Jurassic World

Just a quickie, haven’t blogged for a very (very) long time, but something today inspired me to write one.

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Today I relived my childhood by experiencing Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow’s revamp of the 1990’s Spielberg inspired trilogy (although Jurassic Park 3 was actually directed by Joe Johnston). Despite the epicness of the occasion, I went in with low expectations. In my opinion, not only was the series better left alone, but I didn’t think it was possible to live up to the original films, a little more about that later.

The plot from start to finish was unsurprising and mostly predictable. Costa Rican island Isla Nublar has been turned into a tourist’s wet dream with the creation of Jurassic World, a theme park to experience genetically created dinosaurs. Nothing new so far? Well with attendances dipping slightly and the board of directors wanting bigger and more dangerous dinos, the scientists create a ‘super dinosaur’ which – wouldn’t you believe it – is so smart it escapes. It’s hard to tell what sort of direction they were aiming for, parts of the film were so far-fetched, so mindbogglingly unreal that it was laughable. Literally. There were plenty of moments where I couldn’t help but smirk, it’s almost like I was watching a film eh? But ignoring my obvious cynicism, I think they were primarily targeting the new generation of Jurassic fans, focussing on attracting kids, and who can blame them? They knew full well that nothing could keep the nostalgia hunters away. I mean just look at this guy …

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The film regularly hinted at original films, teasing the fans of the series. The communications controller Lowery owning an original park t-shirt purchased from eBay for example, aswell as the original entrance to the park still standing, and visits to the old park’s abandoned buildings on the island. Then it really got down to the nitty gritty. What 99% of people went for, the actual dinosaurs. Despite CGI shots of the park being frankly laughable at times, the actual dinos weren’t too bad. Again, I went in with low expectations after seeing the trailers and screenshots, but when the actual action began and they crossed claws, I enjoyed it.

Acting throughout was bland, but with little depth in storyline and no real creative room for the actor’s to put a stamp on their respective roles, this was unsurprising. Didn’t think much of Chris Pratt before, and saw nothing to make me change my mind.

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Overall I can say Jurassic World was exactly what I expected. Despite the outrageous price I was charged for my ticket (yes I understand the need for inflation, but how out of touch is the film industry with the average person? Supply and demand my arse, just leading to more piratebay users daily) I enjoyed the film. It was fun, a tongue in cheek action packed American cheesefest, filled to the brim with one-liners and CGI. Go see it. Or don’t. But it is watchable.

Should you rejoice at opportunities to experience nostalgia? Or can they tarnish old memories and ruin the series? It is a fine line to cross, one Toy Story 3 nailed (although the recently announced Toy Story 4 is pushing it) and one I hope with all my heart Star Wars nails this Christmas. 

B teams are not the answer.

england-football_2258469b After hearing the news that the FA will almost certainly implement a “B-team” system into the English format I was instantly against it. Part of a 4 point based plan to improve the quality of the national team, it’s intent is to encourage the development of young English talent by providing more game time for them. B teams are not the answer. Simply put, it will hurt the English game as a whole. With the monetary gains in modern football continuing to fluctuate, winning is becoming more and more important at club level. Chairmen and managers understandably want to have the strongest chance of success and in many cases they look to foreign talent. This may limit the opportunities for young English footballers, but by no means does it remove them all together. Surely football is a merit based system? You earn the right to play, you earn the appearances through hard work, training and perseverance, and although I understand a huge part of development is gained through first team experience surely the basis of a young players talent is achieved through their earlier training stages? So once again the the question lies with grassroots level football in England. Yes, admittedly foreign players may take up the majority of positions in Premier League starting elevens, but they have (mostly) earned their trades abroad, why can’t the English? There are so many young players deciding to sit in the reserves or on the bench waiting patiently for chances which may never come to break into the first team, when there are opportunities to flourish and learn new trades abroad. All the top national teams have players playing within their own nations, but no successful team has all of them playing there. Yet there are no current England internationals abroad. By introducing B teams it will create effectively a dumping ground for top teams, instead of the current situation where top clubs loan out potential young talent, increasing game time, helping out lower league teams, and benefiting English football as a whole. Why send them out with the potential of first team football when they can stick them in their B team? The inter league loans are a huge part of our structure. They help produce the underdog stories which we have become accustomed to, the rise of smaller teams and increase in stature of lower league clubs. With the financial differences between the Premier League and Championship etc ever widening, and with the removal of loan opportunities, the quality gap will reach the point where promoted teams simply do not stand a chance. The whole idea stinks of the FA doing something for the sake of doing something. Scapegoating the failures of the English team on the lack of chances and opportunities rather than the lack of talent. If you want to see better players coming through then innovate the system at the very lowest level, change the mentality, change the ethos, rather than blindly following Spanish and German models etc.

