30 December 2015

I'm writing stuff

I swear I am. I think the last three years of this site have seen more posts about how I need to write or am writing than actual content. So yeah, soz. But I swear, I am writing stuff. I want to do an albums of 2015 post (even if I have only really been listening to Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, from this year). but before I do, I have some catching up to do. My last "albums of..." was 2010, so I need to get that backlog cleared; I want this tag to be chronologically logical. So yeah, watch out for 2011 and 2012, pretty imminently.

I promise...

27 January 2015

I need to bloody write something! But you knew that anyway. So, when I tested the iPad app, a post or so ago, the photo of course failed to upload. I have stuff to say, and I do actually have the occasional thought. Bu, judging by this blog, you'd think I'm vacant, psychologically desolate. And maybe I am. But I do have things to say.

So I'm going to put my thoughts here, instead of talking to friends, colleagues, strangers and junk. I don't think any of those people really listen, let alone remember, my bombs of knowledge as they drop remorselessly from the fighter jet that is my... I don't know where I'm going with that. Anyway, I can log things here for posterity! Like everyone else on the internet does with their poxy blog. So there you go.

18 December 2014

Testing the iPad

I know my earlier post from around two years ago - Testing the Sexus - didn't result in a feast of portable writing, so I make no promises or grand ambitions about writing now I have an iPad. It was partly because my Nexus 7 broke a few short months into our lives together, and I didn't actually get around to replacing it for the best part of a year. And then whatever Android update it was slowed the thing down when I finally did get it fixed, so it wasn't amazingly user friendly. But it was also because I am more than a little lazy, so I just didn't write much on any device. I think I did three posts this year? Including this one. 

So yeah. 

I will report that typing on this thing (iPad Air 2, gold, 128GB, fellow dorks) is actually surpassingly nice. Having both Android phone and tablet, I've got used to swyping movements rather than pecking, but I can write at a decent rate with two hands on this thing, so it's not too bad. I hope not, anyway, but I've not gone back to check whether the keyboard has suggested any bizarre words. I just spotted "pavement" instead of "movement", for instance. 

Can I add a pic? Is that reasonably practical? For reference, I'll go with a panorama of my new favourite bar, the New Conservatory, if it works. I love the look and feel of that place. No idea how I'll handle links, or tags. Eh. 

06 November 2014

Was Brendan Rodgers throwing in the white towel?

In case you were unaware, crisp salesman Gary Lineker has dissed Liverpool FC manager Brendan Rodgers for selecting an allegedly weakened team against Real Madrid (current official best team in Europe, after having won last season's champions league), in Madrid!
Because he's such a charming chap, I'll forgive him the mixed metaphor: surely you either throw in the towel or wave the white flag? Perhaps this was a double capitulation, I don't know.

Rodgers did admittedly field a weakened team, though he coyly mentioned that he doesn't know what his best 11 is (possibly a reference to his side's defeat to the far from amazing Newcastle United, on the weekend just gone). Stars such as Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli (lol) were warming the bench, while squad players and 'prospects' Emre Can, Fabio Borini and Kolo Toure were allowed rare starts.  Was it a pre-emptive submission?

I actually think it was a pretty smart move on Rodgers' part, and not only because his selection meant he couldn't really lose - even if (and when) he actually did.

The common perception is - with a league match against Chelsea imminent - Rodgers knew he would lose this match, so decided to rest the players he would need on the weekend. When the loss would come, he could point to his weakened side, and ask us what we expected from them. The criticism would not just be for the "white towel", but for denying his newer players what is possibly a once in a lifetime experience: to play the European champions in their historic stadium.

However, this set of subs and second-stringers managed a more respectable loss (1-0) than the all-stars did at Anfield (0-3, and should have been a lot more): why is that? It's not like Madrid took their feet off the gas, as this wasn't an aggregate knock-out tie; they had to win this as much as the other one. Winning the group would be a factor, as they'd want to avoid other group winners in the next round. Could it be that Liverpool were better this time?

My (very amateur) theory is that this side was picked because they weren't as good, and Rodgers knew they would perform better than the first 11 would.

Liverpool under Rodgers are known for basing their game on attacking as much as possible, hoping to score so many goals that they compensate for their defensive frailties. Last season, that was largely the case: they scored only one goal fewer (101) than the champions, Man City, and they had the top two scorers (Suarez, 31; Sturridge, 21), but conceded one goal fewer (50) than 13th-placed West Ham.

This season, with Suarez sold to Barcelona and Sturridge injured a lot, their goals scored have slipped from more than double those conceded to equalling them, at 13 each: against the firepower of Real Madrid (37 goals scored in the same amount of games), Liverpool cannot use their usual strategy and expect to win. After all, it led to conceding three first-half goals in the previous match between the two.

In football, lesser teams are often more difficult for elite teams to play against than other elite teams would be. This is because, while both elite teams are trying to win, the lesser team is often trying not to lose. If Rodgers starts Balotelli, Gerrard and Sterling, they'll be up the pitch, trying to score. As they're there, if the team doesn't want to get too stretched, the defence will press high up, as they are used to. As a result, if they lose the ball, the power and pace of Ronaldo, Rodriguez and substitute Gareth Bale will make them pay with dangerous counter attacks.

