Sunday, 21 May 2017

Live By Night

Image result for live by night

Released to much critical derision the fourth film directed by Ben Affleck, Live By Night is adapted for the screen by the leading actor from a novel by Dennis Lehane, tells a fictional story of booze running during prohibition era America which starts in Boston (Affleck's home town) and ends in Tampa, Florida following Joe Coughlin who works for an Irish firm but after falling for the boss' girl he ends up in prison before turning to the Italian mafia which leads him to the South.

Following the lambasting aimed at Ben Affleck for taking on the role of Batman in the much reviled Dawn of Justice directed by Zach Snyder, there has been a slow step of backlash at Affleck who had become a darling after winning an Oscar for Argo.

Image result for live by night

Affleck does not do many favours with this adaptation, which could have done with perhaps a co-writer to help shape the script better and not have it become the Affleck show has he ticks off ladies man, charmer, good in a fight, good with a gun; he ends up as the gentleman who has to raise his son and will not kill someone who needs to be killed for his job because he all of a sudden grows a moral fibre.  Either Affleck had to give his character a little bit of nastiness or conflict instead of being able to leave the gang at film's end or he should have asked another actor to play the leading role.

It is a shame because the film is a victory as a production itself with gorgeous photography by Robert Richardson, vintage costumes and note perfect set design. This is married with some fine supporting work by Chris Messina as Dago and Elle Fanning who instills some real layers in her born again Christian envangelist Loretta Figgis becoming the performer her innocent self wanted to be.

Image result for live by night
Based on Dennis Lehane's novel
Running at close to two hours there is a sharper more efficient film somewhere here if Affleck had not been given the world to act, write, produce and direct, much like Orson Welles, Affleck has been given the world's biggest train set to play with but has failed to build up a significant head of steam on this occasion.

You cannot fault his ambition when movie making sometimes falls prey to remakes, rehashes and retreads in this age of instant gratification. Affleck aimed to make a film about failed ambition and belonging, following the box office failure of the film he finds himself ironically producing his own failure, which is a shame.

Live By Night is released on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Bros. on Monday 22nd May

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Spaceship


Released on Friday 19th May from Trinity Media, this is writer/director Alex Taylor debut feature length feature , and it is a work of independent spirit coupled with an unflagging desire to make a film of a unique voice and identity that is rarely seen in British cinema.

Taylor speaks of how he has made a film about teenagers by teenagers, encountering young people and giving them the platform to make a movie based on their own stories with them forming the narrative flow and thrust without pandering or patronising their role in society.



Using improvisation, Taylor follows his young cast and this enables him to tell a film that is in their own language engaging in several social groups from goths to punks to those who hang out in the YMCA.

Lucidia is a teenage cyber-goth, who fakes her own alien abduction, forcing her father Gabriel to search for her in a kaleidoscopic world of parallel universes, black holes and unicorns.

Enthused with the power of youth, bristling with colour and energy, Spaceship is unlike anything you have ever seen before nor probably see again. Touching on how teenagers search for a sense of belonging in an ever-changing, frustrating world this touches on the boundaries of fact and fiction, control and chaos, normality and hallucinatory.

Featuring a strong ensemble cast, wonderful sound design and a soundtrack featuring Appaloosa, Best Coast and East India Youth, Spaceship could well be one of the most unsung films of 2017

Spaceship is released on 19th May from Trinity Media
@spaceshipfilm on Twitter

Interview with Sam Walker


Sam Walker Sports Writer

Sam Walker, is the author of the newly released book The Captain Class from Penguin Random House (in the US) and Ebury Press (in the UK), and he granted me the opportunity to ask him some questions about the process of writing the book and thoughts about the book ranging from Tom Brady to Didier Deschamps, and which teams today could join the elite level of team sports.

The book is an amazing piece of research and journalism, that is both fascinating and eye-opening to how team sports work and why the best gain the greater results.

How long did the whole book take to write?

