Saturday, 12 December 2015

Euro 2016 Draw



Overall, it's a weak draw and you can already hear the moaning from the established nations that expanding the tournament "will water down the competition" – Group F being a case in point. They won't know what it means for those of us from the smaller nations. Iceland v Hungary will hardly get hearts racing true, but that won't matter to anyone from those countries.

The major nations (France, Germany, Portugal, Spain etc.) should get through with no troubles on paper, but it means the knockout stages are going to be much stronger if there are fewer "shocks".

Well, it had to happen didn't it? England and Wales in the same group.

What will arguably be the biggest game in Welsh football history will take place in Lens on 16th June - a proper old-school ground. I'm looking forward to completely unbiased commentary from the British press.

Wales' other group games will take place in Bordeaux (v Slovakia on 11th June) and Toulouse (v Russia on 20th June).

As the best four third place teams qualify for the last 16, you're looking at a minimum of 4-5 points to get out of the group. If Wales get out, it looks like either Lens or Nice in the next round. A central or south-western base would be best for the Welsh team.

Slovakia are beatable, Russia not so much, but they didn't have a brilliant qualifying campaign and they're not the dark horses they were 8 years ago – plus we owe them for their cheating in 2004. 5 points is a realistic goal for Wales. It's a tougher group than I would've otherwise liked, but could've been much worse.

It's too early to make predictions because we have no idea of squads and fitness levels, but Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland got much worse draws than Wales, with both making a strong claim for being in the "Group of Death".

Otherwise, only Iceland stand a real chance of getting out of their group from amongst the "mighty minnows".

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bon Crappetit : Miserable Meals



One internet phenomenon I'll never understand is people taking photos of food. There are numerous examples all around the web of folk taking extreme measures to capture a portrait of their pizza.

I don't see anyone scrambling to get the right angles and lighting of their food once it's been processed – like a sort of before and after. From Michelin-starred restaurants right down to the greasy spoon that's the universal outcome.

So what if the food is as shite on the way in as it is on the way out? I've scoured the internet to find the scat of the food porn world.


Would you like some sandwich with your bread? This first one looks as if it has Chinese writing on the packaging, and perhaps hint at some very serious trading standards issues in their food market. That's some hardcore scrimping right there.


Burnt caramel. I don't need to say any more here, and that must be some sort of achievement.



"Drinking cheese?". I don't see it catching on.



The German site Pundo3000 seems to revel in showing the difference between advertised goods and the reality of what's served. A cold fish salad? No.


Hacksteaks? Hack! Hack! Hack! If you served that to prisoners it would probably be considered a rights violation.


Extra-lecker! Ugh. Saying it can be prepared in 2 minutes isn't the best selling point when it comes to burgers.


The appropriately-named mushroom "hell"?

.

I'm getting the impression that canned meats of any kind are best avoided.


Vegan food tends to have a bad rep and it's not hard to see why, and you don't even need a before and after photo.




This story started doing the rounds earlier this year, but if you can't be bothered to watch the video, a Japanese adult film star set up a restaurant which serves a curry made to taste like shite. As for how they figured out the delicate balance of flavour, I'll leave that to your imagination. Don't expect to see that on Instagram. I don't even think that's the worst of it either....


Last, but not least is this monstrosity, underlining the difference between sweet and savoury. If that were all sweet, most of us would probably go at it with all the indulgence of a pig in a trough; but the fact that's meat, surrounded by mayonnaise and mustard "icing"....even the thought of how that must taste brings a bit of vomit up.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Alvin & The Doom-Munks

(Pic : via Soundcloud)

When it comes to music, I have impeccable taste as can be seen here and here.

What most people will agree on though is that the long-running helium-addicted novelty act, The Chipmunks, have such grating voices that if they actually existed you would want to put them in a blender and make a pancake out of whatever's left. And Alvin's a stupid name.

They sound like men who've been hit in the balls by a train, but who knew that lurking underneath the castrati scars was serious musical talent. Thanks to electronica band Holy Fuck's Brian Borcherdt – via AV Club – the truth about The Chipmunks' inner brutality has now been revealed. All you had to do is slow them down to 16rpm.

Despite their back catalogue consisting mainly of cheesy covers, The Chipmunks have secretly produced some of the best sludge/doom and industrial metal I've heard in a while. I say that completely unironically - I don't have a beard, tattoos and thick-rim glasses.

Starting with Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, which is quickly transformed from a action montage motivational song to something like 1970s Black Sabbath crossed with Earth :





Next, Tom Petty's Refugee - which doesn't sound too different to the orignal to be fair - though I'm certaintly getting an Iggy & The Stooges vibe from it :





Blondie's Call Me sounds like a soundtrack to Twin Peaks or True Detective. Sort of a cross between The Doors, Danzig and Joy Division :





The cover of Belinda Carlisle's Heaven Is A Place On Earth begins with something out of an 1980s horror film, its meaning having been completely twisted. The chorus alone is a crunching sludge epic, while the last two minutes are pure doom. I really want to hear a Pallbearer or Electric Wizard cover :





Vanilla Fudge had already made an "evil" version of You Keep Me Hanging On, but The Chipmunks have one-upped them there, turning it into a Depeche Mode wrist-slitter; though it also sounds like someone taking a painful shite :




Next, the Chipmunks channel Godflesh with You Were Always On My Mind. Some of the comments sum it up – "I hope I am murdered to this song", "I could watch my house burn down to this":

The experience of listening to The Chipmunks in their true form.