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

I haven’t done a blog in some time now, and this hasn’t been down to lack of motivation, more lack of inspiration. Luckily after seeing Scorsese’s latest big screen venture I have plenty to talk about.

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The Wolf of Wall Street is hands down the best film I have seen in quite a while.

Any other year and I would be certain DiCaprio had earned himself his first Oscar, however I have heard it has pretty much already been given to Chiwetel Ejiofor for his role in “12 Years a Slave”. Though I have yet to see it, I find it hard to imagine a better performance than DiCaprio gave as Jordan Belfort. A little research into it has told me that the Oscars are very political, and TWOWS was a controversial film to say the least. That said, I will leave my judgement until after the award has been given, and after I have seen Ejiofor’s performance. 

DiCaprio made the film.

He held the entire film together. I struggle to think of many other actors who could have done such a good job, and I really cannot give him enough praise. He has been critisized in the past for not stepping out of his comfort zones enough and that his roles are very similar, but I think he made the character of Jordan Belfort his own. His eccentric speeches to the office were definitely my highlights, so slick and well timed I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were done improv. 

Jonah Hill was incredible as his partner Donnie Azoff, and whilst I won’t include any spoilers, together they were hilarious. I was really shocked at just how funny I found it. Seeing Hill and DiCaprio acting as if under the influence of drugs was worth the ticket costs alone. He was almost unrecognizable as Donnie, I couldn’t have imagined Hill and DiCaprio working together, but they had real chemistry on screen, and they really pulled it off.

However, the other characters were very much in the background. Even Kyle Chandler who played FBI Agent Patrick Denham barely made an appearance, in fact apart from a mention at the start, he wasn’t fully introduced until almost two hours into the film. There were regular appearances from Jordan Belfort’s friends and family, but it was more of a “sit back, let DiCaprio handle this” and he even had multiple monologues, and narrated over the film. In the least derogatory way possible, it was all DiCaprio. 

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3 hours long but it didn’t feel like it.

I watched this in a Dutch cinema, and halfway through the film, the movie stopped and the room went dark. The curtains came across the screen and everyone moved to go to the toilet or buy more food and drink. Living in England my whole life I was accustomed to sitting through the entire film, or being forced to sprint to relieve myself and miss a part of the movie, I found a 15 minute break was a fairly good idea. This was the first point I checked the time and was surprised it had been over 90 minutes. Normally if I have to check the time it’s a bad sign, it suggests the film is dragging. TWOWS flowed so well that I honestly was shocked when I saw how long it had been on. That said, there is very little story line progression by this point, and for some people the on screen antics could get repetitive. 

Controversy.

