Friday, December 08, 2006

The Phoney War on Christmas

I get really irritated whenever people come up to me saying that "so and so has banned Christmas" and go on to cite a sensationalist headline in either the Daily Mail or Daily Express (when they aren't harping on about Princess Diana, that is!).

This year has seen papers like The Sun join the media backlash against the conspiracy to destroy our long-time traditions.

I've always known that most of these stories are bullshit. So here's an article that looks a little deeper into the claims by the right wing press that Christmas is being obliterated by political correctness gone mad.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Up until about a year ago Zach Helm was pretty much a nobody in the film and TV world. He'd done a little bit of acting and writing for TV, but nothing that had ever stood out. Fast forward a few months and suddenly he's sitting on the hottest script in years, and is wanted by pretty much every major studio in the states.

Stranger Than Fiction is the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a dull IRS agent with routines for every mundane task. When Harold starts hearing a voice in his head, narrating his every move, he is forced to face up to his own mortality.

While a lot has been written about the quality of Helm's screenplay, this movie could easily have been ruined, and I certainly raised an eyebrow at the thought of seeing Ferrell in the lead role. He seems to be following the Jim Carey school of acting careers. After run of out and out comedies that fans are destined to either love or hate with the fire of a thousand suns Ferrell is trying to illustrate that their is more to him than just slapstick.

Does he succeed? Yes. Stranger Than Fiction is Will Ferrells Truman Show. It's sharp, witty and poignant, while the casting is simply perfect. Emma Thompson pretty much steals the movie away from Ferrell at every opportunity as the neurotic, chain smoking author with an unhealthy obsession for death. Dustin Hoffman meanwhile is wonderful, although that's no surprise. Even in the highly over-rated I Heart Huckerbies he is the one shining light. Meanwhile, Maggie Gyllenhaal steps out from her little brothers shadow as the tax-dodger who catches Harold Cricks eye.

Some might find the direction the movie takes in the final third a little tough after the fun and frolics before it, but other than that I found it hard to fault. Well written, well directed and superbly acted, Stranger Than Fiction has just forced it's way into the best movies of the year list, and it's been a pretty strong year already.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bush: "We took a thumping"

The phrase "No shit Sherlock" came to mind when Bush did his first of several post-election speeches yesterday. Rumsfeld's resignation coupled with the loss of the House and the Senate to the Democrats had clearly left the current admistration in a total mess.

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats will now choose to work towards making the US and the rest of the World a better place, or rather, sensing blood, they go after Bush by launching inquiry after inquiry into the admistrations handling of the 'first war of the 21st century'.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BSG Catchup: Season 2

I seemed to have stopped writing reviews about BSG, so I thought it was time for a cathup.

Season 2 is certainly a tale of two halves. While the first half is almost entirely self-contained within a single story arc, the second half has far more standalone eps which seem very much focused on delving deep into the character relationships with one another.

Resurrection Ship pts 1 & 2

In order to take on a Cylon fleet, Adama and Cain form an uneasy truce. However as the eve of battle approaches, more revelations about the brutal nature of Cains command surface and Adama is forced to make an impossible decision.

This is a fantastic two part conclusion to the cliff-hanger 'Pegasus'. The tension is palbable and for the first time in the shows run we get to see the Galactica (and Pegasus) take on a couple of Base Stars. The second part sow the seeds for a number of key elements of the shows future, including the emergence of a 'Gina', a number 6 model cylon, befriended by Baltar.

It's a very strong two-parter and while the conclusion and Cains ultimate fate are somewhat unoriginal it's wonderful to see the rag tag fleet go on the offensive for a change.

Resurrection Ship: 8/10


Cancer-stricken President Laura Roslin lies near death in the Galactica's sickbay. Still lucid and in command, she orders that the pregnancy of the Cylon spy Sharon be terminated, after inexplicable properties are discovered in a fetal blood sample.

After the excitement of the previous few episodes it's back to politics for all concerned. With Roslin seemingly hours from death the concept of Baltar becoming President nears reality. We have been told for a long time that the baby Sharon is carrying is 'special' and the first inklings of this become clear here. Sadly, the episode is let down by a very rushed conclusion that feels too much like a kop-out.

There are some interesting revelations, such as Baltar finally accepting that he has lost the trust of those around him and as result setting in motion a chain of events that will have lasting consequences for the fleet. However, on the whole it is a mixed bag ep.

Epiphanies: 6/10

Black Market

When Pegasus's commanding officer, Commander Jack Fisk, is found brutally murdered in his private quarters surrounded by a cache of cigarettes, liquor and jewelry, Lt. Lee Adama is appointed chief investigator.

Since his near death experience in 'Resurrection Ship' Apollo is a much changed character. He is detached and seemingly losing his way. While this episode offers more of an insight into the running of the fleet and sees Roslins and Baltars relationship descend even further, it is very much a standalone character ep for Apollo. While the conclusion offers Apollo a deeper understanding of human nature and it's survival instinct I was left with the impression that there was no easy fix for this man living in his fathers shadow.

Black Market: 7/10


The Viper pilots' deadliest foe is an enemy Raider that they've nicknamed "Scar" — the combat-savvy reincarnation of countless Cylon warriors that boasts a growing list of human kills. Hiding out in the asteroid belt, Scar is a master of hit-and-run attacks that are decimating the war-weary Viper squadrons and forcing them to throw inexperienced replacement pilots into the fray.

After the Apollo ep we now get a Starbuck ep. Her character is also much changed since her visit to Caprica. He longing to return to Anders and her depression at everything around her seems to push her further and further towards self-destruction. Here we see her competing against Katt to be the one to kill Scar. Unfortunately, the ep suffers from too much Top Gun style bravado that just doesn't seem to fit. The direction the writers have taken Starbuck is certainly interesting, but all to often does this ep get bogged down in too much cheese.

Scar: 5/10


Fleet-wide paranoia reaches a new peak when word leaks out that the Cylon Sharon is secretly being kept alive aboard the Galactica. Sesha Abinell, a civilian who is grieving her husband's tragic death during a Cylon raid several weeks earlier, takes the occupants of a bar on Cloud Nine hostage, including Apollo, Helen Tigh, Billy and Dualla.

Lots of soul searching here as Adama is forced to weigh the value of keeping Sharon alive in a holding cell. We also get to see a continuation of Starbucks reckless attitude to life as she completely botches an attempted rescue; an attempt that leaves Apollo in critical condition. Adamas eventual desperation may win the day, but it comes at terrible price.

After the disappointment of 'Scar' things are much improved. One of the things I like most about this show is that the characters are changing in ways that, may not be nice to see but, are very realistic when you consider the lives they now lead. Away from work, these people may try to have lives, but how can they when everything is a constant reminder of what they've lost? 'Sacrifice' is poignant and tragic, if a little contrived towards the end.

Sacrifice: 7.5/10

The Captain's Hand

A 17 year old pregnant girl arrives on board Galactica requesting an abortion, raising the question of whether abortion should be allowed in a dwindling society were every life counts. Meanwhile onboard Pegasus, the command abilities of newly promoted Commander Garner are called into question by his interim XO, Lee Adama.

Scifi has always been a great genre for debating common moral issues and while in many ways the story onboard the Pegasus is the A-plot in this episode, it is the political side of the abortion debate that has the most weight. Roslin is no stranger to controversy, but her decision to outlaw abortion on grounds that she must do what is best for their society is strong stuff. It gives Baltar a platform to launch his own bid for the Presidency and leaves everyone questioning what should come first; the rights of the individual, or the rights of the society.

The main plot onboard Pegasus is only mildly interesting, in that it illustrates how messed up things must have been following the demise of Admiral Cain. The strain on Starbucks and Apollos relationship is obviously reaching breaking point, a sub plot that has been good to watch in recent eps. The eventual demise of Commander Garner meanwhile is not at all unexpected. What is interesting is Admiral Adamas decision over who should replace him.

The Captain's Hand: 7/10


On Caprica, the reincarnated Number Six and Sharon Valerii are hailed as "Heroes of the Cylon" for the key roles they played in the near-destruction of the human race.

Finally, after nearly two seasons we get a real insight into Cylon society. This is a superb episode that clearly shows how the humanoid cylons are becoming closer to their human enemies than they ever imagined. Both Sharon and Number Six are haunted by their memories posing as humans and their role in the near destruction of mankind. The whole episode leads to the question of, are the humanoid cylons more human than cylon now?

Meanwhile on Galactica, Sharon gives birth prematurely leaving Roslin with a dilemma over what to do with the newborn baby, Hera.

This is a very strong episode, one of the best of the season, and is clearly laying down the foundations of a possible Cylon civil war. It seems a long time ago now that the cylons were just viewed as tin cans!

