Category Archives: Personal

The Football Failure Myth – a guest post from the Kid In The Front Row


Mrt’sblog hasn’t focused much on football for quite a while, which is a shame, because it’s been a superb season. The rise of Manchester City has threatened the established order of things and led to some significant changes. However, according to this guest post from the Kid In The Front Row, most clubs will always be limited by myths and mindsets from their history.

You can read the Kid In The Front Row’s imaginative and inspirational blog here.

Every team, apart from Manchester United, is doomed to failure. And it’s all because of the invisible myth that guides each team. The unwritten rule which is true every single time.

Take West Ham United. With them, it’s plain to see. The unwritten rule is that they will be relegated from the Premier League, spend a year or two floating around in the Championship, and then will not only gain promotion, but do so in such a euphoric way that everyone (at least within a 10 metre radius around Upton Park) is convinced they will become at least one of the greatest teams in all of East London (until Leyton Orient firmly put them in their place).

Liverpool, Spurs & Newcastle are all absolutely certain about their own glory and invincibility. The Tottenham way is to sign the greatest players around — Bale, Lineker, Hoddle; play some beautiful football, and fly towards success. This plan is always great until two months before the season ends, when they immediately and desperately try to get relegated.

Liverpool’s pattern is to threaten greatness occasionally, until settling for somewhere around 7th. This will be followed by Steven Gerrard announcing to the press that next year will be the year.

Newcastle won the league a couple of times back in the days when there were only about six teams (and most opponents only had four players). Aside from that, they once won the Texaco Cup and also smashed Basingstoke in a friendly. Newcastle United are, without doubt, one of the most underachieving teams in all of football. Yet remarkably, the fans are absolutely convinced that their team is the greatest team in the world and long overdue some major honours. It may surprise you to hear that I agree. Newcastle are long overdue some success, which is why I think they should arrange a friendly for next week, against Basingstoke.

Every team has their myth! Arsenal would have won the league, if not for injuries. Wolves will beat the league leaders 1-0 on a Wednesday evening in February. Everyone will forget that Wigan exist. Stoke will get a player sent off in the 79th minute. Fulham will finish 11th or 12th.

It’s all fixed!

Kid

 

DVD Review: Moss


No one likes disappointing a friend. I’m sure “stop letting friends down” or “make more time for people I care about” will rank highly amongst the more realistic New Year’s resolutions made this January. Imagine my irritation then when, just days into this New Year, a film of my choosing was a source of both disappointment and bafflement as I met a friend for the last time in at least weeks, perhaps months.

There’s nothing quite like sharing fear. Love might come close, maybe, but fear is much easier to talk about afterwards and grows funnier with hindsight, whilst love’s sadness merely mellows with age. What could be better then, than a horror film send off? Where better to have it than a dark, secluded, silent spot in the wind battered countryside? What better concept for the story than a weird mix of mysterious murderers, seeking salvation from their sins in the supernatural, founding an isolated community and terrorising an outsider to protect their secrets?

I was anticipating a creepy, jumpy thrill ride through shocks and secrets of unspeakable evil. Or something to that effect. Moss is a Korean film and I was therefore expecting it to be free of any British sensibility or pretentious European limitations. I’d heard Korean horror was something to be genuinely feared and was expecting a double barrelled fright fest.

Instead I’m not quite sure what it was we got. It was certainly long. Only just less than 3 hours long, in fact. Moments in the film were clearly intended to be terrifying but I think that Moss’s marketing campaign, which places it firmly in the genre of horror, was misguided to the say the least. But then again I’m not sure what else to call it. The plot is evidently meant to be a complex web of revelations and reverses but I was left, at the end of the marathon runtime, feeling like I’d learnt nothing new. If this is a mystery there is precious little to start with and no more by the end.

