Monday, 30 June 2014
Directed by Josie Rourke
Written by James Graham
Starring Joshua McGuire, Gunnar Cauthery, Paul Chahidi, Jonathan Coy, Nina Sosanya, Michelle Terry
Theatre Donmar Warehouse
When The Ephemeric first heard about Privacy alarm bells went off. Artists are traditionally pretty left-wing to begin with, and here was a play about privacy in the post-Snowden era, featuring contributions from staff of the Guardian, and even dramatizing a large portion of the Guardian/Edward Snowden history.
That's not to say that we don't sympathize with their position to an extent, or that we consider ourselves anti left-wing, far from it. But the chances seemed good that this might be a politicized production designed to agitate and preach more than a genuinely compelling piece of theatre. Any contentious issue, when being described by one of the key parties, runs an obvious risk of bias, and here all the signs pointed to a complete political whitewash.
In addition "technology" as a subject generally has never transferred well into media. The fact is that most people really don't understand much about technology, and to a large extent that includes the playwrights. This makes it all too easy to craft a heavily exaggerated and stilted presentation of internet privacy issues, simplified into nice alarmist packages for your average layman to digest, but in reality far from representative of the real issues.
The Donmar's latest production attempts to take these concerns head on. Before curtains up, everyone is handed a sheet of card presented in the style of an aircraft safety brochure, which includes a wifi network name and password and instructions on how to connect. During the production people are invited to submit various information and photos to the network server, which are then worked into the production by the on-stage IT guru, permanently sat at a desk with a very impressive looking computer set-up.
It's all very clever and slickly produced, but the real brilliance comes when an audience member is called upon, and the on-stage tech guru then proceeds to pull all kinds of intimate information about them, and make eerily accurate inferences about many personal aspects of their life based on seemingly innocuous online activity.
Brilliant, because instead of simply telling us how scary the internet is, they go one better and actually show us. This expertly sidesteps any accusations of hyperbole by showing us an actual practical example. It's clever, funny and quite terrifying. In this first act the production accomplishes everything it set out to do and more, despite The Ephemeric's serious doubts.
But unfortunately all is not as it seems. At the end of the production all audience members are sworn to secrecy, but since a good few months have now passed (and since it is absolutely vital to any true review of this play) I feel obligated to inform at the very least that most of what has just transpired is completely fake.
Suffice it to say that none of the techno-wizardry that has seemingly been employed to such devastating effect has actually happened. It's fiction masquerading as reality explicitly to avoid accusation of bias, and the fact that none of it is real completely undermines the effect. At the end of the day, everything Privacy shows us is just fiction, and so all the pre-show concerns of hyperbole, politicization and, frankly, bullshit, still apply.
There's still much to be enjoyed here. Privacy is highly entertaining: funny, well produced and acted, and raises awareness of an important issue. But as is all too inevitable with such plays it runs the line of being a tool for political gamesmanship and revisionist history, rather than an actual sober consideration of a very technical subject. Privacy is good fun, but ultimately it is shown up just as scaremongering, a tool for the author's political views, and not to be taken too seriously.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Genre Alternative Rock
Producers Tim Bergling, Coldplay, Paul Epworth, Daniel Green, Jon Hopkins, Rik Simpson
It's been three years since Coldplay's last album Mylo Xyloto, and six years since their last good album Viva la Vida, and yet such is the band's star power that a new album commands worldwide attention. Ghost Stories is no exception.
This latest album marks quite a departure for the band, which has become synonymous in recent years with roof raising, stadium filling anthems. The first album to be written since frontman Chris Martin's much publicized break up with Gwyneth Paltrow, Ghost Stories takes a decidedly more introverted style, full of ballads and semi-acoustic tracks.
On paper it's a good move for them, seemingly a throwback to the band's earlier style in the days of Yellow, Trouble and the Scientist, but unfortunately Ghost Stories never really recaptures the delicate brilliance of those songs, and far too much of this album feels lacking in inspiration.
There are bright spots. A Sky Full of Stars is a stunning track, Coldplay at their stadium filling best. This is the only track on the album that attempts this style and it's a real corker. Maybe there's a reason Coldplay record so many songs in this style after all.
Midnight, on the other hand, shows how good the band can be when they try something different. Not quite a throwback to their early acoustic stuff, not quite embracing the electronica bent of Mylo Xyloto. Midnight will inevitably draw unfair comparisons to Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek, but this does a disservice to a wonderful song.
Unfortunately other than this, there's not much else of note in the short 9 track album. It's not that the other songs are bad, mind you; Ink, Oceans, True Love, pretty much every song is perfectly decent and pleasant to listen to, but they're very unremarkable. There is nothing here that anyone will remember in a year's time.
It also doesn't help that many songs here happen to sound distractingly similar to other songs. Ink bears a guitar riff identical to that of Tracy Chapman's classic Fast Car, and hugely similar verse structure. Another's Arms has pretty much the same verse as James' Peaches. Say nothing of Midnight which we've already covered. Again, it's not that they're bad songs, it's just that even on the first listen I could have sworn I'd heard them all before.
Ultimately though, Ghost Stories marks a definite improvement on the mediocre Mylo Xyloto. When this album hits it hits good with some of Coldplay's finest moments in a long time. Sky Full of Stars in particular is an instant Coldplay classic. The rest is perfectly fine, but fairly forgettable. Pop a few tracks on your summer playlist and move on.
Must Listen :
A Sky Full of Stars
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
I don't know about you guys but I for one am starting to feel the symptoms of football withdrawal. It's a seasonal disorder that tends to affect English men in the summer and is associated with increased sobriety and an obsession with otherwise tedious transfer gossip.
Well the good news is help will soon be at hand. This summer belongs to the World Cup in Brazil. 32 teams will do battle over 64 games and all that is certain is that there will be but one winner, and that England will go out early.
The host this time around is the homeland of joga bonito, the beautiful game. Brazil is famed as one of the finest purveyors of football in the history of the sport, and their national team has won the competition more times than any other team. Sadly this year's tournament has all too often been mired in controversy amid claims of corruption, failure to get stadiums and infrastructure ready in time (at the time of writing, merely a week before the big kick off, the stadiums are still not entirely ready), and general criticism levelled at a Government that is spending millions on an extravagant party while so many of their people remain destitute. Ever the optimist, The Ephemeric decides to focus primarily on the football, and leave any politics to those so inclined. I am absolutely buzzing with excitement, and on the pitch at least the tournament promises to be quite the celebration of the game.
As always, each team has it's own unique story to tell. So here is our team by team guide to World Cup 2014.
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Key player: Neymar
World ranking: 3
The Brazilians have won the tournament more times than any other team, but have not won it since 2002. Such is the weight of expectation on the Brazilian football team that any time they fail to win is considered an upset back home, and it will be about ten times worse this year with the country hosting the tournament.
The manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has already won the World Cup previously with Brazil, and following trophiless spells at Chelsea and Portugal, he returns to his home country with the hopes of becoming only the second manager to win the competition twice.
The squad has been criticized in recent years as underwhelming by Brazilian standards, but in reality it still contains attacking talent from stars such as Hulk, Willian and Neymar. Defensively the team is arguably among the stronger in Brazil's history with David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves, while youngster Oscar has been key in his deep lying midfield engine role.
The key man certainly is Neymar, a young man upon whom great expectation has been placed. Some pundits already rate him among the best in the world, while his goalscoring rate at such a young age has earned him comparisons with Pelé.
Brazil are expected to win, and Neymar is expected to be the man to deliver the trophy. Brazil have the home advantage, and it's worth noting that no European team has ever won a World Cup in South America. That makes Brazil a strong favourite, and The Ephemeric's bet for victory.
Manager: Niko Kovač
Key player: Ivan Rakitić
World ranking: 18
This Croatia side have gone off the boil recently, having once been tipped as the next big thing. The performance throughout qualification has been poor, just scraping through the qualification in what was not the most difficult group. But still, there is plenty to like in the squad.
Croatia is blessed with two of the finest central midfielders in Europe this season, Luka Modrić of Real Madrid, and Ivan Rakitić who is on the verge of signing for Barcelona. Add to this Bayern Munich's formidable Mario Mandzukić up front, and Southampton's in-form Dejan Lovren at the back and this is a team with some solid talent. However at the same time this is still a team that relies on has-beens like Vedran Ćorluka and Darijo Srna in their starting line up, and suddenly it's clear why qualification was such a chore.