You would swear this were a Black Sabbath cover of Bananarama's Venus, definite Ozzy Osbourne vocals in there :




This cover of Michael Jackson's Bad sounds so close to Nine Inch Nails it's hard to see how Trent Reznor couldn't have done the vocals (because he was short of money or something), especially the opening "Your butt is mine...." and the chorus. I'm in awe :





This cover of Bette Davis Eyes is an exception in that you could easily see it being popular in its own right if someone used this arrangement, though there are definite Faith No More or "soft" Mr Bungle vibes coming from it :




Lastly, my favourite – an absolutely merciless Coil or Sisters of Mercy style cover of Walk Like An Egyptian. The outro is bowel churningly evil. "This is how The Chipmunks were meant to be listened to" :





I have a newfound respect for The Chipmunks. They're definitely metal.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015 Review

(Pic : The Telegraph)

Although they wobbled a little bit at the start, New Zealand are deserved winners of back-to-back World Cups following what's being called the greatest Rugby World Cup Final. It was pretty much as expected and how other nations catch up with them is anyone's guess.

Overall, that was an excellent tournament, and although there haven't been many Rugby World Cups this will go down as the best so far, without a doubt.

I stand by what I said in my predictions by saying Wales getting out of the group was a bigger achievement that getting to the semi-finals in 2011. They did themselves proud considering the number of players lost before the tournament started, as well as players lost during the tournament itself. I see no reason why Wales shouldn't be considered favourites for the 2016 Six Nations (....if they can keep everyone fit).

This was Ireland's big chance in my opinion and they bottled it when it mattered, along with France. Of the Six Nations only Scotland can really say they defied expectations having pushed Australia to the brink of a shocking early exit.
I suspect we're going to be living off this for decades to come....

But there's only one team who can really be considered the true bottlers of this tournament and that's our friends across the Severn Bridge. "Make them giants" indeed.

There'll be various inquests into what happened. England can certainly be proud of the near flawless tournament they hosted, but they were let down by one bad call during the Wales game - choosing the corner and a possible win over the posts and a draw made the difference.

It's been put down to that usual trait aimed at the English rugby team : arrogance ("We deserve more than a point against little old Wales, wot old boy"). But if the roles were reversed and it was at the Millennium Stadium, I reckon the Welsh players would've made the same call.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup represents a watershed moment in rugby union's development as it's now on the cusp of becoming a genuinely global sport instead of being confined to being a quaint Commonwealth & Argentinian game.
One of the great upsets in the history of sport?

Argentina were one of the the teams of the tournament and now deserve to be spoken about on the same terms as the other southern hemisphere giants. Japan have clearly made progress too, and their win over South Africa will go down as one of the greatest upsets in sport, let alone rugby, history.

With a Japanese team to be included in Super Rugby next season, you could easily see them making progress similat to that of Argentina since the latter joined the Rugby Championship. Surely within a few years Japan will be knocking on the door to join the southern hemisphere tournament too.

The situation with the Pacific Island teams seems reminiscent of African teams in football. They usually get hyped up as potential winners and dark horses but usually flop when it counts, money will usually be cited as the issue – and the PI teams have genuine grumbles there; the set up clearly isn't fair to Tier 2. However, their complaints over scheduling seem a bit wayward as all of the teams had to, on occasion, play 4 or five days after their last game.

The days of 70+ point stuffings are over for the "minnows", but there's still a long way to go until the gap between the Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations can really be said to have narrowed.

For Europe, there are serious questions to answer, as none of the Six Nations really threatened the southern hemisphere sides.

Numerous solutions have been raised, such as a Super 15/Super Rugby for Europe, expansion of the Six Nations, provincial franchises etc.

I don't think the idea of a Super 15 in the north should be dismissed so easily, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a carbon copy of Super Rugby, perhaps a set up similar to the NFL with regional conferences. Clearly northern hemisphere teams have the financial muscle, but top players are playing too many games, many of which aren't that competitive.

In 2016, a player contracted to a Super Rugby franchise will play at least 17 top-level games (excluding knock-out rounds) alongside games for their local team in national competitions (though many international-capped players don't).

A player contracted to a Welsh Pro 12 team could play up to 22 league games, plus at least 6 European games (more if they reach knock-out rounds) and at least 4 Anglo-Welsh cup games on top of that. They'll be released for international duty of course, but that screws up the domestic season.
Where next for the European teams below the Six Nations?
(Pic : The Guardian)

Questions have been raised about the future of the Six Nations too.

Georgia and Romania have clearly come a long way, mainly because their top players play in France's Top 14. Russia are knocking on the door too having had a team qualify for the Challenge Cup.

Six Nations teams now have a choice as to whether they expand the game by creating an enlarged European Championship (or promotion/relegation), or concentrate on the spectacle of the six best teams playing each other in order to concentrate talent.

At the very least the Tier 1 teams should see it as their duty to the sport to play emerging nations more regularly during the Autumn Internationals – perhaps, at the start, by using A-teams in a separate competition involving the Tier 2 European sides.

So this World Cup is probably going to be looked back upon as transformative of the sport in the same way the 1998 World Cup was for football.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

When Censors Fail

There are few greater comedic artforms that trying to sneak adult jokes into shows aimed at kids in subtle – or not so subtle – ways. When you consider how cartoons are often very labour intensive and frustrating to create, it's no wonder that animators want to let off some steam, or put their own vulgar signature on their work.

