james debate
james debate

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Created by Robert Rodat, Steven Spielberg
Starring Noah Wyle, Moon BloodgoodBroadcast date July 5th 2011 (UK)
Running time 45 minutes

falling skies pilot review

When Steven Spielberg attaches his name to a project it's unwise to take it lightly. Over the decades his name has become synonymous with quality, and this extends from his Hollywood milieu into the small screen of television and lately even the video game world.

This latest TV show, Falling Skies is the flagship show for TNT’s new original television programming push, and you can tell they’ve really pulled out all the stops for this one. First we have the involvement of Spielberg, supported by impressive financial backing for a television show, and viral marketing as far as the eye can see, including a 104 page prequel comic set to be released this month.

Co-conceived with Robert Rodat (who you may remember as the screenwriter of Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan), Falling Skies attempts to broach a new perspective on the classic alien invasion story, this time with a Red Dawn style resistance angle. Whereas we might be accustomed to seeing alien invasion stories focus on the spectacle of the arrival and invasion itself, Falling Skies begins several months after the invasion has taken place, and we have already lost the war. We follow the actions of a desperate group of resistance fighters, struggling to survive in the now alien occupied world. The result is in equal measure part classic war movie, part wasteland survival adventure, and part human drama, with the latter focusing on the innate tensions that arise from disparate personalities and priorities forced to cope under duress and in close quarters.

It’s a smart move for a television show, simultaneously presenting us with a fresh side of a common genre story and avoiding the need for the kind of Independence Day grandiosity that would be impossible to pull off convincingly on a television budget.

For the most part, I found the two hour premiere to be a success. The action looks good and the pacing makes for a compelling narrative. The writers make clear from the start the political thematic context they’re going for, with parallels drawn early on between this conflict and the insurgency movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the concept that “we don’t need to kill them all, we just need to kill enough”, the show is heavily based around the idea that a determined group of fighters can indeed be a thorn in the side of an advanced occupying army.

But this show is not simply a clumsy political analogy, and indeed there is plenty of material for the writers to work with here, from the rich background mythology that has been set up to the classic human drama which so far appears to be fairly well written. Of course what a show like this really lives and breathes on is a line up of strong characters, and while it’s very early days yet it’s clear that a lot of attention has wisely been given to this aspect of the production, a job made easier by the talented cast, led by familiar face Noah Wyle. However this premiere mostly focused on Wyle’s character, his kids and then just one or two other central characters, and it remains to be seen whether the focus will remain so narrow, or if we will see others being fleshed out in the coming weeks.

On the downside, the slightly cheesy looking aliens and Mars Attacks-like mechanical walkers are a little disappointing, especially when you consider that Spielberg has, in the past, given us some of the most iconic portrayals of aliens in film history. You do get used to it to an extent, particularly when you get up close it doesn’t look so bad, but it is still a pity that they couldn’t have put more effort into creating a more intriguing foe that doesn’t just look like some random “monster of the week” from the Outer Limits.

It’s early days yet, but so far I’m pretty pleased with this show, and I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that it’s the best looking new TV show this year, and indeed of the past few years. If the writers can help this show reach its potential and avoid the pitfalls that such genre shows often fall into, then this could be a hit in the making.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Genre Indie-Rock
Label Atlantic
Producers Chris Walla
codes and keys death cab for cutie ephemeric

In recent years, the all-encompassing hype that had built around Ben Gibbard's centrepiece project Death Cab for Cutie has faded to an extent, with just the one album since their 2005 peak, and a relatively underwhelming one at that.

With their latest release, Codes and Keys, the band has wisely decided to shake things up a bit. Phonically sparse, and less guitar-centric than their earlier work, this album sounds more like something from Gibbard's other noteworthy outlet, the Postal Service. The shimmering and elaborate effects mark a definite change, but not necessarily one that is detrimental.

The obvious first single is You Are a Tourist, an addictive and uptempo number filled with delicious pop hooks and youthful lyrics. More than any other song on the album, this is one that epitomises what we have come to expect, and if you're a fan of the band then that is a very good thing.

But that's not to say that things don't go as well when they try something a little different, as is the case with the entrancing Unobstructed Views, a track which takes a page from the recent wave of Oceanic electro-pop in flavour and style, or Monday Morning, a playful, at times spacey song of lovestruck nostalgia.