Most remarkable about this Croatia side is the stewardship of the tournament's least experienced manager; Croatia legend Niko Kovač, national legend though he may be, only took over the side for the two-legged qualification playoff, and has just 7 competitive games to his CV, 5 of which were in charge of the U21s team. Huge question marks hang over a side that is unlikely to get out of the group stage.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Miguel Herrera
Key player: Oribe Peralta
World ranking: 20
It's been somewhat of a stop-start qualification campaign for Mexico, full of managerial changes and mass rotations in squad makeup. Still this is a side with enough quality to qualify for the knockout round.
Oribe Peralta is the key man, having scored 10 goals in 10 games for Mexico, while the mercurial Giovani dos Santos usually turns up for the big tournaments, and at 24 is now reaching a point where he must take on a key role. Former star player Javier Hernandez will be on the bench due to a lack of game time with Manchester United, but still presents a potent threat if utilized. Beyond this the bulk of the squad plays their club football domestically, so there may be a surprise package or two for European viewers.
Manager Miguel Herrera was the fourth manager to take the Mexico job over the space of a month during an unusually turbulent period, and like Croatia's manager has only been in the job since the playoff stage, but an able 9-3 aggregate win over New Zealand certainly marks a strong start.
Mexico are nevertheless a strong side with great motivation and the advantage of playing a World Cup in South America. They stand a good chance at going through to the next round, but any further than that may be a stretch.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Volker Finke
Key player: Samuel Eto'o
World ranking: 56
Despite qualifying for the World Cup an impressive 7 times, Cameroon have only once made it out of the group stage. New manager Volker Finke has had a remarkable career in German club football, and has brought a much needed focus to a team otherwise plagued with internal politics and moody players.
No player is more moody than Samuel Eto'o; one of Africa's greatest ever footballing superstars, and yet has never reproduced his form for Cameroon. Many fans of the Lions consider him to be more of a disruptive influence on the team rather than a boon. Still, it is the Chelsea striker who captains Cameroon for this World Cup.
The rest of the squad is an interesting mix of promising players, and players who never lived up to their promise. They'll give a decent showing at the tournament, but will find it difficult to advance to the knockout stages for the second time in their history.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Key player: Andrés Iniesta
World ranking: 1
What more can you say about the defending World and European Champions? Few teams have ever done the World Cup/European Championship double, and no team has ever won three major competitions in a row. Spain has done just that, and while the prospect of pulling of an unprecedented double double might seem ludicrous, so was claiming that third title in a row in 2012.
In Vicente del Bosque they have an old school manager, and a proven winner, while their team is full of world class experience. Players like Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas have seen and won everything, while hungry young superstars in the making have recently joined the squad like Koke, Alcântara, and Azpiliqueta. Also joining the squad is Chelsea's new man Diego Costa, a man who has had a phenomenal 40 goal season last year.
Still, as good a side as they are, the odds are firmly stacked against them. Not only is there the statistical and historical unlikeliness of yet another victory, there's the fact that no European team has ever won a World Cup in South America, there's the fact that Brazil have the home advantage, and there's the fact that many of Spain's best players are just that little bit older now. Surely they won't win it again. The Ephemeric concludes that they probably will not.
Verdict: Quarter Finals
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
Key player: Arjen Robben
World ranking: 15
You never know what you're going to get with the Dutch. In Euro 2008 they faltered in the knockout stages, having played some of the most stunning football seen in International competition for decades. In World Cup 2010 they reached the final playing some horrendously ugly and physical football. Then in Euro 2012 they didn't even make it out of the group stage. Who knows what team will turn up this year?
The problem with the team is clear when looking at the roster. The team sheet is full of big names, none of whom command as much respect as they once did. Robin Van Persie was arguably the best striker in Europe a year or two ago, but has had a torrid season at Manchester United; Dirk Kuyt and Klaas Jan Huntelaar were once pretty big deals, but now no longer; Wesley Sneijder was one of the best midfielders in the world back in 2008, but now languishes in the Turkish league. Only key man Arjen Robben is currently playing to his peak abilitiy. This is a Dutch side where the best players are past their peak or out of form, meaning extra responsibilities will need to be placed on less experienced players like Jasper Cillessen and Bruno Martins Indi.
The Netherlands still have a strong team, and their World Cup qualification campaign was very strong, albeit against some pretty weak teams. The good news is that after last time, expectations are low. Chile will give them a hard time, but the Netherlands' relative strength throughout the squad should see them through past the group stage. Unfortunately with a likely Brazil match up awaiting, probably no further.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
Key player: Arturo Vidal
World ranking: 14
Chile were something of a surprise package in 2010, coming close to upsetting eventual champions Spain and performing far above what most people expected thanks to some stunning fast paced attacking football.
Chile are blessed with some exceptionally gifted attackers in Alexis Sánchez of Barcelona and Arturo Vidal of Juventus. Their weakness in the past has always been defensively. Chile would attack relentlessly and perform well against teams who are similarly oriented, but against any team with defensive tactics they'd struggle. This is where key man Arturo Vidal comes in; the versatile Juventus midfielder solidifies that Chile core, and can even fill out in defence if needed. He will be absolutely vital to any challenge Chile hopes to pose to more prestigious sides.
Attacking sides like Spain and Netherlands probably suit Chile just fine, but while they could well upset one of the two sides, they are unlikely to beat both, and third place seems likely.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Ange Postecoglu
Key player: Tim Cahill
World ranking: 62
Yes, Tim Cahill is still the key man, that should say it all really. Not to disrespect Australia's all time top goalscorer, he's been a quality player who can change games in an instant for both club and country, but he's 34 now and plies his trade in the MLS, he's not going to be able to salvage anything in such a tough group.
Manager Postecoglu will have to come up with a bold gameplan in order to have any impact on this tournament. Most probably Aussie fans should look at this as a warm up ahead of the Asian Cup they're hosting this year.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Jose Pekerman
Key player: James Rodríguez
World ranking: 8
As a footballing nation with a proud history, it's hard to believe that this is the first time that Colombia have qualified for the World Cup in 16 years. Colombian football has seen something of a renaissance recently, spearheaded by Radamel Falcao, arguably one of the finest strikers in the world right now. Unfortunately Falcao is set to miss the World Cup through injury, and so too seemingly goes any real hope of Colombia causing a major upset at this year's tournament.
But that doesn't really tell the full story. Falcao has been injured for much of the season, and Colombia have remained impressive without him. This is a Colombia that, even without their talisman, is not lacking for talented technical players like Jackson Martinez up front and Monaco playmaker James Rodriguez in the midfield. But equally strong is their defensive unit, with the more cautious midfielder Freddy Guarin and goalkeeper David Ospina particular highlights.
With Falcao, this is a team that could have gone far as a surprise package this year. Without him they're still good, and will qualify for the knock out stages, but are unlikely to go any further.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Fernando Santos
Key player: Sokratis Papastathopoulos
World ranking: 12
Euro 2004's shock winners have qualified for another major competition, and once again, little is expected of them. Greece have carved a reputation for adopting an all out defence mentality, and nicking the game by the odd goal. It won them Euro 2004 and it has earned them qualification to every major tournament since.
This year we expect more of the same, and the key man through all this will be Borussia Dortmund defender Papastathopoulos, the lynchpin of this defensively minded Greece side. Going forward though the team is still very suspect, a major problem when facing other teams with a similarly cautious approach. Greece will do their best to frustrate and win at all costs, but are likely to come up short again and fall at the first hurdle.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Sabri Lamouchi
Key player: Yaya Touré
World ranking: 23
It's a case of too little too late for the Ivory Coast. Long regarded as one of the more promising squads in African football, Ivory Coast has featured stars from all over Europe including talismanic captain Didier Drogba, midfield dynamo Yaya Touré, Salomon Kalou and others. But every year they have been drawn in tough groups featuring the likes of Brazil and Netherlands, and fallen at group stage.
This year the Ivory Coast has found itself in what would be a very winnable group, but it may simply be a case of their star players being just a bit too old to reach their potential. Didier Drogba is a shadow of the player he used to be, as is Kolo Touré. Salomon Kalou never reached his potential, nor did Didier Zokora or Gervinho. It's only Manchester City's all-conquering midfielder Yaya Touré who appears to be in the peak of his game, and newcomer Swansea striker Wilfried Bony. These two will be the key men for any hopes Ivory Coast have.
Group C is arguably the hardest to call in the tournament, with four very evenly matched teams. Ultimately The Ephemeric expects that Ivory Coast will have enough power to break through Japan and Greece, and are likely to finally progress to the knockout round, but unlikely to go any further.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Key player: Keisuke Honda
World ranking: 46
A hugely underrated side, Japan were impressive in World Cup 2010 where they reached the second round, and were unlucky not to make the quarter final. For a team that until recently considered itself lucky just to qualify for the World Cup, a lot has changed very quickly. Japan recently won the Asian Cup and were the first team to qualify for this World Cup tournament.
