True Detective – Season 1 review

18 May

We are very much living in the, for want of a better word, ‘era’ of outstanding TV dramas wherein the plot-lines, actors and budgets are what we would usually expect from cinema, giving us gripping adaptations of renowned books and suspense filled series full of originality.

One is oft-greeted with animated fervour upon any mention of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and House of Cards from friends, colleagues, strangers, generating either a rapturous conversation discussing EVERYTHING about it, or awkward stares and possibly loss of respect if you’ve not watched it. They will certainly urge you, almost pleadingly, to watch their favourite show, as if it were life or death. It is, of course.

It can be wondefully bemusing to hear of those who reject the hype around certain programming for the simple fact it is popular; perhaps upon consideration they allow themselves to believe this makes them “cool” but the future of their reasoning will present them with two possibilities, and two only: 1) They will remain adamant in their position of apparent social superiority and miss out on an amazing show, or 2) curiosity and being surrounded by avid viewers of the show will eventually break their resistance and they will decide to watch it.

That might sound ominously conformist, but you get the point; we are lucky to be blessed with such stellar entertainment and the reasoning of “everybody else watches it” doesn’t really wash.

There is little wonder why True Detective has received such plaudits and high ratings (it currently has a rating of 9.3 on IMDb). As an audience, we are confronted with intrigue and mystery from minute one, the scene which sets up the premise of the show. Initially, we meet the protagonists and former detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) in the present day, undergoing interviews by two current officers about a previous case, one that involves a homicidal Satan worshipper.

Dark story lines highlight the true monstrosities of the world in which we live, eschewing a pessimistic narrative and sinister implications. Not for the faint-hearted, True Detective explores paedohphilia and murder, as well as deeper psychological aspects and pessimistic existential philosophy, the latter through the brilliant mind of McConaughey’s character, Rust.

The character of Marty balances out what would be an intimidatingly dark drama; his incredulous one-line responses to Rust’s perceived kookiness adds a light-hearted feel. Marty is perhaps a more typical police officer than Rust, who is often seen as an outsider, and his character is used as a device to explore the American male and his gender role in relationships, society and the workplace.

The flashbacks provide us with a dual plot-line, as told by Rust and Marty, which adds dynamism and originality to the show as we find out more about the characters’ personalities and how time has altered their perspectives. The separate timelines offer the viewer an insight into the changing relationship of the two main characters, the apparent animosity that has developed between them and their work on the case.

The ingenuity of Rust is captivating and his abilities are showcased as the series progresses. This, coupled with the intrigue of the plot, makes for another binge-worthy TV drama. Unsurprisingly, McConaughey and Harrelson are faultless throughout, both cementing their reputations as top class actors.

So this is a plea to watch it; don’t be one of “those”people because you’ll miss out on one of the most fascinating dramas on television.

Premier League run-in: Do Man Utd and Liverpool hold the key?

16 Mar

Manchester City would have ruined countless accumulators this weekend with their loss away at relegation contenders, Burnley. In truth, the team that started this round of fixtures second from bottom gave a much better showing than last year’s champions, thoroughly deserving their win over a lacklustre City side.

Two losses in their last three games now see Pellegrini’s side slipping away in the title race and, unexpectedly, being dragged into the fight for top four. They are just one point ahead of Arsenal and two ahead of Manchester United, who both registered 3-0 wins this weekend, as well as good performances to boot.

However, as any fan will tell you, this is football and anything can happen. For the entirety of the season, most have tipped the Premier League crown to go to one of City and Chelsea, with the best of the rest expected to challenge for third and fourth spot. However, with City slipping up too many times and Chelsea stuttering slightly, it appears that Arsenal and United are back in with a shout.

Many will point to Chelsea’s six point advantage and game in hand as an indicator that the Blues will surely win the league but that match (against Leicester) falls at the end of April, with five games to play before, including consecutive games for Chelsea against United and Arsenal, home and away respectively.

If both teams are able to continue their current form, they have the ability to cause problems for José Mourinho’s side and put a dent in Chelsea’s title ambitions. In fact, Manchester United are to play a key role in deciding where the Premier League trophy will be heading come the end of May, as they are due to play all three teams that lie ahead of them in the table.

Arguably, as they are the furthest away from first place out of the current top four, Van Gaal’s team have the least chance of going on to win the league. But the Red Devils host both City and Arsenal in the run-in, and of course, are away to Chelsea. Should they match City’s next two results, they will have a chance of going ahead of their Manchester rivals when they play them at Old Trafford on 12th April.