Simply said, this film earns it’s 18 rating, and then some. There is enough drugs, nudity, and swearing for 100 films. Scorsese is obviously trying to really press the point of Jordan Belfort’s lifestyle by emphasising his extravagant spending. I think for this reason, the controversy of the film has really hindered DiCaprio’s Oscar chances, as well as putting some people off because of the repetitiveness of it all. I found it to be a little too much personally, cut out half an hour of the endless parties and drug induced montages and I don’t think it would have harmed the film much at all. It is a fun film, with no mention of the victims of the fraud committed, a point which led to some criticism from viewers who had personally been caught in financial crises due to Wall Street

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The music is the cherry on top

I am a big believer in soundtracks, they can make a good film great. TWOWS has the perfect soundtrack. The songs consistently compliment the film, helping to emphasize the desired mood. Admittedly the majority were upbeat party-style songs, but the selection was still perfect for the situation. One of the first scenes of the film where Belfort has dinner with his boss Mark Hanna (played by Matthew McConaughey), Hanna creates a bizarre humming tune and forces Belfort to join in. It is used several more times throughout the film and however odd it was, it was still funny and catchy. A real metaphor about the film in general. There are plenty of strange moments, but it all fits together perfectly.

Scorsese does it again

Overall if you don’t mind the 3 hour run time, then I would thoroughly recommend The Wolf of Wall Street. I honestly didn’t notice it because of how it flowed. It is Scorsese at his almost best, not quite reaching the heights of Goodfellas. Approach it light-heartedly and take most of the controversy with a pinch of salt and you will definitely get the most out of it, and see it for easy going, yet slick masterpiece it really is.

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Ashes: Adelaide thoughts

I decided to not bother waiting for the inevitable conclusion to the second Ashes test, and instead give my opinions a day early.

England are a shambles at the moment, there is no denying that. Our top order looks out of their depth, middle order with the exception of Bell have been non existent, and apart from the admirable innings of Monty Panesar, our tail has yet to wag either. These problems have not appeared overnight however, a shocking display in Brisbane should have been the wake up call we needed, Australia aren’t going to roll over and surrender like on our home soil, we need to earn the urn. Even looking back to the Summer we had shown huge signs of decline in our batting and were saved countless times by our bowlers in the (more than) accommodating conditions of England, here on the fast and flat Australian tracks we have lost that advantage.

Broad for me is the only bowler who has looked effective. Jimmy looks like he needs a rest, Stokes, while promising is merely a 5th option in my eyes, and we should never have gone into this game with two spinners. Tremlett would have been the better option to try shake up the Aussies in my opinion, he looked ok in the first test, though Trott’s sudden problems left the whole selectors board panicking and searching for balance in the team. England should look to make a change. Rankin is too inexperienced to help lead an attack against a confident Australian team. Finn, who admittedly can be very expensive, is just the sort of player we are missing at the moment. Fast and tall, and the type who can truly make the most of Perth. It will be a tight call between recalling Tremlett or giving Finn a chance but Australia are said to be making the Perth track the quickest they’ve ever had it, and we need a bowler who can make the most of it.

Johnson will be as quick as he has been all series, the catalyst of the difference between the sides so far. Commentators keep harping on about how important the difference between a 87mph ball and a 94mph ball really is, and it can never be understated. Johnson is lethal at the moment, but largely runs on confidence and England should look to take advantage of that. There is a reason he has been in and out of the Australian side and it’s because when he isn’t on the money is he expensive and erratic. If England look to knock him about a bit I’m sure we will begin to see the Johnson of old. At the moment we are in a cycle of demise, by losing the mental battle the batsmen are playing negatively and within their shell’s, allowing Clarke to place the field to his own liking, reduce the run rate and sustain pressure. Pressure brings wickets.

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In terms of batting, players who looked untouchable just a few short months ago now have serious doubts surrounding them. Part of the philosophy which helped England reach world number one in the rankings was our ruthless selection policy. Never afraid to change if the change was needed. No one is safe. The selectors will be earning their money over the next few days, however it will also be important not to panic. A lot of players have been getting out to silly shots, Cook and Carberry in particular. Bad form will do this to you, lack of confidence etc. The bigger problem is the mental battle out on the pitch. Johnson and Co. are clearly doing a number on our batsmen’s minds and without a clear head you’re practically a walking wicket. England seem too nice at the moment, too frail, whilst the Aussies look up for it, mean and sledging hard. They are in our heads and they know it. Root, normally the epitome of cool temperament was out to a slog sweep in the first innings which was the result of built up pressure the likes of which England just haven’t accumulated at any point in this series so far. Prior is probably the worst faring at the moment, his poor form extends quite a way back and is nowhere near as reliable with the bat, just when we need him to be. His glovework is still world class however, and I don’t see much positive influence of bringing in Bairstow to replace him. I’m a big fan of Ballance, and I’m sure he will get his chance soon. How soon we will have to see. Final thought on the batting front, with Cook so out of form, there could be potential for him to drop to 3 to ease the captaincy burden.