The Japanese team now finds itself full of players with real top European league pedigree, from Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa to AC Milan's play maker Keisuke Honda. They are no longer just a team with some fancy technical skills, but a well honed and experienced side.
It is unfortunate for the Japanese that what is generally a pretty lightweight, non-physical team has found itself in a group surrounded by three teams which are the exact opposite. While Japan have the quality to push for the knockout stages, there's too great a risk of them being bullied into submission by the far more physically imposing opposition, and are more likely to fall in group stage.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Óscar Tabárez
Key player: Luis Suárez
World ranking: 7
Last time the World Cup was played in Brazil, it was Uruguay who won it. It was their second and last World Cup victory at a time when Brazil had yet to win any. Originally it was Uruguay who were the big boys of world football.
Their star has fallen in the decades since, but recent years have seen a rebirth for the nation. Semi finalists at the last World Cup, and they've only gotten better since then. Luis Suárez has questions remaining over his fitness, but if he's in good shape then Uruguay will thrive. His sheer brilliance gives Uruguay the freedom to sit back and focus on defence more while he rampages up front, it's a hugely effective balance. Suárez is arguably one of the world's form players at the moment, and with his country facing the opportunity to relive their most famous hour, and the benefit of playing in South America, Uruguay are without doubt one of the key sides to watch at this year's tournament.
They are unlucky to find themselves in one of the tougher groups, facing the likes of Italy and England, but with the home advantage and a fit Suárez they look good to get out of group stage and could well go far this year.
Verdict: Semi Finals
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Key player: Keylor Navas
World ranking: 28
Don't let their decent world ranking fool you, Costa Rica are whipping boys here.
That's not to say that they don't have talented players. Fulham's Bryan Ruiz will be huge for them, as will goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has been a revelation in La Liga this season. The trouble is they don't have enough of them, and the rest of the squad is padded out with relatively mediocre talent. Costa Rica can count themselves among the weaker teams in the tournament and are highly unlikely to get out of this tough group.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Key player: Wayne Rooney
World ranking: 10
England surprised many with a decent showing at Euro 2012, but no one was ever fooled into thinking they had what it takes to go all the way. Now they find themselves in a very tricky group, one from which they could well struggle to escape.
The sad thing is that as always, England's problems are of their own making. Divisions are still rife within the team and the mild mannered but unremarkable Roy Hodgson has yet to convince while wielding an England team largely built by his predecessor Fabio Capello. And following the FA's ill-advised campaign to force talismanic captain John Terry out of the set up, we can't even say we have our best squad available. Together John Terry and Gary Cahill have formed arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in all of Europe if not the world, and it is mind boggling that we will not be making use of by far our greatest asset.
Instead much of our hopes will now have to rest on Wayne Rooney's shoulders. Poor Wayne has never really lived up to his billing for the England team since his stunning Euro 2004 breakthrough was cruelly cut short, and has yet to score a goal in the World Cup finals. In a team bereft of many of the leadership figures of old, Wayne will need to have a massive tournament for England to meet their goals.
Elsewhere one would hope that emphasis will be placed on the young talent in the side, especially those in Liverpool colours on the back of such a remarkable season. England would be foolish not to put the gifted goalscoring talents of Daniel Sturridge, and the youthful energy of Raheem Sterling up front and centre in this team.
If England's young talent is used effectively, if Wayne Rooney finally hits his peak, and if Cahill can form a good defensive partnership with Phil Jagielka, this England team can get out of this group, but it's a tough ask, and the smart money says they'll drop at the group stage.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Key player: Andrea Pirlo
World ranking: 9
Italy are always a hard side to predict. For one they have a fantastic World Cup record over the years. But at the same time they often exceed low expectations, winning in 2006 despite pre-tournament billing as also-rans, and then defending said title by bowing out pathetically at the group stage in 2010. Euro 2012 saw a strong performance from the Italians, reaching the final, and if Prandelli can keep that momentum going it could be a good tournament for Azzuri.
The usual caveats apply for Italy; old, defensive, overdependent on Juventus. But since when has that ever stopped them? Andrea Pirlo will still pull the strings in midfield, and every indication is that his strong form since joining Juventus has carried right on through to the World Cup. Meanwhile Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi (if fit) make a formidable strike partnership up front. Giorgio Chiellini is still one of the finest defenders around, and Buffon remains an example to all goalkeepers. Equally interesting are some of the youngsters included in the squad, if called upon to play. PSG's Marco Verratti is extremely hotly tipped, as is Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne.
As we've stated, group D is a very difficult one. But you would be a fool to ever bet against Italy progressing in the World Cup, and The Ephemeric's mama didn't raise no fool.
Verdict: Quarter Finals
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Key player: Xherdan Shaqiri
World ranking: 6
The sixth best team in the world if FIFA's world rankings are to be believed. It's a little less ridiculous sounding when you look at the excellent qualification campaign they've just had, storming convincingly through what was a reasonably difficult group, at the same time amassing the best qualification record in all of UEFA.
How did this happen? After all just a few years ago Switzerland were a Greece-lite, disciplined and defensive, nicking 1-0 wins to advance. Well that has all changed now. This Swiss team places the emphasis on attack, and is generally considered to be among, if not the, best Swiss football sides of all time.
They are coached by one of the great old pros in football Ottmar Hitzfeld, a man who has won everything... twice. He has crafted this Swiss team into a surprisingly incisive, tactically flexible unit. The key man without doubt is Bayern Munich star Xherdan Shaqiri, an explosive winger in the mould of teammate Franck Ribéry. Shaqiri provides that bit of special quality, but is flanked by very capable team mates Barnetta, Behrami, Fernandes and others. Particularly worthy of note is fullback Ricardo Rodriguez, who scored more goals and provided more assists than any other fullback in the Bundesliga last season.
All the dark horse attention is on Belgium, but Switzerland are worth a look too. The Swiss should be able to navigate this group, but with a likely Argentina match up awaiting, that should be the extent of it.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
Key player: Antonio Valencia
World ranking: 26
Colombia-lite. Good all-round football, full of energy and stamina that never runs out. Many will remember Ecuador's solid run into the knock out stages back in 2006. This is not a team to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time one shouldn't expect too much of note.
Ecuador's energy levels are buoyed by their home ground being some 3,000 metres above sea-level, a ground on which they are undefeated (not too surprisingly) they won't have that advantage here, but they will still be well equipped to deal with some of the harsh climate conditions in Brazil, and with the high stamina that high altitude training affords.
Antonio Valencia is the clear star, hugely experienced in the English Premier League and a role model for the rest of his team. Otherwise the side mainly consists of local players, a double edged sword in that none of them are superstars, but on the bright side they all know each others' game well. Ecuador won't be easy, but they'll have to up their game to pip Switzerland to the next round.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Key player: Franck Ribéry
World ranking: 17
France's disastrous early exit from World Cup 2010 was the stuff of legend. Fortunately manager Raymond Domenech was promptly shown the door, a move long overdue for a man who, 2006 aside, had managed to internally sabotage his country's performances at tournaments every year since 2002.
The new man in charge, Didier Deschamps, has revitalised the side on the back of a strong qualification campaign. Karim Benzema has regained his club form and rightly taken his place at the front of an impressive French attack which sees him flanked by Franck Ribéry and backed by one of Europe's top young prospects in Paul Pogba. Meanwhile the side also features some very impressive deep lying midfielders in Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi. France was always a better team than 2010 suggested, and now they have the confidence and competent management to help bring that potential to the pitch.
If the team does have a weakness it's the lack of real leaders on the pitch. There's no Zidane or Vieira or Thuram. But the group they face is not the toughest in the tournament, and they should have enough to progress to the next round. Realistically though anything beyond a quarter final finish seems unlikely.
Verdict: Quarter Finals
Manager: Luis Fernando Suárez
Key player: Wilson Palacios
World ranking: 33
Something of a surprise qualifier, but as they showed England in the recent friendly encounter they are no pushover. After all they did qualify ahead of Mexico, a side that is generally pretty well regarded in the competition.
Still it is never a good sign when your star man is a Stoke City player. Wilson Palacios is strong and good at starting his team's plays from his deep midfield position. But he will have a job on his hands to get anything out of the group stage. The Ephemeric does not expect much.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Alejandro Sabella
Key player: Lionel Messi
World ranking: 5
The two-time World Cup winners can always consider themselves among the favourites for the competition, especially when they play in South America. Still they have not won since 1986. All the stops will be pulled out in order to win the World Cup this time on the soil of arch rivals Brazil.