Downloaded: 9/10

Lay Down Your Burdens pts 1 & 2

As Roslin and Baltar go head to head in debates prior to the Presidential election, a daring rescue mission is launched to get Anders and the other members of the resistance off Caprica. Despite trailing heavily in the polls Baltar is given a lifeline by the discovery of a planet hidden inside a cloud that could offer the humans a new and safe home.

Another really strong finish to a season of Galactica and yet again we are treated to an almighty twist. The rescue mission on Caprica is very much a side issue as the politics take complete centre stage. Facing the possibility of defeat and believing so clearly that Baltar was somehow involved in the original Cylon attack, Roslin faces up to the possibility that rigging an election may be worth it in the long run.

There are so many things going on in this two parter that it can be hard to keep up. From the discovery of a new planet, dubbed New Caprica, to the uncovering of another Cylon agent. The eventual conclusion was so unexpected that it threw me completely and had people debating it online for months after it's airing. The final 10 minutes were a bold move by the writers of the show and it will be very interesting to see how they can follow this up.

Lay Down Your Burdens: 9/10

In summary, I'd say the second half of season 2 was not as strong as the first half. Too often did the writers rely on the "10 hours earlier" style of storytelling, while some of the plots (in particular Scar and Epiphanies) seemed too contrived. However, the season ended in fantastic style and left me desperate to see more.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Saddam Hussein

Well that wasn't at all surprising was it? Saddam has been sentenced to death for crimes against humanity, along with 2 other senior members of the former Iraqi Presidents regime. Throughout Iraq there have been a mixture of celebrations and rioting. As a result Baghdad is now under a strict curfew until the government can gauge exactly how this news is going to sink in with the people.

The eagerness of the US and Iraqi governments to push for this trial has made it look like a show. The timing of the sentence, coming only days before the US mid term elections (in which the Republican party are expecting to take heavy losses) seems just too perfect for Bush. Or maybe I'm just being cynical.

The sad thing is that this news is almost a non-event. In the grand scheme of things Iraq is already in civil war and this sentence is not going to change that. Husseins execution will not bring some miracle to the land, nor will it ease the pain of a nation in suffering. His execution is more likely to turn him into a martyr for many of the insurgents already in control of vast swathes of the country.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The end is near...

With the political tide now turning against the occupation of Iraq, it seems only a matter of time before troops are withdrawn. Once senior politicians and advisors in the White House start talking of comparisons to Vietnam and of 'losing the battle for Baghdad' you know that it means it's over.

I read the other day that military advisors were considering a whole host of options, including moving US troops out of Iraq and carrying out long range strikes at insurgent strong-holds. This would be a clear sign of failure and amount to a retreat on the scale of that in Vietnam. One of the more ironic options being thrown around at the Pentagon involves asking Iran and Syria (amongst other nations in the region) to assist with shoring up support for the Shi'ite leadership. This one must be a red herring, as the pure notion of the Americans going 'cap in hand' to the Iranian and Syrian leaderships asking for help with Iraq would be the ultimate humiliation for them.

The sad case now, is that stay or go, Iraq will stay in turmoil. Bush and his allies have turned Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists. They have given Al Qaeda a reason to exist and a place from which to grow. Ironically, Saddam Hussein always banned Al Qaeda from entering his country prior to his removal. It would seem that Bin Laden and Hussein were exceedingly hostile towards one another.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iraq again...

We hate to say 'we told you so', but the situation in Iraq is now beyond saving. With over 650,000 Iraqis dead (that's more than Saddam killed in 20 years), 3000 coalition forces dead and major swathes of the country no-go areas for either US/UK or Iraqi security forces, it seems that only 2 men in the whole World feel that a change of strategy is not necessary. It just so happens that the two men in question are Bush and Blair.

The sad thing now is that the damage is done. Stay or go, Iraq will remain a mess. And don't get me started on Afghanistan.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Children of Men

Every once in a while a movie comes along that has avoided the media hype machine and thus is a bit of a mystery when you finally go to see it. While I'd seen the trailer to Children of Men, which was half depressing dystopia and half happy 'ray of hope' style mercy mission, I still didn't really know what to expect.

Set in 2027, the World order has collapsed due to women becoming infertile some 20 years before. Only Britain retains some semblence of order, through its totalitarian governments use of brute force to keep the population in check. Foreigners are scum and to harbour one is illegal. Immigrants fleeing persecution abroad are thrown into disease infested refugee camps.

Kidnapped by a terrorist group called The Fishes, Theo (Clive Owen) finds himself face to face with his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). The Fishes demand equal rights for foreigners and have hidden a young pregnant girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey); the first known pregnancy in nearly 20 years. What follows is a gripping and poignant drama as Theo struggles to get Kee out of Britain to 'The Human Project', a safe haven in the Azores.

The film is shot in various styles, but what really stands out is the raw intensity during many of the scenes. From the panic-driven set-piece involving a car being chased down by terrorists, to the sheer brutality of the final chapter in the refugee camp of Bexton Hill, this is a masterpiece. Indeed the final chapter seems designed to be a not too subtle pointer to the current situation in certain war-torn lands in the Middle East.

With some superb co-starring performances from Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor (of Serenity fame), this is a movie that never fails to disappoint. It is crammed full of research and it is clear that the makers have gone to incredible trouble to make every set authentic. In a scene were the set is walled with windows covered in old newspapers, everyone tells a different story of this fall of humanity, even including the sports pages (look for 'FA Cup Cancelled' as a headline!). The refugee camp is a massive complex of burnt out buildings reminiscent of the ones we have seen so many times in Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia et al.

Touching yet brutal, funny yet depressing, Children of Men is a must-see movie. Easily one of the best of 2006.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Departed

Is it a remake? Is it a re-imagining? Is it a totally separate movie in it's own right? I'm still not entirely sure.

4 years after the stunning Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs breathed cool back into cop movies, Martin Scorcese's US version has arrived. And I'm left in a quandary over how to review it.

It's impossible to take a serious look at The Departed without comparing it to Infernal Affairs. The scripts are very similar; many of the key plot points are the same; most of the characters follow the same path. And after seeing both I can honestly say that Infernal Affairs is by far the better movie.


Compare The Departed with other Scorcese movies, like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas and it more than holds it's own. Despite it's origins being in the Far East I still left the cinema feeling that I'd seen a tense, dark and gritty commentary on Irish-Americana. When viewed in this way, The Departed shares little in common with Infernal Affairs. This new movie has as much to do with the ethnically driven tribal warfare going on in South Boston than it does about tracking down moles in the police and mafia. Indeed, the director spends considerable time looking at the backgrounds of not only the two moles but also the gangland boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

I had been worried about which version of Nicholson we would see on screen, but I wasn't disappointed. It's a great performance, the kind that Nicholson excels at (Nicholson playing a darker version of Nicholson). It isn't OTT, it's just plain nasty.

I was equally worried about seeing two of Hollywoods pretty boys (Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio) playing the two moles. However, I again couldn't fault either of them. While Damon didn't exactly set the world on fire, his performance took a different slant to that of Andy Laus character in Infernal Affairs. Colin Sullivan (Damon) is much more of a weasel than Lau. It's less subtle, but it fits with the style of the film.

DiCaprio, meanwhile, proves that he seems to have put the spoilt kid from the days of Titanic and The Beach behind him. Like Robert De Niro before him DiCaprio has become a mainstay of Scorcese's films. While clearly outshone in Gangs of New York by Daniel Day Lewis, his performance in The Aviator was a tour de force. Now in The Departed, he puts in another strong performance as the violent, tortured soul, used by the Police, to bring down Costello.

Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin both deserve mention; playing new characters not seen in Infernal. Martin Sheen, meanwhile, puts in a subtle, but poignant performance as Costigans (DiCaprio) Captain, and main contact in the police.

Now onto the bad. The Departed suffers from that classic Hollywood need to notch up the love interest factor. While in Infernal Affairs Tony Leung is forced into seeing a psychologist, only a platonic relationship (with hints of more) develops. In The Departed, Costigan is forced to see Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a cop psychologist who is also girlfriend to Sullivan. A needless love triangle ensues which adds nothing to the movie and for me lessened the impact of the main story.

Similarly, while I enjoyed the character of Dignam (Wahlberg), his addition seems only to serve the directors desire to change the ending. Oh yes, Scorcese changed the ending. You can see it coming, but even when it does it feels tacked on and rushed. I can see why Scorcese made this decision, it fits with the style of the film. But I'm still not sure whether I like it.

So in summary, I'd definitely recommend seeing it. It's dark, violent and harsh. If you compare it to Infernal Affairs (and you will!), you may be disappointed, particularly with some of the changes. However, if you can view this film as a different beast, one that highlights the ethnic divisions and violence throughout South Boston you may find yourself saying it's his best work since Goodfellas.