Or, if they lose to City and beat Chelsea on the 18th April, they would drag the leaders down towards the chasing pack, which would result in a nervy game at the Emirates for the Blues the following week. And, in the penultimate week of the season, United host Arsenal in what could go some way to deciding who wins the league and who claims a Champions League place.

To add yet more uncertainty into the mix, Liverpool could also help to decide things. The Reds welcome United to Anfield on Sunday, as well as taking on both Arsenal and Chelsea away from home before the season is over. Brendan Rodgers’ men will be hoping to secure a top four spot themselves, and could maybe throw a spanner in the works to their fellow contenders.

With so many big games coming up, the Premiership is starting to shape up nicely for a exciting finish, especially if United and Liverpool manage to become banana skins for those above them. Perhaps mid-season expectations of predictability will be met with an unforeseeable climax.

Brendan Rodgers’ tactical prowess and Steven Gerrard’s replacement

20 Feb

He’s come in for some stick this season but I can’t help but admire Brendan Rodgers, not least for that charming smile he flashes every now and then. Phwoar. Liverpool’s campaign only really took off at the halfway mark and they’ve certainly not hit the heights of their title challenge of last year. Added to the sombre news that club legend, Mr Liverpool himself, Steven Gerrard is leaving the Reds in a few months, and you could forgive a Liverpool fan for being at least slightly pessimistic about their manager at the moment.

As I said, I’m fond of the Northern Irishman. To me, his tactical nous is sublime. We all know that he got it spot on last year, despite everyone writing off even Liverpool’s top four prospects at the start of the season. But what impresses me most, is his deployment of the 3-4-3/5-2-3 formation of late. Three centre-backs, mostly Sakho, Skrtel and Can; two central midfielder players of varying partnerships; two-wing-backs who patrol the entire flank; and three top quality attacking players creating and scoring goals.

Like this

Like this

The reason I love this formation so much is due to the balance Rodgers has instilled in his side and, moreover, the starring role given to Coutinho, Sterling and Sturridge since he has come back from injury. The change in formation has allowed space and time for the prolific attacking players, as well as significantly less defensive responsibility. Coutinho has been the stand out starlet for me this season because, with the freedom he is afforded going forward, he has unlocked doors.

Brendan Rodgers has realised his back four wasn’t gelling. They were leaking goals and, consequently, the creative talents of their forwards were stifled. So he shifted his tactics. He overloaded the defence and gave their attacking threat free roles. And it has worked; since the inception of this tactical shift, the Anfield club are unbeaten in all but one of their games, causing rise up the table meaning they are now back in with a real shout of finishing in the top four.

Another intelligent move from the Liverpool boss is the use of out-and-out wingers in the right wing-back position, namely Markovic and Ibe. Both have been in top form since adapting incredibly well to their new roles. Both look hot prospects for the future. The sheer pace and determination from both of them means they are able to dominate their flank and pop up in attacking or defensive positions should they be needed.

Can’s performances have been worth noting too. Playing in a slightly unfamiliar third centre-back role, the youngster looks well established and confident. His versatility will be of use to Liverpool in years to come, I’m sure. This brings me nicely onto my second point: Steven Gerrard’s replacement.

Jordan Henderson has been earmarked has “the new Gerrard” since the announcement that his captain was due to leave. Henderson has showed his captaincy credentials recently but I’m really not sure he’s up to the task of stepping into Stevie’s boots. I like Henderson. I think he’s a great player. But Gerrard’s replacement? I can’t see it.

Let’s face it, Steven Gerrard is one of the best players to have played in the Premiership and, as I’m sure many Liverpool fans will agree, there are strong arguments to say he is the Reds’ most influential player ever. As an all-round midfielder, I can’t think of many better to have ever graced these shores. His range of passing, his shooting ability, his determination; he could put in a tackle as well. At his best, he was undoubtedly world-class.

On his own, Henderson will not make anywhere near as big an impact as Stevie G. Henderson can run for days and has decent technical ability but there are few who would dare to claim his talents are at the level of his midfield counterpart. At least, not on his own. There have been rumours that Rodgers’ is in the market for another midfield player, potentially Roma’s Miralem Pjanic, to take over from Gerrard.

However, I’m of the opinion that he has already signed the player, or players, he needs. Three players to be exact: Henderson, Coutinho and Can. As I said, I can’t see Henderson being “the next Gerrard” but, with the talents of the other two next to him, Liverpool could cushion the blown of losing their talisman.

Henderson will be a great captain and his application will rival Gerrard’s; Coutinho terrorises defences with his creativity like Gerrard has done so well in the past; and Emre Can’s solidity in a holding midfield role will ensure Gerrard’s hardy attitude will not leave with him.