Funny you should ask that. When I decided to try to figure out what makes great teams great, I knew I first had to come up with an objective sample of the greatest teams in sports history to study. I set a side a couple of weeks to do that. Let’s just say it turned out to be a little more complicated... Like 11 years more complicated!


What was your favourite part of the process; the researching or the plotting?

I don’t want to bang on about how much time it took me to write this book. The truth is that it was completely engrossing and fascinating. The most fun was trying to put all the pieces together. The more evidence I found that captains were the secret ingredients of elite sports dynasties, the more obsessed I became with solving the puzzle of why.




How much fun did you have looking into the history of team sports?

The research was a slog at times. Try finding reliable match records for Brazilian domestic football! I also had to comb the world for out-of-print books then line up translators to read them for me. I think I used nine translators in all, from Russian and Japanese to Spanish and Hungarian. But you’re right: I had a blast. I’d been covering sports for 20 years and was shocked by how much I didn’t know. And every time I found an elite team, I would find a captain who fit the mold. That never got old. And then there were the interviews: Carles Puyol, Carlos Alberto Torres, Pele, Didier Deschamps, Phillipp Lahm, etc. Those were incredible.


What is your favourite sport and teams for the major US sports?

I know that people in the UK don’t get it, but I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is the home of the University of Michigan (my alma mater). So my favorite teams are that school’s teams, with college (American) football being my greatest passion. It was hard to cut college sports from my study, but I had to face facts. The level of play in college football isn’t higher than the NFL. So I really did come to this without any tribal biases. (Of course, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots went to Michigan, which made leaving him out of the final list kind of excruciating).

Image result for tom brady
One more ring and Brady joins Walker's elite


Was it hard to stick to your methodology when trying to keep Michael Jordan out of the Tier One teams?

Yes and no. Obviously, people love to read about the Bulls, so if I simply wanted to sell books, I probably should have found a way to include them. But I felt that I had to be objective, and to stick to my criteria no matter what. In the end, the Bulls weren’t the toughest cut. They didn’t win the most championships, and they didn’t achieve the longest streak of sustained success, either. Also (I devoted a chapter to this) Michael Jordan did not fit the profile of an elite captain. In fact, the team didn’t achieve its full potential until another player, Bill Cartwright, became the co-captain in 1991. So I was able to write a lot about that team in the book, anyhow.


In my review, I spoke about the absence of cricket. I felt as a sport it is more dependent on captain input than others, yet you omitted any cricket side including the great West Indies side(s) of the 1970s/80s. Can you explain?

The toughest teams to cut were the current New England Patriots and the three best cricket sides in history. You’re right about West Indies. They were amazing, and Clive Lloyd is a model of the captain type I’ve identified. The trouble is that the Windies’ records, in both test and ODI, were mostly matched or exceeded by the later Australian sides led by Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. But while Waugh’s team was a test machine, it was uneven in ODI. Ponting had the reverse problem. So in the end, I just couldn’t say that any one of these teams was uniquely outstanding.  


Is there a team that is currently knocking on the door of Tier One, say the Golden State Warriors, or a more obscure sports team at the moment?

The Warriors are probably the best bet. I don’t think most people realize that the team’s leader (and co-captain) is Andre Igoudala, a classic water-carrier who doesn’t care about individual accolades. If the Patriots win another Super Bowl, they’re in. Another team that’s on the cusp is the U.S. Women’s water polo team, which is probably arguably already the best in that sport’s history.


Image result for steph curry
Is Curry and the Warriors joining the Tier One?

What is your take on the NBA, it is driven by player power than tactical systems, hence the end of Phil Jackson's Triangle in New York?

I think there’s a misguided notion that because NBA teams are so small, with only five players, that the best strategy is to have one or two superstars who can put the teams on their backs and win games almost singlehandedly. But the Celtics and the Spurs, the two best NBA teams, were great because of the way the players played without the ball. Even on a small team, you need people setting picks, hustling back on defense, diving for loose balls, rebounding and blocking shots. All of that stuff, added up, is more important than scoring. And superstar scorers tend to be lousy at those things.