There's is a team that is stocked with world class talent, from Ángel di María to Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and of course, one of the world's top two players: Lionel Messi. But while they team's attacking options may be the envy of any team in the world, defensively they are far more suspect. There is no clear star in defence, and doubt over who best to play in goal. This is a team that will have to prevail through offence as a form of defence.
After a few years in the wilderness, Argentina have finally started to show some of their promise. Messi in particular is beginning to replicate his club form for country. If he can do that consistently at the World Cup then Argentina have a good shot at winning the whole thing. The pressure is on, but with the talent available Argentina will surely be there or thereabouts.
Verdict: Runners Up
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Manager: Safet Sušić
Key player: Edin Dzeko
World ranking: 21
The perception is a team full of no-name whipping boys from a country that didn't exist until a few years ago. No-hopers who are just here to make up the numbers and will be home early. The reality is that Bosnia have a very decent team.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begović and star man Edin Dzeko will be familiar to any English Premier League fans, and Dzeko in particular can be a monster on his day, adding well rounded hold-up play to his excellent goal scoring record. The team has considerable talent elsewhere in the form of Roma's Miralem Pjanić and Hoffenheim's Sejad Salihović. Bosnia is not just here as a makeweight, they will have an influence on this group.
Getting out of the group stage will be a challenge though for a squad that is relatively inexperienced on the big stage and thin in depth beyond their starting lineup. Bowing out in the group stage is most likely, but don't be surprised if they nick that second qualification place.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Key player: Ashkan Dejagah
World ranking: 43
Iran are the team with probably the most unknown players. Many of them play domestically or in the lower leagues, and their star man is a Fulham winger, albeit a quick and tricky one.
Still Iran are not going to be the pushovers everybody expects. Their team is well drilled and enthusiastic, while they are particularly deadly from set pieces.
The problem Iran face is that while they are not a terrible team, they're probably the worst one in this group. The Ephemeric considers it highly likely that they will get knocked out at this first round.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Stephen Keshi
Key player: John Obi Mikel
World ranking: 44
Despite their relatively low ranking, Nigeria are entering the World Cup as African champions, and in a good position to have an impact on the group.
A strong counter-attacking side. Nigeria is built around a core of good top flight talent including Chelsea trio John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Kenneth Omeruo. Meanwhile goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has had a fantastic season in the French leagues, coming very close to setting a new all time record for most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. Their considerable pedigree also features familiar names such as Joseph Yobo, Peter Odemwingie and Victor Obinna.
This is a deceptively solid team, and one of the better African teams in the tournament despite their ranking. Nigeria have a good shot at getting out of this group stage if they can negotiate their way past Bosnia, but with a potential match up against France in the next round, probably no further.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Joachim Löw
Key player: Mesut Özil
World ranking: 2
Germany: one of the best national teams in the world, with an impressive three wins, behind only Italy and Brazil in the winners rankings. They went pretty close in 2006 to winning on home soil, and gave good accounts of themselves in every major tournament since. With Bayern Munich getting such hype in recent years there is a lot of buzz that this could finally be the year for Germany.
This is a squad full of world class talent for sure, but one gets the feeling that this tournament is coming at a bad time. Many of the key players are in unconvincing form, with the Bayern stars unconvincing in Europe this season, and even talisman Mesut Özil has had a largely invisible debut season with Arsenal. This makes it seem unlikely that Germany will become the first ever European side to win a South American World Cup, but still this is Germany, and the Germans usually turn up for the big tournaments, often confounding any pre-tournament predictions.
Germany finds themselves in arguably the toughest group in the tournament, but are probably the strongest team in it. They should get through to the next round, difficult though it will be. A quarter final defeat to one of the South American big boys seems the likely end for Germany this year.
Verdict: Quarter Finals
Manager: Paulo Bento
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo
World ranking: 4
Portugal have taken Spain's mantle as the world's serial underperformers; blessed with a formidable array of talent yet always just not quite up to the task of winning. Euro 2012 was a very impressive showing from the team, losing to the eventual champions despite being the better of the two sides over 90 minutes. Now they hope to go one further in the World Cup.
Leading the charge will be the current best player in the world Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is arguably one of the finest footballers of all time, and when he is on his game he is simply untouchable. An incredible blend of pace, power, technique, and vision. But that's not to disregard a squad that's strong in all departments: a defence featuring Pepe, Bruno Alves and Coentrao, a midfield with Moutinho, Veloso and Nani, and of course the big man up front. Consistency has always been an issue for Portugal and this will be no different. If they can fire on all cylinders they can go far, if not then they'll underperform yet again.
Portugal have one of the very best teams in the competition, and probably the best player at the moment. They have a very good shot of taking the big prize, perhaps more so than any European team. Their group is a very tricky one, but they should be able to navigate it successfully. The Ephemeric thinks they can make it as far as the semi finals.
Verdict: Semi Finals
Manager: James Kwesi Appiah
Key player: Kevin-Prince Boateng
World ranking: 37
Ghana have been giving a good account of themselves in recent years, in particular the last World Cup in 2010 where they became only the third African side to reach the World Cup quarter finals. But for all their strengths over the years there is the feeling that some of their previous star players may be on the decline.
Michael Essien, arguably one of the best midfielders in the world in 2010, has aged very quickly and now seems a shadow of himself for both club and country. Then there's key striker Asamoah Gyan who's star has fallen considerably since his big money move to Sunderland in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. He now finds himself playing in the Middle-Eastern leagues.
Instead the focus will be on Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng, always a man for a big occasion and Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus. Most interesting will be to see the emergence of Ghana's promising youth; players like Jordan Ayew, Christian Atsu, and Majeed Waris.
This is a very intriguing Ghana team indeed, but with such a tough group before them, they are unlikely o have much opportunity to showcase their talents.
Verdict: Group Stage
United States of America
Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann
Key player: Michael Bradley
World ranking: 13
This is an interesting one. For a while it looked as though American football was getting increasingly better, with genuinely high quality players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey making waves in international competition. Then with the appointment of German legend Klinsmann, who as a manager almost won the World Cup with Germany and has received incredible praise for his management style, it seemed as though American football would be set for another big step up.
Instead the team seems to have gone strangely backwards in the past few years. Sure, they won the Gold Cup, but the team appears to be lacking in recognizable quality more than ever now. Even the manager concedes that his side have no chance at this World Cup, and claims to be building for 2018.
For sure, even if the roster was looking among the best of teams that the United States has fielded, this group is particularly difficult, and the USA will face Germany, Portugal and the third, easier team is their bogey team Ghana, who knocked them out of the past two World Cups. Getting out of this group will be a near impossible task for the United States.
Verdict: Group stage
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Key player: Eden Hazard
World ranking: 11
Everyone's favourite dark horses at this World Cup, Belgium have on paper one of the finest squads in the world. This Belgian golden age has everything: one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the form of Thibault Courtois, a strong defence featuring Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. The creative midfield has Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Kevin de Bruyne, Steven Defour and Marouane Fellaini. The attack Romelu Lukaku, Adnan Januzaj, and Kevin Mirallas.
I'm going on and on, but the fact is that every single one of these players is a household name, plying their trade at one of Europe's top clubs. This is a young, hungry, and high quality team, one that on paper can match up to any in the world.
But translating that potential into an actual team, and producing it on the biggest stage of all, is a tough ask, especially for such a young group of players. With all the hype that is currently pouring on them, disappointment seems an inevitability.
Group H is by no means easy, but it also isn't the most difficult group in the tournament. It is very winnable for Belgium, but the next round promises either Germany or Portugal, and for all their talent on paper, they could well come up short against the big players.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Fabio Capello
Key player: Igor Akinfeev
World ranking: 19
Fabio Capello is one of the top managers in the world and has been for a long time. After being wrongly pushed out of his job as England manager, he sought refuge in Russia, with the aim of turning them into a top national side. This is not without precedent of course; under Hiddink, Russia were one of the best sides in Euro 2008. Attacking players Arshavin, Zhirkov all sparkled. Akinfeev was formidable in goal, and youngster Alan Dzagoev was one of the top young prospects in Europe.
Their Euro 2012 bid under Dick Advocaat started well enough, but ended in disappointment. Since then they have never quite reached the potential they hinted at in 2008. Arshavin is gone, Dzagoev, once a hot talent, has fallen out of favour with the manager. Now the key man will be Akinfeev, holding that back line together as Capello likes to do. Otherwise the emphasis seems to be on young, domestic talent. Indeed, that every player in the squad plays in the Russian league is quite remarkable.
This year seems mainly to be about blooding young Russian players so that they will be ready for 2018's World Cup on home soil, but still they should not be discounted. Russia love to be the dark horse, and if Capello handles them the right way, they could have a good tournament. Qualification from the group stage seems a strong possibility, but with Germany or Portugal waiting, that will probably be the extent of it.