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With just 4 days in between tests, decisions will have to be made quickly. Ideally we need a longer rest, but we have to work with what we are given and potentially being thrown straight back into the deep end may bring out the best in our players. They are low on confidence, fragile and Australia know they are well on top. Anything can happen in cricket however and one superb spell of bowling or a session of batting can change spirit and boost morale. We need players to step up and perform to the abilities they know they possess. This isn’t a touring game, or a friendly, this is an Ashes test and England need to start playing like that.

On a final quick note I’m going to show what my team for Perth would be, feel free to comment with your thoughts or tweet me.

Carberry

Cook (c)

Bell

Pietersen

Root

Stokes

Prior

Broad

Swann

Finn

Anderson

I don’t think Orange is the new Black

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I had heard great things about Orange is the new Black, the latest of Netflix attempts to create their own programmes, and whilst it was undeniably watchable, I wouldn’t describe it as a must see. Maybe I’m being cynical, after all Netflix are known for their streaming services, they are a company which platforms other peoples shows and are not however known for making and producing TV rivaling series. They are not known for it, but they have done so before. In Arrested Development and House of Cards they have two excellent, and high quality series, the former may have received critical backlash (me included) in it’s most recent series, but Orange is the new Black never really reached the standard of either of these two shows.

Created by Jenji Kohan, the director of Weeds, the story follows Piper Chapman’s experiences in a female prison after being found guilty of drug trafficking. The show is based on a book of memoirs (also named Orange is the new Black) by Piper Kerman. Each of the episodes includes flashbacks to explain the different inmates behaviors and the reasons for their imprisonment. The style of storytelling reminds me very much of Lost, by bringing unimportant characters into the spotlight and making them important whilst simultaneously explaining their background.

The storyline is fairly predictable, a real pet hate of mine, and the acting is good enough, most of the time. But I just don’t understand the direction the show is trying to take. It feels very much like a jack of all trades, but master of none. It can’t be described as a drama, it’s rarely funny, so rule out comedy. It feels to me like a very tame chick flick version of Prison Break. Now this isn’t a critique, but it isn’t a compliment either. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing my opinion after one season, I’m far too on the fence to be urging people to watch it, or steer clear. This said, I have invested 13 hours into this show, and I feel I should at least be leaning one way or another. OITNB has shown signs of promise, which is why I stuck through with it to the end, that and my faith in the reviews I had previously read. That is the problem with hype and expectation. If I had gone into it with a clear mind I may have found myself surprised, but optimism is a dangerous thing, and has really dampened the experience for me.

The show has been renewed by Netflix for it’s second series and I don’t believe you can fully 100% judge an entire show from it’s first 13 episodes. I will be tuning in for series two, but with a little more skepticism than before.

Orange is the new Black: Series 2 will be airing on Netflix in 2014.

The Walking Dead: Series 4 so far.

*This blog contains spoilers regarding the plot of The Walking Dead*

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So after months of waiting The Walking Dead is now back in our lives, 4 episodes into the 4th series and already halfway towards the mid season break, I thought I’d give my thoughts and opinions so far. We were spoilt throughout August and September with the finale of Breaking Bad, so the bar was raised that much higher for The Walking Dead with Walter White’s big send off still fresh in the back of my mind. In my opinion there isn’t anything out there at the moment which can top Breaking Bad, so I was always going to be a little critical of TWD, especially after the dreadful 3rd season. That being said I went into it with an open mind and hoped they would return to the high standards of their earlier episodes.