So you use the less experienced, less decorated players. Because the team automatically switches in personnel from title chasers to mid-table chancers (and of course "prospects"), they will both play more cautiously and follow Rodgers' instructions without question. As a result, they defend as a priority and make Madrid's counter attacking game more difficult to pull off. Of course, as time goes on without conceding, the likes of Borini and Can will grow in confidence and make forays into the opposition half, but without compromising their strategy. For evidence of Liverpool's new sense of caution, their first shot on goal came in the second half.

Playing this kind of game is also risky, as your defence is likely to creak at some point in the 90 minutes and, once behind, a cautious strategy will make it hard to get back on level terms. This is why the aforementioned lesser team doesn't often beat the elite 11: at some point, the better players will take their chance. But it does mean you won't get smacked. So, in terms of winning a match, Rodgers did capitulate. But he intelligently avoided taking too much damage, gave a set of youngsters vital experience at the highest level, and his best players are now rested for the match against Chelsea.

Oh, and we got to see Kolo Toure really impress as a solid defender; perhaps some of this team will find its way into the first 11.

19 January 2014

The act of killing

I had to rip this from the film's site, hence the arrows!
Joshua Oppenheimer (2012)

Today I watched the disturbing, compelling docu-nightmare The Act of Killing. This was one I had never heard of until my perusal of the Sight + Sound best films list (I slacked in my film reading in 2013). If asked what it's about, I suppose I'd answer would be along the lines of 'it's about Indonesian death squads in the 1960s', but that would fail massively to adequately describe this surreal horror show of a documentary.

Director (documentor?) Joshua Oppenheimer interviewed participants in the mass-killings of 'communists', ethnic Chinese and pretty much anyone the new military regime wasn't enamoured with. These were men who killed hundreds of innocent people, in various ways, including beating, drowning, decapitating, running over with cars and apparently 'forcing lumps of wood into their anus until they died'. Far from being ashamed of their vicious (and, let's face is, demented) deeds in the mid-60s, they are proud. They are local celebrities, befriending gangsters (the word for 'gangster' being 'preman', which apparently comes from the English 'free man', a tenuous link used to justify all kinds of extra-legal activity).

Given that they were so happy to explain their acts, Oppenheimer asked if they would re-enact them. You know, to give him a better idea of their conquests of mortality. Not only did they agree, but thie somehow turned into them making a film that represented their actions, in various styles including gangster film, western and musical. Apparently gangster flicks influenced some of the deaths, such as strangling in the back of a car and dumping the body. Quite how musicals fit into this is beyond me, as is much of the film. One of these people said that, when it was the 'destroy the Chinese' phase, he walked down the street, stabbing all ethnic Chinese people he saw. Including his then-girlfriend's dad.

At one point, someone involved in making this film tells the pensioner mass-murderers his story. When he was 11, a gang came for his stepfather. There was a scream, and then silence. His body was found the next morning, under a half oil drum. With the neighbours too frightened to get involved, this 11 year old and his grandfather had to carry the body away and bury it by the roadside. He gets increasingly angry as he tells this tale, quite understandably, but realises who he's telling. He clarifies that he's not against their project, but feels his story might add to the film. Unmoved, the gathered killer senescents merely tell him there's not enough time for all stories.

The normality with which their tell their tales of wreaking mass death is disturbing. Children present for the re-enacted scenes clearly think what is happening is real, while a paramilitary leader tells one to stop crying: it is apparently embarrassing him, as Hollywood stars only cry for a moment. They sell their film on a national talk show, and even the host seems amused and proud at the idea of 'exterminating all communists' and any offspring who may be angry about their parents being executed. When one is asked how he'd feel standing trial for war crimes, he expresses his lack of respect for the Geneva Convention, and merely points the finger at the likes of George W Bush, who invaded countries based on the faulty pretext of weapons of mass destruction. While true, how this excuses the murder of over one million people in Indonesia, by Indonesians, is utterly beyond my comprehension.

My sister asked how I could watch this; the 'oxygen of publicity' philosophy. While I did and do agree with her, this is really something people need to know about. Not only as a (skewed) historical document of quite what went on - at one point, a killer talks about how the communists had been perceived as cruel, whereas it was actually his revolutionaries who were cruel - but because the principle exists now. In the drug wars of Mexico, in the religious battles in the Central African Republic, sectarian war all through the middle east. Ignoring the realities of what humans do to one another is foolish, and denying reality.

There is something of a story arc here. After playing a torture victim in one particularly intense scene, mass-murderer Anwar Congo remarked, seemingly heavy hearted, that he now knew what his victims felt. A voice off camera suggested that was untrue: he knew he was making a film. They knew they were going to die. This seemed to act as a moment of clarity for a man who spent the film mentioning in passing his feeling haunted by what he did. He talked of the time he beheaded a man with a machete, and failed to close his victim's eyes. Those eyes just looked up, blankly, at him, and it is a memory that lingers vividly in his mind. Being showed the film he made ostensibly to glorify his actions seemed to undo him. He took Oppenheimer to the scene of many murders, and multiple times began violently dry-heaving as he tried to describe what he did. Finally, the horror of what he had done was articulated to him.

