james debate
james debate

Saturday 31 July 2010

song of the week: "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" by "Arcade Fire"

thing that makes me smile today: Left 4 Dead 2.

pic of the day
Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead
Man United
Neon Bible

Friday 30 July 2010

Directed by Thea Sharrock
Written by Terence Rattigan
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch
Theatre Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre

after the dance national

Rattigan's "lost" play After the Dance spent decades languishing in obscurity until its rediscovery in the 1990s on a BBC2 production, when it became notable for being a lost play that was actually worthy of its author's reputation.

Critics often attribute the play's lackluster original run in 1939 to its darkness, providing an unwelcome reminder of the approaching global conflict. This quite poignantly mirrors the plot of the play itself, portraying a group of Mayfair hedonists who subscribe to a life of perpetual intoxication in order to blot out the looming prospect war as well as less tolerable aspects of their own lives.

One such escapist is David Scott-Fowler, who maintains a stiff upper lip in spite of all his inner conflict and unfulfilled ambitions, even as he slowly drinks himself to death. Without giving too much away David falls in love with his younger cousin's fiance Helen, who breaks down his practiced exterior with a rare spotlight of unfettered truth. David's thoughts stray from his wife of 12 years when Helen offers him something he never even imagined possible, a second chance. But is it really a second chance, or just a new fantasy?

It seems amazing to me that this play remained hidden for as long as it did, and it provides a fascinating portrayal of this unique period in time between the wars. Rattigan disturbingly captures the dark mood of the era, so much so in fact that hit too close to home for his audience.

The acting in this play is top notch in every role. Benedict Cumberbatch is having a very good summer in the wake of his recently debuted hit TV show Sherlock, but as enjoyable as that show was I never expected him to be this good an actor. His portrayal of David seamlessly conveys both the charm of his surface bravado and the tortured empty shell beneath.

High marks also go to Nancy Carroll as David's emotionally repressed wife Joan, a seemingly jolly lush who bottles up the extent of her real feelings for her husband. Joan's tale is at times heartbreaking as realization, and inevitably regret, sets in and the cracks begin to form in her facade. Carroll does a remarkable job of conveying her character's pain through very little action at all, in contrast to the flamboyance of her regular expression.

But the most praise has to go to Adrian Scarborough as John, a leeching wastrel who lives on David's couch and sustains himself seemingly exclusively on alcohol. Scarborough serves here as a dynamo in every scene he is in, energetic and funny while slowly revealing a deep touching and touching sense of morality and insight. In classic theatrical style, the court jester is usually the wisest of all characters.

Indeed there's very little wrong with the production at all, from the beautiful set design to the astute lighting work. But one can't help but wonder when it comes to the message that Rattigan tried to convey. At times sympathetic towards these fantasists and at other times contemptuous, the play feels riddled with indecisiveness. Clearly the narrative leans more towards the latter, but then presents the realists as less than endearing. Rattigan condemns the wastrels, but does not give us an alternative. Perhaps this absence is entirely the point.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Genre Indie rock
Label Merge
Producer Markus Dravs
Release Date August 2nd

arcade fire suburbs

Some bands struggle with the burden of expectation after a successful debut album; some withdraw, produce underwhelming followups, and some don't even try. Then there's Arcade Fire who followed up their massively acclaimed debut Funeral with Neon Bible, which was an even bigger commercial success, if not as warmly received by the critics. Their latest offering dials down the ambitious larger than life undertones from their earlier work in favour of more grounded and emotionally resonant meaning. Read on for our review of The Suburbs.

Arcade Fire are known for being one of the most creative and undeniably talented bands around; the band plays 13 instruments between them and dabbles in many genres and styles. But I'm going to be honest here for a minute and say that although I liked both their first two albums when experienced as a whole, there were only a couple of songs that I would describe as great in their own right. I would also say that previously I was not such a fan of Régine Chassagne's vocal stylings, and preferred the songs where husband/frontman Win Butler took the lead. After listening to the first EP released from this album featuring the decent but underwhelming title track and an instantly forgettable b-side, I can't say I was especially optimistic for this one.