"The call that a paradox" - Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

North Korea to carry out nuke test

North Korea's foreign ministry has announced that the country is to carry out a nuclear test in the near future, in an effort to counter what they call US military hostility.

I know this news is hardly surprising, as it only confirms what we all expected, but it does show how a nation can suitably avoid being invaded by the US... just get the bomb and they won't come near ;-)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

War on Terror: The Game!

I think this will undoubtedly be on my christmas list ;-)

It's got suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war. It's got filthy propaganda, rampant paranoia and secret treaties ... and the Axis of Evil is a spinner in the middle of the board. You can fight terrorism, you can fund terrorism, you can even be the terrorists. The only thing that matters is global domination - err, liberation.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Loose Change

5 years on from the tragedy of 9/11 and there are increasing numbers of people looking for answers. Dylan Avery, hadn't planned on becoming a documentary film maker, but his fictional film about 9/11 soon became the real deal after his research un-earthed some uncomfortable questions. Questions that no-one in the US administration is willing to answer.

I recommend that everyone takes time to watch the film, Loose Change. While I find some elements of the movie to be lacking in hard physical evidence, it is, on the whole, well researched.

Avery is currently working on a 3rd edition of the film for a planned cinematic release. Also, several international news networks are planning to show Loose Change today.

This isn't about conspiracy theories, it's about truth. Loose Change encourages people to ask questions and demand answers. Only through transparent governance can we trust those who lead us.

5 years on

What can be said that hasn't already been said by most of the newspapers? Five years after the devastating attacks on New York and Washington DC, the World has become a far more dangerous place. Some points from a one who lost the faith a long time ago.

  • Iraq - once ruled by a tyrant but free from Al Qaeda is now teeming with terrorists and hard-line religious fanatics who want nothing more than to make Iraq an Islamic state. Ironically, there were actually churches and synogogues in Iraq prior to 2003, I wonder if they will exist in the future?

  • Afghanistan - for a couple of years was the poster nation for successful US pre-emptive doctrine. A nation in which the Taleban had been swept aside and democracy had been introduced. Now, it is a disaster. Rather than finishing off the Taleban, the US and it's allies left too few troops to patrol this vast country while their leaders went off on the crusade to oust Saddam. The result? The Taleban have re-grouped, they are inflicting heavy casualties on NATO forces now led by the British. They are resourceful, know the terrain, and most importantly, have beaten off the might of one super power already (the Soviets in the 1980s).

  • Al Qaeda - Constantly painted in the media as a James Bond style villain, with masses of resources and a mastermind of a leader in Osama Bin Laden. Yet where is Bin Laden? Bush himself pulled resources out of capturing the most wanted man on the planet. Al Qaeda, meanwhile seem stronger than ever before. Like the Taleban they are en-trenched. They have a strong foot-hold in Iraq and are not really threatened by other nations in the region.

  • Security - While our nation (amongst others) has spent countless resources on trying to improve security within our borders we find ourselves feeling more at risk. Whilst it's debatable how many 'home-grown' terrorists there are it is clear that no real resources have been spent on trying to battle the ideology at the source. Killing a terrorist only breeds more terrorists. Stopping someone from wanting to become a terrorist, by engaging with an impressionable youth and making un-biased, logical foreign policy decisions is the only way to combat an under-current of hate.

  • Foreign policy - A real leader accepts his mistakes. I remember a time long before 9/11 when Tony Blair was going from country to country apologising for Britains past sins; the sins of Empire. However, Tony has learned quickly that it's easy to apologise for mistakes made by leaders years before he was born. The hard bit is learning from them. Military commanders knew Iraq was a quagmire, they had learned this from a history of occupying nations. Military intelligence warned that the Taleban were not destroyed and could not be contained with limited resources. Yet Tony Blair and his allies both home and abroad have continued to make mistake after mistake. Our nonchalant support for Israel in it's recent attacks on Lebanon have hardened our enemies resolve against us. Such foreign policy decisions do not make Britain safer. They make us a target. Foreign policy must be un-biased. Hezbollah must be disarmed. But by the same token, Israel should be forced to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If they don't sign it they should face sanctions. That is what other nations that have breached such treaties have faced (see Pakistan, until recently). Similarly, all nations (including Israel) should be forced to meet the expectations of UN resolutions. Failure to do so results in accusations of bias and leads to the growth of terrorism around the globe.

  • The UN - Of course, without power to back up it's resolutions the UN is nothing more than a members only club, formed by the winners of World War 2 and thus biased in their favour. Central to the problems within the UN is the infamous UN security council and it's 5 permanent members (US, China, Russia, Britain and France). These states are the only nations to hold a resolution blocking veto. Why, in this modern era should any nation require a veto? These five nations cannot view themselves as overseers. The UN is a collective of 192 nations, surely a democracy would see them all have an adequate say? No nation should hold a veto. It is un-democratic and open to abuse (as the Soviets where constantly guilty of pre-1970 and the US have been guilty of ever since). No nation can be above the law.

Of course, I don't think anything here is new to people. One thing I am certain of, things are only going to get worse before they get better.

My thought are with the 3000 or so people who died on September 11th 2001 and the subsequent 80,000 innocent lives that have been taken in the name of the war on terror.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mosquito & Stargates big 200

Superb parody of Joss Whedons Firefly.

Oh how I laughed.

In a sort of semi-related subject, am not really a fan of the Stargate shows, but Holly watches them. Anyway, the show recently hit 200 episodes and to mark the occasion they did a genius ep in which the characters are asked to provide information to a film-maker making a movie about the Stargate. It's a follow-up to the 100th episode which saw the stargates secret world being shot as a fictional TV show. The result was so ludicrous it helped to maintain the secrecy even longer.

Anyway, the 200th episode sees the cast sending up numerous sci-fi shows, including their own, in an effort to come up with a worthwhile script for the movie. Top line:

Jackson: "Who makes a movie out of a series that only lasted 3 episodes?"
Teal'c: "It allegedly performed well on DVD"

Oh how I laughed. Again.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who mourns for Pluto?

In a week in which councils of men and mice sat to discuss such issues as peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and the future of multi-culturalism in the UK, it was the meeting of the IAU in Prague that has perhaps caused the most consternation. The outcome of the meeting will have more lasting repurcussions (especially for school text book authors) than any event since the birth of Elvis.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Inspirational Posters

Classic Star Trek take on those god-awful inspirational posters you see in offices these days.

Visit the link above to see the entire catalogue. Some of the best examples are below :-)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Israel vs Hezbollah: A prelude to an attack on Iran??

Interesting article claiming that the US government was aware of Israeli plans to bombard Lebanon long before the capture of two Israeli soldiers, which sparked the current conflict.

The story has been broken by the veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, reknowned for exposing the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal as well as the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war.

It is claimed that an assault on Hezbollah was a pretext to a US pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Such an attack would surely have brought retribution to the United States closest ally in the region, Israel. Thus by pounding Hezbollah Israel was ensuring that at least one of it's enemies was in no fit state to cause it too much trouble. This now seems unlikely given that Hezbollah has proven that, despite 4 weeks of sustained bombing, they are still capable of launching over 200 rockets a day into Israel.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Miami Vice

The trailer to Miami Vice was sharp, intense and very stylish. It reminded me of the original show only with a more modern setting. Sadly the movie itself only manages to be stylish. So stylish in fact, that it is completely lacking in credibility and plot.

It's a really sad fall for Michael Mann, the director who gave us such classics as Last of the Mohicans, Heat and The Insider. It isn't that Miami Vice is badly shot, produced or scripted. The problem lies in that we've been down this very same road before with undercover cop movies.

The opening 15 minutes are decent. No opening credits, no long-winded setup of the characters. We see Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) thrust straight into the seedy underworld of the Miami club scene. They clearly have a well-established team, so no need for any long and boring introductions.

Then it all goes, well, boring. Sent undercover to work for a top drug and gun baron, Crockett and Tubbs spend the next 90 minutes reaming off stylish, but pointless, dialogue and acting out numerous plot cliches. From early on it's clear that Tubbs' wife/girlfriend is going to be captured by the bad guys and held hostage. It's also obvious that Crockett is going to fall in love with the big bosses woman and thus risk getting 'in too deep'. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, new here. Undercover cops, get in too deep but bring down the bad guys just in time to save the day. And when they aren't in too deep, they are driving a combination of fast cars, fast boats and fast planes... or having fast meaningless sex.

Add to this the betrayal by the nasty right hand man of the drug baron and I've pretty much told you the entire story in 2 paragraphs. It took Michael Mann over 2 frigging hours.