Then there’s the titular track Codes and Keys, an orchestrated and more elaborate tune that achieves one of the more powerful and melancholy moments on the album, while Underneath the Sycamore will please fans of previous albums Plans and Narrow Stairs and their particular brand of upbeat romanticism.

Ultimately what makes this album a success and an improvement upon more recent efforts is the return of Death Cab’s distinct energy, an optimistic vibrancy that pervades even their more low-tempo or gloomy songs to some extent. Plans had it, Transatlanticism had it. Narrow Stairs did not, but Codes and Keys marks the return to form for Gibbard and co.

The overall proceedings may not be consistently convincing, but with a handful of decent songs and some particularly fine moments the end result is a very worthwhile album and an intriguing hint of where the band might be heading with its next album.

Must Listen
You Are a Tourist

Monday Morning

Codes and Keys

Saturday, 25 June 2011

song of the week: "Amor Fati" by "Washed Out"

thing that makes me smile today: Festival season; Taste of London, Greenwich, Film4, etc.
pic of the day
Washed Out
Andre Villas-Boas
3DS virtual console

Bands who pretend to be Washed Out
Guus Hiddink
Wii virtual console

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Another season of Premier League football has passed us by, and as always, we at the Ephemeric have gone into a painstakingly detailed analysis of each of the Premiership teams’ seasons, and presented our thoughts on the future.

premier league 2011 Manchester United

As predicted it is Manchester United who claim the glory. If we’re being honest, it wasn’t a particularly good season. Few players stood out and no team really looked convincing Champions. Meanwhile the top scorer struck only a meagre 20 goals this year.

We'll begin with our season summary and team of the season, and then follow with a team by team review.

2011 Premier League Summary:

Winners: Manchester United
Relegated: Birmingham, Blackpool, West Ham
Top Scorer: Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez (20)
Most Assists: Nani (18)
Overachievers: West Brom
Underachievers: Birmingham
Best signing of the season: Javier Hernández
Worst signing of the season: Joe Cole
Player of the Year: Edwin van der Sar
Manager of the Year: Sir Alex Ferguson

2011 Premier Team of the Season:

premier league team of the season xi 2011

Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar- A fitting sign off for the legendary goalkeeper. Even though his defenders like Vidic and Ferdinand may often end up with the credit, the real hero of Manchester United’s backline this season was this man. Consistent throughout, van der Sar really went the extra mile when it came to the big matches, where heroic series of acrobatic saves earned key victories when most other keepers would have conceded. My player of the year.

Right Back: Bacary Sagna- One of Arsenal’s few bright lights in a season of defensive shakiness. Sagna was back to his marauding best, contributing assists and even a rare goal whilst remaining solid at the back.

Centrebacks: John Terry & Nemanja Vidic- For the centre of defense, two men stand head and shoulders above the rest this year. Vidic was heroic at the heart of Manchester United’s title winning season with an injury hit defense that was rarely at full strength. John Terry meanwhile was back in the headlines for the right reasons after the unwelcome distractions of last year. Rightly reclaimed his England captaincy, and stood strong at the centre of the league’s best defense, conceding only 33 goals.

Left Back: Ashley Cole- No surprise here as the man voted England’s player of the year by the fans was also named in the official PFA team of the season, and with good cause. Cole has been one of the most consistent footballers of the past decade, and continued his fine attacking and defensive form this season.

Right Mid: Nani – In a memorable season for his team, Nani finally found the consistency that his potential always hinted he would be capable of, taking centre-stage in a season of inconsistent form from United’s attackers. Dangerous in front of goal and prolific with the crucial assist.

Centre Mids: Charlie Adam & Yaya Touré- It all ended so disappointingly for Blackpool, but Charlie Adam took his opportunity in the top flight with both hands, establishing his name as one of the league’s top performers and a player who pretty damn near carried his team to survival. A move to a bigger club seems inevitable this summer. Meanwhile Yaya Touré arrived at Man City with the pressure of a big money fee and massive wages, but managed to live up to his billing, particularly in the latter half of the season. An FA Cup winning goal was the least the all action midfielder deserved from his debut in English football.

Left Mid: Luis Suárez – A central figure the Liverpool revival during the second half of the season that saw Kenny Daglish’s team become the form side in the league. Suárez adapted to life on Merseyside far quicker than anyone could have expected and even during his brief half-season became a subject of intense fear for many defenses, not least of all Manchester United, who were torn apart by Suárez in Liverpool’s immense 3-1 victory.

