bryant?
He was a player I first became interested in years ago, in 1996 while writing about Jordan. I decided to take a look at the new generation of players coming into the league to see which ones might inherit the mantle. He wasn’t a prime player as a rookie, but he stood out because of his immense work ethic. After I finished Michael Jordan, The Life, I began looking for another subject to write about. Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball kingmaker, suggested Bryant. “He’s the most complicated guy in the NBA,” Vaccaro said. He was right.

      How long did the book take to write?
      The publisher wanted me to write it in 10 months. I finished it in 14, writing seven days a week, 10-14 hours a day. It was quite a grind, but his story was fascinating to me.

      Bryant transcends his sport yet he seems an introvert personality. Was it hard to get people to talk about him?
      Yes, some people were fearful of upsetting him, just as some media personalities have admitted being fearful of having me on their shows because they don’t want to anger him. It’s an independent look, a biography, which can be difficult for huge stars. They all like to control their narrative, but Kobe really wants to control his narrative.

      Did your opinion of Bryant change as you wrote the book and got to the end?
      It varied depending on what part of the book I was writing. I wrote a book about his adjustment to the NBA in 1999, called Mad Game, The NBA Education of Kobe Bryant, when he was 19 to 21. I thought I understood him. I had no idea.

      Do you feel the criticism that Bryant did not play well with others (O'Neal in particular) ring true?
      In the book, I lay out the criticisms over that. Jordan caught the same flak. It’s a function of their skill, their talent, their personalities, their alpha competitive natures.

      Where does he sit in your list of all-time great NBA players?
      I don’t make lists of all time greats. I’m just a writer. I let those guys settle it on the court. Kobe is 3 on the all-time scoring list. As he says, that puts him in the conversation. It’s hard to claim superiority over guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson (in no certain order).

Image result for showboat roland lazenby

      What is the most impressive feat of his career? - 5 titles, the 81 game, the longevity of his career?
      Well, you’re supposed to play the game to win. I’ll take championships every time, especially five of them.
      Will he succeed if he ran a team? Will he be better than Jordan did?
      I admire Jordan as an owner. He took Charlotte, the Chernobyl of the NBA, and has revitalized that miserable franchise. Kobe’s a bright man, so he could certainly be an owner. He’s a bit aloof at times, but the people who work for his media companies seem to enjoy him. It would be a new gig, so I think we have to withhold judgment and see if that’s where he goes.
      What is the state of the NBA right now?
      The NBA is a young league, and the game has gone to a new style. Some of it, the Warriors, is beautiful. But the pace and space style of today’s game also makes for some ugly teams. You just have to wait and see if post play makes a recovery in the game. Whatever happens, it’s going to take time.

Will we ever see another Kobe Bean Bryant?
Not in today’s game. It has changed. Kobe and Michael were very effective post players as guards. But the game is a jump-shooting game these days, make or miss. And fans deride the triangle offense as something from the past. One of the earliest offenses was screen and roll but people act like it’s a new invention.

Showboat is out now from Little Brown and Company now for £19.95 RRP, although the kindle edition is better with more pages.

Thursday, 24 November 2016


Hot on the heels of a great word of mouth throughout the festival circuit this year, Jim Jarmusch's most accessible film in ages appears in the UK release by Soda Pictures on Friday 25th November.

Paterson stars Adam Driver as the eponymous main protagonist who lives in a city of the same name in New Jersey. Paterson is a bus driver who lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their English bulldog, Marvin.

Paterson is a city rich in cultural history of America, it is where Lou Costello (of Abbott and Costello lore) was born and their are near neighbours such as Iggy Pop (long time friend of Jarmusch) and renowned poets William Carlos Williams. Paterson, himself, is a would be poet and on his bus journeys throughout the day he listens to passengers and during his lunch break he sits at the famous Passaic Falls.