Do you feel your book can be read by business leaders who can learn from sportsmen, and vice versa?

I’ve gotten tremendous feedback from people in the business world, so yes—I think so. A lot of businesses, like sports teams, are doing away with this kind of leadership structure. These captains were basically middle managers, intermediaries between the manager and the other players. A lot of teams and businesses are trying to get rid of middle managers so the stars and managers can communicate without any interference. I just don’t think that works in the long run. In the book, I’ve also used a ton of research done on business teams to show why the unusual methods these captains used were so effective. In the end, I think teams are teams. So these lessons can be universal.


Based on your book, where does the Ryder Cup stand as you have a Captain albeit non-playing leading a team of 12 individuals yet the good captains get lauded more than the team say Paul Azinger, Sam Torrance and Tony Jacklin?

I think the Ryder Cup is an anomaly. Golf is not a “team” sport in the fullest sense, because the athletes don’t interact with their teammates on the course, and they don’t have to defend against opponents directly. And because the captain is really more of a coach, it’s hard to compare it to anything else. I do think captains make a difference in the Ryder Cup, though, mainly because golfers are used to playing for themselves. It takes a certain kind of personality to get them to gel into a collective.

Image result for paul azinger
Paul Azinger is he Captain Class?


What has the response been to the book in America thus far?

Really overwhelmingly great and humbling, thanks for asking! I’ve had excerpts run in The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fast Company, and the sports site Deadspin, and the feedback has been tremendous. Both Amazon and Apple iBooks chose it as one of the best books of the month and I’ve had great early reviews and mentions in the Washington Post, Time, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Best of all is the social media traffic. People have said some really flattering things, which I won’t repeat for fear of sounding like a braggart.  I’ve also heard from a bunch of sports team executives and Olympic team officials who’ve asked me to come to speak to their groups. They’re a tough crowd, so I’m thrilled they’re connecting with the material.


What are you working on next?

I wish I had an answer for that! There are so many angles I’ve found during this project that I would love to follow up on. I’ve decided to wait and see which things people seem most curious about before picking one. Right now, frankly, I’m just looking forward to a beach chair, a margarita, and a really long nap.

The Captain Class is released from Ebury Publishing on 18th May in all formats.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Lab Coast - Album review

FAUX049-800px.jpg

Based in Alberta, Canda, Lab Coast are an eclectic collective of musicians who are proud to release their first UK release of material in a self-titled album which is more a greatest hits picked from the band's extensive back catalogue.  The album is an invitation to listen to a prolific band with their punchy, sharp pop rock songs.

Since 2008, Lab Coast has been delivering hazy bursts of hook-laden guitar pop via a string of critically acclaimed, award-winning albums, EPs, and singles. From their basement studio in Calgary, Alberta, the song writing team of singer David Laing & multi-instrumentalist Chris Dadge (Chad VanGaalen, Bug Incision, Samantha Savage Smith) carve out detailed analogue productions; these recordings draw from the wealth of instruments that friends leave at the Lab Coast practice space, and the ever-evolving recording techniques that they've been honing since day one.

Image result for lab coast band

The sequencing of the album starts high and rarely lets up, maintaining a form of elation and joy in the catchiness of the hooks and lyrics most notably in lead single 'As Usual' and 'Really Realize'.  Utilising the influences of Tom Petty and recalling contemporaries such as Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire; the band builds up a head of steam and never eases off.

Image result for lab coast band


Lab Coast are a band that have remained under the radar somewhat on these shores despite their consistent output, however, their music is fun and radio friendly, hopefully they will not be on the outside much longer in the UK. They are touring the UK at the end of the month playing the Shacklewell Arms on 22nd May, full listings on their website.

The album is available from Faux Discx for £8.00 online and there are limited edition of 500 vinyl LPs also which would not go amiss at any house party.

Lab Coast's self-titled album is released on Thursday 11th May from FauxDiscx.
My thanks to OneBeatPR for the review link.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Blue Gold - book review


Published by Urbane Publications and due for release on 11th May, the debut author by David Barker Blue Gold tells the story of a future world where water is at a premium, a commodity that territories fight over and lives are lost over the ability to drink clean water.