Forwards: Carlos Tévez & Javier Hernández – Despite being regarded as a top quality player, Carlos Tévez is rarely given the same level of attention as a Messi or Rooney. Yet more than any other player he is a man who delivers year after year, contributing goals, assists and invaluable leadership. His future seems to lie away from Man City, and so probably away from England, but truly it would be a crime for him not to be remembered as one of the top, and most underrated players to have graced the Premier League in recent years. Meanwhile Hernández has had a dream debut season for United, not just as an impact sub as he was originally envisioned for this season, but as a leading man for a United side that has at times looked a little more goal-shy than we have come to expect. In key games in particular Hernández always came good when needed, and without the points his winning goals earned, United would not be champions.

Team by team Review


Predicted Position: 3rd
Final Position: 4th

Another season of stagnation from a team that statistically still hasn’t managed to improve noticeably in recent years, despite the apparent fall in dominance from the top two of Chelsea and Manchester United. It’s becoming a very familiar pattern for Gunners fans: start with low expectations, soar in confidence around January following the traditional big team winter slump, end the season trophiless after a torrid spring.

Arsene Wenger still does what he can with the weak squad depth at his disposal, but patience is starting to wear thin among fans and probably some members of the board after going the better part of a decade without winning anything. The difficulty going forward seems to be attracting the kind of talent that can propel the club back to the top. Arsenal’s weak record in recent years is a turn off for top tier players, competition for top young players has skyrocketed, and all that new stadium money still has to pay off a mountain of debt before it can be put to use in the transfer market. It may be time for the Gunners to accept that Chelsea or Man City style investment is necessary in order to arrest the club’s slide down the table.

Of immediate concern for the club will be the status of Cesc Fabregas, whose poor form reflected the frustrations of a player who really doesn’t want to be at the club anymore. The decision not to sell him to Barcelona last summer now looks a very poor one indeed, especially as his going price is likely to be considerably less this year. On a brighter note, the club seems to have finally solved their long standing goalkeeper dilemma with the emergence of Wojciech Szczęsny. In addition, Van Persie has cemented his reputation as one of the top strikers in the game when fit with his astonishing goal-scoring record, while Samir Nasri finally seemed to mature into a central figure this season, though in both cases there are strong rumours of a move away from the club.

Best Player: Robin Van Persie
Worst Player: Cesc Fabregas
Summer transfer targets: Defenders of all positions, a strong centre-froward


Predicted Position: 7th
Final Position: 9th

A step backwards for the club this year following Martin O’Neill’s falling out with the board. The club slipped further down into mid-table, and it’s hard to see how they will manage to turn the corner in the near future, especially with yet another manager change on the horizon for health reasons.

It is a fitting epitaph, if indeed the cause for O’Neill’s departure was the club owners’ willingness to sell star players, that what remains of O’Neill’s golden boys appears set to follow him out the door this summer, with Ashley Young seemingly days away from a move to Old Trafford.

Best Player: Ashley Young
Worst Player: Stephen Ireland
Summer transfer targets: Replacements for Ashley Young and Brad Friedel.


Predicted Position: 11th
Final Position: 18th

Many, myself included, expected something of a second season hangover for Birmingham, especially following the departure of Joe Hart back to Man City. Indeed this is precisely what happened in something of a nightmare season which sees the Blues relegated back to the Championship, and their manager Alex McLeish ditching the sinking ship to join arch rivals Aston Villa.

An experienced and steady hand will be needed at the helm in order to stabilise the club and work on getting back to the top flight. A consistent striker will be top of the shopping list, and beyond that replacements will be needed for the likely efflux of key personnel, for example Sebastian Larsson, who has strongly been linked with a move to Arsenal or Sunderland.

Best Player: Sebastian Larsson
Worst Player: Alexander Hleb
Summer transfer targets: Forward, midfield


Predicted Position: 9th
Final Position: 15th

A season of disappointment after the club’s new Indian billionaire owners mystifyingly sacked Sam Allardyce in the middle of the season. Having been comfortably placed until that point, the club proceeded to slide down into the relegation battle, and only confirmed their retention of top flight status on the final day of the season.