None of the characters have any chemisty together. When Mann wants to illustrate that Crockett is falling in love with his recent conquest he just gives us another sex scene or an erotic dance in a nightclub. FFS, are we 14 years old?! Chemistry and love are different things to lust and longing. Sadly, the lack of chemistry is even more apparent between the two leads.

The only saving grace, is the final gun-fight. Shot in wartime documentary style, it is very gritty and reminiscent of some of the best action moments from Heat. However, after 2 hours of watching snails crawl up walls it wouldn't have taken much to make me feel entertained, so it's possible that the gun-fight isn't that great either ;-)

In summary, Miami Vice is a truly woeful movie. The acting is fine without ever being amazing and the direction is ok, but it almost feels like Mann knows his story truly blows and so he tries to cover it up with beautiful locations, fast cars, lots of sex and some stylish music. That might wash with some teenagers, but not with me. The only thing that saves this movie from being the worst I've seen all year, is the final gun-fight and the fact that I've already awarded that title to the even more dreadful Slither!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Who's your daddy?!

One of those silly little things doing the rounds.

Mine is the best ever!!!!

***Your Daddy Is Patrick Stewart***

What You Call Him: Pops

Why You Love Him: He takes you to Disneyland

Woohoo... my daddy is Patrick Stewart!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Superman Returns aka Superman 2.5

I've always been a little nostalgic towards Superman. I loved the Christopher Reeve franchise, or at least the first two films (after that it went a little off the rails!). A new Superman movie has been touted for years. Nic Cage was strongly linked with the main role, but thankfully pulled out. And don't get me started on the Tom Cruise rumours from the mid 90's (the guy is at least a foot too short!!). Meanwhile, directors have come and gone, as have scripts.

That the vision of a new movie has finally been realised, is due in no small part to the resurgence of comic book adaptations and the success of the Superman prequel series Smallville. Once Bryan Singer (the director behind X-Men and therefore the man responsible for the superhero come-back in movie form) was attached to the film it became clear that this time it was for real. Add to this a stunningly haunting teaser trailer and I have to admit that my expectations of this film began to rise.

So to the movie, the critical success/failure of any Superman movie was always going to be judged on how well the relatively unknown Brandon Routh did in convincing us that a guy with glasses was worlds apart from the guy in the cape. In this aim, the movie is fantastic. While I wouldn't normally entertain the notion of an actor mimicking his predecessors performance, it seems to work brilliantly here. Routh captures Christopher Reeves style perfectly. If I have one niggle, it's that we don't see enough of Clark Kent and his relationship with Perry and Jimmy (something that was always amusing in the earlier films).

As with Bryan Singers X-Men, this movie almost feels like a setup for future movies. I loved the X-men franchise, but the first film did feel like there was too much emphasis on setting up the scene and introducing the characters. The same can be said for Superman Returns.

For chronological sake this movie is considered to follow-on from the events of Superman II (thankfully it would appear that Superman III & the woeful IV are considered to have been wiped from existence). We find that Superman has been missing for 5 years. He left without warning, leaving the World wondering why. Other than that the classic characters are all present and correct, Jimmy still eats and sleeps with his camera, Perry White is still looking for all the scoops and Lois is still the top reporter, only with a couple of big differences, she has finally landed the Pulitzer Prize for a piece on why the World doesn't need Superman, oh and she has a kid and a bloke in the shape of Perrys son (James Marsden).

Naturally, it isn't long before we see Superman return, and in spectacular fashion. It is probably the best set piece in the entire film which culminates in one of the grandest entrances ever for a superhero. Well I suppose we would expect nothing less.

Unfortunately, this is where things start to go wrong. The main threat in the movie is again posed by Lex Luther. His plan, which involves throwing a crystal in some water and thus killing billions of people is preposterous. Lex Luther is a fantastic villain, but this version is somewhat lacking. Don't get me wrong, Spacey does a superb job and is suitably nasty, but he lacks the sheer genius and cunning previous incarnations of his character thrived on. If I was to compare Hackmans Luther with Spaceys Luther there is no contest. Gene Hackman captured the characters twisted sense of genius brilliantly. This latest version is just twisted. This is a real shame because it feels like an opportunity has been wasted, especially when you consider Kevin Spaceys undoubted talent.

As I mentioned earlier, the movie feels like a setup for things to come, and this is clearly illustrated with the introduction of Lois Lanes child and her current love interest. A lot of time is expended on what is essentially a simpler take on the traditional Superman love triangle. In the previous movies this involved Superman, Lois and Supermans other woman... namely the rest of the human race. I don't particularly mind the decision to introduce Richard White as Lois' love interest, in fact his character is easily the best after Superman/Kent, mainly because the other co-stars have very little to do while Lois and Lex fail to really inspire anything other than disappointment. However, the story is not really concluded, more left for future expansion, which could prove interesting.

Which brings me nicely onto the point that really grates with me. Kate Bosworths Lois Lane is dreadful. If you ignore the fact that she's far too young it's impossible to ignore the blatant change of the character from hard-hitting do anything it takes reporter to complete damsel in distress. No actress captured the style of Lois Lane quite like Margot Kidder. Sure she had to be rescued a fair amount, but as a person she was equal to Superman. She was a classic example of a woman trying to prove herself in a mans world, a fact that resulted in her going further than a man would ever go to get results. Kidder was not a stunning screen goddess, she was a character actress who brought a very un-hollywood character to life. Sadly, this new Lois Lane is really just a pretty reporter who occasionally takes a few risks, but ultimately is not in the same league as the Margot Kidder version. If you wanted to compare characters, compare this Lois Lane with Mary Jane Watson from Spiderman. They are pretty much the same character, purely there for the superhero to brood over and rescue as many times as possible.

So there we go. At times poignant (particularly when looking at Brandon Routh who is hauntingly similar to the late Christopher Reeve), at times brilliant, but too often dragged down by a lame plot and weak co-stars. Nonetheless this is a very fun Superman film. It lacks the comedy of the earlier films a fact made clear by the lack of screen-time given to Perry, Clark, Lois and Jimmy. Action-wise, there is little to top it this year. I definitely preferred it to Pirates of the Caribbean, although I'd say they were probably very similar in style. Both had superb performances from the leads, a lack of involvement from the other characters and silly, contrived plots. But hey... that's what summer blockbusters are supposed to be about ;-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The conflict in The Middle East

It seems that not a month can go by without global news being dominated by the tensions in the Middle East. This latest series of tragedies in Northern Israel and Lebanon serve only to illustrate why no peace can ever be accomplished there (or at least not in my lifetime).

While Israel randomly bombs civilians in Beirut and Hezbollah continue their slaughter of innocents in towns like Haifa the "World Leaders" ponder how to react at the G8 summit. Most of the work so far has been solely aimed at getting foreign nationals safely out of Lebanon. But what of the wider implications? Well Tony Blair has offered to go and mediate (hasn't he got enough failures on his record by now!), only to be slapped down by his real boss George W.

Unfortunately, these leaders seem far too embroiled in the standard blame culture that engulfs anything involving Israel and it's neighbours. Oh it's Syria!! Not it's Iran! Wait a minute, both are to blame! Rather than continuing these rituals, did it not occur to people that perhaps the most important action that needs to take place is to get a cease-fire in place so that diplomacy can begin?

Israel are not just being heavy-handed, they are committing atrocities. They cannot simply be allowed to bomb civilian buildings throughout Lebanon as an act of self-defense. I am not a bleeding-heart who blames Isreal for everything, but the fact remains that bombing Lebanon into submission will not defeat terrorism. It will not prevent further attacks on Israel, it will only serve to force more people into the waiting arms of the terrorists.

Hezbollah MUST be dealt with, but not like this. Only through strong arm covert tactics can they be defeated. If Syria are backing Hezbollah, then impose sanctions on Syria. However, such action cannot be taken without also punishing Israel for it's outrageous incursions into Lebanon. The main problem in the Middle East is that almost every Arab nation feels that Israel is treated with kid-gloves while the rest of region faces sanctions and possible invasions. Whether this is true or not, the perception exists. The Israeli response to terrorist attacks is as disgusting as the attacks themselves and all nations involved should be dealt with in a fair and equal way.

This is not about blame... it's about ensuring that innocent civilians live without persecution. There are innocents dying in both Israel and Lebanon. It's time for the World Leaders to be strong, alas I get the feeling that this is not going to happen. Being given a week in which you have permission to basically do what you want in Lebanon is not being fair to all sides. It is giving Israel a license to commit atrocities.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

Sequels are a risky affair. Even more so when the original film was one of the most unexpected financial successes of the year. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has already been touted as the "new Star Wars", although that's not entirely uncommon (remember The Matrix??), so it had a lot to live up to.