Okay, so it’s not ideal that it will take three players to replace him, but what else would you expect considering how successful Gerrard has been? And there are currently very few midfielders in world football who are of the same calibre that Liverpool could buy.

Sad though it is that their captain is leaving, the Reds have a very good, young team and manager to guide them through the next era of the club. Their goalkeeper and defence probably still need work but they have an awesome amount of potential in midfield and up front.

Could this be their team next year?

Could this be their team next year?

Now they’ve signed Cuadrado…could Chelsea play 5-4-1?

6 Feb

Following on from my pal Charlie Sammonds’ assertion that José Mourinho could revert to a 4-3-3 formation to emulate the success of his first period at the club following the arrival of winger Juan Cuadrado, I am going to put a different spin on things.

4-3-3 is now definitely an option for the Blues manager, with, as Charlie suggests, Cuadrado and Hazard on either side terrorising Premier League defences like Robben and Duff used to. And, if the midfield three consisted of Matic, Ramires and Fabregas, hopefully the side won’t be too unbalanced.

I also share the opinion that Cuadrado will probably take Willian’s place on the right side of midfield, or perhaps Oscar depending on the tactics of the game; Willian is arguably better that his Brazilian counterpart at defending.

However, I’m of the opinion that Mourinho will make no changes to his team’s current tactical style, at least initially. The 4-2-3-1 that Chelsea currently adopt is working well for them and sees them five points clear atop the Premier League.

Where the Portuguese coach may see weakness is defensively. Zouma has been brought in recently to replace the slightly off-form Gary Cahill and has impressed in the role. This miniature crisis (I’m sure other managers will be lamenting the luxury Mourinho has with his team) may have been solved therefore but, as in his nature, José will, I’m sure, be looking to improve further.

This is where the signing of Cuadrado is crucial. The Colombian is a winger by trade but effectively played wing-back during the World Cup. His pace and adaptability are key reasons why Chelsea signed him this January. Now, on the back foot, Mourinho can switch to a 5-3-2 formation seamlessly and without having to make a sub.

Numerous pundits have asserted their opinion that this is the strongest Chelsea team they’ve ever seen. I agree, on paper, but some abject performances have highlighted their defensive frailties. To show definitively that they are, in fact, the best Chelsea team ever, they need to plug these gaps and go on and win the league. This new tactic could bring a new dynamic to Chelsea’s game and make them strong enough write themselves into the history books.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 11.48.59

From this…

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 11.49.55

…to this

Battle of the Bridge Bores–but why?

1 Feb

The Chelsea vs Manchester City game didn’t live up its billing. The biggest game of the season, the potential six-pointer between the two teams battling it out for the Premier League title, lacked any real spark or clear-cut chances from either team despite widespread anticipation of a proverbial ‘Clash of the Titans’.

Manchester City were far and away the better side on the night, pressing the home team high and prompting José Mourinho to bring on an extra defender in Gary Cahill, who was left on the bench in place of Kurt Zouma, a decision validated by the young Frenchman’s impressive performance.

Former Hogwarts student David Silva ran the show for the Champions as you’d expect and, in fact, ran the entire game. His passing was sublime, finding the runs of Jesús Navas on numerous occasions which gave the usually consistent Azpilicueta problems.

The first half was evenly fought and it looked as though the Stamford Bridge outfit were going to go into the break 1-0 up after a clever passing move which saw Hazard assist stand-in striker Loïc Remy for a tap-in. But, uncharasteristically, Nemanja Matic gave the ball away in the Chelsea half shortly after the opening goal and Man City punished the Blues with Silva tapping in Aguero’s effort which would have been going wide.

City came out stronger after half time and, for much of the second phase, a nervous looking Chelsea were having to defend and eventually held on to a valuable point which keeps them five points clear at the top of the table.

The events of the game didn’t live up to expectations. Many pundits were tipping the Londoners to extend their advantage over their rivals but they could only just about manage a draw. But why was this? Were Chelsea negative like some have claimed?

The simple fact of the matter is that Mourinho’s squad depth was lacking yesterday. 17-goal-man Diego Costa was out through suspension after his dangerous play in midweek; Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis were recovering from injuries they picked up in the same game; and, due to imminent transfers, Andre Schürrle and Mohammed Salah didn’t make the squad.

Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri were both missing for City, as well as new signing Wilfried Bony. But the effectiveness of these players for their team doesn’t match up to Costa and Fabregas for theirs.