Well the band have done something that doesn't happen very often and convinced me to take back all those criticisms I may have had. Their third album The Suburbs is their best work yet with a number of very good songs that range in style from the familiar to the completely different.

As the name implies, this album is an ode to the middle class grind. Now this is hardly a groundbreaking concept, but few bands have managed to hit the nail so cleanly on the head. Not since Springsteen has an album so finely captured the angst and frustration of mediocrity, of untapped potential and repressed emotion, and the ever present need to simply escape.

This feeling of ennui is embodied by the eponymous opening track The Suburbs, a song full of desperation and jangly pianos. The album takes an introspective turn next with Ready to Start, a song awash with cynicism and contempt for the weight of expectation (something Arcade Fire know all too much about).

One of the best songs on the album, Modern Man, completes the strong start to the album. This song takes the energy level down a notch and achieves something that Arcade Fire have never been particularly fond for in the past, understatement. Sounding more like a lost Tom Petty single, Modern Man combines gentle folk-rock with a seething angsty undertone which only intermittently pokes it's head out to breath.

The album drops in quality somewhat through the middle of the album with songs that are decent but mostly non noteworthy. That being said, Half Light II, Wasted Hours, and Deep Blue are all worth a listen. Fortunately things pick up towards the end again in a big way with We Used to Wait. This is classic Arcade Fire, dark and brooding, full of complex melodies and staccato chords.

Up until this point the Suburbs has been quietly building. We've been taken on a tour of a world full of pent up frustration, crushed dreams and repressed longing, a world where the yearning for escape keeps simmering and bubbling until it simply can't take anymore. The penultimate song on the album, Sprawl II, is the big release. An explosive and brilliant track, Sprawl II carries a strong 1980s Blondie vibe and takes Chassagne's vocals to a level of excellence I never thought possible. This is an absolutely perfectly pitched climax for the thematic undercurrents pervasive throughout this album, and arguably the best song of the bunch.

If I have one major criticism with this album it's that it's too long. While there are a number of good songs, there is also a lot of filler. At a time when most bands these days have opted to release their albums at around 10 or 11 songs long, cutting out the chaff, one wonders if they couldn't have streamlined experience by removing a few of the less notable tracks, as indeed they did with their first two albums.

Overall, this is perhaps the best Arcade Fire album yet, with as many good songs as the first two albums had put together, and songs which rank up there with previous classics like Rebellion and Wake up.

Must Listen
Sprawl II

Modern Man

We Used to Wait

Saturday 24 July 2010

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 148 minutes

Christopher Nolan is one of the hottest names in cinema right now following his reinvention of the Batman franchise, a hype which has reached fever pitch in the wake of the Oscar winning The Dark Knight. This summer he intends to conquer Hollywood again with his most ambitious project to date, Inception.

I have been waiting for this one for a long time, ever since I first heard about it at around the time that the Dark Knight hit the cinemas. But for writer/director Chris Nolan the wait has been far longer, apparently 10 years in the making. What began as a random musing for Nolan while filming underrated classic Memento has blossomed into what is easily the must see film of summer 2010, and after his recent success the anticipation is great.

In the run up to this film's release I had been actively trying to avoid information about the plot. So if you follow a similar practice then skip past this paragraph, where I will be detailing the story and concept. Nolan crafts for us a world where dreams can be picked like any safe and secrets stolen from within, and the battleground for corporate warfare has shifted into the realm of the mind. Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) plays one such "extractor", a man with a deceptively complicated past much like the role DiCaprio played in Shutter Island earlier this year. Cobb and his team are hired to pull off something that's never been done before (or has it?), planting an idea into someone's mind.

Now I have to admit, after the first 15 minutes or so I was worried. The opening scenes felt very weak to me, lacking in heart and throwing an awful lot at you. I don't mean this in the sense that it was difficult to follow, more that it just felt rushed with quick disorienting shots and an overabundance of action right from the off without really giving us any sense of character. It also didn't help that they jumped straight into the "Is it a dream? Is it a dream within a dream? Is it me dreaming or him dreaming?" twists, it was laid on very heavily and at first I was pretty worried that I was going to be watching a very long episode of the Outer Limits. Clearly I should have had more faith in the gifted film maker/writer that is Christopher Nolan, and for that I apologise profusely. As soon as this opening sequence is over the film really gets started and from then on it just gets better and better.