The eagerly anticipated sequel kicks off pretty much were we left the first movie (plus a few months). Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) are all set to be married, only for the devilish Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) to clamp them in irons for aiding in Cap'n Jacks escape from custody. They are offered a deal, deliver a mystical item from Sparrow or face the noose. And so, before you can say "Where's the rum gone?" we are off on another adventure, g'aaaar!

I actually found it really difficult to write a review for Pirates 2, mainly because I couldn't completely make my mind up about it. One thing is certain, it isn't as good as the first film. Not by some distance. Don't get me wrong, when it's good, it's superb, but all too often the film get dragged in random directions by a very convoluted plotline.

It's a classic example of sequel weighed down by the sheer level of expectation thrust upon it. With the first Pirates movie, everything just clicked, so much so, that you could ignore the plot and just enjoy the swashbuckling action and witty one-liners.

Most of the problems are rooted in the length of what is, essentially, an action-adventure comedy. It's two and a half hours long and boy does it show. I probably loved a good 90 minutes of this film, didn't mind another 30 minutes, but was bored to tears with the rest. Much like this blog, it took forever to get to the point. A case in point is a 20 minute stint on an island of cannibals, in which the only reason for it's inclusion is to serve as a way of thrusting the old gang back together. While good to look at and full of some fun action sequences, there is nothing new there the entire sequence is on the whole pointless.

As for the characters, the same old gang are back and for the most part are superb. Johnny Depp again steals the show as the infamous Jack Sparrow. Knightley is given far more screen-time and enough depth to make her character really stand out. Bloom does the job, but I still remain unconvinced of his star quality (Lord of the Rings aside). Bill Nighy (Davey Jones), meanwhile is suitably evil and does a fine job of trying to steal some thunder from Depp, but alas, he isn't given the screen-time his performance really merits.

However, and this for me is probably the most disappointing element of the movie, I was horrified at the direction taken by writers with regards to some of the characters, particularly Jack Sparrow. That might seem strange given how strong I believe Depps performance to be, but that doesn't mean I've got to like where the character is going. The problem stems from the writers decision to try to add further depth and meaning to the movie. In the first movie Sparrow was, for all intents and purposes, a lovable rogue; a survivor who was given the chance to redeem himself and did so amicably.

However in the sequel it's like the reset button has been pressed, only with an added kick. He again has to redeem himself and only really does so under duress. Plus at times Sparrow isn't a lovable survivor, he's a nasty piece of work; genuinely cruel and uncaring. While some might say "Duh... Pirate!", it doesn't fit with what we have learned from this character before. I'm all for nasty heroes. I love Mal Reynolds in Firefly (and he can be a right shit!), but it just doesn't sit right seeing Sparrow in that light.

Add to this the decision to add a random love triangle between the 3 main characters and I've pretty much explained my issues with this film. It's ironic that I normally expect sequels to try to do something different, but when this one does it I can't get passed the idea that the writers shouldn't have messed with a successful formula. By trying to move away from comedy action into a level of drama they find themselves completely out of their depth.

After re-reading that you've probably got the impression that I really hated the film. I didn't. I genuinely enjoyed it, but for the 30 minutes of chaff in the middle and the altering of Sparrows character. The final hour is superb, despite the writers incessant overuse of the best joke in the first film; "Where's the rum gone?!"...

In summary, when it's good it's fantastic, but it's overly long and seems to lack any clear direction. It's well worth seeing, despite the flaws. It has a wonderful array of monsters which never cease to entertain, while the characters manage to spark again albeit to a lesser extent. I was going to talk about the comparisons between this franchise and Star Wars, but The Guardian have provided a far more concise and less cumbersome review. It's pretty much sums up my feelings about the film.

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup: It's all over

Well I didn't see that coming! Then again I don't think anyone believed that the final of this years World Cup would be played out by France (knocked out in the last World Cup without scoring a goal and full of has-beens) and Italy (scandal-hit nation, that have failed to impress for years). But hey, that's football.


The two semi-finals were almost complete opposites. Despite waiting for 118 minutes for the first goal, the Germany v Italy game was probably the second best match of the knockout phase (after the Argentina v Mexico game). The France v Portugal semi, was woeful. Once France had scored we got to watch dull football continually marred even more by blatant diving.

I would say that France deserved their place in the final having deservedly beaten Spain and Brazil in previous rounds, but they hadn't exactly looked like World Champions. The same could be said of Italy. They hadn't played really well in the first 4 games, but seemed to have just that little bit extra to see them through.

The 3rd Place Playoff

I think that Martin O'Neill summed it up when he said this was "the most pointless match in history". Germany won. Nobody cared. Enough said really.

The Final

Unlike many World Cups, this final was actually an exciting affair. Two early goals, some decent chances, a sending off and penalties. Can't really argue with that. In the end France probably deserved to win the match but failed to deliver enough shooting chances. Zidanes moment of madness was shocking to see, especially as it was his last act in football, but we should remember that this is a player who, despite all his greatness, has received something like 14 red cards in his career, so he's not exactly reknowned for being calm.

It was nice that Italy proved they could bury all those previous penalty defeats by scoring 5 out of 5. It's a shame that England can't do the same!

France 1 - 1 Italy aet (Italy win 5-3 on penalties).

In the end

As I said at the beginning of the World Cup, all of the top teams had problems, which was why I was confident anyone could win it. Having said that I really didn't expect to see France and Italy there in the end!

After a fantastic group phase, the World Cup failed to deliver in the knockout phases. There were too few goals, too few moments of brilliance and to few classic matches. It reminded me of Italia '90 (often considered the worst World Cup) in that too many teams played defensive football in fear of conceding a goal.

Italy are the World Champions, although I struggle to say they deserved it. Then again, I can't think of any team in this years tournament that actually did deserve to win it, by the end.

World Cup Winners List

Brazil - 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Italy - 4 (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
Germany - 3 (1954, 1974, 1990)
Argentina - 2 (1978, 1986)
Uruguay - 2 (1930, 1950)
England - 1 (1966)
France - 1 (1998)

Friday, July 07, 2006


Today is the first anniversary of the devastating London bombings which claimed the lives of 52 innocent people. It is a day of remembrance and also serves as an opportunity to ask some questions.

Why did this happen?
What can be done to prevent it happening again?
Are we safer now than we were a year ago?

They are simple questions with very complicated answers. All too often do people try to put a black and white shroud over issues like this. It's easier to see things in this way. Just look at Bush and Blair and their views on good and evil.

One thing is certain in my mind, only through education, diplomacy and cultural exchange can this threat we face ever be subdued. Violence begats violence, which is why the war on terror is a complete misnomer. By attacking other nations, we are driving more desperate people into the arms of the terrorist leaders; opportunists like Bin Laden prey on the desperate, seducing them with a lie.

This black and white shroud covers all sides of the conflict from the Al Qaeda view that all westerners are fair targets, to the similar view in countries like Britain that Islam is an 'evil' religion that teaches murder. Because issues are complex, we tend to generalise heavily. As a result we now have a situation in which all Muslims in Britain are being viewed with suspicion by some. Similarly, in Iraq and Afghanistan all Britons are viewed with hatred by some, despite the fact that some of them might be aid workers etc.

Why did this atrocity happen?
What can be done to prevent it happening again?
Are we safer now than we were a year ago?

I don't have the answers to these questions. I just feel that in the year since the attack we have done more to drive recruitment for the terrorists than we have to subdue them. Every biased foreign policy move, every piece of populist fear-driven anti-terror legislation, every brutal raid on an innocent persons home, every newspaper headline that polarises opinion are deterring from the real need to sit down and analyse the causes of terrorism. Only through education and understanding, can we emerge from these tragedies better than before.

Today my thoughts are with the families of all of the people killed in London last year. My hope for the future is that these deaths were not in vain and that we can learn from the event to ensure that we can prevent it from happening again, both in the UK and across the World.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World Cup: Quarter Finals

Oh woe is me. England are out! We wuz robbed! Etc etc etc...

Of 4 quarters only I only screwed up my prediction on 1 of them (England). Germany have again proved that no matter how bad things are in friendlies, they turn it on for the big games. They are a tournament team and I wasn't surprised when they went through against Argentina. It was cruel for them, but they clearly peaked to early having struggled to break down Mexico in their second round match. The scenes after the match were appalling and any players involved in the fight should be severely reprimanded.

The Italians victory over Ukraine was not very surprising given that they were playing probably the weakest team in the last 8. At 1-0, Ukraine had a number of chances to pull it back and a final score of 3-0 flattered the winners. Italy haven't played well in this tournament, but they are still there.