Sadly not so much the other characters, who either pretended they didn't care by convincing themselves they were doing the right thing or, as posited by a member of backroom staff on the aforementioned TV show, had been driven crazy by the killings. One old man, a journalist, claimed not to know what the men sharing his office building had been doing. 'You're very smooth', he'd tell the gangsters, who told him that not only had they not hidden anything, but his own editor sentenced many people to grizzly death via his paper's manipulation of facts and propaganda.

Quite apart from the honesty with which these acts are described and reenacted - with the backing of numerous politicians including the vice president - and the awful film they made, what adds to the surrealism is the fact that the end credits describe these men as 'characters', and most people involved in making the documentary have remained anonymous. I'm intrigued to watch the film with the director's commentary activated, as it seems Oppenheimer made the film for the gangsters. Of course he was enabling their admissions of guilt, but I wonder how friendly he grew with these sociopaths.

I'm not sure I can recommend this to anyone. Scenes such as the one where a victim's ghost thanks his murderer for 'sending me to heaven' and shakes his hand are beyond the pale, as are the frank admissions of political corruption, fleeting admissions of guilt and general headfuckery. But at the same time, it's essential. This is how people think. People who think they are engaged in a moral crusade against their political opponents. As mentioned in the film, history is written by the victors, and it is rare we witness in documentary form such clear evidence of how insane the 'winners' can be. Aside from letting us know what some monsters did decades ago, and a continent away, it's also a cautionary tale about how even the most disgusting wrongs can be painted as right - as long as you hold the brush.

15 July 2013


Writer: Tony Tortora 
Director: Richard Bonham

In Churchill, debuting playwright Tony Tortora has offered a vignette that is modest in physical scale, but rather grander in terms of psychology and characterisation. The play concerns the recently-deceased former prime minister arriving at neither Heaven nor Hell, but a ‘weigh station’ for the afterlife, in which Sir Winston is presented with several of his favourite artefacts in the hope he’ll be entertained until he moves to his final destination. Unimpressed with the facsimiles of the possessions of the mortal coil, and with the obsequiousness of his anonymous servant (who ends up named after Winston’s last trusted servant Howes, played by Stephen Bellamy), Churchill demands a companion more intellectually stimulating.

Enter Hitler.

Attempting to put words into the mouths of two of the most compelling public speakers in human history is an unenviable task, and Tortora has very nearly pulled it off. Daring, too, were the actors, who not only had to embody these leaders of warring nations, but to do so almost on their own for two hours. Howes and his subordinate, the down-to-earth Annie (Carolyn Eden), provide comic effect, as well as a slightly unwieldy touch of deus ex machina.

The first half is very entertaining, and feels far briefer than its hour. Jeremy Dobbs, though he doesn’t look incredibly like Sir Winston, delivers with largely accurate enunciation and carries himself with suitable gravitas. Michael Forrest was a rather less convincing Hitler, though his task was inherently more difficult. Not only are there myriad Churchill speeches to learn from, but tonight’s Hitler spoke English (in the afterlife, everyone apparently speaks English, leading Churchill to revel in the fact that he always knew God was an Englishman) and we don’t know how that would have sounded. Rather less northern England-accented than tonight, perhaps?

Whether due to the fatigue that comes with such demanding roles (and the sheer amount of lines Dobbs and Forrest needed to memorise), or press night jitters, the lead performances slipped a little after the interval. It’s especially unfortunate when Hitler stumbles over his lines just as he waxes lyrical about how fascinating a speaker he is, or Churchill chewing for rather too long on the syllables of the word ‘oratory’. The nerves noticeably diminish when Carolyn Eden appears on stage, her easy confidence and Annie’s likeability positively influencing her colleagues.

Intriguing was the actual script. It was quite obvious that at one point, commonalities would be found between the two otherwise utter enemies, so it was interesting to see how they’d arrive at such a point in the conversation. It turns out the initial thawing in the atmosphere comes when Churchill inspects the paintings Hitler has with him; they’re both fond of art. And so the occasionally too friendly debate begins. There is perhaps not enough content to justify the running time: though it would seem the two could argue forever (a notion touched upon in the play), points such as the different levels of wealth the pair enjoyed/endured growing up were rather driven into the ground. While this is also drawn attention to in the script, such self-awareness does not necessarily excuse the flaw’s existence.

As this was early in the play’s run (the third performance of this premiere run), one would hope the lead actors settle more comfortably into their lines as the nights go on, and certainly before the play debuts in London, later this summer. As it stands, Churchill is an interesting, if not entirely successful debut for Tortora, whose ambition is to be applauded. There are some wickedly amusing lines, and the subjects discussed – such as the paradox of Hitler’s anti-Semitism coexisting with his fondness for some Jews – provide food for thought. However, the play feels a little too much like a snack, when its ingredients should provide a banquet of character and drama.

Runs until 20 July 2013
This review originally appeared in The Public Reviews
Photography: Matt Tullett

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