The undisputed king of getting stuff past the censors was Rocko's Modern Life – a show that could probably now be described as a cult classic, and must hold the record for most references to sexual acts and masturbation in a children's show.

Here's 40 of the best (though there were a lot more than 40) :



Perhaps their best example, is this :



Animaniacs was also notorious for adult references, and quite excelled at it too. I still can't quite believe this got past the people in charge :



I don't know whether this is real or careful editing, but the Teletubbies weren't immune either :




Ren & Stimpy is perhaps South Park-lite so doesn't entirely count as "aimed at children", but still never has so much been conveyed in two images :




As said at the beginning, the usual practice is to sneak adult jokes or references into shows aimed at younger viewers. There are, of course, plenty of examples where a reference is more likely to be understood by younger viewers than older ones. That particularly applies to internet references, such as this one from satirical sitcom 30 Rock.



Here's Donald Duck getting more than he expected from one of his nephews :



And a new generation of pygophiles was born. I have no idea what this is from, butt that's one hell of a view :



Here's Spongebob Squarepants making a rape joke, as you do :




Oh Fred, you need to hide your speciality porn better. The joke supposedly is that he's so obsessed with traps he subscribes to a magazine, but it's even funnier/dirtier if you know the slang meaning of "trap", Unintentional, I'm sure. :



Here's a Transformers tank packing some extra heat :



This last one's the stuff of legend, but I doubt it counts as official because supposedly it was part of a special Christmas video for production staff. The picture quality's poor, but here's the cast of Rainbow and their big red twangers :


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Identity Crisis



As it's October, conversations often turn to "scary things" in the run up to Halloween. I'm sure all of us have an idea of what counts as scary, and often nothing's scarier than irrational childhood fears.

For those who don't know, idents are what TV, film and games companies use as a moving or static logo before a programme/film/game. Some of them are iconic in their own right, like the TriStar Pictures pegasus.

You would think that as a "face" for a company, idents – also known as vanity plates, bumpers and end boards – would be well-produced in order to show off the best aspects of whatever it is a media company does.

Instead, many of them tend to be incredibly low budget, accompanied by really weird animations, sudden camera angle changes and/or incredibly loud or disjointed – often synthesised – music.

When you're young, and you don't fully comprehend what an ident is – perhaps even can't read properly - a badly designed ident would overshadow whatever feature you're watching, game your playing or message it's trying to get across. It's just a bunch of random symbols and images flying at you with weird music.

They're not "jump out of your seat" scary; it's more that they create a sense of unease, as if you're viewing them in a nightmare, or that they activate a reptilian part of the brain that tells you, "Something's wrong here!".

As for why I decided to blog on this, Channel 4 recently relaunched its own channel identity, and broadcast a number of strange build-ups. One throwback to the old days was some "bird man" thing with a horror soundtrack:

I don't know what that has to do with Channel 4, but there you go....

It's not only Channel 4. Next, there's this one from the BBC. It's not the logo or animation itself, but the morbid music in minor key, which reminds you of the tunes soaps use when a character has just received bad news or dies. As it was usually found on videos, it would crop up before Fireman Sam or Postman Pat. I suppose it's the spiritual soundtrack of Conservative Britain.



Many of these things seem to appear before videos. This one from Palace Video – reminiscent of the castle from Count Duckula, or a palace of dildos - appeared before The Snowman, and you were always sure to hit fast forward as soon as possible because of it.





Paramount owner, Viacom, had a somewhat notorious ident in the United States, promptly given the nickname "Flying V of Doom" – the reason being self-explanatory.




Klasky Csupo – who made Rugrats amongst other things – produced this punk-inspired ransom note made up of body parts.




Next it's DiC Entertainment. The logo itself isn't scary in any way, but the volume of the music and creepy child's voice makes this unnerving. There's also something about a kid lying in bed with a big Dic lurking outside the window....




It's not just videos and TV, it also happens in games. Take Valve – makers of the the semial Half Life and Portal series – who for several years used this guy with a valve stuck in his head, which looks as though it belongs in a Tool video.




The next one from Russian TV station, VID, has become somewhat notorious for its use of the death mask of Chinese Tao philosopher Guo Xiang, preceded by some sort of jackhammer.






Now for a personal favourite, that if I wasn't able to explain in words and pictures would make people think I've gone around the bend.

You probably know that fire safety information in the UK is branded with a cheery depiction of a house burning down. That's unsettling, but generally what fires do.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the logo that accompanied fire safety literature and posters was similar, with the slogan along the lines of : "Fire Kills : Think About It".

Somebody, in the Home Office or whatever, will have sat down and decided, "People aren't thinking about dying in fires often enough. How can we convey a sense of urgency, so people put fire safety at the forefront of their minds and think about it, over and over again?"

So they turn to a graphic design intern sat in the corner listening to Throbbing Gristle, who gives them a devilish grin in return.

This is what they came up with. It's been hard to track down, but I've digitally remastered it for today's audiences....in paint:



Yeah....

It was on every single piece of fire safety literature and there were even big wall posters of it in school. Nowadays, it's something I would happily wear on a T-shirt, but in today's world of trigger warnings etc. it would never see the light of day. A screaming child with their head on fire is a bit on the nose when it comes to fire safety, don't you think?

I decided to make my own softer version :

"Can you smell burning?"

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Show Me A Hero

(Pic : Sky)
A political drama based on public housing in Yonkers – a small city a few miles north of New York City – sounds like a pretty dull proposition, doesn't it?