Of pressing concern for the club will be key players who seem set to depart. Hot prospect Phil Jones has already moved to Old Trafford, and star defender Samba seems likely to move to a bigger club in the coming weeks.

It remains to be seen whether new manager Kean can replicate Allardyce’s success at the club, but one thing is for sure, he has his work cut out for him. A lot of uncertainty remains.

Best Player: Chris Samba
Worst Player: El-Hadji Diouf
Summer transfer targets: Defensive cover


Predicted Position: 20th
Final Position: 19th

It all started so promisingly for the club, with a series of exciting performances shattering the pundits’ early pessimism. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, and the second half of the season saw a dramatic nosedive for the Seasiders.

Ian Holloway has done a fine job with the club and deserves credit, but more than that he was a fantastic addition to the top flight, and particularly the match of the day interviews, full of colour. He will be missed.

The worry will be over key players like Charlie Adam, who really made a name for himself this season. Adam will leave the club this summer, having very nearly done just that in the January transfer window. As is usually the case with a relegated club, the focus for this summer will have to be minimising player losses, and reinforcing the squad in order to avoid a Charlton-esque collapse.

Best Player: Charlie Adam
Worst Player: Richard Kingson
Summer transfer targets: Midfield reinforcement


Predicted Position: 10th
Final Position: 14th

Another inconsistent season for the club which nevertheless provided another look at a real up and coming manager in Owen Coyle. Coyle has done well to shake off the post-Allardyce cobwebs that had plagued the club since his departure several years ago, and indeed he pulled off something of a coup in bringing one of England’s brightest talents in years to the club on loan in Daniel Sturridge. A sublime 8 goals in 12 appearances tells the full story there.

But next year Sturridge will be gone, and key defender Gary Cahill will likely be next out the door. New blood is needed at Birmingham in the playing staff, while everything must be done to make sure that Owen Coyle remains at the club for as long as possible, as a move to a bigger team seems likely at some point on the horizon.

Best Player: Daniel Sturridge
Worst Player: Ali el-Habsi
Summer transfer targets: Forward, Defender


Predicted Position: 2nd
Final Position: 2nd

A history making, record goal scoring, league and cup double last season, coupled with their swaggering champagne football start to the season, made the Blues an early title favourite of most pundits. However such flourishes merely masked over what was in reality a mediocre previous season, filled with silverware mostly because of the poor form of their rivals.

Indeed, these same pundits are now falling over themselves trying to pinpoint exactly where the season went wrong. Many point to the key long term injuries of Lampard, Alex and the November spell where most of Chelsea’s defense were in the physio room on a regular basis. However those who follow the club closely will know that injuries are nothing new for this club, and relatively speaking, this was probably one of the lighter injury lists Chelsea have had in recent years. The trouble is that the club simply were not as good as they had been hyped, and with surprisingly little investment in recent years (a trend which appears to have ended with the signings of David Luiz and Fernando Torres) the club was getting stale.

The real turning point, though, was the unexplained sacking of Assistant Manager Ray Wilkins, a popular and influential figure in the dressing room. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that firing one half of your double winning management team is going to have repercussions, and worse still when you replace him with Michael Emenalo, a man whose only prior management experience was of an under 11s girls soccer team in the United States. This whole incident is a perfect example of the self destructive hubris and nepotism that all too often seems to characterise how the club is run these days.

In terms of the playing staff; Frank Lampard finally appears to be slowing down, and a replacement is much needed. The same goes for Didier Drogba. Michael Essien’s knees appear to be well and truly shot after years of recurring injuries, and his position at the club must now be called into question, while the likes of Florent Malouda and José Bosingwa appear far too inconsistent to really come up for the team when needed. Young replacements are needed across the shop, while the club will also need to keep blooding their own youth products like Josh McEachran, Daniel Sturridge and Gaël Kakuta. On the plus side, Petr Cech had his finest (and first injury free) season in goal for many years, while new signings David Luiz and Ramires have had a very successful start to their Chelsea careers.

Best Player: Petr Cech
Worst Player: José Bosingwa
Summer transfer targets: Central midfielder(s), Winger(s)


Predicted Position: 8th
Final Position: 7th

More of the same for Everton as David Moyes continues to do a fine job of keeping Everton on the fringes of the big time with no investment from the clubs’ owners and little prospect of that changing.