Using a trope familiar from those who have seen Amy (Asif Kapadia), we see what Paterson writes as he puts it to page. The use of Driver's bass voiceover is effectively used as he recites it as if he is reading, when it is fully formed we hear a more confident rendition.  The poems featured are by real-life Ron Padgett, who swam in circles along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Paterson is a unique soul in a small city - he is observant taking in the landscape as he walks from the bus factory to home, as many creative souls he listens to what is around him and not afraid to have conversations. Paterson does not have a mobile phone, he feels it is would be a leash and a burden on his creative freedom.

Critics may well say that Paterson yearns for a by-gone era of creativity, however, Jarmusch is making a comment on the power of individuality and freedom. Paterson was in the army so he has spent a portion of his adult life being ordered what to do, wanting that freedom to do what he wants to do is supported by his girlfriend, Laura.

Laura, herself, is a creative soul one who wants to be a country singer, can cook amazing cupcakes and has an eye for interior design.  Their relationship is one of immense support and companionship, they praise each other and are there for each other.  Critics again, might point at Laura as a manifestation of the post WW2 perfect housewife - cooks, house proud, domestic - which is not exactly an advancement of feminism in this the 21st century.

Yet perhaps in this difficult time in the country's history with a tumultuous political landscape and race relations; Jarmusch has created a film that is part time capsule and can show America how life can be without the advancement of technology, Paterson (the city) itself seems a bit out of time or frozen with the necessity of bus travel, black and white cinema and a bar without television; yet there is an idealised depiction of community with comfortable race relations, something for America to currently aspire to itself, and that something marvellous can grow out of the unlikeliest environments.

Whilst the film is a meditation piece it nevertheless does hold your attention and features from Driver, a quite charming and soulful performance of an individual with a burning desire to write and be loved whilst given equal love in return.

Paterson is in selected cinemas from Soda Pictures on Friday 25th November.

Monday, 21 November 2016

In praise of...Star Wars Minute

Star Wars Minute

In recent years, podcasting has become the go to for further analysis and insightful discussion about all manner of topics. For this reviewer it is a go to for all NFL, football, current media and arts. From Bill Simmons to The Guardian via Colin Cowherd, these podcasts give great information and keep abreast of all goings on. Whilst it may make the listener feel like they are being spoken to, the garnering of information from various source makes you a more nuanced and knowledgable consumer.

And when on social media you become aware of other podcasts and products of discussion which led me to becoming aware of the Star Wars minute podcast. A podcast by Alex Robinson and Peter the Retailer, two self confessed Star Wars nerds who took on the impossible task of analysing, scrutinizing and celebrating every Star Wars film one minute at a time.

Image result for star wars minute images

That means every minute, including credits of each of the now seven films.  They started with Episode IV - A New Hope and have gone in chronological order of production. When I first encountered them they were thirty minutes into The Phantom Menace, so I had some catching up to do. Nearly a year into listening to them I have listened to all of Phantom Menace and Jedi, I am an hour into Empire with Attack of the Clones just started.

My praise for the podcast is that it is consistently witty and funny; its constant poo-pooing of the idea of the force as being categorised by midichlorians, Obi-Wan Kenobi being a complete liar throughout the films, the long con of Senator Palpatine and Yoda having a Grover moment, after all he is a Muppet.  Even to the point that Jar-Jar Binks is not the worst thing about The Phantom Menace

It utilises the guests - look forward to the episodes of Chris Radtke - to great effect and the ambition of the idea has clearly come to fruition as they are now the godfathers of minute-by-minute podcasting.

There influence can now be seen by the number of films being dissected in this manner from Back to the Future to Alien cycle to Ghostbusters. They have created a market that cinephiles, geeks and nerds all together can celebrate their favourite films. 

Image result for star wars minute images

What comes across most in each pod is the reach of cultural knowledge that the two presenters have, using all that hidden away vaults of past television programming, obscure films and catchphrases to good use when talking about Yoda's bulging eyes when Luke Skywalker attempts to lift the X-Wing out of the swampy waters, they reference Don Knotts from Three's Company and Marty Feldman of the 1970s. It shows how influential televisual culture was on children born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and how important those programmes were as avatars of parenting and moulding of children.