The best game of the last 8 was undoubtedly France v Brazil. I'd been saying since before the tournament kicked off that Brazil were not the team of legends the sycophantic pundits would have you believe. They had been completely unconvincing throughout the tournament and were deservedly beaten by a French side that has turned the clock back 8 years to that memorable WC win at the Stade de France.

Bye bye England

And so, to England. It will now be 44 years of hurt when we next compete in the World Cup. Of course England deserved to beat Portugal. We were the better side for the majority of the match and played with 10 men for an hour. But, while it is fun to blame a pantomime villain like Christiano Ronaldo for his blatant efforts to get Wayne Rooney sent off, this only detracts from the real truth that England were poor in this tournament. We followed up winning one of the easiest groups with a lack luster second round win over Ecuador (probably the weakest team in the last 16). Despite a quarter final against a weakened Portugal team (probably the 2nd weakest team in the last 8) we still failed to progress.

If we are going to lay blame, then it has to be at the feet of the manager. His lack of tactical flexibility resulted in us having no strikers playing in what was to become his final match in charge. His determination to fit all the best players into the starting 11 was naive. Sometimes you have to drop players like Beckham or Lampard in order to foster a better team ethic. Look at Portugal, a very mediocre team on paper and yet they are into the semi-finals of the World Cup having beaten two of the old european powerhouses (Holland and England). They are the opposite of England. A weak team with a truly supreme manager in Scolari. England are a team of World Class players (and egos) with a truly inept manager.

I am still unsure whether McClaren can escape the confines of 5 years working for Sven, but if he can then I sincerely hope that he unshackles these great players and let's them do what they do for their clubs. The Gerrards, Rooneys, Owens, Terrys and Coles of this World are not meant to be stifled by completely negative tactics.

England are just like Spain, perennial underachievers. Back int he 1980s and 1990s, we had a relatively mediocre team, but our managers were able to get the side to punch above their weight (hence a quarter final in 1986, a semi in 1990 and a semi in the Euro Championships in 1996). Now we finally have a team of players that can win trophies, we just need a manager that can bring the best out of them.

Semi finals

Germany v Italy
Germany have been fantastic and while you can never write off the Italians, I just feel it could be the Germans year. I said it before the tournament despite all the criticisms of Klinsmann, they are a tournament team and have looked very strong coming forward. The Italians have, so far, been disappointing, but they are in the semis and one good performance could still see them through.

Portugal v France
Nobody saw France coming; not even the French team themselves! They have been supreme in the knockout phase, beating Spain deservedly in the second round and undeserving favourites Brazil in the last 8. Portugal have been like Italy, not very impressive but their team spirit seems to have carried them through. I don't feel they deserve to be in the final based on their performances, but they can't be written off. With a manager like Scolari, you never know.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

World Cup: Week 3

OK. Now it get's serious. 8 teams, 6 from Europe and 2 from South America. After the shocks of WC 2002, things really have returned to type as the old powerhouses have shown the stamina to see off the emerging sides from Asia and Africa. 6 of the 8 quarter-finalists are former winners.

The favourites

At this stage it's tough to call now. As I said at the start of the competition no one team looks totally secure. Brazil are hitting form but look awful in defence; Argentina struggled to breakdown Mexico; England are starting to play better, but still look low on ideas; etc etc etc.

The perennial under-achievers

Oh dear... Another World Cup, another disaster for Spain. If ever there was proof that starting strongly doesn't guarantee you'll do well, it was seeing a young exciting Spanish side crash out to the old timers from France. While France have never been a side I've liked, I was delighted to see them go through. They thoroughly deserved it and Spain can have no complaints. Henry has seriously gone down in my estimations though following his cheating antics in winning a free-kick. While I have no issue with the free-kick being given (it was a foul on Henry), the Arsenal strikers reaction was a disgrace.

Shocking refereeing

While we all love to have a go at the referees I do have considerable sympathy for them at this World Cup. Yet again, the rules have been changed to make it harsher on those committing fouls. The result? Lots of players diving to try to get opponents sent off; players conning referees to get penalties; and referees failing to either take control or going completely OTT in their interpretation of some ludicrous rules.

The Holland v Portugal game was a disaster. 16 yellow cards (equalling the WC record) and 4 yellow cards (a new WC record) handed out and yet there were only 20 fouls committed. That Figo can headbutt someone and get only a yellow card, while Deco can just throw the ball away and be sent off is a sure sign that FIFAs meddling with the rules has gone beyond a joke.

On the whole it isn't the referees fault, but the FIFA rule-makers who are increasingly turning the football at the WC into a non-contact sport. They need to get some perspective and just let us enjoy football.

It was sad to see Holland go out the way they did, but it was hard to say they deserved anything from a game in which almost everyone one of their players was guilty of diving. As for Portugal, they seemed to take note of what Holland were doing and by the end of the game were also cheating as much as possible just to get players sent off.

The last 8

OK. Refereeing problems aside, the quarter-finals offer up some fantastic matches and a chance for teams to renew some very old rivalries.

Germany v Argentina
A rematch of the 1986 and 1990 finals (although technically it was West Germany back then!), I honestly think the Germans could win this. They don't look good defensively, but I'm beginning to wonder if the Argentinians have peaked too soon. If Germany close down Argentina early on and use their massive home support I can see them booking a place in the semis. However, if the Germans let Messi, Tevez, Saviola et al play, then that ropey defence may fall apart.

Italy v Ukraine
I can't see Italy losing this one (although I also predicted Ecaudor to beat Germany!). The Ukraine are the poorest side in the last 8 I've seen for a while. They struggled into the second round and were the better of two awful teams against the Swiss. Italy, meanwhile, haven't been convincing. They'll make the semis, but I think that will be it.

England v Portugal
Tough one to call. I honestly believe that Portugal are a pretty weak team, but Scolari has turned them into a top-side. He instills a never give up mentality that in recent years has seen them overcome teams that I would have called superior (It's a shame that he won't be England manager!). England meanwhile have won 3 and drawn 1 while looking unimpressive. It's a grudge match after the 2004 game with the added spice of Scolari recently turning down the England job, along with the fact that this is the 3rd competition in a row that England have faced a Scolari side at the quarter-final stage. We lost the previous two, will it be third time lucky?

Let me put it this way. If we don't beat Portugal then Sven has truly blown the best chance an England side has had to win this thing in decades. England have a team of World class players, he just needs to get them to play like a World class team.

France v Brazil
While the other games all look exciting, this rematch of the 1998 final is the one I'm looking forward to the most. France looked awful at the start of the tournament, but seem now to be turning back the clock for one last hurrah. Brazil are hitting form and will be determined to get revenge for the embarrassment of losing the 98 final 3-0. I dunno, I just have a feeling about France. I guess only time will tell.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

World Cup: Week 2

A little later than planned, but week 2 of the World Cup saw the group stages finish and setup the round two clashes for the final 16 teams.

The Frontrunners

Brazil turned on the style in their final group game against Japan, running out 4-1 winners. However, they were very disappointing in their opening games and I still maintain that defensively they are weak (although that could be said of a number of the top teams).

For me, Argentina and Spain still look the strongest, although questions will be asked as to whether the two have peaked too soon.

The Disappointments

Again France remain the big disappointment of the teams that have made it through to the last 16. They struggled in their opening two games and were close to going out. They play Spain in the next round and I'll be very surprised if the 1998 World Champions don't crash out in style.

The Czech Republics failure to get through the group stages is probably the only real shock in the first round. Their opening game really made me feel that they could live up to their World ranking of 2nd. However, defeats to Italy and Ghana put paid to that!

The Underdogs

After the shocks of World Cup 2002 which saw Argentina and France crash out in round 1, and South Korea make a run to the semis at the expense of Spain and Italy, things seem to have returned to form this time out. Only Ghana have surprised people to make it through a very tough group. I felt sorry for Ivory Coast, who deserved more, but found themselves in a group with Holland and Argentina. Ecaudor (Englands 2nd round opponents) could be classed as the surprise package of group A, but their opponents (bar Germany) were poor.


And so to the 2nd best team in the World (according to the World Cup seedings). Well they've still failed to impress. I felt that the performance against Sweden was certainly better than in previous matches, but the defending was truly woeful. The loss of Owen is a major blow. He's the kind of player that may do nothing for 80 minutes but will then win a match for you.

Second Round matches

Germany v Sweden
Argentina v Mexico
England v Ecuador
Portugal v Holland
Italy v Australia
Switzerland v Ukraine
Brazil v Ghana
Spain v France

At the time of writing Germany, Argentina and England had booked their places in the quarter-finals.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup: Week 1

Well the first week of the greatest sporting event in the World is over and it's more than lived up to expectations. As always, many of the favourite teams have started sluggishly meaning that the unfancied sides have had a chance to show us what they can do.