Louis Saha’s disappointing form has left the club without a serious goal threat, once again, with Jermaine Beckford the next best option. Meanwhile Tim Cahill appears past his best. More concerning will be the potential departure of key players such as Fellaini, Rodwell and above all, Leighton Baines.

There is great potential here for finding investors. Everton is no small brand in the football world and one would think it could be done. On the other hand one wonders how long Moyes will stick around as it becomes ever clearer that there really isn’t any further he can take this team for the foreseeable future.

Best Player: Leighton Baines
Worst Player: Louis Saha
Summer transfer targets: Striker(s)


Predicted Position: 15th
Final Position: 8th

No Roy Hodgson, no top half finish, or so the logic went. Indeed this is exactly how the season was looking for the London side at the start of the season, but Mark Hughes has done a fine job, and key players have continued to impress, most notably American winger Clint Dempsey.

Hughes is gone now after one year, and Martin Jol is the man who will take the reins next year. Jol is an experienced manager and a good choice from the club’s wily owners (Michael Jackson statue not withstanding). Stability is a must over the next few years now if Fulham wants to move forward, but for the time being the club set up appears resilient enough to continue on in such a fashion as we have seen until now.

The fundamentals of the team remain strong, with the capable defense of Hangeland, Hughes and Schwarzer in goal, and the proven attacking talent of Zamora, Dempsey and the promise of youngster Dembélé.

Best Player: Clint Dempsey
Worst Player: Philippe Senderos
Summer transfer targets: More depth up front and in the midfield


Predicted Position: 5th
Final Position: 6th

This season started much like the last one, with Liverpool in atrocious form, leaving fans wondering if mid table was the new normal. Roy Hodgson failed as a manager, and it was not the first time he had been unable to perform on the big stage as well as he does for smaller boutique clubs like Fulham.

Kenny Daglish has come in and done an amazing job in his half season with the club, turning them from the disaster story of the Premier League to a team who will surely be considered title contenders again next season after becoming the form team in the league bar none and rising back into Europa League qualification.

Andy Carroll is a solid if wildly overpriced addition to the team, and Luis Suárez is a marvellous talent for the English league. However, the likes of Poulsen, Cole and Konchesky have been major flops at the club, while captain Steven Gerrard still looks a shadow of his former self. The club is heading back in the right direction, but there is still much work that needs to be done in order to continue Daglish’s fine transformation.

Jordan Henderson is set to make the (also overpriced) switch to Merseyside, while young blood is desired all over the squad, particularly in defense and on the wing.

Best Player: Luis Suárez
Worst Player: Paul Konchesky
Summer transfer targets: Young talent


Predicted Position: 4th
Final Position: 3th

A strong season in which Manchester City confirmed that, yes, they can become title contenders in the near future. Mancini has had his doubters, but having won the club’s first major silverware since 1978 in this year’s FA Cup, no one can question his ability to do the job, especially with the financial backing he has at his disposal.

Manchester City seem to be the only club who remain unconcerned with the upcoming financial fairplay rules, and are set to spend big yet again this summer, only this time with the added clout of Champions League football and a real sense of potential for next season.

However if, as it seems, Carlos Tévez is set to leave the club, this would be a massive setback for City’s ambitions. Especially when you consider that temperamental Balotelli and misfiring Eden Dzeko remain the best alternatives at the club. However with Joe Hart excelling in goal and defense that finally looks like they know how to play together, the club has solid foundations upon which to build for the first time.

Best Player: Yaya Touré
Worst Player: Mario Balotelli
Summer transfer targets: Striker(s), depth in defense.


Predicted Position: Champions
Final Position: Champions

It was a memorable year for United in which the club finally clinched their record setting 19th title. Despite this, however, they appeared hopelessly outclassed in the Champions League final against Barcelona, and recorded their lowest points total in the league in years, owing their title victory more to the underachievement of other teams.

Going forward, Sir Alex finally appears to be replacing his aging team, with Scholes retiring, and Giggs surely approaching the end of the road. The likes of Jones, De Gea and Young who all appear set to join the club will make fine additions to the spine he has started with the likes of Jones and Javier Hernández.

Such an overhaul always carries risk, especially when replacing a team that has been around as long as a good 20 years and won everything. However with Ferguson at the helm no one at the club will have any worries whatsoever. What should be a worry is how much longer Ferguson will still be around.