Verdict: Second Round
Manager: Hong Myung-Bo
Key player: Son Heung-Min
World ranking: 57
Like Russia, South Korea are probably best remembered in football as a side to be buoyed by Guus Hiddink's magic when they reached the World Cup semi final on home soil back in 2002. Since then they've never really performed to the same level, but that's not to discount them entirely. South Korea are still a collection of very technically gifted players who can cause trouble.
But make no mistake, they will be up against it here. South Korea just scraped into this World Cup past Uzbekistan, and their lightweight squad will struggle against the far more physical opposition of Algeria and Russia, while their technical abilities, though worthy of praise, will be matched by Belgium. This looks to be a very short tournament for South Korea.
Verdict: Group Stage
Manager: Vahid Halilhodžić
Key player: Sofiane Feghouli
World ranking: 22
Anyone who saw Algeria play in the 2010 World Cup will know they are not to be taken lightly. Halilhodžić likes his team to play a highly organised, tactical game, while his squad are powerful enough to tussle with the best.
The squad's main dose of quality comes from Feghouli, formerly short listed for the French national team but convinced to play for the country of his parents. Feghouli has La Liga pedigree on the wing for Valencia, and all signs indicate that he can deliver on a big stage. Indeed a promising array of youthful additions to the squad suggest that the Algerians have improved even on their 2010 showing.
Algeria will be concerned by their defensive vulnerabilities, particularly with the likes of Belgium to contend with. They certainly have a shot at pushing for the second round, but the chances are that once again they will be home after three games.
Verdict: Group stage
So there we have it. Get excited because the tournament starts just this next week. The Ephemeric may be missing much of the tournament thanks to the joy of work, but we will be there with you all in spirit.
Wednesday, 4 June 2014
Welcome to another end of year retrospective on what will surely go down as one of the most unpredictable and astonishing seasons in Premier League history. Here at The Ephemeric we like to take this moment to take stock of the season gone by and bestow our carefully considered accolades.
A three-way horse-race between Manchester City, Chelsea, and surprise package Liverpool ended up going down to the last day of the season, but ultimately it was City who ended up with the top prize. It marks a successful first season in English football for manager Manuel Pellegrini with what is surprisingly only his first major honour as a manager in the European leagues. It's a victory that will no doubt hold special significance for Pellegrini having bested the man who ousted him from Real Madrid, and arguably enjoyed the fruits of Pellegrini's teambuilding, José Mourinho.
Meanwhile Brendan Rogers stunned the country by bringing Liverpool back from midtable obscurity to barely a whisker away from their first league title in two decades. The nature of the club's late slip up, having been in the driving seat with just weeks to go, will undoubtedly sting for a while. This is matched equally by third place Chelsea, who also threw away the chance to win the title having been top with just weeks remaining. It's a testament to how close this race ran that all three sides found themselves in control of the title at different times in the final weeks, a title race unlike any we have seen since the league's inception in 1992.
Further down the table it's been a remarkable season for both Everton and Southampton who wildly exceeded expectations. Roberto Martínez and Mauricio Pochettino have fast become two of the hottest properties in the football management business and it's exciting to wonder what will come next for the club; will they build on this success, or be torn to shreds by bigger, opportunistic clubs.
At the bottom it was heartbreak for Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff City, the last of which imploded in particularly spectacular fashion off the pitch, dooming their fortunes on the pitch. And on that note let's not forget the horror show of Manchester United, who's defence of the title will go down as the worst in Premier League history.
Now without further ado it is time to move on to the Ephemeric end of season awards, followed by our carefully selected Premier League team of the year.
The Ephemeric Premier League Awards 2014:
Winners: Manchester City - In a squeaker of a season, it was slow and steady which won the race despite not actually being top of the pile until right at the death. Manchester City were the most consistent team this season, and that's why they're champions.
Relegated: Norwich, Fulham, Cardiff - Perennial yo-yo club Norwich paid the price for personnel changes and poor transfer policy, ending a solid three seasons in the top flight. Fulham will join them, marking a disastrous debut for the club's new owner that sees the established club's 13 year spell in the Premier League come to an end. Meanwhile Cardiff took the honour of finishing rock bottom, due in no small part to the seemingly never-ending boardroom sideshow that threatens to ruin the club.
Player of the Year: Luis Suárez (Liverpool)- His antics make him easy to dislike, but there's simply no denying the quality of Luis Suárez, and this season has seen him emerge as truly one of the best players in the world. It's no longer a stretch to compare him with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Suárez's unbelievable goalscoring feats this season are comparable to the best of all time, and the fact that he accomplished this in the much more defensive Premier League compared to La Liga makes it in many ways even more impressive.
U-21 Player of the Year: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) - Pipped to the PFA's Young Player award on account of their bizarre criteria of considering 23 year olds like Eden Hazard to be "young", Sterling rightly picks up our far more sensible Ephemeric award. Sterling was absolutely electric for Liverpool this season, forming a key element in one of the Premier League's all time most dangerous attacks (their 101 goals scored this season came only 2 goals short of the current record set by Chelsea's magnificent attacking team circa 2010). Now a huge World Cup beckons for the youngster.
Best Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea) - The veteran Chelsea stopper has had a phenomenal season, winning yet another Golden Glove having collected the most clean sheets of any keeper this season. Much of this can be owed to his formidable teammates in defence, but let nothing take away from his reliability this season. Cech has shown himself to be once again among the very best goalkeepers in the world.
Manager of the Year: Roberto Martínez (Everton) - It was a season full of outstanding candidates for the top managerial prize: Manuel Pellegrini for winning the title in his first season, Brendan Rogers for transforming Liverpool from also-rans into a top side again, Mauricio Pochettino for his astonishing work at taking Southampton from a lower league team into one of the most exciting sides in the country in just two years, and Tony Pulis for dragging the seemingly relegation-bound Crystal Palace back into the upper midtable. But ultimately we have given the prize to Roberto Martínez who has turned Everton into a side of the very highest calibre, coming within just a whisker of Champions League football.
Top Scorer: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) (31) - What more can be said about the league's top scorer, he's been absolutely devastating, running riot against teams and scoring almost a goal every game with 31 in 33 league appearances.
Most Assists: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) (13) - An impressive comeback from a player who has looked a shadow of himself these past few seasons. Gerrard seems to have found a new lease of life under Brendan Rogers and has admirably driven his team's title charge this season until his cruel slip ultimately took the season out of their hands. That said, it is somewhat bemusing to read all this hype in the papers about how Rogers "reinvented" the marauding captain as a defensive midfielder, considering that this is the position Gerrard started in, played the better half of his career in, and quite frankly would have saved the England team a lot of stress had he continued in alongside Lampard, as he did during Euro 2004, arguably England's best tournament performance in decades. Sometimes the media gives one a headache, that's why you need non-bullshit analyses like this block, but we digress...
Overachievers: Southampton - Hugely impressive work has been done to turn Southampton into as good a side as they are, and it's to the club's credit that so much of it has come from developing young players and the club's academy. Even more impressive is how consistently good they are across the squad, from starting the season with one of the league's very best defences, including Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Artur Boruc and Luke Shaw to the exciting attacking talent of Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.
Underachievers: Manchester United - One of the worst, if not the worst, title defence since the Premier League's inception. Manchester United finished a poor 7th place, failing to qualify for any European competition for the first time in decades. It was always going to be a tough ask to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the greatest manager of all time, but no one would have expected new man David Moyes to take the former champions so far downhill so quickly. Even if, as the club itself admits, Mourinho was not an option having already agreed a deal with Chelsea, surely there were other options available?
Best signing of the season: Nemanja Matić (Chelsea) - Many eyebrows were raised when Chelsea spent £20 million on a player they had given away only three years previous as a makeweight as part of the deal for David Luiz. No one is questioning the move now; Matić, who was developed within the Chelsea youth team before being shipped off to Benfica with only a handful of first team appearances, has shown himself to be an absolutely world class purchase, and arguably the finest player in the league in his deep lying midfield position. Skillful, hard tackling, full of stamina and a surprising turn of pace make Matić one of the most feared names on Chelsea's teamsheet these days.
Worst signing of the season: Mesut Özil (Arsenal) - While no one is questioning the talent of Mesut Özil, a return of just 9 assists and 5 goals is looking like a fairly meager outlay for someone who cost a record £45 million and has been placed right at the core of his team. True judgement will wait until next season, but Arsenal fans will desperately be wanting to see some return from their expenditure, lest this transfer becomes a Fernando Torres-esque debacle.