Maybe so, but David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Generation Kill) and Paul Haggis (perhaps most famous for Due South in the UK) have managed to perform alchemy by turning this story into one of the best mini-series I've seen in a long time.


Show Me A Hero
is an
adaption of a non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Lisa Balkin,  following the ups and downs of Nick Wascisko – played brilliantly by Oscar Issac – who, in 1987, became the youngest mayor in the city's history at the age of just 28.

Yonkers was facing a major crisis. At the time, it was one of the last cities left that practiced segregated public housing and schooling. The courts had ordered that the city reverse this by building hundreds of new public housing units in the predominantly white, lower middle class areas in the east of the city.

The council fought this and, in the face of widespread - borderline violent - public protests, Wascisko was elected on a ticket whereby he would appeal the courts decision. The courts took a much harder line and enforced crippling fines on both the city and individual councillors – even threatening them with prison.

In the end the city, by Wascisko's direction, relented and the homes were built.

There's an old adage that "All political careers end in failure", while the show takes its title name from a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy". That's demonstrated to great effect as Nick's search for a public acceptance of his political decisions and personal life collide in a way that inevitably leads to a destructive downward spiral.

As is typical in a David Simon show, it's hard to tell who the hero is in this, while plenty of The Wire alumni make cameos – alongside Winona Ryder.

Although some of the personal stories of the public housing tenants weren't covered in enough detail – which would always be hard to do with just 6 hours to work with – the quality of the acting from everyone make you care about what happens to these people even if they were on screen for a very short time.

That's said to be a golden rule in any drama, but to manage to do it with rather dry subject matter available is extraordinary. If you like the third season of The Wire, you'll probably like this.

It was also very accurate, you can see old videos of Yonkers Council meetings on Youtube and Show Me A Hero captured the mood perfectly, while the actors and actresses captured the mannerisms perfectly too.

Although the show is very clearly (but subtly) set in a world before the internet and mobile phones, it has a resonance with the present, particularly with stories of police brutality against African-Americans, the present refugee crisis in Europe and general NIMBYism in the face of sky-high housing costs.

In situations like that, politicians like Nick Wascisko are caught in the middle between doing what voters want and doing what's good. Sometimes doing good doesn't make you a good person, while being populist and doing what voters want doesn't necessarily make you a good politician.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Up for the Rugby World Cup

(Pic : The Guardian)

The 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off next Friday, providing the latest opportunity to humiliate myself by making stupid predictions.

Group A

The Group of Death. First thing is we can get Uruguay out of the way. They're toast. In their two appearances at previous Would Cups, they've conceded, on average, 176 points, or 44 points per game. Fiji have the potential to be competitive - as Wales know full well - but they're unlikely to finish anywhere other than fourth.

So that brings me to the three teams challenging for the two quarter final spots – the hosts England, Australia and Wales. Even before the loss of Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny, it was looking like a tough ask for Wales. Rhys was being built up as one of Wales' most potent attacking threats, while Leigh is worth 15-20 points by himself from outfield kicks.

As much as it pains me to say this, I don't see Wales getting out of the group. I think they'll probably go close to beating one of the other two big teams, but it'll just be too much. If they do get out of the group, it would be a bigger achievement than reaching the semis in 2011.

The teams that finish third qualify automatically for the next World Cup in 2019, so even if Wales don't quite make it out of the group, they'll still have to turn up against Fiji or they'll be looking at having to go through the European qualifiers, which would be a humiliation.

As for England and Australia, you've got to fancy Australia – the current southern hemisphere champions – to win the group. England haven't been 100% convincing in the warm up games and might be nervy as hosts. I suspect England v Australia on 3rd October could go down as a classic, as winning the group makes the difference between facing South Africa or Samoa/Scotland in the quarter finals.

Australia
England

=======
WALES
Fiji
Uruguay

Group B

It's easy enough to choose the group winner : South Africa by a canter.

The fight for second is between Samoa and Scotland. Scotland have been gradually improving over the last few years in the Six Nations and you've got to fancy them, but Samoa are no slouches and are only ranked two places behind Scotland in 12th.

The United States are perhaps one of the most rapidly improving sides in world rugby and gave Australia a game (for a half) in Chicago a few weeks ago, but – like Japan – it'll be a familiar finish.

South Africa
Scotland

=======
Samoa
United States
Japan


Group C

The Group of....Life? The easiest one to predict – a New Zealand, Argentina one-two. There could be record points on the board here as Namibia are the lowest-ranked side in the tournament and Georgia aren't that far off. You would expect Tonga to give the big boys a game, but there's not much to see here.

New Zealand
Argentina

=======
Tonga
Georgia
Namibia

Group D

There will be a scrap between France and Ireland to finish top as whoever does so is likely to avoid New Zealand in the quarter finals. France haven't done well in recent Six Nations, but they usually turn up to World Cups. Ireland are likely to be many people's dark horses to win the thing and I fancy them to steal the group.

Italy played a very physical game against Wales in their last warm up and could impact the latter stages of the tournament through injuries to key French and Irish players.

Ireland
France

=======
Italy
Canada
Romania

The Knock-Out Rounds

Quarter-finals
  • South Africa v England – At Twickenham, in front of a home crowd. I'd fancy England to do it.
  • New Zealand v France – A tie with a lot of history. New Zealand are no longer invincible, but you would expect them to do the job.
  • Ireland v Argentina – Ireland should win on paper.
  • Australia v Scotland – Plucky Scots as it ever was.