Best Player: Javier Hernández
Worst Player: Rio Ferdinand
Summer transfer targets: Goalkeeper, central midfielder

Newcastle United

Predicted Position: 13th
Final Position: 12th

A predictably solid return to the top flight for the Magpies, marred by the inexplicable sacking of Hughton, the man who after all got the team back to the Premier League and put them in the top half of the table in their first season back.

The sale of star striker Carroll will also be a concern, but Pardew is no slouch as a manager, and he will have a plan and the considerable resources of Mike Ashley with which to fashion a new foundation for top flight football. That is, if he can survive the darker side of Ashley’s ownership.

Top of the hit list will be new attacking talent up front and reinforcements in the midfield as the club seeks to replace outgoing players and Championship quality players.

Best Player: Andy Carroll
Worst Player: Alan Smith
Summer transfer targets: Striker, winger, midfielder


Predicted Position: 14th
Final Position: 13th

Another season of great credit for Tony Pulis and his men, whose position in the top flight now looks reasonably cemented. Indeed they even went a step further and reached the FA Cup final where they narrowly lost to Manchester City.

What’s more, the quality of their play has increased enormously over the past year, and the likes of Jermaine Pennant have offered an effective new strategy in addition to Delap’s tried and tested throw ins.

The most amusing black spot on Stoke’s season would be the bungled transfer of Demba Ba, who failed a medical having already agreed terms, only to then sign for West Ham and score 7 goals in 12 games.

Best Player: Robert Huth
Worst Player: John Carew
Summer transfer targets: Striker, fullback


Predicted Position: 12th
Final Position: 10th

Another admirable season for the Black Cats, who managed to maintain course for a top half finish in spite of injury problems and the surprising loss of top scorer and key player Darren Bent. The past few seasons have seen a number of prominent faces coming and going, but the goal must now be to aim for some consistency, both in personnel and ultimately in results on the pitch.

Steve Bruce is a fine manager, and he copes well, but now he must put his available cash to good use in the summer to ensure that the club can maintain the momentum of recent years and solidify their presence in the top half of the table.

Best Player: Jordan Henderson
Worst Player: Boudewijn Zenden
Summer transfer targets: Striker, central midfielder, general squad depth

Predicted Position: 6th
Final Position: 5th

This Tottenham team may have hit a wall. After the high of their first Champions League campaign, achieved by a fourth place finish last season, they were unable to repeat the feat this time around. Nevertheless the club will enjoy fond memories of their exciting campaign in Europe, which saw memorable victories against the likes of Inter and AC Milan before their run was cut short by Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Ultimately, Spurs were undone by a lack of squad depth, and injuries to key players such as Gareth Bale. Tottenham have a history of heavy summer investment in recent years and this will need to continue if they are to push for the Champions League again. Everyone involved knows that it’s not going to get any easier from here, the level of competition at the top is only increasing, with at the very least the likes of Liverpool, Spurs, Man City, Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal competing for just four places.

The biggest issue for the club going forward will be a lack of quality up front. The always inconsistent Defoe is now not even that, and his alternatives, Crouch and Pavlyuchenko, are simply not Champions League material. On the plus side though the midfield looks very strong, with Rafael Van Der Vaart an absolute revelation this season lining up alongside Bale and Modric.

Best Player: Rafael Van Der Vaart
Worst Player: Jermain Defoe
Summer transfer targets: Striker(s)

Predicted Position: 19th
Final Position: 11th

An impressive first year back in the top flight, if a little turbulent at times. Roberto Di Matteo started the season on a strong footing, but quickly lost the plot and with it, his job. Step up Liverpool flop Roy Hodgson, the king of helping small clubs overachieve.

It turns out that WBA have surprising depth in the midfield, and a capable goal scorer in Peter Odemwingie. That will not be enough to ensure continued survival however, and Roy will have to be at his wily best to snap up some reinforcements in this increasingly competitive market.

Best Player: Peter Odemwingie
Worst Player: Marc-Antoine Fortune
Summer transfer targets: More firepower up front, midfield reinforcements

Predicted Position: 16th
Final Position: 20th

More self destructive shenanigans from the club’s owners, and the hapless management of a man who has been relegated twice in as many years ensured that this was a disaster of a season for West Ham.

Indeed, many of the players as well must share the blame, but their fate looked all but set in stone as early as Christmas. Now the task falls upon incoming manager Sam Allardyce to work his trademark magic and make a team out of this club, with a return to the Premiership the ultimate prize. There is no question that for once the board has made the right call here, Allardyce is the man to help the club out of this sticky mess.