The favourites started poorly against Croatia but still got the result they wanted. It was a pretty typical start for a team that often have too much to live up to. Unlike the sycophantic BBC commentary, I have no issue criticising the heavily over-rated Brazilian team. Don't get me wrong, on paper they are the best team in the World, but by no means does this mean they are gonna win it. Croatia illustrated quite clearly how weak their defence is and a better strikeforce would surely fancy their chances of scoring. Plus, with Ronaldo looking extremely poor atm, I don't think this World Cup is a clear cut as many people think.

The best so far

For me, four teams have looked to have hit the ground running. Argentina started it on Saturday with a good 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast. They struggled in the latter periods, but for 60 minutes they looked every bit the finished article. Meanwhile Italy were fantastic against a very exciting Ghana side. In the same group the Czech Republic proved that the USA really don't deserve a World ranking of 5th with a stunning 3-0 win. However, we had to wait until the final group kicked off to see the performance of the tournament. Spains 4-0 demolition of a highly rated Ukraine side has sent a warning out to the other 31 teams that Spain may finally be ready to shake off the mantle of perennial under-achievers.

The worst so far

There really can be only one team here. France. The World Champtions 8 years ago are living on borrowed time. Their team is old and laboured and you almost feel sorry for those once great players struggling to keep pace with the game. If they go out in the first round it wouldn't surprise me. They were awful against Switzerland and deserved to lose. I'm guessing they'll take the 0-0 and hope to build on it.

The hosts

Germany have been in transition ever since Jurgen Klinsmann took over. I really respect his efforts to change the philosophy of the German game. Unfortunately, it is a long road and so far they have failed to impress. The opening game was a great match for neutrals, but too often did Germany look like they could concede goal after goal. With Ecuador playing so well, there could still be a shock in store that may result in England having to face Germany in the second round.

The others

The African nations have failed to impress despite some spirited performances. Ivory Coast look good, but are in such a difficult group that I can't really see them progressing. Holland and Portugal may be amongst the favourites, but I question whether Holland can actually play well as a team, while Portugal seem very average (although I wouldn't discount the tactical brilliance of their manager, Big Phil Scolari).

Australia were magnificent to come back against Japan, but I find it hard to imagine them getting out of a group that also contains Brazil and Croatia.

And finally, to England

England have been poor so far, yet have played 2, won 2 and are already into the second round. I'd have taken that at the start of the tournament. England haven't started so well at the World Cup in my own living memory. However, serious doubts remain. Despite having a team that is probably second only to Brazil (on paper), England have failed to perform well since the last World Cup and the abysmal defeat by Brazil.

Englands problems have nothing to do with Wayne Rooneys absence (we play poorly with him in the team too!). The problem is tactical. Eriksson learnt his trade in Italy and as such has spent the last few years trying to get England to play like Italy. This is a moronic move. England have always played better when they are playing with a sense of urgency. We do not defend well in numbers, it is not a part of our game. This was the problem against Brazil in the last World Cup. It was the same problem in Euro 2004 and it was the same problem in the second half against Paraguay last week.

Despite this, I firmly believe England can win the World Cup. Why?

  1. We have, for the first time in 36 years, a World class team with World class players across the field.

  2. We are playing poorly but still winning. This is the hallmark of World Champions.

  3. All of the other top teams have got similar problems.

However, I do think that to win the World Cup Sven will need to improve his tactical substitutions. Yesterday, we finally played well when Sven made an inspired substitution. No, I'm not talking about bringing Rooney on for Owen (a move I still feel was a mistake). It was the introduction of Aaron Lennon that changed the game. He scared the life out of the T&T defence and hauled Beckham into the game.

Anyway, it's been a fun week. I can't wait for the Holland v Argentina game next week. While Germany v Ecuador could yet provide the first big upset.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Haditha troops out of control

Maybe it's my complete lack of faith in the US occupation of Iraq or the fact that I recently watched Buffalo Soldiers, but the news that the troops involved in the Haditha massacre may have been hooked to cocktails of drugs and drink is not entirely surprising.

In the first Gulf War US combat pilots were fed amphetamines to keep them awake for the increasing number of night sorties. So this kind of thing isn't exactly new.

Regardless, this event is truly sickening and will, I would assume, only lead to even more de-stabilisation in the area. The sooner that Bush, Blair and co realise that they may have won the battle (ie taking Iraq), but they are fast losing the war (holding Iraq), the better. Alas, they are now so utterly convinced of their own righteousness on this issue that even in old age and senile dementia, the two men will convince themselves they 'did the right thing'.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chomsky extract

Good extract from Noam Chomskys new book, Failed States. Appeared in the Independent today.

Sadly, I feel it's too late for the US to elect an administration that would have the guts to do the 7 things that could help to stem the tide against America.

"1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; 3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; 6) give up the Security Council veto and have "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind," as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centres disagree; 7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Note to self: never make a movie that criticises the US Government...

This one is hilarious... or at least it is if you aren't Richard Kelly (director of Donnie Darko).

Apparently, he's been prevented from leaving the US because his passport has been flagged as that of a terrorist on the US Governments watch list.

Interestly, his reason for wanting to leave the US, was to go to the Cannes Film Festival, so he could promote his new movie, Southland Tales, which just so happens to cast a not so kind eye on the security measures taken by the US since September 11th 2001.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Local Elections

Nothing too surprising here then. Labour got stuffed. For all their talk that it wasn't too bad because of the North it's hard to deny the results. Nearly 300 council seats lost and a PM reshuffling almost every major position in his cabinet is a clear sign of a government in crisis. Where this leaves Gordon Brown, only time will tell, although I am beginning to sense that there may not be a clean handover afterall, if Blair chooses to keep plugging away. This reshuffle does not suggest he intends to go early.

Results so far.

From 173 of 176 results declared.

Conservatives up 278 - now with 1711 council seats
Labour down 288 - now with 1174 council seats
Lib Dems up 25 - now with 871 council seats
Others down 15 - now with 191 council seats

For the Tories this is a major success. They polled 40% of the vote which is a huge gain for them. However it isn't all rosy. For all their success in London, they have again failed to make inroads in the major northern cities. Many of these remain battlegrounds for the Lib Dems. Nonetheless, this is clearly a sign of a major Tory revival.

And what of the Lib Dems? Well the problem is the same as it always seems to be. Despite taking 27% of the vote and pushing Labour into third, they have only managed to gain 25 council seats. The Lib Dems need to deal with this problem and fast. It's no good if they finish second in lots of races if they don't actually win the major constituencies. Until we have some form of PR this kind of problem will continue to stifle the Lib Dems.

Finally, to the BNP. I think it's time the media got this one into perspective. This party now has 44 seats out of a total 22,000. Does this really warrant so much airtime? They are not close to being in government. They are a tiny group which campaigns that one issue is the root to all of the countries problems. Do the BNP worry me? Not really. They target areas that have large ethnic minority populations, knowing that these areas are more likely to have white people feeling resentment. But in the end, they have a major numbers problems. Basically, there aren't enough areas in Britain that they can campaign in, because most of the ethnic minorities in Britain are crammed into only a minority of constituencies. The BNP are not a threat and the media should stop giving them almost equal airtime, because they hardy deserve it. For example, the Green Party has 89 council seats and has also had some good gains in the UK today, yet I don't see their leader on the national news all the time.

Anyway. Back to the real world...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Two Presidents, one killer speech

Fantastic speech by Stephen Colbert at the White House correspondents' dinner. The 'real' bush must have been squirming.

Some excerpts:

"I'm a simple man with a simple mind, with a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

"I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he has stood on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

A part of me will miss Dubya when he's gone, mainly because I don't think there will be another President who is so easy to take the piss out of. Unless they change the law and Arnie gets in.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

All hail the Thetans, Opus Dei & band-wagon jumping

Not that I'm one to jump onto a band-wagon, of course, but seeing as all the tabloids can't seem to get enough of Tom Cruise and his Scientologist buddies I figured I should say something. I mean hey, if Chef from South Park is a Scientologist, then there's got to be something to it!

Interesting article in the Independent about Ron Hubbards cult, sorry, I meant legitimate religion that offers spiritual guidance and doesn't at all fleece people out of their hard earned wages.

Celebrities are notorious for band-wagon jumping and love nothing more than to pronounce that they are now followers of whatever hip spiritual teachings are "in" this year (I believe the current one is Kabbalah), but with Scientology it really is something different. I mean Cruise has been a member for donkeys years, while Travolta was willing to star in and part-finance Battlefield Earth.

But hey... I shouldn't really criticise such people for giving all their money to the brain-child of a a talentless hack, like Ron Hubbard should I? I mean I saw the Star Wars prequels far too many times to ever possibly be sane!