Semi-finals
  • England v New Zealand – It depends on which England turn up. I'd fancy NZ.
  • Ireland v Australia – A potential humdinger. Ireland are capable of winning if they play to their absolute best, so what the hell....

Final?
  • New Zealand v Ireland – I honestly don't know, but the head says New Zealand.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

World Cup 2018 Qualifying Draw Reaction

(Pic : ESPN)

The European draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers was made in St Petersburg yesterday. Qualifiers begin in September 2016. Owing to their good form in Euro 2016 qualifying which has boosted their global ranking to 10th place, Wales were amongst the top seeds for the very first time.

Unlike Euro 2016 qualifying, only the group winners qualify automatically, with the best 8 runners-up facing two-legged play offs in November 2017.

Starting with Wales in Group D (Wales, Austria, Serbia, Rep. Ireland, Moldova, Georgia), the draw could've been better, it could've also been a lot worse.

Austria are currently, and in a similar manner to Wales, exceeding expectations in Euro 2016 and look set to qualify to a European championships for the first time through qualifying itself (their only appearance to date has been as co-hosts in 2008) - however they have pedigree at World Cups. They have a mean defence in particular and shouldn't be under-estimated.

Serbia are making a pigs ear of Euro 2016, accompanied by off-the-field problems, so although on paper they seem like one of the strongest teams from the third pot, at the moment it's arguably one of the best draws – it's certainly better than getting Sweden, Greece, Poland or Ukraine. They'll probably be Wales' main challengers for top spot.

The Republic of Ireland will be contenders, but I don't think they've got anything to really threaten Wales or Serbia. It'll certainly be a tricky away tie in Dublin, but at home it's got to be a Wales win on current form.

Moldova and Georgia are two names that should send shivers down the spine of Welsh football supporters, so there's going to be the opportunity to exorcise some ghosts. Georgia are the strongest side in pot six, and Tbilisi is a tough place to go so this isn't a great draw.

All in all, winning every home game is realistic on current form, so it'll come down to getting points away – which might be trickier than it sounds. Avoiding the play-offs will be essential because some of the potential opponents look pretty hard to beat.

I would've quite happily have swapped with Portugal in Group B (Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra) or England in Group F (England, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta). This is arguably the third best draw Wales could've got.

Turning to England, they could easily get maximum points in that group, while Scotland have a real chance to push for second with Slovakia. Slovenia have recent pedigree at international tournaments and could be the surprise package.

Northern Ireland have been handed the short straw, though things are looking promising for Euro 2016. Maybe if a few results go their way they can push for second in Group C (Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino), and the revamped Windsor Park could prove intimidating for visiting teams.

Group I (Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland) is this year's "Group of Death". All of those sides could realistically be in with a shout, though you would think Croatia have enough to win the group.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

One Dennis Bergkamp, 10 Great Goals


(Pic : arsenal.com)
This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Bruce Rioch signing Arsenal's greatest ever player (of the modern era, if not ever) – the Non-Flying Dutchman, Dennis Bergkamp. Thierry Henry may have scored more goals and Tony Adams provided great leadership, but in terms of all around game, loyalty to the club and attitude on and off the pitch, Dennis pips it in my eyes.

10. v West Brom (Premier League [H] 2005-06)



I start with Dennis' final goal for the club – his 120th. It was a Supporters' Day held as part of a number of themed events to mark the final season at Highbury. In the end, supporters decided it should be dedicated to Bergkamp, who was retiring at the end of the 2005-06 season. Safe to say he returned the compliment.

9. v Barnsley (Premier League [A] 1997-98)


The game against Barnsley was part of a remarkable run-in in 1998 which saw Arsenal eventually win a famous league and cup double (very nearly a domestic treble) – and it was arguably Dennis' finest season in the red and white. This win meant Arsenal only needed 6 points from final last four games to seal the title, and I suspect this swaggering performance was the moment Arsenal fans realised it was going to happen.

8. v Sunderland (FA Cup [A] 1996-97)


Roker Park was one of those proper old schools grounds where soft southern teams would fear to go. It was the last season before it was replaced by the Stadium of Light. Even Sunderland supporters had  to applaud this beauty.

7. Second v Southampton (Premier League [H] 1995-96)


People may not remember that Bergkamp was heavily criticised for a lack of goals in his first six games. Stuart Pearce - perhaps with a hint of xenophobia as foreign players were rare at the time - even suggested Arsenal had wasted their money and should've signed Stan Collymore instead. Yes, he really said that. It wasn't until a sunny September 23th that Dennis got his first goal. That was good enough in its own; the second was even better. That's how you shut up critics.

6. v Tottenham (Premier League [H] 1996-1997)


One of Dennis' trademarks as a player  was his close quarters control. He seemed to have an ability – reportedly learnt by kicking a ball against a wall as a youngster - to know how the ball reacts to being kicked in different situations. This meant he could bring the ball down from the air and control it on a sixpence – Highbury had one of the smallest pitches of a top-flight ground. This was demonstrated to no greater effect than this last-minute goal against Spurs.

5. v Bolton (Premier League [H] 1995-96)



At the end of the 1995-96 season, Arsenal were battling Everton, Tottenham and Blackburn Rovers for the last qualifying place to the UEFA Cup (now called the Europa League, and was a bigger draw than it is today). In the 84th minute, Dennis produced this stunner to seal European football against Bruce Rioch's former club. It would be Bruce's last competitive game in charge of the club, and Arsene "Who?" Wenger was appointed manager the following September....days after Arsenal had limped out of the UEFA Cup against Borussia Mönchengladbach.

