james debate
james debate

Friday, 23 September 2022

Created by Akiva Goldsman
Network Paramount+
Starring Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Celia Rose Gooding
Genre Sci-Fi
Running Time 46-62 minutes

star trek strange new worlds pike spock uhura discovery paramount best new show 2022 awards
It would be an understatement to say that CBS/Paramount's attempts to revitalise the Star Trek franchise have been met with mixed reception. The first attempt, Star Trek: Discovery, went to great lengths to distance itself from earlier entries in the series, instead seeking mainstream relevance by becoming a derivation of other recent successful media such as Game of Thrones, managing to alienate new and old fans alike in the process. The second attempt, Star Trek: Picard, drew all the wrong lessons from this, attempting to paper over the tonal and pacing issues with gratuitous nostalgia. Both have their flaws and, occasionally, strengths, but neither were able to consistently overcome poor writing and paper-thin characterisation.

So it is something of a minor miracle that the third attempt, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has actually managed to nail the formula. SNW strikes the ideal blend between capturing the magic of the old series, while providing a modern refresh for today's audiences. 

A big reason for this improvement has been the shift back to episodic storytelling. Classic Star Trek certainly had its long-running story arcs, but Discovery and Picard took this to an extreme, with each season essentially becoming a ten-hour movie. This is a format derived from the worst excesses of the TV bingeing era, and there's a number of problems with it. Frankly, there aren't that many stories that are so good they justify a continuous, uninterrupted ten hour run-time. The second season of Star Trek: Picard had a decent story, but it could easily have been told in four episodes rather than ten. The strict focus on a season-long arc also necessitates a greater bias towards action and large-scale drama, without allowing time for the more cerebral or character-focused storytelling that Star Trek has always done so well.

Even the most interesting TV story arcs, shows like Lost or Breaking Bad, were broken up into individual short-form stories to keep the audience engaged. Doing so allows for a greater variety of storytelling and provides a more elegant opportunity to fill in supporting plot details, such as character backgrounds and traits. This format places more emphasis on character-based storytelling, and the result is a supporting cast that is more fleshed out, just a few episodes in, than Discovery's bridge crew even after four seasons (seriously, four years in and I challenge anyone to name every member of the Discovery bridge crew without looking it up).

This has always been the heart of Star Trek. The Sci-Fi trappings are just the spice. At its core, Star Trek is about the characters. You need to be invested in the characters and care about their personal journeys (and I can't believe I need to say it, Discovery, but they need to "have" journeys to begin with), otherwise it just doesn't work. 

SNW's creative team have also struck a better balance in the tone of the series. Star Trek has always been mostly lighthearted. It's a family friendly series, one which shares as much DNA with the weekly sitcoms of old as it does with higher concept drama and fantasy. SNW understands this, and the characters are all the more appealing and relatable for it. I can only hope this is the end of the schlocky, grimdark stylings experimented on with Discovery (and to a lesser extent Picard).

But above all else, the writing here is simply "good". The individual stories are compelling and thought-provoking. The characters are rich and their motivations relatable and believable. The dialogue feels natural and organic. The acting is solid. Each character behaves as you would expect a professional doing a job to behave (no more gratuitous whisper-dialogue, teenage tantrums and crocodile tears). Everything here is just right.

It still isn't perfect. Behaviourally and aesthetically, the characters here draw a little too much on contemporary culture, something which will age poorly. Ron Moore (showrunner of Star Trek: The Next Generation) famously said that Star Trek almost had to be written as more of a period drama, like something out of Jane Austen, to ensure that its voice and manner of dialogue were not tied to a specific moment in time. There is nothing quite so bad here as Discovery's "InstaLOL" character Tilly, but there are certainly a few characters that I can imagine looking back at twenty years from now and thinking how dated they look and sound. SNW also finds itself occasionally constrained, in terms of storytelling, by the fact that it is yet another unnecessary prequel series. Hopefully the success of this show will give the writers the confidence to take the franchise forward with a true sequel.

But these nitpicks are more stylistic issues, and none of them take away from what is otherwise a marked step forward for the franchise and a return to form. At long last, the Star Trek franchise has re-discovered its identity and delivered a series of quality for new and old fans alike.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

The football season is underway and it promises to be one for the history books. If this summer seemed strangely empty, it's because we are about to see a first ever winter World Cup when Qatar 2022 kicks off in December. A strong factor in fortunes this year will doubtless be how well teams can adapt to this new twist in the schedule: a more rested start to the season, with an absolutely chaotic mid-section. The 2022/23 season is chock-full of delicious subplots and rivalries and I am excited to see how it all plays out. So without further ado, let's dive into it and get the season underway.

premier league 2022/23 preview

Premier League 2022/23 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualifiers: Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham
Relegated: Bournemouth, Southampton, Nottingham Forest
Golden Boot winner: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Golden Glove winner: Ederson (Manchester City)
Player to watch: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
New signing to watch: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
Young player to watch: Reece James (Chelsea)
First manager to get the sack: Ralph Hasenhüttl (Southampton)
Shock of the season: Erik ten Hag sacked in his first season

Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 5th
Manager: Mikel Arteta

It seems like every year there is a great amount of hype around Arsenal. The Gunners are perennially tipped with being on the cusp of a return to the upper levels of English football, a promise that always ends up falling short. Over the past few seasons, Arsenal have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on mostly dud signings and have little to show for it (aside from one asterisk of a cup final for which they rightly receive little credit). 