The mythology can at first seem pretty daunting, but the film does a very good job of getting you up to speed and making it an entertaining learning process on the mechanics of the dream extraction process. These scenes and the internal logic of this world flow surprisingly well and really does hold up to scrutiny (in most cases) and it quickly becomes clear that the intention here is to make you think, more than to simply dazzle you with confusing concepts and arbitrary twists.

Equally impressive are the visuals at work here. Some shots are really quite spectacular, like the twisting, constantly changing streets of Paris, or the crumbling ruins of the inner recesses of DiCaprio's mind. Combine this with some fantastic action set pieces, notably a skiing chase scene and a zero gravity fight, and you have all the ingredients for a summer blockbuster. But once again, Nolan's true gift is how he manages to combine the visceral with the cerebral. The plot is crafted in such a meticulously thought provoking and intentionally ambiguous way (in particular the astoundingly perfect ending) that it is sure to provoke debate and discussion for months and maybe years.

In this regard, Inception really goes above and beyond the call of duty. The concept of dream invasion is not new for sci-fi, but Nolan manages to make it seem fresh and unique. One expects the inevitable philosophical discussion over the nature of reality vs dream that comes with the territory, but Nolan adds another angle to it, one that's personal and emotionally engaging.

At it's core this is a film that's as much about human nature and subconscious repression as about dreams and reality. We learn what really drives the protagonist, Cobb, and delve deeper into the baggage that simultaneously holds him back and serves as his one constant in a world that's constantly changing.

For this to work as well as it does, a lot of credit must go to Leonardo DiCaprio who delivers his finest performance yet in a career that continues to rise. DiCaprio drives everything about this film, it is the depth of feeling in his performance that allows the audience to become absorbed in what is otherwise hardcore science fiction. He needed to provide the emotional investment in order for this movie to succeed, and he has. It's not an ostentatious or hammy enough performance to earn the attention of the Academy, but it's perfect for the purpose of this movie.

DiCaprio is the star, but special credit really needs to be given to the rest of the cast. One of the first things that attracted my attention to this film was the lineup of quality actors, and they really produce a remarkable ensemble performance.

Oscar winner Marion Cotillard gives a haunting and beautiful performance as Cobb's wife Mal, and is never anything other than spellbinding when on screen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who you may remember as the kid from 10 Things I Hate About you and 500 Days of Summer, takes an unexpected turn as an action star. This takes a bit of time to get used to for anyone who recognises him, but he actually pulls it off, and is dependable as what is essentially a sidekick.

Fresh from her Oscar nomination for Juno, Ellen Page reminds us that she really is a talented young actress, as well as extremely cute. Anyone who has ever seen the likes of Hard Candy knows that Page has never been afraid to step outside of her comfort zone, and she does so once again here in a genre with which she is unfamiliar.

I make a note of these four in particular, but really every role is performed to an extremely high quality. The likes of Michael Caine, the always watchable Cillian Murphy and yet another previous Oscar nominee in Ken Watanabe, all deserve massive praise. Tom Hardy finds his breakthrough role playing the closest this film has to a comic relief character, and carrying it off with aplomb. Really this is the best ensemble cast I've seen in many many years, and they all deserve credit for it.

The cast is indeed fantastic, and as has already been said, the film is spectacularly well made by Chris Nolan. But additional praise needs to be given to a key part of this top notch production, Hans Zimmer and his brilliant score. Zimmer has a great many noteworthy films to his name in his long and illustrious career as a composer, but this is arguably his most complete production yet. Not just aurally, but thematically. For example this score quite brilliantly uses elements from a certain Édith Piaf song which has a significant role in the film that I won't spoil here. At times beautiful, melancholy and powerful, the score is an integral factor in drawing the audience into the emotion of the story, and the climactic finish to the film provides an example of some of his finest work.

But this is not a perfect film. As I mentioned the opening scenes were weak at best, silly at worst although it wouldn't surprise me if they were more palatable on repeat viewing. While the script is generally good, at times I found it very lacking in subtlety, particularly in the scenes where Page's Ariadne pushes Cobb for details on his past. These scenes just don't flow, they don't feel like real conversations, and the characters often just blurt out detailed analyses of their deepest thoughts. These scenes are largely aberrant, however, and for the most part dialogue is deftly put together, especially as the film goes on.