The drawn out story follows Yu, who arrives in a remote community after his estranged father (also called Yu) suddenly dies. We learn through regular flashbacks that the older Yu had some sort of spiritual gift, which maverick Detective Cheon decided to harness in order to rehabilitate killers. For young Yu, arriving in an odd and small village of eccentrics, doubts continue to hang over the nature of his father’s death. Did he fall from the land of the living or was he pushed? What exactly was his father doing in the middle of nowhere with this man called Cheon, who everyone appears to worship despite an aura of danger surrounding him?

Moss meanders through themes as diverse as corruption and rape, spirituality and bureaucracy. It never succeeds as a horror because the monsters are in plain sight from the start, with most of them succeeding only at being hilariously inept. One character in particular is so bumbling that had the script tossed him a few innuendos we could have been watching “Carry On Korean Conspiracy”. The lighting undermines any potentially scary moment, even when the soundtrack is trying its hardest to initiate some jitters. The dialogue, at least when rendered as English subtitles, is expositional, dull and far from conducive to horror.

Moss fails to manage a single scare and even more importantly as the story drags endlessly on; it never makes you care either.

Why New Year’s Eve is not the worst film of all time…


What did you get up to on New Year’s Eve? Fireworks are standard fare on the 31st of December and I bet you at least heard a few, even if you were trying to avoid the garish explosions of tinsel in the sky. Booze is another requirement of the occasion; so that even those staying in alone to watch Big Ben on the telly end up cracking open the wine. Talking of Big Ben, there’s the countdown, which for 60 seconds binds us all together in dreary and slurred chanting. And of course there’s the kiss, or lack of, which makes or breaks your evening and sets the tone for the year ahead.

How many of you went to see New Year’s Eve on New Year’s Eve? I’d be surprised if any of you did and even more shocked if you’d heard some snippet of positive press to tempt you to the theatre. A carbon copy of his previous ensemble effort Valentine’s Day, Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall’s film follows the intersecting lives of a clutch of Hollywood’s biggest stars in New York City. It’s packed full of product placement, cheesy messages of hope and not a lot else, which has led to a unanimous selection of one star reviews relegating it to the lower leagues at the box office.

Critical legend Roger Ebert calls the film a “dreary plod” and bemoans its shameless commercialization, which even goes so far as to advertise other films, namely Sherlock Holmes 2, in the final shot. Robbie Collin describes the “utter ghastliness” of seeing New Year’s Eve, whilst Peter Bradshaw rants that post screening his colleagues had to wrestle a razor from his throat. On Rotten Tomatoes it appears to have done well to muster its measly 7% rating.

I don’t disagree with the charges levelled against New Year’s Eve. The big names on show, from Robert De Niro to Katherine Heigl, are clearly on uninterested autopilot. Zac Efron’s plotline seems to exist purely to showcase the wonders of New York to the world and suggest that life is better there, regardless of income or background. The dialogue is atrociously bad and the whole concept painfully predictable. New Year’s Eve is guilty as charged. But Xan Brooks of the Guardian and others have dared to label New Year’s Eve the worst film ever made.

Here I do disagree. I saw New Year’s Eve earlier this week with subterranean expectations. I emerged feeling confused and pleasantly surprised. Let me be clear, I’m absolutely not saying that New Year’s Eve is a good film in any way, shape or form. It is undoubtedly utter rubbish. But whilst it is the worst kind of junk food, sensibly plastered with serious health warnings, it can also be strangely satisfying. New Year’s Eve made me feel something. It tapped into personal memories of mine to provoke an emotional response.

This does not mean there is the slightest sprinkling of quality in the film and I’m aware I’ve been duped into sentimentality by a money making juggernaut. Some might say I should have resisted in order to combat the disgusting Hollywood culture of our time. I feel just as passionately as many of this country’s finest critics who have slammed the film that new voices ought to be heard in cinema, as opposed to this formulaic soup designed to generate dollar signs.