Barker is a part-time economist, who has turned his hand at novel writing and he has successfully crafted a page-turning tub thumping action adventure that is fun to read and shows a real potential. 

Our hero is Sim Atkins, (he goes into why he is called Sim and not Simon) a data analyst for OFWAT, the Government agency for Water regulation, who gets summoned to the Overseas Division after becoming aware of unusual activity from his satellites.  Swiftly Sim is thrust into an odd couple/buddy relationship with Freda, an older female who has a limp as well as emotional baggage and does not welcome the burden of a bothersome partner.

In the same vein of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Bourne, the pair globe trot from Biggin Hill to Brazil to Mount Rushmore to China to the Himalayas.  They encounter many individuals including the brilliantly monikered Bo Brunswick, where swords are crossed and backs stabbed.
David Barker
Author David Barker's debut
Being British, Barker writes with a particular tongue in cheek imbued by the youthfulness of Sim - who is not familiar with any film from before Star Wars quoted by his partner - coupled with the older more mature Freda, who acts like she has seen it all before yet still keeps her cards close to her chest.

The set pieces and fight scenes are easy to follow and have a zip that reminds you not only of Dan Brown but the far superior work of Matthew Reilly who wrote huge elaborate action adventures with subtle characterisations in unison.

Urbane Publications are a new voice in the big world of publishing, but they continue to strike gold with these new authors with voices and stories to share not only on a small scale but ones that can travel and translate. 

Blue Gold informs us of a world where water levels will rise, water will be in such high demand that people will store ice from each other and it is thought over like oil has been in the late 20th century.  It is a neat twist on a familiar geopolitical tension in the current climate.

Blue Gold will be published by Urbane Publications on 11th May

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Captain Class


Written by Wall Street Journal writer, Sam Walker, The Captain Class is a look at how the captain of a given great side can have the influence on a team's performance perhaps greater than the more heralded coach or manager.

Using a mixture of in-depth research, statistical analysis and psychological studies, Walker has looked at team sport across the spectrum and attempted to nail a theory that perhaps the Captain is the focal point of these Tier One (elite) sides that separates them from the Tier Two sides that fail to break through; this difference leads to dynasties and dominance instead of one-season wonders.

Image result for carlos puyol

In the first part of the book, Walker breaks down what makes a great team; was this team in the sport far and away the best side, did they beat equally great sides, was this dominance sustained over a period of time sometimes with managerial/coaching changes occurring. This analysis includes win percentage and record against equally high percentage win sides in playoffs and championship matches.

Walker is good in bringing light to some unheralded sports, the most distant team he selects is the Collingwood Magpies who ruled Australian Rules Football between 1927-1930.  Other teams selected are from Cuba's women's volleyball team (1991-2000), the women Hockeyroos of Australia (1993-2000) and the French men's handball team (2008-15) whose captain Jerome Fernandez led the team to a European Championship win knowing his father was on his deathbed.

Image result for jerome hernandez handball

In an early chapter, Walker makes the point that the teams he notes are not led by a supreme talent as their captain but within that side may be contain an elite or illustrious talent yet having an elite talent does not mark it out as a Tier One team, hence why Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls side is absent.

However, within these great teams selected by Walker are the Brazil soccer side which had Pele, the Barcelona football side of this millennium which contains Lionel Messi and Dan Carter in the New Zealand All Blacks of 2011-15.

Yet by the end Walker brilliantly deconstructs the legend of Jordan as a leader and why he does not make the cut. Walker's ideal leader is one who shies away from the limelight off the court, would rather fold laundry and get 12 hours sleep a night; they lead by example, bending not breaking the rules to gain a distinct advantage in flashpoints, using both verbal and non-verbal communication to instil motivation into their teammates. 