Another slightly nitpicky annoyance for me as a man who spent 4 years at medical school is that much of the mechanics of the plot seems to be based around a woeful misconception on how that "kick" feeling when you're on the verge of sleep actually works. Long story short it's not really anything to do with balance and more related to breathing and oxygen intake. But this is a film, so i'll let it go.

Rarely does a film take me from extreme disappointment to extreme joy in two and a half hours, even rarer is it for the film to fully vindicate all its weaknesses (which are few in this film) with such a fantastic total package. Inception is easily the best movie so far this year, and probably the best yet from Nolan. You have to see this.

Great cast
Great production and score
Chris Nolan, awesome

Occasionally weak script
Poorly handled opening

Sunday 18 July 2010

If you live in America, you've no doubt noticed something quite frightening. People are frothing at the mouth over universal health care, protesting non-existant tax hikes, and cursing the presence of smarty pants intellectual elites in the Government who think they're better than others because they can use big long words. Suddenly after a hundred years, "torture" has become a legitimate debate again, and evolution has joined climate change as a "fringe theory". Any objective outsider could be forgiven for thinking that some kind of time-warp has somehow sent America back to the 1800s, but in reality we are simply witnessing the rise of Idiot America.

idiot america tea party

So what is idiot America I hear you ask? Well let me give you a few examples.

I recently had a conversation with a politically enthusiastic friend of mine, let's call him Mr. B, a centrist sort who typically votes Democratic on the national level, but Republican on the local stage. He would describe these lively debates he used to have with a more conservative friend of his where they would discuss the role of government and human rights, and even though they seldom agreed with one another they would enjoy the civilised discourse and often exchange books and articles to read and discuss.

Well following the election of Barack Obama, he seems to have lost his mind. Apparently this friend posted some comment on Mr. B's Facebook wall about how the Affordable Care for America bill was "a holocaust for America". Now Mr. B is Jewish so understandably he points out how offensive such an off the wall comment can be interpreted and presses his friend to explain his issue with the bill. The friend's response? "Fuck you and your muslim President. This is the end of this country." De-friended.

A different friend of mine, Mr. F, has a similar story. He had a friend on twitter who was posting the same one liner about "Obummer and libtards" and how she prays for someone to murder them, every few minutes all day long. Apparently it was because they are "destroying America", and when Mr. F asked why, all he got in response was "with all the taxes". Now unless this friend of his earns over $300,000 dollars per year, she's had her taxes lowered, so this is the equivalent of the French peasantry in 1789 taking to the streets of Paris and shouting "Marie Antoinette must have more cake!" Upon pointing out the statistic of people who have had taxes lowered, this friend proceeded to change the subject to personal insults about Mr. F's education and background, and accused Mr. F of simply not understanding (with no further elaboration).

I had a personal friend, a college educated man, who was positively enraged at Obama's description of Al Qaeda as terrorists rather than "Islamo-fascists". When I explained the quite rational reason why Obama, along with every other western Government, liberal or conservative, is trying to disassociate terrorism from Islam, he blocked me amid a fury of epithets and personal insults and called Obama a "retarded terrorist sympathiser".

Another example I would like to point out is this video of Congressman Alan Grayson responding to the protests of a clearly out of her depth tea partier. Note how as soon as he rationally and calmly responds to each one of her talking points, she immediately jumps to a completely different topic rather than respond.

I've got an acquaintance who does this all the time as well. (S)he'll make some unsubstantiated claim like the often quoted falsehood that Obama had the lowest first year approval ratings of any President. Of course you don't have to look very hard to see that Ford, Reagan and Clinton all had worse and Carter and Truman had very similar approval ratings. But i'll send him/her a link of historical approval ratings showing Obama with relatively decent approval, and half of the time, without missing a beat (s)he'll immediately change the topic to torture, when I refute that (s)he'll immediately jump to the economy, never following up a statement (s)he makes with any kind of elaboration. The other half of the time his/her response will just be name calling and spitting anger, because apparently facts and numbers are part of some elitist east coast intellectual conspiracy (yes, I've heard people claim exactly that).