However I think critics that lazily label New Year’s Eve as the worst film ever are being dishonest. Some may genuinely have never disliked a film quite as much. Others must surely be snobbishly concealing their own emotional reactions or at least remaining ignorant of their audience’s views. Yes point out a film’s flaws, yes make the case for more worthwhile productions in future. But do not take a blinkered, negative view for fear of raising your head above the parapet and admitting that yes, actually, I did like something about New Year’s Eve.

2011 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Battle of the Summer Blockbusters: Rise of the Planet of the Apes vs. Super 8


It’s been a while since I went to the cinema. But it feels much longer than it actually is. That’s because it’s summer blockbuster season and every week a new big gun toting production swaggers into town. Stay away from the saloon for too long and you’ll have nothing to talk about with your fellow drinkers because they’re engrossed in conversation about things you haven’t seen or experienced. Sure you can try to chip in with your recycled opinions but you feel like a cheat. And most of all you feel jealous.

Some films I would have liked to have seen had already been EXPELLIARMUSED!  from multiplexes by a certain boy wizard’s refusal to die quietly and works of art like The Smurfs and Mr Popper’s Penguins. I know that later in August I want to see Cowboys and Aliens, One Day and the film of the TV series that defined my generation, The Inbetweeners Movie, so I figured I better catch up before then.

At the time of writing Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Super 8 have exactly the same score on Rotten Tomatoes, with 82% each. They also have identical ratings from numerous respected reviewers, including four stars apiece from Empire Magazine. Because of this it was completely logical of me to decide to watch both films and report back with absolute certainty on which is the best blockbuster of the summer, as clearly the others and those yet to be released, can be discounted.

First up then at 11.30 in Screen 10 was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I couldn’t quite believe I’d paid to see this as I walked in. I’d never really enjoyed the previous films from what I could remember of them. I was also genuinely baffled by the growing chorus of support for the motion capture technology used to create the rebellious cheeky monkeys. The first trailer I saw for the film helped me decide in a nanosecond not to make the effort to see it. It looked like a naff CGI fest with a ridiculous concept and some awful lines of dialogue. And there was the sickening clumsiness of that double “of the” in the title.

I was persuaded to give Rise a watch by the film reviewing community online and I now have a newfound trust in them. There’s no doubt that this will be the runaway surprise success, at least critically, of the summer, if not the whole year. It’s not what you expect it to be and yet it delivers what summer audiences are after. By the end of its 105 minute runtime I was converted from a suspicious sceptic into someone salivating at the thought of the sequels.

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that the apes rise up in this film and that events begin to take place that will lead to the “Planet of the Apes”. As other reviewers have pointed out though, what’s really interesting and remarkable about this film is how we get to the final twenty minutes of solidly entertaining, action packed revolt. The climax is explosive and plays out on a hugely impressive scale, with stunning special effects and fresh ideas for set pieces. But the drama of this action comes from the build-up in the rest of the film.

It charts the life of Caesar, an ape played via motion capture by Andy Serkis, a veteran of the technology after his iconic roles as Gollum and King Kong. Serkis is unquestionably the real star of this production, despite other big names like James Franco, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton orbiting Caesar’s central story. The effects are vastly improved from the initial trailer that underwhelmed me. Facial expressions and movements are so lifelike that despite the lack of dialogue, indeed perhaps partly because of its absence, the scenes amongst the apes with no human interference are some of the most intense and engaging in the entire movie, well handled by director Rupert Wyatt.

Caesar is the offspring of an ape called Brighteyes that responded to an experimental cure to Alzheimer’s. However she was killed when she rampaged, in a maternal rage, around the headquarters of the pharmaceutical company James Franco’s character, Will, works for. Will took the baby ape home so it could avoid the cull ordered by his profit minded superior played by David Oyelowo. He cares for Caesar, practically as a son, for a number of years at home, where he notices increasing signs of a heightened intelligence passed
on from the effects of Will’s drug on his mother.