For me the show works much better when they concentrate on character development rather than the action. Series 3 was full of shoot outs and explosions, and whilst they were handled well with their almost infinite budget, I sort of wished they would just go back to the original basics. I know they felt they had to take the emphasis away from the walkers for a while, humans had became threats against other humans and that was the direction they took, but I just didn’t enjoy it that much. Rick was always going to get most of the spotlight, but I thought they handled the whole Laurie/hallucination story line poorly. From what I have read they have strayed away from the comic book series on multiple occasion and have made the show their own, for better or worse I’m not too sure considering I haven’t read the comics yet.

I do allow myself some hypocrisy here after slating the amount of action through series 3, because I couldn’t believe how tame the finale was. I know I am not alone in thinking this, and it left me unsatisfied and down right frustrated considering this moment had been built up since the mid series break. The coming together of the two groups, finally clashing in what should have been an epic conclusion to the third series. But instead, after 8 episodes of build up, we get 10 minutes (if that) of the encounter. All that said however, I was fairly optimistic about what was to come, (namely because it couldn’t get much worse) but I was also intrigued about which direction the show would take. Luckily I haven’t been disappointed.

“30 days without an accident” the first episode was nothing special unfortunately, merely a transitional episode to link between the series, where everything appears to be fine at the prison. Zach is killed in an accident and I think I speak for the entire TWD fanbase when I say they can kill anyone they like as long as they leave Daryl alone. I did however enjoy the slower pace the episode took, going back to its basics of lulling you into a false sense that everything is fine, when you know deep down it can’t stay that way for long.

I will take a moment to make a request that Carl be eaten next. Little shit.

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“Infected” was TWD back to it’s best and probably my favourite episode for a very long time. The new threat is finally revealed, although this time it is coming from multiple sides. Outside the prison, the walkers are slowly breaking down the fences, finally hinting that the time in the prison is almost up. Inside, after becoming ill Patrick turns into a walker and infects almost an entire wing of the prison. It is later revealed there is a sickness within the group, which forces the remaining survivors to split up and quarantine the potentially ill. Carol is given plenty of show time, and becomes a mother figure to two children whose father was infected by Jacob. Possibly the saddest part of the show in a long time was when Rick distracted the walkers for fence repairs by sacrificing his piglets. After raising and nurturing them himself, being forced to kill them gave him the wake up he needed, and he is finally beginning to look like the Rick of old from before the Laurie trauma. The third threat to the group is the discovery that someone inside the group is feeding the walkers, to draw them to weaker parts of the fence in numbers. The episode ended with Tyreese finding the burnt bodies of two of the quarantined survivors, one of which was his girlfriend Karen.

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“Isolation” proved the sickness showed no signs of stopping, killing multiple survivors. A group leaves to find medicine which could help the ill, and Tyreese confronts Rick about the burnt bodies. Hershel, who is potentially infected with the illness, decides to take care of the others, whilst Glenn admits to Maggie he is also ill. In the attempt to find the medicine, the group picks up a distress call on their radio, but are attacked by a herd of walkers, and narrowly escape. Rick accuses Carol of burning the bodies, and she admits it was her.

The latest episode “Indifference” shows a distraught Tyreese refuse to fight the walkers for the second time, but is rescued, his actions suggesting Karen’s death has left him with no valuation of his own life. Bob is revealed to be an alcoholic, and risks his life to recover a bottle he has found on their medicine run. Rick and Carol discover two survivors, and agree to let them return to the prison. However after splitting up in search of supplies, one is killed and the other missing. Carol confronts Rick about why she burnt the bodies, however Rick tells her to leave the prison. Carol drives away on her own.

Things are very finely balanced, and I have been impressed with this season so far. After 4 seasons it could easily have gotten very stale and boring, but they have kept me interested and eager for more. I really don’t know where they will go from here, but I will definitely be tuning in to find out.

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Penalty shoot outs: Hit or miss?

