Sunday, 28 August 2011

Everton F.C. Facing A Tough Season

As an Evertonian of the best part of 30 years, I've seen my fair share of ups and downs. From the ecstacy of championships and european glory of the mid to late eighties to the seemingly continual battle to avoid relegation from the premier league for the most part of the nineties.

Then in 2002 David Moyes was appointed club manager, year after year he has overcome the limitations of a (by premier league standards) shoestring budget to take his team to highly respectable finishes, with a blip in the 2003/2004 season seeing the club finish in 17th place, which was more than made up for the following year with a memorable 4th place finish in the 2004/2005 season.

During his time at the club, Moyes has had the support and backing of club chairman and theatre empresario Bill Kenwright, who has done, in my opinion, a decent job of acquiring funds for player transfers in the climate we now find ourselves in with oligarchs and sheiks who have seemingly bottomless pits of money to fund their pet projects.

This year prior to the start of the 2011/2012 season a group of fans secretly recorded Kenwright during a meeting where he admitted that the club's finances are not in great shape, and that the banks are looking to recoup their overdraft repayments with potential player sales, leaving David Moyes with no transfer kitty to bring in new players during the transfer window.

Mr Kenwright has made no secret of the fact that he is looking to sell the club to a wealthy investor who can take the club forward, but he is unwilling to risk the club's long term future by letting any Tom, Dick or Harry come in and destroy the foundations that have been put down during his tenure.

The one glimmer of hope for evertonians is the club's academy which has brought through some very promising young talent in recent years in the form of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley (and some kid named Rooney?), but I wonder if these talented youngsters should be put under this sort of pressure so early on in their career?

Finally a special mention for Leon Osman, who although not a big money transfer is an evertonian through and through, and, in my opinion, is integral to the midfield. Which is some feat with the likes of Cahill, Fellaini and Arteta in competition for midfield places.

In Moyes we trust.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

For the 16th series of Doctor Who, producer Graham Williams decided to create a linking narrative between the stories, rather like the story arcs used in present day Who (although not as successfully as messrs Davies and Moffat).

The Doctor's intended holiday is put on hold when he is summoned by the mysterious White Guardian, who asks him to locate the six missing segments of the key to time, which if made complete would be a weapon too dangerous for anyone to possess.

The White Guardian imposes a new companion on The Doctor in the (frankly gorgeous) shape of Romanadvortrelundar, or Romana for short played by the glamorous Mary Tamm.

The story, penned by long term Who script writer Robert Holmes is set on the planet Ribos, and centres around a pair of con men trying to sell the icy planet to the tyrant war monger the Graff Vynda-K.

Although the 16th series divides opinion, this story for me is one of the strongest of the 1978 run, and superior to Holmes' other effort that year The Power Of Kroll. Ian Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt as dodgy duo Garron and Unstoffe are marvellous, Paul Seed, who plays the Graff (And would later go on to direct classic BBC drama House Of Cards) is somewhat shouty, but nonetheless entertaining.

The DVD is chock full of extras the stand out for me was 'A matter of time' an hour long documentary looking back on Graham Williams' time in charge of the programme, including interviews with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward and John Leeson, and archive interviews with the late Graham Williams and Douglas Adams.

The documentary, written by Nicholas Pegg, gives a very good insight into what the programme making process was like in the 1970's. The producer had to contend with ever diminishing budgets, a difficult to handle lead actor and problems caused by industrial action when the unions were at the peak of their powers. Graham's widow Jacqueline speaks very eloquently about how very tough it was for her husband, and how he cared very deeply for the ongoing success of the programme.

Other extras include a commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, 'The Ribos File' a making of documentary, continuities and a series 16 trailer.

While the Key To Time series is not perhaps the best in the programme's long history it is still very entertaining, and this DVD boxset is a real "must have" for fans in terms of the extensive extras.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition Blu Ray

I'm guessing if you're reading this there is a pretty good chance that you already know the story of The Lord Of The Rings, so I will dispense with the synopsis and get on with looking at what you get in this extended edition set.

This fifteen disc set is presented in rather nice gold embossed packaging and comprises of six Blu Ray discs and nine DVDs. Each of the three films is split over two Blu Ray discs in order to allow for the best picture quality. The other nine DVDs contain over twenty six hours of special features.

The transfer quality of the films, particularly The Fellowship Of The Ring, have been criticised by many for lacking sharpness and weird colour correction when the theatrical versions were released on Blu Ray disc some time ago.

I found the picture quality of all the films to be of a high standard, although some, perhaps more critical than I, have mentioned a "green tint" in some sections of the first film, I have to say I couldn't detect this (perhaps I need to get my eyes tested!).