The podcast is growing more and more, they have just begun Attack of the Clones as I mentioned and while I look forward to them dissecting the worst episode of the Star Wars cycle there promises more to come with Revenge of the Sith this time next year and eventually The Force Awakens in 2018.

You can support Star Wars Minute via Patreon, where you can access bonus episodes and help keep the website going. And follow them on Twitter @StarWarsMinute

There is a great community of Star Wars fans who went quiet before the second trilogy appeared in 1999 and since has got stronger. With Disney buying out George Lucas and now owning the franchise, the forthcoming origin films of Han Solo, Lando and Boba Fett promise that the community will only get bigger and this sharing of affection and love of the film will keep getting stronger.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Striker or Forward?

I have a question, I need to ask somebody. What is the difference between a striker and a forward, a centre forward by its greater catergorisation?

  1. 2.
    the player who is to strike the ball in a game; a player considered in terms of ability to strike the ball.
    "a gifted striker of the ball"

  1. 1.
    in the direction that one is facing or travelling; towards the front.
    "he started up the engine and the car moved forward"
    synonyms:ahead, forwards, onwards, onwardonfurther
    "the traffic moved slowly forward"
  1. 1.
    directed or facing towards the front or the direction that one is facing or travelling.
    "forward flight"

  1. 1.
    an attacking player in football, hockey, or other sports.

These are the Oxford English dictionary definitions of the two terms. Football throughout its history is defined by the goals scored and the players who score them. Goalscorers are widely lauded and more fondly remembered in the annals of football; the Ballon d'Or (FIFA World Player of the Year) has been won by defenders and goalkeepers on only three occasions (Yashin, Sammer, Cannavaro).

The reason I want to ask this question is because of the way pundits and commentators refer to them during a game and in analysis. How would you describe someone like Diego Costa? Is he the same sort of player as Harry Kane? How would you differ between the categorisation of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

This writer is hopeful that there is a way of distinguishing between the two based on the role in certain formations and the tactics employed by various managers throughout the years.  For instance, I would categorise Ronaldo as a striker, one who is able to strike the ball well and scores goals. Messi therefore would be construed as a forward, he plays in the direction of the goal and is an attacking player; because he receives the ball some distance from the opponents goal and he travels towards it. Ronaldo, meanwhile, strikes the ball when he is near the goal making his late runs into the box and awaiting assists from his team-mates.

This is not an essay to say which one of those two amazing individuals is better than the other, that debate has gone on for far too long and they both are worthy of the praise they constantly receive with their place assured in the historical annals of the game.

My query is more so on how the positioning of these forward players is slowly changing as tactical mindsets alter in an ever changing football climate.

To go back to my earlier examples, Diego Costa by my definition would be a forward in both the current definition of an attacking player but also the forward in the mindset of British football as that strong individual who would lead the line up front, hold the ball up so supporting runners can join in the attack, distribute the ball to flying wingers much in the same vein as an Alan Shearer did do.

Harry Kane, meanwhile, is a striker in the vein that he is able of striking the ball well but fundamentally scores goals at a good conversion rate, able to score all manner of goals in differing varieties such as headers, curling shots, powerful drives much like Gary Lineker did or his current contemporary Sergio Aguero can.

By my reckoning, a striker is the one who scores goals regularly and a forward is the number 9 who assists the number 10 in scoring more than him.  Think of Mike Newell/Chris Sutton assisting Shearer at Blackburn or Peter Beardsley assisting Andy Cole at Newcastle United; all three players scored their fair few of goals but less than the striker.

A better example is probably the forward Niall Quinn playing in tandem with Kevin Phillips during his phenomenal 30 goal season in the 1999-2000 season, Quinn had 14 goals himself. That was the end of a three year partnership where Phillips scored 82 goals in 105 games, a ratio of 0.78 per game. That is a rate up there with the best of current prolific forwards such as Aguero and Kane.

So can we distinguish between a forward and striker so easily based on the number of goals they score, when you have the battle between Messi and Ronaldo going on and on, goal for goal? It may never be a clear distinction between the two but perhaps it is open for a longer and more thorough examination.