4. v Bayer Leverkusen (Champions League [H] 2001-2002)


Due to Dennis' aviophobia, he would rarely make away trips for European games, meaning his impact would only be felt at home. This is a sublime chip from the edge of the area, and the final goal in a comprehensive 4-1 victory against eventual Champions League finalists that season, Bayer Leverkusen.

3. v Southampton (Premier League [A] 1997-98)



This goal's perhaps overlooked, mainly because it was a warm up for what happened the following week....

2. Third v Leicester (Premier League [A] 1997-98)



Rounding off one of the Premier League's great hat-tricks with the complete "Bergkamp goal" – quickly bringing a long ball down in the penalty area, using a quick turn to beat the last defender and putting just enough curve on the ball to beat the keeper. Not only that, he did it again in mirror version against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.

1. That Goal v Newcastle (Premier League [A] 2001-2002)


I don't need to add anything.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

And now his watch has ended

May contain spoilers.
(Pic : HBO)

The fifth season of Game of Thrones came to a close in the last week. It's been a topsy turvy 10 episodes, with some consensus that - in light of the challenge show writers have as they overtake the Song of Ice & Fire series - it's been weaker and bleaker than previous seasons, failing to live up to the hype. I'm inclined to agree, but that's not to say that the standards have slipped too dramatically.

It's worth getting the bad out of the way first. Despite recruiting DS9's Dr Bashir (who was criminally underused), the Dorne plot has been wasted – though things have been set up nicely for next year following Myrcella's poisoning. What of the Sand Snakes? Well there's the the one who's constantly smelling a bad fart, the "bad pussy" one and....the other one. I don't think they've made the impact that was hoped.

Although the Winterfell plot has held my interest, it produced the most controversial moments to date - the marital rape of Sansa Stark (NSFW), which prompted a storm of criticism.

There's a term known as "jumping the shark" – the exact moment where a great show's standards decline. This wasn't that moment, but it's worth creating a new phrase – "humping the Stark" – the moment a great show exploits shock value (in this case rape) not because it adds anything to the plot, but to underline something the audience already knew; that thing being that Ramsay Bolton is a complete and utter bastard (in a literal and metaphorical sense).

Needless to say, when Ramsay called for Twenty Good Men™ to help defeat Stannis he was most certainly not amongst them. Not all people think that though :


The Arya storyline in Braavos has developed well over the season, despite getting little screen time. Giving up "Needle" was surprisingly emotional as the last linke to her family, while the scene in the final episode where Arya is rendered blind for murdering the paedophile rapist, Meryn Trant, was incredibly well done and one of the highlights. Arya's now of the few characters left for whom you hope their story ends happily (but that means many, many deaths along the way).

I've never been a fan of the Targaryan plot since Dany set up in Meereen, but as soon as the fighting pits reopened, and Tyrion made it there, things began to get interesting again.



The CGI of the "Neverending Story" moment (above) on the back of Drogon has been criticised, but in the context of a TV show that doesn't have access to a Hollywood budget, it really well done. It was unclear if the Dothraki army at the end of the season were friendly or not, which I suppose is one of the umpteen cliffhangers the writers have left viewers.

Now it's time to take a moment to remember those we've lost (sponsored by Sky Atlantic) :



In King's Landing, the spark-flying bitching between Margaery and Cersei was brilliantly done by both of them. My only complaint is that the High Sparow and Faith Militant appear to have come out of nowhere with no real build up. Fortunately, Jonathan Pryce has been excellent whenever on screen, and the "walk of shame" (NSFW) was really well done to the point you genuinely felt for Cersei....until Frankenmountain showed up. Olenna Tyrell is one of my favourite supporting characters, and stepped up to the plate yet again.

Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun
(Pic : thatloudmouth.wordpress.com)
The stand out moment has to be the eighth episode, Hardhome, which provided one of the most visually stunning sequences produced in the show, perhaps ever on television. We've been constantly told since episode 1 that "winter is coming", then "winter is just around the corner", then "winter is really coming, any minute now". Then winter came, and you've got to say it doesn't look good for the rest of Westeros. It's been said elsewhere, but part of me hopes the Night's King kills everyone in Westeros as some allegory about "mortal men playing their game of thrones while ignoring the real enemy".

Jon Snow proved his leadership credentials until things got stabby. He really should've paid attention to the advice to "kill the boy" : Olly – the potato-headed Hitler.

The one other person (other than the Night's Watch) who actually perceived that threat was Stannis, who's been the standout character of the season.


Without a doubt the most uncomfortable scene was Stannis sacrificing his daughter Shireen. In terms of behaviour that's consistent with what Stannis has previously done – he killed his brother with magic and is a bit of a pyromaniac when it comes to heretics. After the excellent character development in earlier episodes, the suddenness of this seemed like a character assassination – though you could interpret it as a father sacrificing his only child for the good of the realm, which is quite Biblical.

As for the greatest general in Westeros attacking a fortified town on foot with no cavalry, I'll leave you be the judge as to whether that's realistic. We didn't see Stannis die, and it looked as though Brienne missed him when delivering the final blow. Put me down for #StannisLives.

Then there's the most important question : Is Gendry still rowing? He must have arms like Popeye by now.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

2014-15 Post-Season Review

(Pic : Arsenal.com)

With Barcelona winning the Champions League last night, the domestic and European football season is finally over (unless you're Irish, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic or Norwegian). Now it's time to take stock.