This is not just an isolated number of incidents, it's a phenomenon that has been widely discussed by pundits on both ends of the political spectrum. A range of politicians on the right, from Lindsey Graham to Bob Bennett to Bob Inglis to David Frum, have spoken at length about the worrying disconnect between reality and those on the far right.

The scary thing is that these are not just fringe lunatics from some insulated rural state, these are reasonably educated, formerly sane people who have overnight turned into an irrational, incoherent bubbling pot of blind hatred and prejudice.

What's striking from these examples is the ignorance as well as the absurdly disproportionate rage and paranoia. And there is a LOT of ignorance; numerous polls have demonstrated that those who disapprove of the healthcare bill simply don't know what's in the bill, and another recent poll has shown that Obama's opponents mystifyingly believe that the bailout was passed under his Presidency.

But more interesting that simply being misinformed, there seems to be an unwillingness to adjust one's views even when presented with the truth. A 2008 study put this to the test by surveying groups of different ideological positions and feeding them incorrect evidence, for example the claim that Iraq had WMDs, and then refuting them with comprehensive evidence, for example the Duelfer report. It was found that while most people took the new information into their thinking, in some cases with conservatives presenting irrefutable evidence actually tended to strengthen their belief in the misinformation. A similar test involved people who believed that Obama passed the bailout being shown newspaper articles and official documentation that the bailout was passed months before Obama was elected, under Bush, after which they were even MORE adamant that the bailout had been passed under Obama.

This is called the "backfire" effect. It is the phenomenon of certain individuals who for whatever reason are so attached to their beliefs that even when they know they're wrong they will still cling to them even tighter. A bizarre trait that on the surface makes little sense to most of us.

So we have the disproportionate rage, the erratic incoherence, we have the denial of reality, but the last thing that strikes me as bizarre about these reactions is the pure childishness. You may have picked up on the puns and childish name calling like "libtards" and "Obummer" and the tendency to resort to personal and irrelevant insults in the absence of the understanding that is required to engage in the conversation.

So what is happening here? It would seem that some kind of temporary insanity has gripped a good portion of the country, David Horowitz describes it as "Obama derangement syndrome", a term which has since been used by a number of pundits, but what is the cause?

Is it a question of ideology? Certainly not in itself, as I know many conservatives and even some Republicans who don't subscribe to this absurdity and are generally quite embarrassed by the behaviour of fellow conservatives. For that matter a lot of people think of me as reasonably conservative on a number of issues. Is it a matter of racism as many seem to claim? Certainly in some cases racism plays a part, particularly with the racially charged tea party protests, but that's not it; I know conservatives who have taken up the art of insanity without ever muttering a racist remark, instead one gets the impression that many of the racist epithets are merely a byproduct of anger/fear with an inability to better verbalise said emotions. Is it a question of stupidity then? Well partly, there certainly seems to be a distinct anti-intellectual angle to the mayhem, but it's more complicated than that.

A lot of people blame outlets like Fox News, who have become so noted for taking propaganda to new heights that they no longer even refer to themselves as a "news" network. But misleading infotainment like Fox News is not the cause, it's merely a symptom of the larger problem.

You see, Fox News operates on the basic principles that perception is reality, that if you say something loudly and frequently enough it becomes true, and that truth is determined by what the majority believes. Of course this is not how the real world works, but none of that matters to the viewers of Fox. They realise they can't control reality, but believe by being noisy and over the top they can control perception.

The reality is that people don't tune into Fox for the news, they don't watch to find out what's happening in the world. They tune in for self validation, to have someone parrot back their worldview to them and feel just a little bit better about themselves. Ultimately all this anger and hate is an issue of fear and insecurity. There is only one "news" network in America that caters to this fringe demographic, which means they pretty much have a monopoly, guaranteeing high TV ratings and lots of advertising revenue.

So let's look at this from the start. You have this person, likely someone of moderate intelligence at best who has been raised all his life by his parents to believe one thing. He's been picked on at school, he's not achieved much in life, and deep down he feels inferior to others, whether or not it's deserved. He tries to rationalise it all, he's a victim of circumstance, he's unlucky, he could do more if he wanted to, but people won't give him a chance, and those people are all wrong.

