July 22, 2006

Superman Returns

Just saw Superman Returns today – and I gotta say, I was suitably impressed.
Superman Returns

The film is set about five years after Superman 2 – with Superman coming back to Earth after having left due to astronomers reporting they had detected remains of his home planet, Krypton. The two main stories are Superman dealing with the news that Lois is in a stable relationship and has a kid, and Lex Luthor returning to create more trouble for the man of steel.
Having watched the first two Superman movies (which I will refer to in this review as 'the originals') again recently, I was intrigued to see if Brandon Routh would be able to do as good a job as the late Christopher Reeves did, and I'm glad to say Routh does a pretty good job. His portrayal of Clark Kent as the mild–mannered, slightly clumsy reporter brings back memories of Reeve, as does his confident, heroic portrayal of Superman. This is not to say that Routh is merely a copy of Reeves; indeed I believe Routh will be a great Superman for this generation (as Reeves was for the last); instead just that the similarities between Routh and Reeves are uncanny.
The effects needless to say, are fantastic. You do almost believe that Superman exists in our world – they are that good.
I also thought Kate Bosworth did a decent job – she wasn't as feisty or gritty as Margot Kidder's portrayal, but perhaps Lois Lane's role as a mother may have had something to do with it. Indeed, the kid aspect is an interesting development, and something that will be intriguing to follow.
Bryan Singer has to be praised for his decision to build on the 1970s movies, instead of trying to cut all links with the films that defined Superman to so many. Choosing to use John Williams' original score as well as the credits so reminiscent of the original, right through to lifting lines such as air travel statistically speaking being the safest way to travel, Singer's acknowledgements to the Reeves' movies are a very nice touch.
Kevin Spacey does a good job as Lex Luthor – although at times I felt like the character was a cross between his serial killer from Seven, and Kaiser Soze from Usual Suspects. As with Gene Hackman, the comedic element and arrogance inherent to Luthor was plain to see.
Personally, I didn't think the movie was too long – although some that are not familiar with the Superman mythology or the original movies may disagree. As said earlier, the throwbacks to the original movies and seeing how this new film ties in with them, were a source of great enjoyment.
So, overall – this film is definitely well worth watching. Bryan Singer has succeeded in bringing a superhero to life for a new generation, much in the same way Batman Begins did. Superman has returned, and with a bang.


July 01, 2006

Heroic display from 10 man England – but penalties the downfall again.

Well, that's it then, England's World Cup dream over for another 4 years; and personally, I'm gutted. So much potential, so much talk of the imminent 'performance', so much expectation; but ultimately, England failed, again.

England, I felt, played well in the game. They maintained possession very well, were patient, and were actually playing football (instead of the long ball). They started brightly; but peculiarly, their best performance came after Rooney was sent off. And, as a Man Utd fan, I'm dismayed to say Christiano Ronaldo's conduct was atrocious; granted Rooney's challenge was heavy, but for Ronaldo to come running in and ask for his Man Utd colleague to be carded was disgraceful. If Rooney was sent off for the shove on Ronaldo, then that too is also disgraceful.

For the hour England were forced to play with 10 men, they gave a truly heroic performance. To hold out against the Portuguese, who were constantly trying to stretch the England back line, for so long, was a marvellous achievement, and something to be proud of. Peter Crouch did ever so well holding up the ball, and alleviating pressure on a tiring midfield and defence. Owen Hargreaves, as well, what a performance; constantly running, tackling and marking, I'm sure he's overcome the boo–boys in this tournament (scoring England's only penalty will have helped too). With 10 men – England gave a great (some would say their best) team performance.

But, alas, penalties was the undoing. Firstly, immense credit has to go to Ricardo, the Portuguese goalkeeper; he is truly a world–class penalty stopper. Secondly, however (and this is a small point), the standard of England's penalties (Hargreaves the exception) was poor – to see Lampard and Gerrard take such poor penalties was disappointing, as these are two players you'd normally bet your house on would score.
But, it's unfair to criticise the penalty–takers, and ultimately, we know they're a lottery. If the keeper guesses correctly, you're unlucky.

The post–mortem as to why this golden generation failed to progress beyond the quarter–finals will begin in earnest. You look at the names in the team – Lampard, Gerrard, Cole (both), Rooney, Terry, Ferdinand – big game players; definite world beaters. So why are they out?

I'd like to put forward a few reasons. Firstly, we HAVE to come back to the squad selection; Eriksson's decision to bring so many midfielders ,and only 4 strikers (2 of which weren't fully fit) has proven to be foolish.

Secondly, England's formation; the World Cup is no time to be stumbling into your best formation, or for experimentation – all this stuff should be resolved in the friendlies. Of course, one cannot foresee circumstances such as losing your main forward, but contingency plans of some sort should be in place – to me, this did not seem to be the case. Again, we could come back to squad selection; had Eriksson opted for one less midfielder (why bring Jermaine Jenas?) and taken a proven goalscorer in Jermaine Defoe – there would have been no, or certainly less of, a need for experimentation with formations.

Thirdly, there seemed to be a lack of creativity, of flair; things we expect from Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole et al at club level. Responsibility for this lies with the players of course, but, ultimately, it is management who implement a game plan, and the players follow it. England have rightfully been criticised as being 'boring', playing too safe – we never saw fluidity, free–flowing football and dominance of the kind Argentina produced, and of which England are certainly capable.