I make it all sound dull. But a bizarrely convincing and charming family dynamic, which just happens to feature an ape, begins to form. Conveniently, for plot purposes at least, Will’s Dad has Alzheimer’s. Encouraged by Caesar’s progress Will treats his father with the drug, which cures him in the blink of an eye; for a while at least.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is carefully constructed. It helps its structure that the conclusion is clearly defined from the off but it could still have been a flop. Instead a movie with some ludicrous components and some walking pace, stereotypical acting from most of the humans, including Franco at times, manages to be clever, funny and incredibly involving. The apes really are the key pieces of the puzzle, with Caesar a complex character in his own right who looks certain to remain compelling as he tackles rival apes (introduced here) in a power struggle in the sequels. There are so many interesting directions this series could follow, after ditching all the bad aspects of the original franchise, in favour of character based thrills with some genuinely insightful social commentary on big themes.

After a pause for a Greggs baguette and sausage roll, I was back at the cinema by 14.45 for Super 8 in Screen 1. I invested in popcorn because I’d been told for months now that Super 8 was getting back to what movies should be about, so I thought I’d better go the whole hog and sit back in anticipation. If I’d enjoyed Planet of the Apes I was going to love this.

In case you’ve been living in a secret underwater kingdom for ages, Super 8 follows a group of friends making a zombie film who witness a train derailing in spectacular fashion. They are then embroiled in weird goings on and Air Force conspiracies in their local sleepy town, as something appears to run wild. Oh and it’s pretty much a Steven Spielberg film, executive produced by the man himself and helmed by JJ Abrams.

The start works well, as most critics have said. Well at least it makes sense. You can’t help but be sucked in by the young cast and fascinated by their relationships. Joe is the focus of the story. His mother has died in an industrial accident and he barely sees his father, the Deputy Sheriff. His fat friend is making a zombie movie for a film festival with the help of a kid who likes fireworks, a shy and lanky lead and Joe’s makeup skills. Joe begins to fall for the beautiful Alice when they manage to recruit her to act in their masterpiece.

Then there’s that gigantic train crash. It was jaw dropping stuff at times but did anyone else think there were a few too many random explosions and balls of flame? I’m not complaining…well I am actually. Aspects of the crash didn’t feel that real. And as for the rest of the film, JJ’s trademark mystery is teased out too long, and when we finally see the monster it is a disappointment. The threat of the alien is never powerful enough to match the fabulous group dynamic between the friends.

Super 8 feels like the film Abrams wanted to make when he was younger. It’s sharply executed but more than a little messy and dare I say a tad immature? For all its influences it feels as though a particularly talented youngster is behind the camera at points, with a huge budget to burn compared to the DIY methods of the kids. Just like the kids making their own project, it’s as if JJ thought of the premise and the lives of the characters in detail but couldn’t decide where to take them.

So let’s compare and contrast. Both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Super 8 have creatures (irrelevant) and post-credit sequences (even more irrelevant). In one film the humans disappoint and in the other the beast. If Rise had the human heart of Super 8 it would be the film of the summer. If Super 8 had the coherent structure of Rise to go with its incredibly moving moments, it too could have been one of the year’s best films. As it is they are both simply very good and worth seeing.

Sorry to end so abruptly, rather like Super 8. But if I had to choose one I’d go Apes.

Reform or no reform, decision or indecision, government choices about the NHS have real consequences for patients like me


2011 is already shaping up to be a hugely important political year. We’ve had the Arab Spring and in the last couple of months alone, landscape shifting national crises in phone hacking and the riots. Coalition government is still a whole new kettle of fish that could boil over at any moment. No one’s quite sure, still, where Ed Miliband is going to take the Labour party. The Euro continues to dance with death. And Obama may have killed Bin Laden but is yet to throw his own economy a convincing lifeline.