He feels unfairly persecuted every time someone tells him he's wrong or mistaken. The world is full of arrogant privileged people who think they're better than him and are just waiting for him to slip up or make a mistake so they can rub it in his face and make themselves feel smarter. For this reason he can't afford to be wrong about anything, and he clings to those beliefs with every fabric of his being. They become so ingrained into his core that to question any of them is to challenge his very identity, his sense of self. So anything that even slightly contradicts one of his beliefs is taken personally and must be fought and argued against like his life depended upon it.

On a fundamental basis, who we are and how we interpret the world is governed by these schemata, clustered ideas of pre-conceived notions. If something contradicts these ideas, the natural reaction is to reject them and push them away until they can no longer be ignored, in which case existing schemata must be modified.

But when these schemata are built around faulty assumptions problems can develop, and inevitably these ideas will be challenged. For these people, self esteem is so non existent that to admit fault is the most offensive notion imaginable, so what they do is build a new set of faulty schemata to try and justify their previous notions. This process repeats itself over and over until these people are nothing but a tangled mess of contradictory, interlocked schemata, one that even a gifted psychologist would take years to unravel. All of this is based around the central self concept that the individual is smarter than others, and that all the people who have looked down upon him their entire lives are wrong. To accept one's own shortcomings would cast doubt upon a worldview that has been designed to rationalise the harshness of reality in such a way that it reassures the individual.

At this point it is impossible to question even one of these preconceived notions without risking the whole damn construct tumbling down around it, their entire interpretation of the world teetering on the edge of collapse. If these people overreact to even the tiniest issues as if the world were coming to an end, it's because to them that's quite literally the case.

So look back at the type of discourse we've been seeing. Complete incoherence, these people rarely seem able to delve deeper into an issue than the one liner they get from the Fox News round up. Name calling and inappropriate anger, because they have no rational complaints to verbalise, only the fear and insecurity that governs these emotions (and for some reason they seem to think that the 'clever' puns make them sound smarter and more authoritative in the absence of any real understanding of the issues). Lastly the denial in the face of even the most concrete of facts, because when you get right down to it, truth is simply not relevant and perception is reality. If it seems like these extremists are adopting astonishingly indefensible talking points, like justified torture, then don't worry because they don't really believe a word of it.

The unavoidable reality is that these ranting, foaming at the mouth protesters don't care about what's true or what's real. They simply want the perception, and in their minds therefore the reality, to be that they are right and have always been right so that they can defend their identity and permit their tangled worldview to make sense.

In case you're wondering how America has become a country dominated by people with psychological issues the answer is simple. It hasn't. The tea party simply isn't as numerous as they would have you believe. Anti-intellectualism may be noisy, but don't confuse that with mainstream. Most polls show that a plurality now approves of the Affordable Care for America act, while tea party candidates are starting to flounder in the polls even in states they should be winning easily this November. Make no mistake, these hysterical fantasists are firmly in the minority, and few people would even pretend otherwise anymore.

So next time you hear a formerly sane Republican devolve into a ludicrous fit of expletives and racist epithets over the colour of Obama's tie, don't get annoyed, feel sorry for them. Ultimately it's the only way they know how to cope with reality.

Check back soon for my full preview to this year's midterm elections, including the key races to watch.

Saturday 17 July 2010

song of the week: "This is the Life" by "Two Door Cinema Club"

thing that makes me smile today: The new Old Spice commercials.

pic of the day
Sir T-RexIN:
Harry Reid
Old Spice

Sharon Angle
Right Guard

Thursday 15 July 2010

Hard to believe it's over already, but the biggest sporting event in the world has come and gone once again. The carnival festivities and parties have died down, and the many thousands of football fans who flocked to the African continent are on their way back home. Join us as we reflect on another World Cup.

spain win world cup 2010

If we're being honest it was a fairly forgettable end to a tournament that started so promisingly, but certainly not for the Spanish victors who today are still celebrating their first ever World Cup win. The opening stages were unusually full of upsets and surprise results in what started as one of the most unpredictable World Cups in history, but eventually quality won out and it's undeniable that the teams which reached the final legs of the tournament fully deserved it.