Scott Parker was the highlight of the season, even if his Player of the Year Award win seems a little odd for a man whose team finished rock bottom of the league. Still, there is no doubt that Parker is a fine player indeed, and one who I was very sad to see depart from Stamford Bridge all those years ago. Now it looks like he will once again move on, this time to a bigger club. Allardyce has his work cut out for him.

Best Player: Scott Parker
Worst Player: Wayne Bridge
Summer transfer targets: Striker(s), a midfield general to replace Parker, all defender(s)

Predicted Position: 18th
Final Position: 16th

A lot of people’s tip for the drop this season, Wigan’s awful start did little to allay fans’ fears. Still, they somehow managed to keep themselves within touching distance of safety throughout the year, and were rewarded on the final day of the season when they clinched survival in dramatic fashion. Perhaps there is something to this Martinez bloke after all.

This Wigan side is a strange one, often recording wins against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, only to stumble against far less taxing opposition. Having players who know how to step up for the big games is key, but they will find their challenge that much harder if, as expected, players like N’Zogbia and Rodallega leave the club in the near future. As such, this may be a summer which requires them to strengthen across the board, or face another struggle for survival next season.

Best Player: Charles N’Zogbia
Worst Player: Chris Kirkland
Summer transfer targets: Reinforcements across the board

Predicted Position: 17th
Final Position: 17th

I had a feeling that Mick McCarthy would keep this team in the top flight, just about, and that’s exactly what happened, even if it took a late, late goal on the last day of the season to ensure that Wolves will be playing Premier League football next season.

But the club cannot rest on its laurels, even for the summer months, in this day and age. There’s work to be done if they want to ensure survival next season. If they can keep the likes of Doyle, Jarvis and Fletcher on the team then that is a start, and will provide a good foundation upon which to build a team that can push more for somewhere around the midtable.

Best Player: Matt Jarvis
Worst Player: Michael Mancienne
Summer transfer targets: Defensive strength primarily

So there we are for another year, we hope you enjoyed that. Stay tuned for our big preview of next season coming up in August, same time as always. Until then.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Developed by Team Bondi, Rockstar Games
Published by Rockstar Games
Genre Third Person Action/Adventure
Platform Xbox 360, PS3

Team Bondi of Rockstar Games are better known as the developers of the landmark Grand Theft Auto series, games which garner as much attention for their controversial elements as their advancements of the open world genre. But this time they're abandoning the life of crime for a career in law enforcement.

la noire

In LA Noire you play Detective Cole Phelps, an ex-war hero and hot shot up and comer in the LAPD. You work your way from the patrol beat through various desks as you uncover the dirt and grime on the seedier side of Los Angeles.

The game setting itself features a large and fully explorable recreation of Los Angeles, complete with recognisable landmarks and many of Rockstar's trademark parodies on pop-culture.

Anyone familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series will be immediately familiar with the gameplay and controls, from shootout scenes to driving through the streets.

However, the real meat and potatoes of the game involves examining crime scenes for evidence and interviewing witnesses/suspects. The former is classic adventure game fare, scour game areas for clues, use the analog stick to examine objects from every angle and general puzzle solving. The latter though employs the all new facial animation technology that has set the media ablaze.

LA Noire features some quite sophisticated multi-camera full facial scanning, which renders the characters in-game with an astonishing level of realism and detail. The quality of the graphics themselves are nothing special at all (still based on the old GTA IV engine) but with facial animation this detailed there really are times when one can't believe that they are simply watching a videogame. The main application for this in-game is for interviews, where players will have to watch and scrutinize every slightest facial tick and expression in order to determine whether or not the person is being entirely forthright.

The other very entertaining result of this new technology is that it makes the actors used to model the in-game characters extremely recognizable, and throughout the game players will experience numerous "oh hey it's that guy from that tv show/movie" moments. It also helps that Rockstar have assembled a very talented cast, featuring instantly recognizable actors from shows like Mad Men, Scrubs, Lost, Heroes, and Fringe. It all lends LA Noire a cinematic quality unlike anything seen before in video games.