Fourthly, a lack of strength in depth – and again this comes down to squad selection. England's first team is immense; but looking at the subs, there do not seem to be many players that are truly world class, that can make a difference. Exceptions are Aaron Lennon and perhaps Carrick – but, in extra time, there wasn't anybody on the bench that you felt could truly swing things England's way.

From reading the above, you may conclude that much of the blame lies at the feet of Sven–Goran Eriksson, and unfortunately, I would have to agree with this assessment. Up to now, England's flat, 'just enough' performances were justified by the response that 'we've won the game, so why complain?'. But now England have to bear, and accept, the inevitable criticism.

Looking to the future; I think it is a good thing England will part company with Sven. It's time for a new system, new management – and hopefully, in Steve McClaren, a manager who will guide England to European glory in two years time. However, Germany 2006 will rightfully be considered an opportunity missed.


June 26, 2006

England–Ecuador thoughts

Follow-up to England–Ecuador: time to perform from Alex's blog

So – England won 1–0. Overall, I felt it was the team's best performance so far; there was a liveliness and sharpness that had so far been missing. I was impressed by Carrick; he did exactly as he needed to; played solidly in front of the back four, providing precise passes (aka maintaining possession) to his teammates.

Carrick's presence indeed allowed Gerrard and Lampard to go forward and attack. Gerrard had a good game; constantly making himself available to receive passes and making some good runs. Lampard, on the other hand, still hasn't performed as he does for Chelsea. According to Fifa, he's had the most shots in the tournament so far, but, from what I can recall, most of them have been like the shots he had today; forced, dragged wide, or easy for the keeper. Having said that; you cannot contemplate dropping Lampard; he is a key player who WILL score, especially in the big games.

Rooney played very well upfront; for the most part managing to resist is desire to get more involved by dropping deep. His customary probing passes, pieces of skill, hold–up play, well–timed runs and strength (I could go on) were all on display again today; and show why he is so important to England.

Ashley Cole – blinding performance. His pace and stamina constantly amaze; and THAT interception at the start of the first half – immense.

John Terry and Paul Robinson – a bit iffy at times. I have no doubt Sven, McClaren and co will be putting the centre backs and keeper through some solid defensive drills this week. Thay have to; as England really do need to shore it up at the back.

David Beckham – delivered one of his special free kicks for the first time in 3 years. Without a doubt, this was his best moment of the match; as beforehand, England had had 3 or 4 free kicks in promising areas, only for Beckham to put in a poor delivery. I've started feeling a bit sorry for Terry and Ferdinand, constantly trekking into the opposition box on set–pieces, only for the delivery to fail to clear the first man. The best is yet to come from David Beckham.

Which can also be said for England. Slowly, but steadily, England are going up the gears; something that will have to continue in the Portugal game on Saturday. England, I believe, should beat Portugal; in spite of Scolari being something of a 'bogey' manager for Sven, and especially seeing as Deco is now out of the game.
All in all – if England can continue to improve; they should be in the semis.

But then again, it's never that easy with England..


June 25, 2006

England–Ecuador: time to perform

Today is the 2nd round match between England and Ecuador. So far failing to perform anywhere near their true potential (aside from perhaps the first half against Sweden), the nation certainly expects a strong and convincing performance.

Talk seems to be of Carrick playing a holding role – allowing Gerrard and Lampard (two of the best attacking midfielders in the world) to go forward and well, attack, and provide support for Rooney (playing as lone striker).
Personally, I'm in favour of this '4–1–4–1' formation; let the holding/defensive midfielder (in this case Carrick) do the dirty work and tidying up in front of the back four, play it to the midfielders, who can then go forward and play attacking football – the kind all England supporters want to see.
If Owen were around, I think Sven would have opted for 4–4–2 (plan A – with Owen and Rooney together upfront); but with Owen tragically sidelined; I think 4–1–4–1 could turn out as a good thing.

Now, considering the likes of Brazil and Argentina have put in performances that warrant their status as potential winners, is the time for England to perform. Conditions are apparently going to be even more humid than the Paraguay game (in the range of 100 degrees apparently); but England can't continue to blame the conditions. Sven has said they've factored this into their preparations; so let's hope England play well, defend set pieces much better than the Sweden game, keep possession (!) and truly announce their arrival at the World Cup.


March 22, 2006

24

Well, it's been 5 long years and still this show lives up to expectation.
Sure, you may ask, 'JUST HOW MANY BAD DAYS CAN ONE GUY HAVE (?)', but really that is a moot point, when a show is this good.
The production, the acting, the way you are pulled out of your living room into a world where one man represents the supreme good, and anyone that gets in his way is an a**shole – there is no other show like it. Obviously, at times, a willing suspension of disbelief is required; but that just adds to the fun.

Currently, we are about a third of the way through series 5. Alas, I am having to revert to watching it on Sky One, until I get back to uni.
They've definitely picked up the pace in this series though. Series 1 – it took about 23 and a quarter episodes before they realised that Nina was the mole; this series the mole was exposed in a fraction of that – 3 or 4.

But how can I comment on series 5 without mentioning the first episode…

LOOK AWAY NOW if you haven't seen it….

Wow – those first five minutes. To take out not just one, but TWO of the main characters; characters that perhaps had started to seem 'safe', really showed that 24 is still capable of pushing that envelope. Dare I say it, this could be the best series yet – and we're not even halfway. Also, Palmer's assassination pretty much renders the first series null and void; but I'm sure that won't stop me watching the first series box set again sometime in the future…

Speaking of box sets, I've just ordered season 4, to be added to 1,2, and 3. Awesome.


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