Arsenal

Season Verdict B+. Baby step progress. After a relatively poor start, the squad didn't really hit their stride until the end of December – both in the Premier League and Champions League. It was too late to catch up with Chelsea, though it was good that the effort was there, leading to an extended unbeaten run until the Swansea defeat; securing 3rd place (and avoiding CL qualifiers) is definite progress. Arsenal threw away a chance of making a real go at the Champions League final with the capitulation against Monaco at home, but it ends on a high with a professional performance to retain the FA Cup. Can't complain, though the problem of inconsistency during October-November remains.

Player of the Season – Alexis Sanchez. Who else? He's been a revelation. Aside from a brief barren spell and one or two injuries his performances have been close to flawless. His work rate is exceptional, and that's before taking into account his assists and goals. Though it tells you how strong Barcelona are to be able to sell him.

Most Improved Player – Nacho Monreal. It looked like he might lose his place to Kieran Gibbs, but with the latter enduring injury problems (again), Nacho has filled the role successfully and even provided some big performances, like that against Man United in the FA Cup. There's talk of him moving back to Spain over the summer, but you can argue he deserves a shot at first choice left back next season.

Breakthrough Player – Joint between Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin. Both of them looked to be on the way out after being shipped out on loan, but the former has made a good claim to be first-choice right-back, while Francis Coquelin has gone from an unsuccessful loan at Charlton to FA Cup final – proof positive that if you have the right attitude you can still make it at Arsenal.

Goal of the Season – Although Alexis Sanchez's cup final goal is a definite late contender, I'll go for Aaron Ramsey vs Galatasaray. Not just one of the best goals of the season, but easily one of the finest goals ever scored by an Arsenal player.


Best Moment(s) – Beating Man United in the FA Cup quarter final, with Danny Welbeck scoring the winner – trips to Old Trafford are usually a foregone conclusion, so it was about time it was put right. Beating Liverpool 4-1 at home just to smash them into the dirt after the Suarez stuff. Winning 2-0 at Manchester City. The FA Cup final, obviously – the best team performance in an FA Cup final I can remember.

Worst Moment(s) – Losing the first leg to Monaco in the Champions League 3-1, arguably the worst performance of the season. Conceding 3 goals in the first half away to Stoke. Losing away to Spurs. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere's long-term injuries which have undermined their progress again this season. Mathieu Debuchy's injury effectively means he has to start from scratch next season and will now have the proven Hector Bellerin to compete with.

Work for 2015-16 – The depth of the squad is arguably as strong as it's ever been, but Arsenal are still two to three players away from mounting a serious title challenge. I'm worried that the emergence of Francis Coquelin will make Arsene Wenger wary of spending money on central midfield (Arsenal have been linked with both Monaco's Geoffrey Kondogbia and Juventus's Arturo Vidal, who would be an excellent signing – let's face it, it ain't going to happen), while Theo Walcott's end of season form might similarly give Wenger and excuse not to sign an out-and-out world class striker. There's still a need sort out long-term injury problems too.

Overall

Team of the Season
(Click to enlarge)


Player of the Season – Eden Hazard (Chelsea). Very consistent and has got everything – an eye for goal, ability to dribble and ability to create chances.

Young Player of the Year – Harry Kane (Tottenham). A meteoric season for this naturally-gifted striker despite the shite he has to play alongside. It's almost inevitable that he'll move to one of Man United, Man City or Chelsea within the next season or two.

Ronald Koeman has performed a minor miracle at Southampton
Manager of the Season – Ronald Koeman (Southampton). He started the season with about 8 players at his disposal, having undergone a firesale. He finished the season qualifying for the Europa League having looked genuine top-four contenders until the spring. Gary Monk (Swansea) and Nigel Pearson (Leicester) are good shouts too.

Best Signings – Alexis Sanchez, enough said. "Woo-cash" Fabianski has been solid for Swansea and didn't cost them a penny. It's amazing that a player of Bojan Krkic's quality only cost Stoke £1.3million. You've got to say Cunt Fabrecunt counts as a good signing. Of course, Arsenal didn't need him....

Biggest Flops – Take your pick from the handiwork of the Liverpool's transfer committee. Dejan Lovren will be towards the top of the list alongside Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli – that's about £56million worth of "talent" there. Wilfried Bony hasn't had a chance to do anything at Man City since moving from Swansea. Radamel Falcao has to be up there, though it's worth pointing out he's only just coming back from a devastating cruciate ligament injury. That leaves Angel di Maria – the most expensive footballer in English football history – 4 goals in just over 30 games.

Goal of the Season – Has to be Ramsey's effort listed above, but if you're talking Premier League only, then I don't think it's Charlie Adam's effort against Chelsea. There's something a bit "playground" about lumping a ball over the keeper's head from beyond the halfway line. It looks spectacular, admittedly, but isn't technically impressive. I'll go for Jermaine Defoe's volley against Newcastle:



Sunday, 12 April 2015

And now my watch begins



Televisual masterpiece, Game of Thrones, returns for its fifth series tonight/tomorrow.

Well, it would have had the first four episodes not leaked online. How that happened is anyone's guess, but fingers are being pointed at disgruntled scientologists (HBO recently aired a critical documentary about them), who have a reputation for being a chippy bunch. HBO have paid the iron price and now the night is dark and full of torrents.