Yet, this season there is the very real sense that progress is being made. Arsenal have started to make investments in the right places and their more promising youngsters have started to come of age. They lost Aubameyang to Barcelona, but replaced him astutely with the proven Premier League talent of Gabriel Jesus. Midfielders Saka and Odegaard have been revelatory over the past season. The signing of Zinchenko may well be the missing piece of the puzzle, providing some genuine class at the back and reducing the club's dependency on the injury prone Kieran Tierney.

Doubts still remain as to whether Arteta is the man to pull all this together, but there is a real feeling of positivity around the club for a change and the sense that this could well be the year that sees them return to European competition.

Key Signing: Gabriel Jesus
Key Man: Martin Odegaard
Verdict: For the first time in years, Arsenal look like genuine top four contenders.

Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,095
Last season: 14th
Manager: Steven Gerrard

This time last year, Aston Villa looked set for big things. Some very ambitious transfer activity saw the recruitment of prominent attacking talents like Leon Bailey, Bertrand Traore and Emiliano Buendia. But Steven Gerrard's men flattered to deceive, and a surprisingly lacklustre finish in the lower half of the table was the end result. It remains to be seen whether this was merely teething issues for this promising side or something else, but now in Gerrard's first full season with the club the pressure will surely be on to make the most of the talents available.

The Villans have been busy in the transfer market once again, with the most notable coup being the signing of Philippe Coutinho, the ex-Liverpool man who, just a few seasons ago, was Barcelona's record £150million acquisition. Coutinho's Barcelona stint turned out to be something of a disappointment, but if he can recapture even a shred of his former quality he could well be the force that propels Villa to great things.

Of course, no preview of Villa's season is complete without mention of the media-tantalizing prospect of a Gerrard/Lampard managerial rivalry to grace the Premier League. Just one of the tasty plotlines that will be running through this season.

Key Signing: Philippe Coutinho
Key Man: Danny Ings
Verdict: After a year of stagnation, expect Villa to rise. Europa League qualification has to be the target.

Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Capacity: 11,364
Last season: Promoted (Runner-up)
Manager: Scott Parker

A return to the Premier League for new-look Bournemouth, now helmed by media-darling Scott Parker. A rough welcome lies ahead, with matches against City, Arsenal and Liverpool early on, and I'm not sure it's going to get much better.

At the risk of sounding harsh, there's little that stands out from this Bournemouth side. In a league where every side, even those struggling at the bottom, are blessed with resources and impressive talent, that may well not be good enough. It's worrying that the core of this side largely consists of the same players who were present at the club's last relegation, while their attacking prospects seem to be very much reliant on Dominic Solanke, a player who, while very impressive at Championship level, is unproven in the Premier League.

There's not much to get excited about in the summer transfer business either. Joe Rothwell has impressed in the lower leagues, but for a team in desperate need of top level talent, at the time of writing they haven't found it.

Key Signing: Joe Rothwell
Key Man: Dominic Solanke
Verdict: A prime relegation candidate.


Nickname: The Bees
Ground: Brentford Community Stadium
Capacity: 17,250
Last season: 13th
Manager: Thomas Frank

I'm not one to pat myself on the back, but at this point last season, while most pundits were predicting abject relegation for Brentford, I made the somewhat bold prediction that they would survive and quite comfortably. Not only did that prove to be correct, but their 13th place finish matches my pre-season prediction exactly. Indeed, you'd have to say Brentford had a remarkable first season in the Premier League. Now the question is can they repeat the feat, or will they fall victim to the dreaded second season syndrome?

On the one hand, Brentford have lost their talismanic midfielder Christian Eriksen, now back at his career best. But frontman Ivan Toney has remained. The club has also strengthened well elsewhere. There is much hype surrounding the transfer of Aaron Hickey, who had been linked with a move to illustrious clubs such as Arsenal. But the key signing for me is Ben Mee, whose top flight experience and consistency at the back will be invaluable for a club that may well need to fight for survival.

This is a well-run club and they have been smart in the markets. It could well be a tough season for Brentford, but I think they have enough about them to stay up if they can avoid key injuries and retain Toney through the end of the transfer window.

Key Signing: Ben Mee
Key Man: Ivan Toney
Verdict: A relegation risk but I think they'll survive again.

Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 31,800
Last season: 9th
Manager: Graham Potter

Brighton are remarkable well run outfit and their progress up the league system in recent years has been a remarkable story. Last season saw Potter's side rise to new heights and a record league finish. It wasn't long ago that Brighton in the Premier League sounded like a pipe dream, but now they are a very fine side and established top flight mainstays. Accordingly, they begin this season a deserved wave of positivity.

Can they take the next step and establish themselves as a top ten side? It will be difficult with the increasingly high standard of competition around them, with matters not helped by the fact that several of their key players will have World Cup duties as a distraction. But to the extent they can keep their spine of Robert Sanchez, Leandro Trossard and Lewis Dunk fit and available, this will be a tough side for any other to face. 

Brighton are also blessed with some very exciting young talent in the squad, most notably Chelsea academy graduate Tariq Lamptey who has already established himself as a first team stalwart. I also expect we will be hearing a lot more from Jeremy Sarmiento this season if he can stay fit. Levi Colwill on loan from Chelsea is another very promising young defender, who had been considered in potential contention for first team duties at Stamford Bridge before the signing of Koulibaly. Then there is the 18 year old Julio Encisco, signed this summer from Paraguayan club Libertad. Already a full international in spite of his tender years, there is great buzz that Encisco could become a Premier League hit over the next few years.

Key Signing: Levi Colwill
Key Man: Leandro Trossard
Verdict: Matching last season's feats will be a tall order, but should achieve a solid midtable finish.