Image result for tim duncan

This is indicative in the chapter concerning Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, an NBA side that has made the playoffs for the 19 nineteen seasons Duncan was a professional in the league before his retirement last summer.  Duncan is a man who does not waste his movement on the court, hence his high efficiency numbers, he is a presence without being overbearing and he speaks to his teammates in platitudes instead of shouting. At times he may have been boring, but his winning record would suggest that if it wins 5 NBA titles do not knock it.

One criticism I would aim at this list is the absence of one cricketing side from across the vast history of the sport when there have been periods of dominance in the Test match arena by either the West Indies of the 1970s/80s to the Australian sides led by either Don Bradman in the 1940s or the 1990s side captained by either Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh.

Image result for don bradman

My argument would be that Walker has concentrated on team sports and has not given attention to the sport not requires a strong captain as a necessity for success; an individual that can inspire and yet not break out with record scores or statistics.  Much has been made in the past about the leadership of Mike Brearley for England Cricket side in the late 1970s/early 1980s, a captain who was the best captain but definitely not the best player who could motivate some failing troops. 

However, Walker decides to ignore the achievements of Don Bradman, still one of the greatest cricketers of all time who retired with the highest average in Test cricket whilst overseeing a dominant period in their history. On the other side of the coin, you have Clive Lloyd, captain of West Indies, who was not the best player but inspired with great innings and was tactically astute to make big differences on the field of play. 

Cricket is a game that requires in-game tinkering and leaves a coach very much impotent to the on-field action; the captain dictates field positions, bowler rotations and tactical tinkering to combat an ever-changing batting line-up and the captain is always the most prized wicket of any bowling side. Whilst Walker makes an explanation in his discourse nevertheless it is something this reader should not have been ignored.

Sam Walker Sports Writer
Author Sam Walker

Nevertheless, this is a brilliant book that is both page-turning, entertaining with the stories of these legendary characters who may shrink from the limelight off the court but shine brightly once they are on it with their leadership and influence that lives on in their sport and their clubs/national team histories. 

With his amazing research Walker has himself led by example as to combine the best of both worlds, the acumen of the academic world married with the all encompassing passion of sports and competition convincingly shining a light on the unsung heroes of team sports in recent history.

The Captain Class is released in the UK by Ebury Press on 18th May in Hardback

Lady Macbeth

Image result for lady macbeth film

William Oldroyd's feature length debut feature following an extensive career in opera, is an adaptation by Alice Birch of a 'Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov. They have transplanted the story to 1865 Victorian England where women were marginalised.

Katherine (Florence Pugh) has been bought to be a wife to an unlovable coal miner's son, Alexander (Paul Hilton) who is drab and hates his tyrannical father, Boris (Christopher M).  Katherine is a much younger women in comparison to her new husband, and in the first twenty minutes she is treated as more of a prisoner as she wanders around this ghastly home with no means of escape - no piano to tinkle and no book to read unless she is partial to the bible, which she is not.

Image result for lady macbeth film

One morning she walks across the Pennines and feels free in touch in nature returning to a period before she had been purchased.  She even has no social outlet except her black maid, Anna (Naomi Aike), who is not a confidant more a rival.

When both men of the house are away on business, Florence hears noises from the stables and Anna being victimised by the stable hands and servants.  Upon saving her from further embarrassment, Florence asserts a flirtation with a new groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) which ultimately becomes a dangerous affair which will have serious consequences on the household.

Image result for lady macbeth film

Once the men return, and it becomes clear that Florence has been sleeping around, she slowly morphs into an angel of death on all those who will keep her and Sebastian apart.  This leads to moments that are both harrowing and traumatic to witness yet perhaps due to the gothic nature of the period it encapsulates the psychology of the protagonist feeling imprisoned.

Oldroyd marks himself as a talent due to the deftness of shot composition coupled with some sumptuous cinematography by Ari Wegner showcasing the beauty of Northern England landscapes.

Along with some intense performance especially by Pugh who benefits from the chronological order of shooting, her development of the character arc from naïve ingénue to malevolent femme fatale is delicately handled in a production of genuine efficiency.

Lady Macbeth is distributed by Altitude Films and is out now.