The controversial end to cup game and competitions has been a long term cause of debate since its introduction in 1970. Whether or not the outcome of a match can be truly and fairly settled by a penalty shoot out is down to peoples own opinions. Pros of the procedure seem to be in the eye of the beholder. Where people who are favourable towards it suggest that it is the ultimate test of nerves and skill, the counter is that it is nothing more than a mere lottery. From 12 yards anything can happen.

Slips (cough Terry)

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Chokes (hate Ashley Young)

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Or whatever the fuck Beckham did that time…

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So yeah…England aren’t good at penalties. Remarkably we have won just once in our history, out of a possible 7. Our sole win came against Spain in the 1996 European Championships, which we later went on to ironically lose in the next round to Germany on penalties.

Do penalties give the correct results often enough? Can a team really warrant a victory after being totally outplayed for 120 minutes? It made no difference to Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final after suffering 35 shots, 20 corners and having only 44% possession against a dominant Bayern Munich. But despite all the stats against them, Bayern failed to score more than their single goal, and Chelsea in fairytale like fashion punished them in the resulting shootout.

Ultimately they are a neutral end. Ignoring the facts and stats of the game before, it comes down to the player vs keeper from 12 yards. The only stat which matters is who puts the ball in the net more times. In my opinion they are a mix of skill, luck and mental ability. If you are better at football, you should be able to place the ball better, however it requires luck that the keeper wont correctly guess where you place it, and mental strength to perform under the immense pressure. It is such a daunting psychological strain to be put under. In non-team sports, your whole game is based around the individual. If Rafael Nadal loses, there isn’t much he can do in terms of excuses bar injuries. In an event of a football penalty shoot out, you are taking on the team responsibility along with the weight of the fans expectations onto the individual and whoever copes better with that comes out on top more often than not.

There are a distinct lack of alternatives to decide fixtures. Golden goals during extra time could reduce the amount of shoot outs, but after 120 minutes are up is where we fall short on suggestions. There have been multiple occurrences pre-1970 of coin tosses to decide the winner. A straight up 50/50 shot of progressing. Whilst I agree there could be a fairer way to decide other than penalties, coin tosses are not it. Anything which only factors luck, such as the toss of a coin, should not be used to separate teams. More replays are impossible with today’s set up, intricately designed fixtures and schedules do not allow for much leeway so the games usually have to be settled there and then.

Some suggestions I have read and would like to see tested in action include the “Advantage” rule. The penalty shoot out would take place before extra time, and would only come into play if the additional 30 minutes still resulted as a tie. Instead of a team holding out during extra time in hope of scraping a victory through penalties, the result is already predetermined, and therefore the losing team would be more inclined to attack knowing they need to win extra time.

Another alternative, which would have to be put into practice before I can picture it working, is to play Golden Goal but with players from each team being removed at intervals, such as every 3 or 5 minutes. This creates more space to score, fewer variables, and includes tactical decisions on who to withdraw and in what order. Are quicker and fitter players more important when less players are on the pitch? Or is keeping attackers on and sacrificing defenders a solution? It brings managers into play a lot more, which I like, and would make (arguably) better viewing than a shoot out, whilst admittedly not as tense.

Finally my favourite alternative is after 120 minutes, if the game is tied still, for the statistics to be monitored and the dominant team proceeds. Weightings to stats such as shots, shots on target, corners, and possession would be calculated to determine who wins. Boring I know, but if there is ever an alternative to penalties, this gets my vote. It’s simple, and fair.

At the end of the day, and despite all this, penalties are a cheap victory in my opinion. The weaker team will love the chance to giant-kill on an (almost) level playing field, they have nothing to lose. They know that the vast majority of the time they won’t go on to win with additional time or replays. It is the stronger team who have it all to prove. Despite it being an even chance, they are expected to win, and therefore have everything to lose. Even a win on penalties against a weaker opponent is a hollow win. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And this is just my 2 cents. There isn’t enough demand at the moment for any changes to be made, and I don’t see there ever being any in the foreseeable future, so I’m sure the lottery of the penalty shoot out will stay intact for many tournaments to come.

Which is bad news for England fans.