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Thomas Tuchel

It's the start of a new era at Stamford Bridge, with Todd Boehly's consortium taking the reins from the long-standing Abramovich regime. Ambitions are high, nothing short of world domination in Boehly's words, but fans and pundits would be wise not to expect too much this season; this Chelsea side still have a lot of work to do.

It would be easy to look at the £200 million odd spent on transfer fees this summer and think that Chelsea will be bristling with talent and contend for the title. But the fact is they also lost a significant amount of talent during the summer turmoil for which the new acquisitions just barely compensate, little has been done to actually improve this squad beyond where they were last season. Most notably, Chelsea head into the season without a recognised striker in the squad following the departures of Lukaku and Werner (and more importantly, Tammy Abraham last season). That's an extraordinary state of affairs and means the club will need to rely on playing the likes of Kai Havertz out of position, or untested academy players like Armando Broja. 

Other than this (rather significant) gap, Chelsea's squad is strong. They have an enviable core of young talent with Reece James, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and others, while their new signings are good ones. Raheem Sterling is an elite attacker who will trouble any defence, while Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the world's top defenders and one of the few players who could have stepped in for the departing Rudiger. It's a good side, but difficult to see where the goals will reliably come from. Unless that changes, Chelsea will face a difficult challenge to stay in the top four.

Key Signing: Raheem Sterling
Key Man: Reece James
Verdict: Will struggle to achieve top four without reinforcements up front.

Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,486
Last season: 12th
Manager: Patrick Vieira
What more can be said about the job Patrick Vieira has done at Crystal Palace? Taking over the reins amind a period of great instability at the club, last season they were the pick of many pundits to face the drop. But Vieira's team exceeded expectations to claim a safe midtable position and did so credibly.

The talismanic Wilfried Zaha remains the star man for Palace, but not to the same lopsided degree as has historically been the case. There is an exciting young team at the core of last season's successes, notably the burgeoning defensive pairing of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen, as well 19 year old crowd favourite Michael Olise. 

However they face a huge task to fill the gap left by last season's loanee Conor Gallagher, now back at parent club Chelsea. Gallagher was arguably one of the best young players in last season's Premier League and his absence will be felt here. The man Palace fans will be hoping to step into this role is 22 year old Chieck Doucouré, impressive last season in Ligue 1 for Lens.

I see this side as a work in progress and, particularly with the loss of such a key player, I wouldn't expect to see much greater ambition from the club this season. That said, I also don't expect their position in the top flight to be in any particular jeopardy.

Key Signing: Cheick Doucouré
Key Man: Wilfried Zaha
Verdict: Another comfortable midtable finish awaits.

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 16th
Manager: Frank Lampard

The last few seasons have been an emotional rollercoaster for Everton fans. From the highs of the Ancelotti appointment to the lows of Rafa Benitez, the club were ultimately only saved from relegation last season by the talented, yet unproven hands of Frank Lampard.

Firstly the manager: despite his relative lack of experience, Frank Lampard is a very talented manager. He did excellent work at Derby County and was harshly treated at Chelsea despite building a team with arguably their best core since the first Mourinho period. He will get the best from this Everton team if given time.

The bigger problem is that no matter who the manager is, there's only so much you can do with an uninspiring squad. The loss of Richarlison is a big blow and despite spending £20 million on Dwight McNeil I don't think they have adequately replaced the threat he offers up front. Particularly with Calvert-Lewin's injury issues, there will be a lot of hope placed on the shoulders of youngster Anthony Gordon. At the back, however, they look much more solid, with Pickford reliable as always and the signings of Amadou Onana and James Tarkowski good upgrades defensively.

Key Signing: Amadou Onana
Key Man: Jordan Pickford
Verdict: Should stay up, but this squad still needs improvement to rise above the relegation fray.

Nickname: The Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 22.384
Last season: Promoted (Champions)
Manager: Marco Silva

A return to the Premier League for one of England's great yoyo clubs and already the Cottagers are the favourites of many to go right back down again. I don't see it though. I think this side is better than people give them credit and they will stay up.

Make no mistake relegation is certainly a risk, but this is a pretty good Fulham side, as anyone who watched their record-breaking exploits in the Championship last season. I tip Aleksandar Mitrovic for a big season on his Premier League return. The man gets goals and right now I think he's better than he has ever been. Elsewhere, Andreas Pereira is an inspired signing, and people are underrating the impact Joao Palhinha will have in this midfield. 

It's a good side and I'd say they've recruited well to play at a top flight level. It's not been the wild and ill-fated shopping spree of 2018, but a more shrewd and deliberate approach. It's one that will suit their ambitions well this season. They don't need to try and build the next Leicester City, they just need to grind out enough points.

Key Signing: Andreas Pereira
Key Man: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Verdict: A relegation risk, but I think they will stay up.

Nickname: The Whites
Ground: Elland Road
Capacity: 37,890
Last season: 17th
Manager: Jesse Marsch
One of the big stories of recent Premier League seasons, Leeds have impressed in fits and spurts since their return to the top flight and generally maintained a good level of play even as their managers and playing staff have rotated. I've see a few people tipping them for the drop this season, but even though they ran it close last season I don't see it happening.

The main challenge for Leeds this season will be the loss of two key players in Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha. This is no easy task, but Tyler Adams looks a promising Phillips replacement so far, while the hope is that Brenden Aaronson will be able to grow into that attacking threat Raphinha used to offer. While some transition is to be expected, there is still some pretty good talent in this Leeds side. Rodrigo is genuinely one of the better forwards in the league, and he will be pivotal to their chances. 