The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2014:
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Chelsea) - It's hard to argue otherwise, the man at the heart of the league's best defence, who kept the most clean sheets. Petr Cech has had an excellent season and accordingly won our award for best goalkeeper.
Right Back: Seamus Coleman (Everton) - Everton has always been a defensively solid team throughout the Moyes era, and with Coleman's impressive 15 clean sheets this season, it looks like this will continue. But what has stood out from Martínez's new regime is the potent attacking drive from the back, led by two marauding fullbacks in Coleman and Baines. Coleman himself has an impressive 7 goals to his name, and has been a key element in Everton's resurgence.
Centrebacks: John Terry (Chelsea) & Gary Cahill (Chelsea) - There's no argument here, Chelsea have had the best defence in the league this season, and a large part of that is down to the partnership these two players have formed. Gary Cahill has established himself as one of the game's top centrebacks, full of the passion and bravery of a classic English centre half, but with an exceptional technical ability and positioning. Meanwhile John Terry is back to his best, without doubt ranking among the top three players in the Premier League this season. The imperiousness of this defensive pairing only raises further questions on the mismanaging of the England national team which has forced itself into a position where it is unable to make use of arguably one of the best defensive pairings in the world.
Left Back: Luke Shaw (Southampton) - A big debut season for the hotly tipped youngster, Luke Shaw has been electric down the flank for Southampton, as potent in attack as he is in defence. His Southampton defence was nearly impenetrable for the first half of the season, not bad for a teenager. A move to a bigger club surely beckons this summer.
Right Mid: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) – Our young player of the year and a key part of Liverpool's exceptional attacking trifecta this season. Sterling has started to hit his potential at a very high level, and if he can carry this form to the World Cup and Champions League next season there's no telling what heights he can reach.
Centre Mids: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) & Yaya Touré (Manchester City) - As we've said, something of a comeback from a player who has seemed well past his sell-by-date for quite some time, Gerrard has been on top form this season, leading his team's title challenge by example. Meanwhile Yaya Touré showed everyone why he's considered one of the world's best midfielders, superb all over the pitch in attack and defence, and arguably the champions' best player.
Left Mid: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – A good season of progress for the Chelsea talisman. Hazard is fast approaching the level of the very best players in the world, and this season has clearly established himself as the primary weapon for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Hazard is not just the best attacking talent on Chelsea, but the type of player who can singlehandedly turn a result for them, and frequently does in his own magical way. It has been an absolute joy to watch the young man's football this season as he takes a close runner up position for player of the season. If he continues to progress in this fashion it is only inevitable until we start to talk about Hazard as a potential World Player of the Year.
Forwards: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) & Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – There is certainly no doubt that our key man up front will be Luis Suárez, top scorer and easily the most influential player this season. His partner will be Liverpool team mate Daniel Sturridge, who came runner up for the Golden Boot with another very impressive season. Some of us have been saying for years that Sturridge is among the best goalscorers in the league, and now that he is finally being given the prominent role he deserves he's gone ahead and proved it.
So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next week for our preview of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil!
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Max Borenstein
Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ket Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Goddamn Godzilla, Elizabeth Olsen
Studio Legendary Pictures
Running time 123 minutes
Few franchises hold the cachet of Godzilla. From its cinematic beginning 50 years ago it has spread to just about every medium, from books to comics, videogames and children's TV shows, and Toho's original Japanese series now spans some 30 odd films. Godzilla is a worldwide phenomenon, the most famous of movie monsters, the bar against which all others in the genre are measured.
It's no surprise then that the Americans have repeatedly tried to reboot the franchise for themselves, but the last attempt, 1998's Godzilla, was a flop, a halfhearted attempt that clearly didn't understand Godzilla on the most basic level. Originally conceptualized in the wake of the atomic bombs in Japan as a manifestation of nature, the Earth's vengeance against an arrogant and destructive mankind, the American reboot re-imagined Godzilla as merely a giant animal, a big iguana with no greater purpose than to trample of Human cities. Godzilla in its element is essentially a God, a force of nature that man simply can't resist, the first American reboot missed that completely.
Cue 2014 and the newest American remake which thankfully pays a great deal more fidelity to the original Japsnese version. This version of Godzilla is huge, unstoppable, and tramples buildings with purpose, exactly as it should be. Americans finally have a Godzilla of which they can be proud. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD.
But more importantly, this is a Godzilla movie that aspires to be even more. Produced by Legendary Pictures, the studio that made Chris Nolan's Batman, the presentation for this film has been that of a serious, highly ambitious work of fiction in the same vein as those movies.
To this end, Godzilla has a lot of credibility among its talent, which includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and Ken Watanabe, all of whom are very capable actors with a track record of fine dramatic performances. But by far the most significant talent involved is the director, Gareth Edwards.
Gareth Edwards has just one prior film credit to his name, the low budget indie monster film Monsters. To be fair, it's a pretty excellent film, and evidently more than enough to convince Legendary Studios that Edwards can make the step up from a shoestring budget indie to a blockbuster with a $200 million budget. It's a decision that is at the same time, brave, surprising, and often downright inspired.
Edwards does a very capable job. Godzilla is mostly gorgeous to look at, and the final climactic scene in particular is absolutely stunning from a cinematographic perspective. It's no wonder that they chose to use the intense opening of this scene as the first trailer, it's by far the best part of the film. The rest never looks or feels quite as good as this final scene, but certainly won't have harmed the young director's reputation either.
In addition the pacing of the film is spot on, building very slowly until the climax, and only showing you just enough of the action to keep you wanting more. A masterclass in "less is more".
Godzilla's aspirations are also reflected in the screenplay, which wisely follows in the footsteps of the highest regarded of blockbusters by focusing on the human and character element of the story. In reality we see very little of Godzilla until the final scene, the vast majority of screentime is spent following the travails of regular people. Unfortunately, this great strength also turns out to be the film's greatest weakness.
Godzilla is undermined by very poorly written characters, with little depth and only superficial development. The entire first act of the film is focused on giving backstory to Bryan Cranston's character and giving the audience reason to care about him, and then SPOILER his role in the film ends after just 20 minutes. It makes absolutely zero sense to get rid of the one character you've actually bothered to develop right at the start of the film, and the result is that you are stuck with Taylor-Johnson's character, who is relatively one dimensional and has very little empathy built with the audience. Many have complained about Taylor-Johnson's wooden performance, but in reality the problem is simply that Cranston's character was more interesting, more developed, and should have been kept as the main character focus of the film. Moral of the story, if you're only going to give one character depth, make him the star of the damn movie. END SPOILER.
It's a shame to spoil what had all the building blocks for a really excellent movie with inexplicably misguided writing, but not surprising when you look at the track record of the screenwriter. Legendary went all out on hiring a top cast and very promising director, and then let slip on the writer. It's a real pity.
Fortunately this is not enough to ruin what is otherwise a hugely entertaining and well made movie. And boy is it ever fun. For any flaws Godzilla may have, the film still has a lot of soul, a great deal of drive and intrigue that compels viewers to keep watching. The wider story is well thought out and engrosses the audience, setting up a world that will serve the franchise nicely for future sequels, while the action sequences are excellent with some scenes showing impressively effective spectacle.
The bottom line is that Godzilla has a lot more going for it than against it. It never quite lives up to its promise or the potential that comes with the talent involved, but nevertheless makes for some of the most satisfying viewing in cinema this year. Godzilla is an excellent genre movie and should be top of your list when it comes to summer blockbusters.
Saturday, 26 April 2014
Directed by Rupert Goold
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (script), Duncan Sheik (music and lyrics)
Starring Matt Smith, Cassandra Compton, Susannah Fielding
Theatre Headlong company at the Almeida Theatre, coming soon to the West End and America
The Almeida Theatre's production of American Psycho: the Musical ended back in February, but with its impending move up to the big time west end scene, The Ephemeric has decided to revisit and belatedly review what looks set to be a very prominent fixture in London theatre towards the tail-end of this year.
But first some history. American Psycho: the Musical is an adaption of the controversial satirical novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which has also famously been adapted to film starring Christian Bale. It is the brainchild of producers David Johnson and Jesse Singer, conceived back in 2008 and ultimately funded in groundbreaking fashion via the crowdfunding medium of Kickstarter. Its protracted production cycle finally ended when London's famously bold Headlong theatre company decided to take it on, and after announcing the unlikely coup of international TV star Matt Smith of Dr. Who fame to star as Patrick Bateman, tickets quickly sold out at near record breaking pace.
Initial reaction to just the concept of this production has been one of puzzlement to some. The Ephemeric himself attended his showing with an individual confused as to how or why someone would adapt some kind of gruesome horror story into a musical.