But who did Chelsea miss more? Costa or Fabregas? For me, although Fabregas’ statistics have been off the charts so far this season, it was ‘The Guv’nor’ Diego Costa who the Blues could have done with on that pitch yesterday. Kompany and his fellow defenders had an easy time at the Bridge, but, had Chelsea’s top scorer been on the pitch, the story might have been so different.

Without Costa to bully the City defenders, Chelsea weren’t pushing up far enough, meaning they were sat too deep. And although you can’t complain that Remy scored, his hold up play was non-existent and this meant there was less space for Hazard and Oscar, who needed to step up their game to make up for the loss of Fabregas.

Despite his recent form, Oscar was nowhere to be seen, and Hazard didn’t have enough time to do anything as magic as usual. Fernando and Fernandinho were able to stifle Chelsea’s attacking midfielders, which allowed Silva to dictate the play.

A classic it may not have been, but the 1-1 draw ensures the title race is still wide open, especially with the return of Toure and Bony from the African Cup of Nations still to come. Chelsea fans will be pleased with the result, despite the lacklustre performance from their team, and, perhaps more pressingly, they will be over the moon that Frank Lampard didn’t come back to haunt them again.

Top Five: Films

19 Jan

Those of you who are as popular as me will know the burden of friends, acquaintances and even sometimes strangers on the street constantly asking “Lewis, what’s your favourite ‘this’?” or “Lewis, what do you think about ‘that’?” or of course, the classic, “Lewis, how are you so amazing?”

But I seldom have chance to respond well enough to satisfy the hordes of loyal followers. In which case, I’ve decided to create a few lists on this blog of “Top Fives” so I can finally offer a comprehensive answer to the questions of what my favourite things are. Here are my Top Five films.

1) Inception

This makes it to the top spot by default. I have an Inception tattoo and I’m a little bit obsessed with dreams. The cast is incredible, Christopher Nolan doesn’t know how to make a bad film, and the plot line is mesmerising. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is a masterpiece. I could go on. It was a film that especially impressed in the cinema and, overall, had all the components that I feel makes for a classic.

"We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don't even know it's happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process."

“We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don’t even know it’s happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.”

2) The Wolf of Wall Street

This only misses out on first place by a whisker, and, in fact, might actually be tied. This was explosive in the cinema, taking you on a a wild ride along with Jordan Belfort and his “Merry Band of Brokers” and immersing you in the drug, testosterone and adrenaline-filled lives of the characters. It’s no wonder the film has had such success and approval. Of course, Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the best filmmakers of all time and with this modern-day Goodfellas, he has created a firm favourite for most who have watched it. The soundtrack is loud and aggressive, which is perfect. Leo and Jonah Hill act out the debauchery of the tale of The Wolf of Wall Street flawlessly, as you’d expect. I’ve since read the book, which is also incredible.

"Hookers and Cocaine, my friend."

“Hookers and Cocaine, my friend.”

3) Pulp Fiction

Bizarrely, I saw the Adult Film parody of this first, which amusingly goes by the name of ‘Pulp Friction’ and roughly follows a similar story line, except everything comes back to, yes, you guessed it, sex. It’s fairly soft core and the acting isn’t great but we watched in Freshers at Uni for a laugh. But enough about that, let’s turn our attention to the cult classic of Pulp Fiction. This is Tarantino’s best film in my opinion and it epitomises his style brilliantly. The dialogue is phenomenal throughout, the music is iconic and the way the characters are intertwined is genius. And of course, it boasts a cast of John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson. The only part that ruins it slightly for me is Tarantino’s inclusion of himself and his very emotionless acting.

"Don't be a..."

“Don’t be a…”

4) Django Unchained

Another Tarantino film which has to make my top five. And, like the top two on my list, the cinematic experience was breathtaking. This is nearly as good as Pulp Fiction and, perhaps if it were made before, it would have been better. The characters of Django and Dr Schultz are spectacularly portrayed by Jamie Foxx and Cristoph Waltz respectively in a film that brings the feel of classic Western films into the modern day. The film includes a glorious soundtrack too. Again, the only thing that I feel lets the film down, and it is hyper-critical to point it out, is Tarantino’s character’s “accent”.

"I like the way you die, boy"

“I like the way you die, boy”

5) The Departed

Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin. Directed by Martin Scorcese. I don’t really feel I need to say much more to be perfectly honest, but I shall. The acting is magnificent, of course. The soundtrack is pretty good, including Gimme Shelter by the Stones. Moreover, however, the plot is legendary, turning you this way and that, with as many moles, double-crossings and tension-filled encounters than you could ask for. A truly exceptional film.

"Cranberry Juice? What, are you on your period?"