What follows is our review of the World Cup, starting with the individual prizes and dream team of the tournament, finishing with a brief summary of events.

2010 World Cup Prizes:

Winners: Spain
Overachievers: Uruguay
Underachievers: England

Top Scorer: Thomas Müller (5, Germany)
Best Striker: David Villa (Spain)
Best Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Best Defender: Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Best Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)

Best Young Player: Mesut Özil (Germany)
Best Player: David Villa (Spain)
Worst Player: Wayne Rooney (England)
Most Anonymous Player: Robin Van Persie (Netherlands)
Best Manager: Joachim Löw (Germany)
Worst Manager: Fabio Capello (England)

2010 World Cup Dream Team:

world cup best team xi

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas - Probably the best goalkeeper in the world, oversaw a fantastic defensive record for the Spanish team, and made absolutely vital saves in the final to carry the team through to extra time.

Right Back: Philipp Lahm - Took the German captaincy from injury hit Michael Ballack and proved his credential admirably. Without a doubt one of the finest full backs in the world with a combination of tight defending and marauding attacking intent.

Centrebacks: Carles Puyol & John Mensah - Critics of Puyol have always highlighted his lack of raw pace, but at this year's World Cup he showed us once and for all how overrated pace can be when you have power and positioning, a lion at the heart of the World Cup winning defence. Meanwhile John Mensah impressed for Ghana, reminding us that when he's fit (which is not often) he's up there with the very finest centre halves in Europe.

Left Back: Fábio Coentrão - The 22 year old Portuguese full back had a career making tournament where he excelled for a team that only conceded one goal, against eventual champions Spain. His attacking threat betrays his roots as a winger, but it would be foolish to ignore the defensive talent he possesses.

Right Mid: Andrés Iniesta - Certainly not at his best at this tournament, but when you're as good as this man "not at your best" still makes you pretty damn excellent. Despite being played out wide for most of the tournament (and not bitching about it unlike a certain England midfielder) he was still a crucial part of pretty much everything positive that this Spain team came up with, and in particular excelled in the semi final and final where he scored the definitive goal.

Centre Mids: Mesut Özil & Wesley Sneijder - Özil will be a familiar name to any football geek like me who watches the U21s closely, but I don't think anyone expected him to have such an influential tournament. He was without a doubt one of the star performers this year, pulling the strings in the fantastically talented young German side and has rightly become one of the hottest properties in European football. I've always rated Wesley Sneijder and thought he was one of the best players at Euro 2008. I couldn't for the life of me understand why Real Madrid sold him. Sneijder has had a defining season, first winning the Champions League with Inter, and now emerging as one of the finest footballers in the world following his impressive showing at the World Cup. Runner up player of the tournament.

Left Mid: Arjen Robben - Robben has always struggled with fitness, being sold first by Chelsea and then Real Madrid after spending much of his career in the treatment room. This year however he finally seems to have found some stability and longevity with Bayern Munich and has rightly emerged as one of the best attacking players in Europe. Anyone who still had doubts will be convinced by the form he showed at this World Cup where he was one of the key attacking threats for the Dutch finalists.

Forwards: Diego Forlán & David Villa - It's hard to believe that this is the same Diego Forlán who was such a catastrophic flop at Man United a few years back, but if he found a second life upon returning to Spain this season has been without a doubt the pinnacle of his comeback. Impressive for Europa Cup winners Atlético Madrid, and the fulcrum of this Uruguayan team's attack wowing audiences with his finesse and pure quality. David Villa is my player of the tournament. A lot of people look at him and talk solely about the goals he scores for his team, and previously I would have agreed with that, but this summer he really stepped it up a notch. Some of the things he has done have been simply phenomenal, even aside from his goals his general play and ability to beat defenders has been top notch, and he appeared to be carrying this Spanish team through the early games as the rest of his team struggled to rise to the occasion.