This is a dangerous side that can cause problems for any other on their day, the question will be whether they can address their fragility at the back. New signing Rasmus Kristensen could end up being the acquisition that most influences their fate over the next 9 months, for if he can bring some stability to this backline then you would think this Leeds side have a good chance of finishing safe.

Key Signing: Rasmus Kristensen
Key Man: Rodrigo
Verdict: May fall into the relegation battle, but if new signings can gel I would expect them to achieve a safe midtable finish.

Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Capacity: 32,261
Last season: 8th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
It is perhaps unsurprising that Leicester have failed to live up to their billing following that remarkable title win. Each season it seems expectations are raised and on paper you can see why. This is a very solid squad with all the foundations for success. Yet, following another bland 8th place finish and with almost all of the golden age squad now departed, the question remains will they finally make that push into European contention, or slink back into midtable safety.

It's baffling then, that the club has shown little apparent interest in rebuilding and strengthening. At the time of writing, their only signing has been a new backup goalkeeper. It's perplexing, especially as questions remain as to the status of so many key players. Fofana may yet leave to Chelsea, Tielemans may move to Arsenal and Jamie Vardy, great though he is, will turn 36 this season. 

To be fair, there is still a core of very good players here. Those mentioned above (if they remain fit and at the club) as well as James Maddison, Daka, Iheanacho, Perez and others. But each season that the club do not strengthen, they weaken, especially with their rivals spending huge amounts on new talent. So while I am not going to suggest that Leicester have a potential relegation fight on their hands, I still think this could be a difficult season for them that sees them once again fail to meet their targets.

Key Signing: N/A
Key Man: Jamie Vardy
Verdict: A tough season awaits that could see the club slump into the lower half of the table.

Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
As ever in recent seasons, expectations are high at Liverpool. It is a given that this club will be in contention for honours and remain the closest challenger to Manchester City's imperious array of talent. Yet, there is the odd whiff of stagnation about this team.

Sadio Mané has been a big, underappreciated part of this club's success in recent years and his departure to Bayern Munich will come as a blow. Darwin Nunez is ostensibly the man who will slot into his role following a fantastic season at Benfica, but is unproven at this level. Transfer business this summer has otherwise been minimal, although there's some buzz around the signing of youngster Fabio Carvalho. 

The core of this team otherwise remains the same. Alisson is a top level goalkeeper, Trent Alexander-Arnold an excellent wingback, Virgil van Dijk one of the best defenders of his generation, and of course Mo Salah, probably the best footballer in the world right now. 

Liverpool will be up there, but I do feel that they haven't done enough to up their level to challenge City this season, whereas their main title rival has done plenty to strengthen, as we will see.

Key Signing: Darwin Nunez
Key Man: Mo Salah
Verdict: There or thereabouts.

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,017
Last season: Champions
Manager: Pep Guardiola

While they may have missed out once again on that elusive European title, Manchester City's domestic dominance last season says everything you need to know. This is still very much the team to beat and one of the few teams unquestionably in the hunt for the title this season.

Pre-season, all the talk has been about the new man Erling Haaland. Haaland has long been tipped as one of the key players of his generation, and a future Ballon d'Or contender. Considering one of City's few weak spots last season was the lack of an Aguero replacement up front, Haaland could well be the missing piece of the puzzle that finally makes them genuine Champions League contenders.

The rest of the squad is, of course, still great.. They boast an embarrassment of riches in defence and attack with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker and many others. The fact that they have players like Nathan Aké, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva not even guaranteed a starting place makes clear just how deep a squad they have. 

While European success is undoubtedly at the forefront of the club's minds, the opportunity to make domestic history won't have escaped their notice. Should City win the title again this year, which they could well do, they would become one of only two clubs (the other being Man Utd) in the Premier League era to win three titles in a row, and one of only four (Liverpool, Arsenal and... err... Huddersfield) in the entirety of English top flight history to do so.

Key Signing: Erling Haaland
Key Man: Kevin de Bruyne
Verdict: Title favourites.

Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 74,879
Last season: 6th
Manager: Erik ten Hag
How do you fix a problem like Manchester United. The post-Ferguson era has been a series of false dawns as a precession of the game's brightest managers have tried and failed to find success. The latest is Erik ten Hag, the man who revolutionised Ajax and restored their place as one of Europe's big clubs, and he's got a heck of a job on his hands.

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly is the problem with this club. They have endless resources, name brand recognition, and some of the most highly regarded talent both on and off the pitch. Yet they consistently disappoint. These defenders are all good players individually, but there is no one organising the back line. Cristiano Ronaldo is still a good player despite his advancing years, but his presence in the team sucks all the air out of the room. His supporting cast all face their own issues: Martial's injury woes, Sancho's failure to thrive in the Premier League, Rashford's lack of progress. Even star man Bruno Fernandes has never really lived up to the potential shown in his first half season.

It's been a quiet, yet deliberate summer of transfer activity for the club. The signing of Christian Eriksen on a free is great business, while Lisandro Martinez should also improve the squad. The club has also shipped out a lot of the dead wood and aging benchwarmers, which can only have a positive impact. Despite this, much more needs to be done before United can once again trouble the top of the table.

Key Signing: Christian Eriksen
Key Man: Bruno Fernandes
Verdict: A club in transition that don't look ready for prime time.

Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,305
Last season: 11th
Manager: Eddie Howe

Exciting times for Newcastle United. After all the years of drama and discord, Mike Ashley has actually gone and the club finds itself under new owners. The new boss comes with deep pockets and plenty of ambition. Is this a false dawn or the start of big things for the Toon?