Speaking of cults, sorry I meant legitimate religions, Opus Dei have recently issued an open letter asking Sony to put a clear disclaimer on the upcoming movie adaptation of 'The Da Vinci Code', stating that the story is complete work of fiction. When will these people learn, that the easiest way to avoid constant press coverage is to just ignore it completely? Sorry guys... why should you get preferential treatment? I mean Michael Bay didn't have to put a disclaimer on Pearl Harbor that read: "Please be aware that this movie is a complete work of fiction, obviously written by someone who has never even read a book on the subject. Oh and it's a steaming pile of turd too".

Come on guys... loosen that cilice and just chill. It's only a book ;-)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

V for Vendetta

I don't really consider myself a comic book expert. It's only in the last few years that my interest in them has been sparked (thanks George). However, if there is one thing that it doesn't take an expert to know, it's that most movie adaptations of comic books suck ass.

V for Vendetta is a superb comic. Very similar in style to another of Alan Moores greats, Watchmen. Indeed there are many similarities between V and Rorschach. Most importantly, both are very long and complex affairs.

So when the news filtered through that the Wachowskis (of Matrix fame and Matrix 2 & 3 infamy) were planning to make a movie version of V, many people shuddered. How could they possibly bring to life a story in which the titular character is a brutal terrorist without having to water the story down due to political/war on terror/9-11 sensitivities? How can they possibly be true to a 300 page book without having to cut vast swathes of it out? With these thoughts in mind, coupled with some pretty awful looking trailers and the fact that author Alan Moore has disowned this and every movie version of his work to date, I prepared myself for the worst.

And yet... every now and then a movie comes along that genuinely throws out your preconceptions. V for Vendetta is a very good film in it's own right. At times clumsy and disjointed, it still offers a brilliant antedote to the current climate of fear we now live in.

How did the Wachowskis achieve it? Well, it's true that they have cut out some large parts of the book and fans of the comic may find themself miffed that quite a few characters either miss out on any meaty screen-time or just plain aren't there. Similarly, elements of the story are moved around, in an effort to exploit the cinematic medium to full effect. Bizarrely, none of the changes really bothered me. The central essence of the story is there and as such the film does not pander to peoples political sensitivities.

Like Lord of the Rings, the film-makers have taken a strong story and changed it to fit it's audience, and because of this it works on so many levels. Every incarnation of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is different than the last, but they are all worthy in their own right. The same can be said of V. It is dark, gritty and a little far-fetched, but it pulls no punches offering a World in which none of the main characters are 'Hollywood good guys'.

The downside is that anomoly of acting, Natalie Portman. How an actress can go from being truly stunning in Closer to God-awful in Star Wars can only be down to one of two things - the Director or the actresses desire and connection to the material. Portmans performance in V is truly awful. For the majority of the film she seems to be struggling with the accent (which varies between stoic brit and Aussie soap star) so much that most of her lines are delivered without thought or feeling. Only during a harrowing spell in a prison cell does she offer glimpses of her real ability.

When you consider that the majority of the story is told through Eveys (Portmans) eyes, it is a wonder that the film survives. However, thanks to a brilliant story and the performances of the other actors it not only held my interest, but had me willing on anarchy at every turn. Roger Allam puts in a great performance as the truly hateful Prothero while Hugo Weaving plays the man in the mask with great subtlety.

Is summary, it isn't polished but V for Vendetta really does delivery that rarest of things; a Hollywood movie that does not conform to type and goes some way toward killing off the memory of the Wachowskis Matrix sequels. Strong performances from Stephen Fry, Roger Allam and Hugo Weaving, while John Hurt is suitably evil as the Tory MP who turned Fascist. The story has been carefully updated to exploit our current fears about the war on terror and bird flu, without ramming it down the viewers throats. Great fun.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Whedon on Serenifly

Muchos rumours have been flying around recently about a possible return of Serenity/Firefly in one form or another. It all started when several cast members were (apparently) seen leaving the CW studio offices. This was followed by further rumours that the cast and Joss Whedon had signed on to make either a TV show, mini-series or TV-movie.

Well not one to stay quiet for long, the man has quashed all rumours in his own quirky style.

Abusing links is the only way I know how to live. But I am here with a purpose, my friends. Call me joss Whedon: Rumor Crusher! (Or "Mister Fendendo", if we're being intimate.)

Since everyone's all abuzz with the CW rumor, I have to get all official and say: WE'VE STARTED FILMING NEW EPISODES! Of Dateline. I'm such a troll.

No, there haven't been any overtures from the CW as regards a SereniFly spin-off. I haven't even heard the orchestra tuning up. But if they happen to come calling, I do know what I would do:

1) In order to keep the show cost efficient, we would get rid of a few things we don't need, like spaceships, floors, and Jewel. (You thought I was gonna say 'costumes', didn't you? Porn guy.)

2) Nathan is busy making movies, but since I don't want new cast members, everybody in the cast would just move over one. Jewel (she's back!) would play Mal, Ron would play Kaylee, Morena would play Book, and so on.

3) People love a happy ending. So every episode, I will explain once again that I don't like people. And then Mal will shoot someone. Someone we like. And their puppy.

4) The actors can make up their dialogue. I'm bushed, and they're all funny, and the hell with it. Maybe I'll give them a premise to work off of, like "You're all in trouble" or "Wash has a thing". They could maybe light it too.

5) Klingons, but not alien Klingons. But still Klingons.

So already the show is running like a well oiled companion. I'm just proud to be a part of the Country Western network, and I know this will be their biggest hit since "Have Space-Gun, Will Travel."

I hope, as always, this clears things up. And I hope the executives at the Carnie Wilson network DO give me a call. I've got a million ideas for redoing their offices.

Power to the people who are powerful enough to crush the other people! -jossy.


The man's a genius... give him 100 beeeeeeeeeeeeeelion dollars and let him make his damn show!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Thursday, February 02, 2006

OMG Gimme Gimme Gimme!!

I have got to get me one of these!

And at only £1800 (with FREE delivery), I'd be a fool not to!

Having said that, you'd have thought the manufacturers could have installed a flat screen LCD panel, instead of the traditional CRT. I mean, I'm all for retro, but I have a reputation to uphold here ;-)

The first bit of gloss is wiped off Google

I suppose it was only a matter of time. A company that prides itself on being moral and 'anti-microsoft' is a great idea, but balancing the needs and demands of the people, shareholders, governments is perhaps harder than the mighty Google creators realised.

Only a week after taking the moral high ground over handing over search records to the US government, Google are now immersed in a controversy following their agreement to censor results on the Google china site (search for Tiananmen Square on and on to see what I mean).

Meanwhile, Google shareholders are counting their losses after $13bn was wiped off their stock value in a single days trading.

What all this leads me to wondering is, how long it will be before Google are forced to choose between the mega-bucks and the desire to be ultra-ethical?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Feed me up, baby!

Following on from George's example (read, lazily copying her!), I thought it was about time I put a feed on my blog.

You can get to my feed here, or via the permanent link in the sidebar.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Homophobic media and the lowest common denominator

Good guardian blog that questions whether the British media is yet willing to accept a gay man as leader of a major political party. With comments like "another one bites the pillow", it would appear that the Sun is not even slightly ready to move away from it's homophobic stance, that sadly seems to sell newspapers. That and the extremely large breasts on page three!

Meanwhile, there's a superb piece on the BBC site about a spoof reality TV show that involved contestants racing to see who could conceive a baby first. It's a hilarious read, but it's also more than mildly disturbing just how far some people will go for 5 minutes of fame. Which of course brings us back to the tabloids and there incessant peddling of characters within reality TV shows... I mean, do the daily antics of random members of the public really matter that much?

Oh well... I'm off home to try to find some scripted television. Wish me luck!

The forgotten war

OK... so Afghanistan isn't actually the forgotten war anymore. Not since the UK is deploying another 4000 troops into the country in an effort to breed stability.

With Hamas looking like scoring a victory in the Palestinian elections, the US struggling to maintain any form of control in Iraq and now Afghanistan falling apart it doesn't take an geo-political expert to realise that the Wests desire to bring democracy to the Middle East is failing. You cannot force democracy upon nations. Only through education and unbiased action will the World change for the better.

And don't even mention, the farce that is the Lib Dem leadership election. At this rate I'll have no-one left to vote for come the next election.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

How Clinton (& Bush) gave Iran the Bomb!

Intriguing article taken from a new book by New York Times reporter James Risen.

The good old CIA... the greatest source of stupidity on the planet. That these ppl may actually have considered trying the operation in North Korea after their failure in Iran seems beyond me!

Happy New Year btw!