But anyone familiar with the source material will tell you that a musical is the absolute perfect fit for this absurd satirical tale. At it's heart, American Psycho has never intended to be horror, or scary, it's a darkly comic satire, lampooning the ruthlessness and superficiality of the elite upper class, set against the backdrop of the Reaganite 1980s' notoriously decadent period of excess. American Psycho is about the heartless stereotype of capitalist society, where people are valued as nothing more than commodities, and everyone is so single-mindedly self-absorbed in their own wealth and prestige so as to be completely oblivious to even the most brazenly horrific of actions going on right under their nose. Patrick Bateman's methodical blood lust takes these ideas to the absurdest of extremes.
It's a story that is at its heart over-the-top, ridiculous, and funny. The musical version by necessity dials down the explicit gore of the movie adaption, and casts greater emphasis on the humour and absurdity of the material. Musicals are, but their very nature, over-the-top, exaggerated, and through Duncan Sheik's lineup of extremely catchy original songs, and some covers of 1980s classics, we cut straight to the core of American Psycho's message. Matt Smith with his vacant psychopath stare and surprisingly strong singing voice nails the starring role. Arguably it is the truest and most effective interpretation of American Psycho yet.
Following its success at the Almeida, there is little doubt that American Psycho will be a hit on the west end, with the intention being to move to Broadway shortly after. Anyone even vaguely in touch with the theatre scene would be unwise to miss out when it returns to the stage, to catch it in its early days. As for us, we await with great anticipation the release of the soundtrack.
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Genre Indie Rock, Pop
Label Interscope/Cherrytree Records
Once there was a loose affiliation of DJs and musicians referred to as the Remix Artist Collective, RAC. These days that name refers solely to the work of one man, André Anjos. RAC has since become one of the industry's pre-eminent remix artists, transforming over two hundred songs that vary from chart topping hits to more obscure singles into a final product that's almost always an improvement on the original, often in ways that surprise and delight. Such is RAC's prolificacy that the chances are you've heard some of their work, whether or not you realised.
One of our top previews in the 2014 Hot List, Strangers marks the debut LP in RAC's new foray into original music composition. It has been initially rolled out as two separate volumes, but the complete album can now be purchased as a single LP.
So what can one expect from a remix artist's original content? One might have expected something a bit clubby or heavily electronic that belies Anjos's DJ roots. It's a surprise then that Strangers strikes such a laid back tone, and in a variety of different styles. But while RAC displays an impressive musical range, from sparkling electropop to mellow indie rock and sun-tinged funk, there are common elements that run throughout.
Most tracks are infectiously danceable regardless of genre, and the production quality is smooth as silk. Each track flows effortlessly and strikes an expert balance of being in equal parts playful and soothing. Strangers is additionally boosted by contributions from a diverse array of A-list musical talent which includes Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Tokyo Police Club, and Tegan and Sara among others.
It's another recurring element through the album to contrast music and lyrics. For example incredibly catchy lead single Let Go, featuring vocals from Kele and MNDR, is one of the album's clear standout tracks. The song's bouncy and carefree melody hooks into its listener fast, but belies at its heart a cautionary romantic tale.
Tegan and Sara's contribution follows a similar style as another example of catchy, and playful pop, resulting in another of the album's highlights with Hard to Hold. Sweet and sugar-toned, the track pulses with frustration beneath, also exhibiting some of RAC's instrumental range with punchy string and piano motifs.
Meanwhile Tourist, featuring the vocals of Tokyo Police Club, takes a completely different direction into somewhat more mellow sounding college rock. A much steadier and grounded melody differs starkly with some of the bubbly pop seen elsewhere, its silky vocals nevertheless provide a comforting contrast through the track's tale of relationship ennui. An extremely smooth and laid back track that crescendos slowly, it works extremely well.
Further good examples of the diversity on offer with this album come from the refreshingly funky Tear You Down featuring Alex Ebert, a track that combines an almost Bob Dylan folk style with RAC's smooth dance beat, while the sun-streaked All I Got, featuring Peter Moren, is another strong addition. Contrast these songs with the two-track combo that opens the second half of Strangers; the acoustic lull of Sixteen that leads into an almost Disney musical style of pop ballad with Seventeen, and it's clear that Anjos is growing into a songwriter of some depth and variety.
Meanwhile it's one of the album's most disparate points, 405 that stands out in particular as a highlight. Guest vocalist YACHT describes the track as an ode to driving along the west coast with its lush 80s tint and twilit melody.
Through it all a consistency in quality really stands out. The album is full of really lovely songs that are a joy to listen to, while there are very few sour notes, the album's second track Ello Ello being the most obvious culprit.
Strangers is a very strong debut album from RAC, and should form an essential part of your summer soundtrack this year.
Must Listen :
Hard to Hold
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, the essential new television, and the essential new movies in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2014.
2013 was a big year for gaming with blockbuster releases like Grand Theft Auto V, but at the same time there has been an increasing trend away from massive studios and back into independent development. Kickstarter and Steam Early Access are now firmly established as viable ways for games developers to fund and develop an ambitious title without the backing (or meddling influence) of a big publisher, and this is a trend we expect to continue in 2014.
It was also the final year of the old generation of gaming, with the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Wii U now fully in the throes of battle for the next generation of home console gaming. Early signs suggest that Nintendo may suffer the consequences of a number of bad decisions with poor Wii U sales in recent months, but still they flourish in the handheld gaming market where their 3DS had a bumper year that has seen the company firmly retain their title as the king of handheld gaming consoles. That's not to disregard the smartphone gaming market which has developed massively in recent years to approach the level of complexity associated with dedicated gaming machines. Meanwhile the PC gaming market has seen something of a renaissance, driven in part by this new indie scene, and set to go mainstream with Steam's new push for "Steambox" home consoles.
2014 then has the potential to be very exciting indeed as these trends continue and the next generation of gaming continues to take shape. So behold, the top ten list of key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. Titanfall (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
Without an established blockbuster franchise on which to ship Xbox One units, it's becoming clear that Microsoft's great hope in 2014 will rest with Titanfall.
This multiplayer only first person shooter, clearly aimed at the Call of Duty crowd, combines parkour-style on foot combat with giant mechs, as players compete across a war-torn planet between two very distinct sides.
A debut project from new developers Respawn Entertainment, Titanfall nevertheless has all the hallmarks of a new killer app in the making. Upon its reveal at E3 it won over 60 awards, and early hype is that this could do for Xbox One what Halo did for the original Xbox.
Release Date: March 2014
9. Alien Isolation (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The venerable Alien movie franchise has always had an uneasy status in the videogame world. A few decent Alien vs Predator games aside, the series has never really lived up to its promise, and in particular the most recent effort Aliens: Colonial Marines has gone down as one of the all time biggest flops in videogame history.
Enter developer The Creative Assembly, who began life as a contractor for EA producing sports games, but has more recently seen success as the architect of the Total War series of games. They believe that the problem with Alien games is that they have typically owed more in inspiration to the action-oriented Alien movie sequels than the original horror masterpiece.
Alien Isolation seeks to rectify this with a totally new, horror-focused approach to design. No longer will you play a hulking marine with a machine gun mowing down hundreds of aliens, now you play a single unarmed scientist simply trying to survive and hide. It's a novel approach, and it could be brilliant. Much will depend on the quality of the AI of the alien, which will have to be considerably more sophisticated than what we have seen in previous games in order to create the appropriate level of unpredictability and terror. Meanwhile fans of the series will feel giddy at the love that's being put into replicating the original classic movie here, with a retro art-style taken straight out of the 1970s and a high level of detail into making game environments feel authentic.
Can this ambitious title live up to the hype? We will have to wait until the winter to find out.
Release Date: Winter 2014
8. DayZ (PC)
It's a somewhat remarkable story how DayZ came to be, starting life as an amateur mod for realistic military simulator ArmA2. The game has since on to become something very significant in its own right, and will see release as a standalone title in 2014.
The concept behind Bohemia Interactive's game is simple, take a realistic military simulator, turn it into a massively multiplayer world and fill it with zombies. Players can explore, scavenge for supplies, and do pretty much anything they want in order to survive. DayZ features a massive 225 km2 land mass complete with countryside, towns, and lots of zombies. Everything else is left completely open to the players.
This results in uniquely emergent gameplay that is governed less by its programmed mechanics than by the psychology of real people. Players can team up to survive together or kill each other in order to steal invaluable supplies, making trust a central mechanic of the gameplay. AI opponents can be predicted or manipulated, but people are inherently unpredictable. It's this aspect of human nature that makes DayZ such a compelling project, even as the interface and programming continues to look rough around the edges.