Despite all the hype, the new regime's approach to squad building has been more careful and measured than one might have expected. No flashy big-money strikers, plenty of solid, pragmatic spine. Nick Pope is an excellent signing in goal, while Botman and Targett add grit to the defensive line. 

This squad could certainly use some more attacking threat, with Allan Saint-Maximin still very much the key to their offensive hopes. Callum Wilson is as solid as ever, but beyond those two depth is quite thin. Further back, however, they look solid, with the reinvented midfield general Joelinton the beating heart of a team that will take some beating.

For the first time in a long while, the future looks bright for Newcastle, but don't expect too much too soon.

Key Signing: Nick Pope
Key Man: Joelinton
Verdict: Should have a solid season, perhaps push into the top half.


Nickname: The Reds
Ground: City Ground
Capacity: 30,445
Last season: Promoted (Playoff)
Manager: Steve Cooper
Here's one for nostalgic football fans. A former giant of a football club with a storied history, Nottingham Forest have nevertheless found themselves looking in from the outside since their relegation in 1999. The new owners have high ambitions as they seek to re-establish the reds as a player in the English top flight, but in truth they will do well to stay up.

No one can say they aren't giving it a go, however, and Forest have added no fewer than 14 players to their squad over the summer for a reported combined outlay close to £150 million, including £42 million spent on Wolves' Morgan Gibbs-White and £17 million on Taiwo Awoniyi, whose return of a goal every other game in the Bundesliga last season was very impressive. But the most significant of the bunch may end up being the shrewd free transfer of Jesse Lingard, an ephemeral if undoubtedly talented player who brings some much needed top flight experience.

They need it too, because the squad that won Forest promotion is worryingly low on experience of playing in the country's biggest league. Even at the Championship level last season their backline was often considered shaky and their depth of attacking options looks thin, even with the new signings. It will be interesting to see how Forest's core of young talent step up to the big time. Players like Welsh international Brennan Johnson and Ryan Yates are unproven but with plenty of upside potential. If Forest are going to surprise a few people, it may come from those kinds of players.

Key Signing: Jesse Lingard
Key Man: Brennan Johnson
Verdict: Romanticism notwithstanding, Forest face a tough fight for survival.

Nickname: Saints
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Capacity: 32,690
Last season: 15th
Manager: Ralph Hasenhüttl
For a club with so much perennial potential, Southampton have been moving sideways for a number of years now. Any time they look like they might be building a team to push up the table, that talent gets poached by a bigger club. Not enough has been done to replace outgoing key players, and the result is a team that is more miss than hit.

That lack of goal threat up front could come back to bite them this season. Instead, the Saints will be counting on their new recruits bolstering the midfield and backline to bring some additional spine. In particular, the signing of Manchester City hot prospect Romeo Lavia will be a tantalising prospect on the south coast. Rumour has it that City have insisted on a buyback clause, so hotly tipped is Lavia.

Of their current playing staff, it is clear who stands out. A box-to-box midfielder and deadly set piece taker, James Ward-Prowse is the captain and just about everything in this team runs through him. His midfield will be productive, but without a proven top flight goalscorer up front, there's only so much that productivity can achieve.

They aren't much discussed when it comes to the relegation battle, but in truth Southampton only just managed to stay up last season. I could easily see them being dragged down into that fray again this season.

Key Signing: Romeo Lavia
Key Man: James Ward-Prowse
Verdict: In real peril of relegation if Hasenhüttl can't achieve greater stability.

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Capacity: 62,850
Last season: 4th
Manager: Antonio Conte
What a difference a year can make. It's been years of post-Pochettino stagnation, with even the great Jose Mourinho unable to coax some life from this side of perennial underachievers. This year, however, that may finally be about to change. Antonio Conte is at the reins, and his side are tipped for big things.

There's a few reasons why expectations are suddenly so high. Firstly, there's the manager himself. Antonio Conte is one of the best in the game, known for getting the best out of any assortment of players. If these players have talent, he will get it from them. Second is the side itself, which is shaping up to be quite excellent on paper. Harry Kane, of course, needs to introduction, but lately it's been the man Son Heung-Min who has set the imaginatively named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium alight. If those two are on form, then Spurs can boast one of the finest attacks in Europe.

Tottenham have also recruited well over the summer, something for which they have been criticised in past years. The acquisition of Richarlison from Everton is clearly a headline move, the Brazilian long tipped as a star of the future. But particularly intriguing is the signing of Ivan Perišić from Inter. The Croatian may be 33 years of age now, but he brings with him vast experience and the ability to play anywhere up or down the flank.

If I am honest, I think the hype over Tottenham is excessive. This is a good side with a great manager who should get into the top four, but any talk of the title is very premature. They need far greater depth all across the board before we can even consider such a thing.

Key Signing: Ivan Perišić
Key Man: Son Heung-Min
Verdict: A strong top four contender, but unlikely to trouble the big two.

Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 7th
Manager: David Moyes

It's a good time to be a West Ham fan. David Moyes, it is safe to say, has simply blown past all expectations in recent seasons with very credible 6th and 7th place finishes. Can they build on this and establish themselves as a "best of the rest" club in English football, or will they fade away as so many others have before?

There is a good solid core to this team. Fabianski has been solid in goal, behind a rock solid defence of Cresswell, Coufal, and Kurt Zouma. It is still Declan Rice in the heart of the midfield who is the essential man in this side, pulling the strings and dominating everywhere. 

The problem in recent years has been up front. Michail Antonio is a handful, but not prolific enough for a club of this stature and with little depth behind him. This summer's transfer activity may remedy this long-standing weakness, however, with the arrival of Gianluca Scamacca. The former Sassuolo man has shown a knack for goal, despite being just 23 years of age. 