The TV series was always going to catch up with the A Song of Ice & Fire novels eventually and we've  reached that point. US TV shows rarely last longer than 7 seasons (though I suspect Game of Thrones will go on for however long it's profitable for HBO to do so – perhaps 9/10 seasons), so it's now highly likely that the storyline (or rather a storyline) will be wrapped up in the TV series before the novels – which has to be some sort of first.

Season 5 stands to be pivotal. After the events of season 4, the two separate arcs (War of the Five Kings & Daenerys Targaryen's "reconquista") are about to cross over in a way that hasn't been seen yet, with Tyrion Lannister, Varys and Arya Stark all heading out of Westeros. It's already been hinted in the trailers that Tyrion and Varys are seriously considering joining the Targaryen cause – though it's not as if they have any other option.

And boy does that cause need help. You've got to question Daenerys's leadership credentials considering the mess that's been made trying to rule several free-standing cities. She hasn't been seriously challenged yet and is something of a self-righteous brat – a mirror image of Joffrey I suppose.


With Littlefinger, Tyrion, Tywin and Varys all out of the way, there's nothing standing between Cersei and de-facto rule....except Margeary Tyrell. It's become clear that Cersei is jealous of the hold Margarey could have over Tommen - such a poor boy, oh diddums for Tommen - and the Tyrells are building power for themselves in the same way the Lannisters did.

Also, after Oberyn Martell's splitting headache, it looks like Dorne – which has always been portrayed as more independent-minded than the other kingdoms - is going to play a bigger role this season, with the producers using Andalucia for the backdrop.


Despite all this, by any and all conventions of hereditary monarchy there is only One True King™ , and that's indisputably Stannis "The Mannis" Baratheon. If the dead monarch's sons have no legitimate claim, then the crown passes to the dead monarch's next oldest brother. That's how it works.

In Series 4 Stannis the Mannis decided to "save the kingdom to win the throne" by riding north of the wall to deliver a decisive defeat to the wildling army. With the Night's Watch now under his protection, he's looking south at the Boltons and Freys, who (quite literally) stabbed the Stark family in the back to take the North for themselves.

Although I found the Bran stuff boring last time around, I hope they don't just leave it where it finished i.e. as it actually got interesting. It's confirmed there's no Bran this time around though, but I presume we'll come back to that in season 6.

The element in season 5 worth keeping an eye on has to be Sansa Stark. As a character she's grown tremendously from wannabee princess/baby machine in series 1 to what, at the end of series 4, appears to be a world-weary "ladder climber".

As the series is no longer going to follow the books exactly (but presumably along the same lines), there's speculation that she could be heading back to Winterfell to marry into the Boltons – the family that killed her brother and mother.....for revenge? That doesn't sound like a brilliant plan, but subtlety was never this show's strong point.



Sunday, 29 March 2015

Who Wants A Body Massage?



About 12 years ago, Chicago-based filmmaker, Eric Fensler, pretty much invented the concept of a "viral video" after editing up to 25 of those, "....and knowing is half the battle!" skits which were stuck on the end of GI Joe cartoons in order to give them some semblance of educational value.

The edits were completely bizarre, surreal and nonsensical. For some reason they were absolutely hilarious too – and quotable.

The idea of heavily-armed mercenaries casually going around warning kids not to play in fridges or approach dangerous dogs is also funny in its own right.

As this was pre-Youtube, it sometimes meant having to spend hours trying to track down links to bootleg versions. Their influence is so far reaching it can be seen in many re-edited videos even to this day – whether that's musical "mashup" videos, Cassetteboy or the Hitler Downfall parodies.

The makers of the GI Joe cartoon, Hasbro, weren't impressed and issued a "cease and desist" order to Fenslerfilm (Eric's company), and other sites hosting the videos, because they believed the edits were a form of copyright infringement. That threat has long passed and parody is now accepted as a legitimate reason to use copyrighted material ("fair use").

Here's what the original GI Joe skit looks like :




Here's the Fensler parody. Not only is asking people if they want a body massage a brilliant way to end a conversation, but it's the source for the title :



Here's my pick of the best of the rest.

1. Porkchop Sandwiches


Probably the most famous one, where two mentally-challenged boys attempt to cook some sausages. As everyone knows, it's firefighter slang to say "Porkchop Sandwiches!" to warn everyone to leave a burning building. If that doesn't work, just tell them to "Get the fuck out!" instead

2. Car Crash


After two boys come close to being hit by a military Humvee. After the solider swerves and is finished crashing, it's clear he isn't too down about it, brushing it off with the classic Sega Rally"Game over, yeeeeeah!" Though I always thought it was, "I was born a giiiiiirl!".

3. Help Computer


A computer, taking a form of a man, saves a boy from being attacked by a dog and reminds us all that digital piracy is evil.


4. Australian


"You! You're the ring leader!" This one introduces us to a very harsh, very demented Australian truant officer built like Dolph Lundgren. The traditional punishment for truancy in Australia is to be put inside a fridge. Surely the whole thing's entrapment?


5. Ice


I imagine this guy being some faded rock star living off royalties, who's been driven round the bend by drug abuse, his only contact with the outside world being "little wankers" playing on his ice and taking his sticks.

6. Motorcycle


After being given  deluge of advice about not buying nude mags and techno music putting holes in brains, some kids are treated to a tone deaf version of Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle Song.

7. Fried Kids


If your house were on fire, you would hope the first person clambering through the window would be someone trying to rescue you. Not this time. No one will ever know what happened to them.

8. Vinyl Purse


A woman desperate for her cigarettes from her pink purse is instead put into a trance.


Now you know....

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