For the most part this all works pretty well; the detective aspects are all very rewarding and entertaining, and the experience as a whole is a pleasure. But LA Noire still suffers from many of the engine and gameplay issues that previous Rockstar titles have had, particularly with the driving and shooting scenes. In addition, LA Noire's story itself is surprisingly lacklustre, considering Rockstar are widely known for the high quality and pacing of their narratives, LA Noire seems oddly half-assed and uninspired.

In particular LA Noire has serious pacing problems in the second half of the game, after hitting a real high point with the fantastic homicide desk missions, the latter parts of the game feel like a bit of a step down in terms of excitement and spectacle. In addition, the backstory of the main protagonist Cole Phelps seems strangely thin, which becomes a real problem in the later parts of the game when personal events are suddenly and bizarrely thrust centre-stage with almost zero previous build up. This lack of basic story-telling technique makes it difficult to really care about what happens, and it's a surprising lack of finesse from a developer renowned for so much more.

It is also worth noting that despite the big explorable city in which the game is set, this is not an open world game, and there is in fact very little to do in the big city aside from traditional "collectible" hunting which is of no real consequence other than for completionists. This plays into the bigger issue that comes from the lack of replayability. For obvious reasons, once you've played the game and solved the cases, there is little suspense in playing them again.

Still, aside from these issues LA Noire is more hit than miss. The story may be underwhelming, the but the incredible cinematic polish with which it is presented makes it a joy to play through, if for no other reason than it's something new and exctiing for videogames.

A far more lasting legacy from this game will be the animation technology, and if nothing else, LA Noire serves as an exciting example of what's to come.

Amazing facial animation
Top notch presentation
Clever and innovative gameplay

Surprisingly weak story and characters
Nothing to do in LA
Short, not much replay value

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Genre Indie-Pop
Label In the Name of Columbia
Producers Cults, Shane Stoneback


Cults initially burst onto the scene about two years ago now amid a flurry of hype and an air of mystery. While their world beating hit Go Outside made the rounds online and eventually on our televisions and radio (I can't imagine there's anyone who hasn't heard it by now), not a whole lot was actually known about the band aside from that which was gleaned from a sparse Bandcamp webpage with just the one song listed.

Now that their debut album is finally complete it remains to be seen whether the band will manage to live up to the imposingly high standards they have set for themselves, or if this will simply be another disappointment as seen with similarly hyped bands like Tennis.

The band consists of two students from New York, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, but aside from that there is not a whole lot that is known about the people behind the music. Theirs' is a retro sound, mingling the style of modern indie-pop with the low-fi aesthetic of the 1960s. The trouble is, while this may have been all the rage back when Go Outside first came to our attention, low-fi boy/girl duos are quite common nowadays following the likes of the XX, Tennis and the Kills. Indeed Cults may be a victim of their own sluggishness in following up the hype.

For the most part though, the eponymous debut delivers everything that one could have hoped for, and in many ways exactly what was expected. Much of the album follows the same path as their breakout hit, with songs like Most Wanted and Oh My God refining the band's taste for melodies that are catchy but sweet, and lyrics that are wistful and universally sentimental. These lyrics are not high art, but they are evocative in their simplicity, as anyone who has heard Go Outside will agree.

That song evoked positivity and celebrated a passion for living, along with perhaps a twinge of teenage petulance; on the whole it's a conceit that the band sticks to through much of this album. As such you can expect to hear this one described frequently as a "summer album" as the cliché goes, and frankly I think few would argue with that.

Equally noteworthy are the songs where the band goes a bit more offbeat as with the infectious Never Saw the Point which makes use of some of the more euphoric stylings of modern pop as it crescendos up until its final moments.

But in this humble writer's opinion the best song on the album is its darkest sounding, but again deceptively positive track: You Know What I Mean. This powerful moment gives us a taste of what Sinead O'Connor or the Supremes might sound like with today's synth and modern sensibilities, except this is far better even than that.

So in the end this is one highly anticipated album which did not disappoint, even if it's not the world shattering debut that one might secretly have hoped it would be.

Must Listen
Go Outside

You Know What I Mean

Never Saw the Point

Saturday, 4 June 2011

song of the week: "Hide and Seek (acoustic cover)" by "Antoine Dufour"

thing that makes me grimace today: One of "those" days.

pic of the day
mac and cheeseIN:
Cults (the band)
Tennis (the sport)
LA Noire DLC

Tennis (the band)
Cults (the crazy shit)
Read Dead Redemption DLC

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