Like Tottenham, I feel this is a club that has a habit of being overhyped. I've seen some pundits talking of a top four challenge, which will categorically not happen this season. Frankly, I wonder if enough has been done to deepen the squad, particularly in attacking midfield. This side has performed well recently, but with their rivals strengthening around them, they may find themselves slipping down the table without further recruitment.

Key Signing: Gianluca Scamacca
Key Man: Declan Rice
Verdict: A solid, if less inspiring season seems likely, with a midtable finish.

Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 32,050
Last season: 10th
Manager: Bruno Lage

One of the more interesting clubs to watch in recent years. Formerly a Big Club™ as recently as the mid 20th Century, buoyed in recent years by a wave of foreign investment. Their first few seasons upon returning to the Premier League bade well for the future, a few statement-of-intent signings leading to creditable performances and contention for European qualification. Since then, however, it hasn't exactly panned out as hoped, with two midtable finishes in the past two seasons and an overriding sense that things have gone off the boil to an extent.

Wolves remain a club blessed with resources and hold the ambition of pushing into the top six. In practice, this will be easier said than done. Ruben Neves remains a classy player, but otherwise this is a playing squad that looks diminished from what it was just a few years ago. Goals have continued to be a major issue, and much of the club's hopes may rest on how well new striker  Hwang Hee-chan settles into the Premier League. The signing of Nathan Collins at the back will also provide some a needed boost to a squad that had struggled with just three centre backs for much of last season.
Those ambitions will need to wait, and with their rivals strengthening all around them this could be a tricky season for Wolves. I don't think they are in danger of any kind of existential threat, but I could easily see them sliding down the table this season.

Key Signing: Hwang Hee-chan
Key Man: Ruben Neves
Verdict: Without further reinforcements will struggle.

Predicted table:
1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Arsenal
4. Tottenham
5. Chelsea
6. Manchester United
7. Aston Villa
8. Newcastle
9. Brighton
10. Crystal Palace
11. West Ham United
12. Leicester
13. Leeds
14. Wolverhampton Wanderers
15. Everton
16. Brentford
17. Fulham
18. Bournemouth
19. Southampton
20. Nottingham Forest

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Are you surrounded by water? Is the sun shining? Does the year end in an odd number? No... but, let's pretend that it does. It can only mean one thing. It's time for the Biennale!

ephemeric venice biennale 2022 art
Every two years, or three in this most unusual of circumstances, the Venetian Lagoon becomes the centre of the artistic community for six months. Quite why it was determined that the intense lagoonal humidity made an ideal setting for enjoying fine art in large crowds is lost to time, but it doesn't matter. All the big names in the world of art are here. So, after a late morning cicchetti and a quick vaporetto from the Zattere, we find ourselves at the Arsenale.

Superyachts line the canal as we approach the Giardini. Every corner of this town is burnished with special exhibitions and installations during this period, but it is here that one finds the main event: the national pavilions, permanent structures owned and managed by each of the participating nations, each housing the representative artist chosen by that nation's ministry of culture. 

There is much to see, more than can reasonably be done justice here. These are the highlights of what La Serenissima has to offer this year.

Republic of Korea

venice biennale korea 2022

Top of everyone's must see list at the 2022 Biennale is the Korean pavilion, exhibiting the work of Yunchil Kim. It's easy to see why, comprising a dazzling array of creations and machines that harmoniously blend the mechanical and biological. The centrepiece is Gyre (pictured), an undulating, mechanical snake-like contraption covered with articulated panels of iridescent fluid that honestly needs to be seen in motion to be appreciated. Other installations include a chandelier of liquid canisters, pistons and tubules that pumps Venetian water, a cascading tower of lights that reacts to subatomic particles, and a kaleidoscopic series of light-bending panels that uses special lenses to create a beautiful pattern effect around the movement of fluids. Korea's pavilion is a marvel both of engineering and aesthetics, a room of living, breathing sculptures that is everything a Biennale installation should be.


france biennale venice 2022

Taking a very different approach is Zineb Sedira's French pavilion. An ode to the activist filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, the pavilion is transformed into a film set, an editing room and a screening room, with cameras even set up to allow guests to briefly appear on screen. As an immersive setting, this is quite interesting to explore, albeit somewhat undermined by the many thousands of other Biennale guest cluttering all of the show spaces, occupying what interactive elements exist.


malta biennale venice 2022

Another one that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, Malta representatives Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and Brian Schembri have created an installation that utilises induction technology to create a shower of molten steel droplets falling into cold water, before hissing and fizzling out of existence. This is, believe it or not, intended to be a kinetic reimagining of Caravaggio's The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. As a visual effect it is quite eye catching and oddly haunting, although I wonder if it would still be so without the ominous music playing over the room's speaker system.


venice biennale hungary 2022

This one you either love or hate. In this solo exhibition, Zsófia Keresztes uses tile mosaics to create some truly unique images. Moulded surrealist sculptures with an organic feel to them representing metamorphosis of the body. It's like someone tried to bring the imagery of Dali and Kafka to life in a Gaudi-esque form. Some people react with revulsion, others with fascination. In either case it's certainly worth seeing.


venice biennale austria 2022

With Austria's pavilion, Karola Kraus explores body consciousness through the imagery and tastes of our pop cultural history, drawing on the aesthetics of television, fashion and music to create a psychedelic dreamscape that. For something a bit lighter and more ironic, this is worth a look, as well as for its clear visual charm.