“Cranberry Juice? What, are you on your period?”

Afterthoughts…

Four out of the five films in my list have Leonardo DiCaprio in…maybe I have a little bit of a man crush on him. Understandable right?

A soundtrack is important for winning me over. All of the above have perfect choices of songs and when I often listen to the soundtracks, it makes me want to watch the film again.

Films that just missed out: Fight Club, Life is Beautiful, American History X and The Shawshank Redemption

Are you f***ing Shore?

7 Jan

Shoreditch is that place that regular, uncool people like myself lament for being full of beardy hipsters and pop-up… everythings, whilst, deep down, we’re secretly longing to fit in such a trendy (is that even a word anymore?) town.

#hashtagseverywhere

#hashtagseverywhere

It’s also the place that I work. But no, unfortunately I’m not hip enough to work in a neat, little boutique or perhaps as an exotic food vendor. I work at a company that many would perceive as the antithesis of Shoreditch: Network Rail.

Roll on lunchtime; I’m starved of food and coolness, and I’m meeting a friend for lunch in a surprisingly reasonably priced cafe we’ve visited before. Alas, despite the fact we were only there a few weeks ago, as is so often in the case in Shoreditch, we arrive and it’s no longer a cafe, but a seemingly efficiently established vintage clothes store doing it’s closing down sale.

Vintage.

Vintage.

No bother, there’s a plethora of stylish joints we can try. Accepting of the fact we’re about to be robbed in broad daylight, we wander into a predictably modern but traditional kind of place, perhaps drawn in by there being an apparent former Made in Chelsea cast member dining outside, or so my friend informs me.

Passing a delightful selection of fresh fruit & veg and pastries, we were shown to our table at the unnaturally light end of the bistro, noting the adverse table and chair to floor space ratio. Having pulled the table out for my friend, the waiter now traps her against the back bench and, though very kind in doing so, attempts to push in mine for me, except I take control of my seat because I’m out for lunch in Shoreditch, not dinner at the Ritz.

Despite the bizarre decor and the confusing, expensive menu, we opt against bolting out of there as soon as we sit down, predominantly because we’re British and too scared to do things like that for fear of offending.

Our captors take our order: a jug, or, as I noted later, more like a rusty chamber pot, of water, a roast chicken sandwich for my friend, and, because I’m edgy and we’re in Shoreditch, a crab omelette.

Between whispered conversations discussing the disturbing vibe (yeah; ‘vibe’. Shoreditch, baby) we felt upon being seated and worries that the other diners will soon recognise that we are impostors, our nervous waitress, who for some reason has replaced our waiter (perhaps he was irked by me controlling the seating arrangements), brings over our, for want of a better word, ‘food’.

On initial viewing, my omelette isn’t an omelette, but, perhaps, the futuristic, space version of an omelette thousands of years into our species’ future, after we have forgotten the original recipe.

This bad boy. Apologies for the poor photography skills,; I'm not Shoreditch  enough yet

This bad boy. Apologies for the poor photography skills; I’m not Shoreditch enough yet

However, the chicken sandwich has been successfully crafted in the restaurant’s kitchen, using, I’m sure, whatever up-to-the-minute equipment Shoreditch establishments use to prepare their food. Oh, no, wait! There’s gristle in it.

We’re unsure whether to complain or not, given that we’re not cool enough to be here and this could be common practice. But, we do. We’re not paying for gristle. I feel a little rush of pride as I unblinkingly put my foot down. God, I’m on a roll here, what with the chair situation from earlier too.

I begrudgingly finish most of my omelette; I don’t wanna be that guy, despite knowing I’m about to pay nigh on a tenner for a half-assed lunch due to extortionate prices and a “discretionary service charge”. Why is it discretionary? Everyone in the restaurant knows about it because it’s on the menu.

Of course, the bill we’re presented with has the sandwich on it, presumably due to a lack of communication between senior members of staff and our waitress, who we guess is enjoying her first day at work, hence why she is being followed, a little overbearingly, by another lady.

They correct our bill and I pay. On our way out we notice the pastries again, including some delightful looking and uncharacteristically inexpensive sausage rolls. Sighing, knowing full well we could have had those for lunch instead of gristle and space-omelette, we depart and vow never to return.

Unwittingly transforming into a restaurant critic, I proceed to warn my colleagues against the place and go about the rest of my working day a little light-headed and under-nourished, yearning for the salvation of dinner time. Thankfully, I live far away from the accepted whackiness of Shoreditch and my evening meal comes in the shape of a jacket potato, which, hopefully, isn’t futurisitc or gristly.

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