Amidst the naming, shaming and blaming in the aftermath of England’s rioting, debates about coalition cuts and reforms have once again been lost in the robotic chanting of ideology. Earlier this year the general public mobilised in a reassuringly democratic fashion to force a pause or “listening exercise” in NHS reform. There are whispers in some parts that David Cameron and Andrew Lansley intend to ignore the concerns of the people, under the radar. But Nick Clegg, following his electoral and referendum humiliation in May, ensured us he’d keep an eye on them. Trouble is no one trusts him anymore.

What I’m about to write is more personal than political. I’ve said before that all my political writing has an element of my personality, in that I do my best to express strong opinions, beliefs or half formed ideas I’ve concocted from things I’ve read or consumed. Even professional political commentators are aware that their own preferences influence their coverage. But I’m the first to admit that, as a young man, I am often dealing naively in the abstract. My opinion on defence cuts or the symbolic importance of the Euro is rather ignorant and useless in reality. The NHS however is for all of us and can affect the quality of our everyday lives dramatically. We should all feel able to speak out about its future.

In late September I will begin university life after a gap year I probably wouldn’t have chosen to have. A couple of years ago I was very ill. I lost a lot of weight and barely ate anything. I was frequently in severe pain and unable to socialise with friends in the summer holidays. I could muster enough energy to complete school work and little else. Eventually I was diagnosed with the digestive condition, Crohn’s Disease (http://www.nacc.org.uk/content/home.asp).

After passing through various rungs of the National Health Service I found myself with a steady and capable team of staff at the Inflammatory Bowel Disease clinic of my local hospital. A variety of treatments got me through Sixth Form and I was relieved to do well in exams, unaffected by the Crohn’s. In order to continue my recovery I chose to have a gap year, although it didn’t feel like I had much choice. I simply had to get healthier.

I started a new treatment of fortnightly injections. This was intended as a longer term solution because I had been taking powerful drugs that could have harmful side effects in the future. Thankfully the injections worked and continued to do so. I could return to a “normal life” with the limitations of my condition minimised. I felt grateful to be as healthy as I could be. My worries were mostly those of ordinary people my age and I was able to grow as a freelance writer and enjoy the year.

Now though health related stress is making a comeback. With university imminent I am organising the altered delivery and storage of my treatment. And at the last meeting with my doctor a few months ago I was told that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or NICE, who are basically in charge of what doctors can spend on expensive drugs, would want to reassess my case at some stage. The guidelines say that if you’ve been well for a year you should be taken off the costly treatment. I was assured this wouldn’t happen during my transition to university but I am not naive. At some point the decision will be taken away from my doctors.

So then we come back to NHS reform. I had always been instinctively against the predominantly Conservative proposals. But my doctor said something along the lines of; if it were his choice he obviously wouldn’t even consider withdrawal of the treatment for a long while. David Cameron has constantly talked of empowering GPs and specialists to make decisions like this which could benefit patients like me. Was I against these reforms or not?

The main problem is a lack of understanding. Do you fully understand what is being proposed? I don’t. I’m betting no one, bar those involved with the actual legislation, really does. The pause has actually complicated things further. In fact even those with all the facts of the legislation can’t comprehend every little consequence in real life for real people. Letting doctors decide sounds good. But shouldn’t the bulk of their time be spent treating patients? Shouldn’t someone independent make such decisions?

My attitude towards NHS reform has taught me that whilst I lean to the liberal left or centre with my political thinking, my actual opinions can be rather conservative. Change has always stressed me out in everyday life. If something as vital as the NHS ain’t broke, don’t meddle with it, especially when the country is trying to save money. I got better eventually, that’s all that matters.

I’ve long thought that the real way to help improve standards and ensure sustainability for the future is to cut down the sprawling responsibilities of the NHS, whilst reinforcing vital areas. It seems logical and fair that treatments that aren’t essential should not be given priority. Equally those that bring about their own illnesses should come second to the more deserving and hard done by. We need tougher health based taxes to directly fund the NHS and ease its burden, doing whatever we can to discourage the abundance of drinking and smoking cases that weigh it down. Granted this view comes from the fact that I was born with asthma and have other conditions, like Crohn’s and eczema, I could do nothing to prevent. I hold a selfish view. But then everyone gets their opinions from somewhere and all I believe in is a fair, efficient health service.