venice biennale uzbekistan 2022

Uzbekistan's pavilion is likely to fly under the radar somewhat, due in part to its location away from the main event space in the Giardini, but their Garden of Knowledge, created by Charlie Tapp and Abror Zufarov stands out to me as one of the more visually memorable spectacles. Floral sculptures and a fully reflective stainless steel floor create the illusion of walking on water in this most serene exhibition space (no shoes allowed though). There is something sublimely refreshing about this room, so long as you can get over the immediate sense of vertigo one gets from looking down.


venice biennale italy 2022

No round up of the different national pavilions can be complete without a mention of the home-team, Italy. By far the largest exhibition space, Gian Maria Tosatti has used the pavilion to reflect on the state of the nation and economic ennui. Divided into two sections, the first allows guests to explore a series of dusty warehouses filled with disused machinery and operational spaces, evoking the economic depression and stagnation that has become endemic. "The rise and fall of the Italian industrial dream". The second then turns to the balance of humanity and nature with "the destiny of comets", a dimly lit space filled with harsh, mechanical sounds astride a seemingly endless corridor of water, with the only visual landmark a series of moving, twinkling lights. Obtuse? Sure, but interesting.

The Central Pavilion

venice biennale central pavilion 2022

Of course, no visit to Biennale is complete without seeing the central pavilion, an expansive gallery space that features hundreds of different artists spread across multiple buildings. There's something for everyone, from fluorescing flowers to digitised cosplay that expertly blends computer and practical effects to create scenes that become difficult to separate reality from imagination. Precious Okoyomon has turned one gallery space into an expansive butterfly garden. Bogota-based artist Delcy Morelos turns another into maze of soil and farming equipment as a representation of cocoa and cinnamon farms. Most bizarrely, one room consists of a giant strange of what looks like human hair that fills the room. This one made me uncomfortable, not going to lie. The content here doesn't always succeed, but there's enough spectacle and ambition to justify the price of entry and make for an entertaining day out.


venice biennale other anish kapoor 2022

But Biennale extends far beyond the boundaries of Giardini and the Arsenale and worthwhile exhibitions can be found all over Venice. My pick this year was British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, known for his ambitious, often surreal installations. This year he has taken up space in his own workshop at Palazzo Manfrin, as well as some gallery space at the Gallerie dell'Accademia. There are some old Kapoor favourites here. His wax catapult (unfortunately inactive here), his room of mirrors, and all manner of mind-bending optical illusions including recessed carvings that look to be floating and sculptures that appear 2D from some angles and 3D from others. Always worth a look.

So there you have a whistle-stop tour of this year's Biennale. This is, of course just a sample of all that there is to see around town this year. But for now, I need to find a place to cool off with a drink and some gelato. See you in two years' time!

Saturday, 18 June 2022

So much noteworthy new music, so little time. Looking for a new jam? I hear you buddy. The summer is now upon us, and as such we will be doing the Spring Music Round-Up, a rough and ready summary of some of the most interesting new releases of the recent past.

Specifically we will be looking at the new albums from Arcade Fire, Father John Misty, Beach House, and Kavinsky. Let's dive right in.

"We - Arcade Fire" Album Review
Genre Rock

arcade fire we new album 2022We represents something of a comeback for Montreal alternative rockers Arcade Fire. That is not to say that their last album, Everything Now was bad, but when your discography to-date consists almost entirely of seminal, genre-defining records, expectations can be high.

If We doesn't quite achieve the heights of albums like Neon Bible or The Suburbs, it is definitely a step in the right direction, musically. My biggest criticism of Everything Now was that it seemed to be an album that put its concept on too great a pedestal, at the expense of the music. We, by contrast, is more melodic, more sincere in its songwriting. This is still Arcade Fire, so of course it is going to be political and full of social commentary. But for the first time in years, Arcade Fire seem to have tapped into that multi-instrumental musical talent that made their early work so iconic. Prime example being Lightning I, II, a song that sounds like it could easily have come from a Funeral-era Arcade Fire album.

Ostensibly written as a reaction to the pandemic and the current state of detachment we feel from society, to the extent that the album is even structured as two separate segments, I and We. It's possible that We may be trying too hard to be loved. The lyrics are clunky and lacking in subtlety, a complaint in common with their previous album. A great example of this is End of the Empire I-III, not a bad song by any means, but one which gets its point across in a rather artless and obvious fashion.

There is plenty to enjoy with We, and certainly you are unlikely to find a more ambitious rock album in 2022. But while the music is memorable, conceptually this album still feels like a bit of an imitation of Arcade Fire's more celebrated work.

"Chloë and the next 20th Century - Father John Misty" Album Review
Genre Jazz-folk

father john misty chloe and the next 20th century new album 2022Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, has had quite a journey in recent years. From the side project of a Fleet Foxes band member, to hipster darling, to bona fide superstar. 

Tillman shows no sign of slowing his roll here, with Chloë and the next 20th Century, an ambitious genre-mash of an album that sees Tillman blend his usual folk stylings with some vintage-flavoured jazz and big-band. 

With Father John Misty, Tillman has always walked a fine line in songwriting between being brutal and raw, versus arch and satirical. He finds himself in funny form again here with dense and witty lyrics that meld the music's ostensibly mid-century trappings with contemporary subject matter; issues of race, women's rights, classism.

The vibrant Hollywood trappings make for an easy listen throughout, but particular mention needs to be made of the opening track Chloë, a delightful Cole Porter-esque jaunt about unrequited love, or the luscious Funny Girl. But if there is one standout track it has to be Q4, an irony-laced critique of the art-for-profit industry that skips along with its rolling harpsichord track.