The story of the early stages largely centred around the success of the South American teams, with Argentina exceeding expectations under Diego Maradona, and Tevez, Higuain and Messi all turning in fantastic performances. Meanwhile, early favourites Brazil strolled through group stage at the second round before losing to an underwhelming Dutch team they dominated. Uruguay played above themselves, with Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez particularly impressive, and surprise package Chile playing some of the finest football seen in the tournament, as we at the Ephemeric predicted they would. Alexis Sanchez is certainly one to watch.

The Asian teams South Korea and Japan also gave good accounts of themselves on a stage in which they rarely achieve any kind of success, but in the end it was not enough.

Meanwhile the European teams saw a very different vein of form, with the exception of the consistently impressive Germany. England were poor at best, owing to a variety of reasons and Italy were old and sluggish, falling at the first round. Even eventual champions Spain were underwhelming, scraping through their early games against frankly low level opposition. Indeed, until the semi finals against Germany, Spain didn't look anything like worthy champions. But ultimately it was France who really created the early drama for viewers back at home.

Anyone who follows football closely will know the exploits of Raymond Domenech well, a manager who has seemingly always been unpopular in France, and with the exception of the Zidane inspired 2006 World Cup run has brought the French team nothing but disaster. So it's understandably something of a surprise to most people that he has managed to serve as their manager for 8 long years.

Well he certainly outdid himself for his final tournament. Making a controversial squad selection is no surprise from Domenech, but what followed; the squad insurrection, the bust ups which culminated in star striker Anelka heading home early and his team mates boycotting the team's final match was all so unprecedented. It might be cruel to say, but the bizarre soap stylings of this French team provided endless amusement for the rest of us, and God knows England fans needed some.

Without a doubt, all eyes were on the African teams during this first ever World Cup on African soil. Neutrals ended up disappointed, however, as hosts South Africa fell after a valiant stab at progression and a famous victory over France, Nigeria never got out of second gear, and the impressive Ivory Coast team once again failed the test of the group of death.

Instead it was Ghana who carried the hopes of the continent into the knockout round despite missing their star player Michael Essien. A strong run exemplified by star turns from the likes of Mensah, Annan, Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng was not enough to compensate for the lack of firepower up front, and eventually the Africans were highly unlucky to go out under contentious circumstances against Uruguay.

As the tournament went on, the European giants inevitably came to life, notably Spain who finally returned to the kind of form we know they can produce upon reaching the semi finals, and Germany who without a doubt showed the greatest consistency of any team at the tournament. Particular note should be made of Germany's young stars, playing arguably as the best over all team at this year's tournament despite the lack of experience. Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira are household names now after phenomenal World Cup debuts.

Netherlands meanwhile managed to reach their third World Cup final, losing for the third time. It might seem strange to say about finalists, but they were a major disappointment, seeming to abandon the sexy total football for which they have become known (in fact in Euro 2008 they probably played the best football of any team) in favour of a more combative, physical style. Cynics will say that their ugly football worked as it got them to the final, but to be honest they had an easy group, and exceedingly lucky results in knockout, including a win against the run of play against favourites Brazil.

This was a Dutch team that looked uneasy playing together, relying instead on the individual brilliance of star players Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who both had career making tournaments.

Ultimately it was not so much a tournament for neutrals, with cautious tactics dominating the play and any teams which dared to attack and play beautiful football being rewarded with early exits. Pundits will rave about the swashbuckling style of this Spanish team, but frankly they looked a shadow of themselves until the final two games, and I don't think many would describe the final match against Netherlands as a particularly strong showing from either team.

Instead, the real entertainment came from what was happening off the pitch, for example with the controversy and drama of the French and English teams. But most of all it was the South African people, who thrived on the centre stage. We saw a carnival atmosphere unlike any other, we saw a breakthrough moment for an entire continent and for an up and coming nation, and the South Africans welcomed the world with open arms and gave us a tournament with a unique and wonderful local flavour. When people look back, this will be a tournament remembered more for its parties than for its football.

Saturday 3 July 2010

song of the week: "Wasted Daylight" by "Stars"

thing that makes me smile today: Siena's most recent Presidential rankings. Their lineup of noted historians surprisingly deem Obama to be the 15th best President of all time, and unsurprisingly voted Bush to be the 39th best out of 44.

pic of the day

Joe Cole

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