Again though what I thought I believed has been turned upside down by what’s happening to me in real life. NICE are the body responsible for ensuring that the NHS spends its money wisely and on those who need it. They are also the body that could at any point in the future remove my funding and leave me without treatment. I might stay healthy or I could plunge back into an illness it will take a long time to escape from. It could be even harder to recover second time round and the injections might not work twice.

The NHS is something Britain is envied for around the world and it is a genuine reason to be proud of our country. Cameron is saying Britain is broken again and pictures of the riots have been beamed out internationally. But we can be proud of the NHS. Overall I am happy with what it has done for me but the uncertainty hanging over my future proves it’s not perfect. It can’t be. It aims to be perfect, trying to make everyone better all of the time. Because it reaches so high it can’t get it right for each individual; whatever politicians decide to do will not change this fact.

But every decision they do make about the NHS will have life changing consequences for someone, somewhere in the system. For people like me
and people far worse off than me. So they should continue to think carefully
and trial new ideas before making sweeping changes. I’ve written before about
the government’s NHS plans but this article is an admission. I do not know
whether it’s best to stick or twist. All I can yelp ineffectually into the
blogosphere is that I hope the decision makers understand the gravity of what
they are doing, and that we keep doing our best to keep up and pay attention.

Missing Pieces gets a great new trailer – featuring quotes from Mrt’sblog


You may remember a while back I reviewed a low budget film from America called Missing Pieces. It didn’t have a release date or much publicity behind it. It arrived from nowhere, out of the blue, with a business card from the director and a general sense of low expectations. I’ve reviewed “passion projects” before and the perils of a shoestring budget are many, no matter how good the intentions. I’ve watched films by young people and students before; they normally turn out to be naff zombie “stories”.

Missing Pieces is not a zombie film and it’s not a horror, despite comparisons to the Saw franchise. In fact it’s genuinely difficult to categorise. The overwhelming feeling I was left with after seeing it, both initially and on repeated viewings, is that I’d just watched something new. Something fresh and original. I called it a “hidden gem” and generally resorted to stock phrases of praise because I was completely surprised by it.

Here’s my original review on Flickering Myth: http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/2011/06/movie-review-missing-pieces-2011.html

Yes I was shocked by the high standard of emotional storytellling and quality filmmaking on show. But more than anything else I was stunned that this was made for $80, 000 dollars and that there was a big chance very few people would see it. As much as we like to think we get what we deserve in life, whether it be punishment or reward, we know the cold reality is injustice most of the time. It would be a crime if this film was wasted on the likes of me.

As I said in a recent blogpost, there are things I am proud of acheiving as a 19 year old. But Kenton Bartlett, director and writer of Missing Pieces, was making a film at my age, not writing amateurishly about them. And the final product is not just professional but a work of art.

The new trailer for Missing Pieces is more mysterious than previous efforts. It also features a whole 3 quotes from my review! It’s absolutely thrilling to see my name, and that of Flickering Myth, quoted to endorse such a brilliant, intelligent and touching film.

Attached to the end of the teaser trailer is an interview with director Kenton. He speaks passionately and frankly about making a movie. And he urges you to share the trailer with your friends, talking upliftingly about people power making dreams come true against the odds.

I have become a fan of Kenton and Missing Pieces. But I reviewed it completely blind. I was impartial and I was won over to an inspiring cause of independent filmmaking. Now I’m asking you, if you read my blog or have stumbled across it, to watch a great trailer and get others to watch it too.

There is also a stylish poster in the offing for Missing Pieces. Check that out here: http://samraw08.deviantart.com/#/d44zcyx