The game is currently in alpha on PC, with no firm release date. The buzz suggests it will be in a complete state sometime late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
7. X (tentative title) (Wii U)
X is an RPG in the classic mold: big open world for exploration, epic world-saving plot, and a heavy focus on characters. Very little else is known about the game other than it is a spiritual successor of sorts to Monolith's highly rated, but hard to find Xeno series, and everything else just comes from the very impressive trailer.
A release date is not know, except that it is mooted for some time in 2014. Could this be the shot in the arm the Wii U needs?
Release Date: TBA 2014
6. Super Smash Bros (tentative title) (Wii U, 3DS)
The newest entry in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros series is coming in 2014. It may not have a title yet, but it's coming, and it will see release on both Wii U and 3DS, with some as yet undetailed inter-connectivity between the two versions.
Nintendo's mascot beat-em-up is a gaming classic, featuring some of the most important characters in videogame history, addictive gameplay, and bucket-loads of references for nostalgic gamers. We don't expect this golden formula to change much and why should it? From Mario to Sonic to Link to Donkey Kong, all the essentials will be here, along with many others.
When it will be released is anyone's guess, but Wii U owners desperate for a taste of Nintendo's celebrated IPs will be hoping it's soon.
Release Date: TBA 2014
5. Broken Age (PC, Mac OS X)
Broken Age, the new project from legendary games designer Tim Schafer's new studio Double Fine Productions, is seen as a landmark game for many reasons.
As one of the first major Kickstarter projects, Broken Age showed that crowdfunding is a viable way to make a videogame. Additionally, the resurrection of the long forgotten point-and-click adventure genre shows that there is still the demand for such titles at a time when few publishers would ever consider such a project. That Broken Age managed to raise millions of dollars from the general public for something few games publishers would take a risk on raises serious questions about the industry.
Whatever way you look at it, Double Fine appear to have produced a fairly exceptional videogame, with a unique and gorgeous art-style, retro gameplay and classic story telling. The first chapter is out now on PC and Mac OS X, with the conclusion due by the end of the year
Release Date: Out Now (Act 1), TBA 2014 (Act 2)
4. Kerbal Space Program (PC, Mac OS X)
Another massive indie hit from a game that studios wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (seeing a pattern yet?). Kerbal Space Program is not only one of the most unique games in years, but one of the most addictive.
It started out more as a tech demo than an actual game from developers Squad; players design spacecraft and attempt to fly them. But we're not talking about Star Trek here, these are spaceships modeled after quasi-realistic NASA style components, roughly comparable in technology and aesthetic to what we have today. Layered over this is a remarkably accurate model of interplanetary physics; you won't just point your rocket and fire engines, you have to take into account gravity, orbit, exit and entry, proapsis and apoapsis.
For non rocket scientist gamers it may seem a bit daunting at first, but the complex nature of the game, married with the cartoony and lovable artistic style and beguiling sense of scale make for one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming today. You'll cheer as you achieve stable orbit for the first time, marvel as you complete your first moon landing, and then feel giddy as you experiment with space stations, land rovers and many other possibilities.
That we have sunk so many hours into a game that's not even really a game yet, but rather a giant sandbox illustrates just how remarkable this project is. Currently at version 0.23 of alpha, the final game should be ready to play on PC and Mac OS X by the end of 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
3. Star Citizen (PC)
The mother of all crowdfunding success stories, Star Citizen has so far rasied over $40 million, and that amount is growing steadily every day. What makes this all the more remarkable is that people are throwing their money at Cloud Imperium Games despite the fact that barely anything in-game has been shown so far.
So why all the excitement and hype? Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, a game design legend from the early days of PC gaming most famous for his space-based combat simulations such as Wing Commander and Freelancer. Star Citizen is Roberts' big comeback to gaming following years in Hollywood with a number of producer credits to his name.
Unapologetically PC exclusive, Star Citizen's mission statement is simple: to be the ultimate space epic, the game that Roberts has always wanted to make. It takes Roberts' trademark quality combat simulation gaming, adds detailed economy and trading elements, and throws it all into one massively multiplayer online persistent universe. A massive online universe populated with thousands of players, in which players can essentially do what they want: they can trade or start a business, they can be a combat pilot, they can become a diplomat, or they can engage in a bit of in-game sports (racing for example).
The sheer variety of gameplay being thrown into this game is matched by the vast efforts that are going into creating a believable, fully fleshed out universe. The official website now is chock-full of literature and back-story for the world they are creating, and even if reading into all that depth is not your kind of thing, that kind of love and detail makes a game world truly engaging, even for the most casual of players. It's this kind of effort that turns a good game into a great game.
Can an independent developer really deliver on such high ambition? That much remains to be seen, but with the talent involved, and the massive funds they are raising, far eclipsing other crowdfunded titles, things are certainly looking promising. Such is the scale of the game that it is intended to be rolled out in a modular fashion, beginning in late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
2. Destiny (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3)
Bungie are one of the most prestigious developers in gaming, despite only being known for a single games franchise. But when that franchise is a worldwide phenomenon like Halo, it goes a long way. With Microsoft milking that series for all its worth, Bungie were never going to stick around and let their considerable talent stagnate. Destiny is the first major project following their declaration of independence from all things Halo.
So what exactly is Destiny? Destiny is a story driven open world first person shooter with RPG elements, set in a post-apocalyptic world where Human civilization, having dominated the Solar System, suddenly collapses due to a mysterious catastrophic event. Society has withdrawn into a single isolated city on Earth. Players control one of the "guardians" of this last city, charged with protecting the remnants of Humanity and exploring the wasteland of former civilization to uncover the various mysteries.
What makes Destiny stand out is the integration of multiplayer elements. While Destiny is by no means an MMORPG, players' solo characters are very much the center of the story and will take the full focus, other players will be able to drop in and out of each others' games at specified points, encountering one another along the journey. Quite how this unique aspect will be used to impact the singleplayer narrative has yet to be revealed. In the long run Destiny has been confirmed to take a Mass Effect style approach of allowing gamers to carry on the story, importing old characters through a series of games, with players' decisions persisting throughout.
Everything about this game is ambitious, from the mysterious narrative to the quasi-multiplayer gaming, and the persistent character customization. If the gameplay lives up to its promise then we could be looking at the most epic new videogame series since Mass Effect.
Release Date: September 9th 2014
1. Starbound (PC, Mac OS X)
Every game on this list is ambitious to some degree, some look revolutionary in their scope. Starbound might just be the most ambitious game of them all, in spite of its unassuming appearance. Another entry on the list of crowdfunded indie games, Starbound is the debut title of Chucklefish Games, and the team has not been shy about taking on a very complex first project indeed.
It's easiest to describe what Starbound is by reference to other games. Most people will at least have heard of Minecraft, an open world sandbox which enables players to mine blocks of a multitude of materials and use those blocks to build just about anything they can imagine. A few years later came Terraria, which took essentially the same block building mechanic, fleshed it out a bit and presented in a retro two dimensional style.
Starbound takes Terraria's design even further. The game features a procedurally generated universe with a practically infinite number of planets, each of which is the size of Terraria's entire world. Each planet has its own environment and it's own procedurally generated plant and animal life, making each one completely unique. Players explore these planets, mine for materials, and can build whatever they want, but this time they can also hop in their spaceship and travel to any other planet they choose. In addition, Starbound adds a lot more structure and story to the game than either Terraria or Minecraft had. There's a quest system, and a fully crafted backstory to everything, and every planet is full of secrets to discover and NPC characters to meet.
The scale of universe that this design creates is simply unparalleled in gaming, and allows players to play in pretty much any manner they choose. A player can assemble a team (either singleplayer with NPCs or multiplayer) and explore the universe hopping from planet to planet, or build huge houses, military bases, farms, shops, cities, theme parks, anything they can imagine (and the creativity seen in the work the community has produced so far during the alpha testing is remarkable), the possibilities are literally limited only by the player's imagination. This is something no game has ever really achieved, and if Starbound manages to pull it of, the result will be something very memorable indeed.
What makes Starbound stand out even beyond it's ambition is the development team, engaging directly with the community and constantly implementing new features and content based on their feedback. It's quite incredible to see how much direct input the players have had into this game's production thus far, and the commitment of the development team to facilitate such back and forth is very admirable. Hopefully this is a sign of a new era where developers have the resources to produce high end games, and still engage with the users in a very personal way throughout the development process.
Starbound is available in it's very basic alpha state on PC, but the full version is expected by the end of this year.
Release Date: TBA 2014
So there you have it folks: the 2014 Hot List, running a little bit behind schedule thanks to work but finally complete. Here's to a great 2014, and the Hot List will see you again next year!