The audio is presented in DTS Master HD 6.1, and it sounds fantastic, the surround channels are used to good effect, and dialogue is handled well, never getting lost in the mix.

For anyone new to this classic series of films, the extras are as complete a document of the making of the trilogy as you could ask for. The highlight for most fans is Costa Botes' making of documentary, the film maker was given unprecedented access during the making of these iconic movies. With such a sumptuous array of special features to choose from you could not fail to be impressed.

Roll on "An Unexpected Journey" and "There And Back Again"!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

AFI 100 Movies #90 The Jazz Singer (1927)

The AFI 100 list chooses its movies based on a number of criteria, The Jazz Singer makes it on to the list, from my understanding, for being the first full length feature film to include dialogue that is synchronised with the pictures on screen, using Warner Bros. Vitaphone audio system, bringing about the rise of "Talkie" movies and the eventual demise of silent movies.

On that basis I completely understand it's inclusion in the list, it is, however, my least favourite film so far. I am a fan of silent movies, so I wasn't put off by the vast majority of the film lacking speech. The main problem for me was that I found the star of the film, Al Jolson, intensely irritating.

I have already seen films in this series that I didn't take to, Duck Soup  for example, but I still found things to like about them.

I know that taste is subjective, and I suppose that there are people that rate this film very highly, and I appreciate that the acting style in silent cinema in some cases was far more expressive and over the top, and he might be forgiven for being the lead actor in what must have been a difficult transitional period, but Jolson's gurning facial expressions made me cringe.

And while we're talking about cringing I will tackle the uncomfortable subject of "Blacking Up", I know Mr Jolson was incredibly popular in his day, but looking back on it now in the 21st century, it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

On it's original release in 1927 it did big business at the box office, so the audiences at the time really took to it, but was it the novelty of the actors speaking on screen, or because it was a great movie?

During this AFI challenge that I set myself, one of the interesting things for me was the thought that it would encourage me to watch films that I wouldn't ordinarily have seen, and there have been some great finds along the way, my favourite new finds so far have been The Apartment , Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and Bringing Up Baby.

This, though is not a film I would necessarily choose to watch again.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mirror Ball Man By Joel Brown

"Bullet holes in a Life Is Great T-shirt. It was the kind of cheap irony I would have written a song about, normally. But it wasn't so funny when it happened to someone I knew."
So reads the blurb of Mirror Ball Man written by Massachusetts author Joel Brown.

Mirror Ball Man is set in the fictional town of Libertyport, although I gather, if you are acquainted with Mr Brown's home town of Newburyport, you may notice a few similarities. 

Baxter McLean, a Libertyport man, born & bred, is a Folk singer/songwriter who had a huge hit record "Mirror Ball Man" in the early 1980s, but despite making several follow up records, he never managed to capture the success of his initial one hit wonder.

So, after what seemed to have been a promising start to his career, opening for Elvis Costello, and appearing alongside big names like Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal and Arlo Guthrie at a benefit concert, his fifteen minutes of fame have come to an end, and he has found himself back in Libertyport after travelling the world, and he is scratching out a living playing gigs in the local area.

Baxter is asked by his good friend Davey Gillis to perform at a town meeting concerning the re-development of the town's harbour area. Davey owns the Rum House restaurant on the harbour, and he firmly believes that his business is under threat by the plans of local money man Jules Titward, who wants to replace the free car park used by customers of the harbour businesses with a luxury hotel complex, which would have a huge impact on the Rum House.

After a lively town meeting, in which Baxter gets the assembled citizens singing along to his "Send the Innkeeper packing" refrain, it would seem that the hotel plans are doomed, and after a volatile argument with Titward in the Rum House afterwards, Baxter and Davey seem convinced that they have done enough to stop the developers.

The following morning on his daily walk to his local coffee shop Baxter discovers Jules Titward's body, he has been shot three times through the heart, and so begins a series of events that sees him become the prime suspect....

This book is written in a very entertaining way, there is a rich vein of humour running through the story, which is refreshing for a murder mystery. The cast of characters are interesting, Baxter, the main protagonist is a very likeable character. The plot moves along at a fair pace, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down.

Joel Brown has written for the Boston Globe, and has also worked for the Boston Herald. He has been a freelance writer for the last three years. But now it would seem, he has a very promising career as a novelist, and with another Libertyport mystery in the works "Mermaid Blues" the future looks very bright. I for one, can't wait to read it!

Click here if you want to get your own copy of Mirror Ball Man.