It all reminds us of why we love Father John Misty and his music. The comedy, the tragedy, it's all here and with new musical experimentations, inventively composed. Definitely not one to miss.

"Once Twice Melody - Beach House" Album Review
Genre Dream-Pop

beach house once twice melody 2022 new albumBaltimore dream-pop duo Beach House are a band that have achieved a fair amount of notoriety in the indie music scene over the past decade. Known for their easy listening style and lush, intimate soundscapes, Beach House has followed in the well-worn tracks of those that came before, like a Stars, Broken Social Scene or Au Revoir Simone for the 2010s. They've had some hits. They've always been a pleasant, inoffensive group. With new album Once Twice Melody, Beach House are launching themselves into the stratosphere.

Once Twice Melody is their grandest vision yet. Bold, epic and "big" from the very first track. The music retains their dreamy, ambient style but with an added drive that allows the music to sink its teeth into the listener in a way that their earlier work rarely did. It's a work of far greater ambition that we've seen to date and one that establishes them firmly among the upper echelons of musicians working today.

Divided into four parts with 18 tracks total, this is also a longer album that we are used to seeing from bands in recent years. Yet it never feels long, so consistent is the stream of strong, memorable tracks. The duo of title track Once Twice Melody and Superstar is an opening salvo that any band would envy, and it follows quickly with RunawayOver and Over, and possibly the most impressive track on the album, New Romance. It's a remarkable string of music.

This is an album worth listening to, with great tracks, great variety, and consistency throughout. Top notch work and another reminder of why this band is so highly regarded.

"Reborn - Kavinsky" Album Review
Genre Synthwave

kavinsky reborn new album 2022 outrun zenithThere aren't many artists who can be credited with having invented a genre. But while it would be a stretch to say that Kavinsky truly invented the synthwave genre (he still owes much to his French House forebears, notably Daft Punk) his music has so come to typify the genre that the name of his first album, Outrun, is often used as an umbrella term for music and other media connected with this aesthetic.

For a while, it looked as though Kavinsky would take the iconic status of his debut and ride off into the digitised sunset (Outrun came out almost a decade ago at this point). But in recent years he had been teasing a return and in 2022 that has finally come to fruition with the release of Reborn

Fans of Kavinsky will certainly recognise the staples: a slickly produced paean to the music and film of the 1980s, cinematic in scope and content. But while Reborn is clear on its influences, it is by no means stuck in the past; often experimental in form and with a digital quality that is as futuristic as anything in the genre. 

But where Kavinsky's debut felt like a relentless livewire of energy, Reborn often feels somewhat more measured. The sound is fuller and more polished, but also slower and more introspective, sometimes bordering on balladic. At its finest moments, Reborn dazzles, but at other times it can come off as surprisingly bland and mainstream. Certainly there is nothing wrong with an artist trying to evolve his style, but Reborn is still very much at its best when it captures that energy, as with lead single Renegade and title track Reborn.

But the absolute highlight of this album is Zenith. Billed as a spiritual sequel to Kavinsky's most famous hit, Nightcall, this is the one track above all others that manages to successfully marry the new introspective approach with the wild exuberance of Outrun. An instant classic of brooding intensity and white hot saxophone solo. 

Kavinsky returns in strong form and with a level of polish that leaves us excited for what the future holds. While the album as a whole may not leave the indelible mark of its predecessor, it does contain some absolutely fantastic tracks that are not to be missed.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Another doozy of a season in the record books, which means it is time for The Ephemeric's traditional end of season review. We had drama, tension and last minute twists, but who did what and which players caught our eye? Read on to find out.

premier league 2021 manchester city champions klopp pep guardiola tuchel lampard chelsea ephemeric european super league
The 2021/22 season kept us in suspense right up until the final whistle, but in the end it is another title for well-funded Manchester City, a title that may seem something of a consolation prize for a team still eluded by the European glory they so crave. For runners up Liverpool, however, it is a tale of oh-so-near. Having been within a realistic shout of an unprecedented quadruple just days ago, they instead need to settle for the two domestic cups, neither of which, it has to be said, were claimed all that convincingly. The tale of English football's top clubs is rounded out by Chelsea who, while injury crisis prevented them from sustaining a title push, did manage to end the season as Champions of the World and with another Super Cup to boot. 

Now we head into the next season with so many tantalising plotlines to follow. Have Tottenham finally got it right with Antonio Conte? Can Erik ten Hag work his magic and find a way to turn Man United's cast of disparate starlets into a cohesive unit? What does the future hold for Chelsea in a post-Abramovich world? The Premier League remains football's most exciting competition, and we are already looking forward to next season.

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 2022:

Winners: Manchester City 

Relegated: Burnley, Watford, Norwich 

Player of the Year: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Arguably the best player in football today. Salah topped both the goals and assists table and remains the essential player of one of the world's best sides.

U-21 Player of the Year: Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace) - A competitive year for this prize. On another day I could easily have awarded this to Reece James or Phil Foden, but in the end it is the Crystal Palace loanee that has most impressed. To make his Premier League debut and immediately exert such influence and poise is a remarkable accomplishment and hopefully the beginning of a very strong career.

Best Goalkeeper: Alisson (Liverpool) - The most clean sheets, and just a constant presence in this Liverpool defence. Alisson just seems to have every attribute a keeper needs.

Top Scorer: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) & Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) (23) 

Most Assists: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) (13) 

Manager of the Year: Antonio Conte (Tottenham) - For years Tottenham have seemed like a club adrift, consistent only in their underachievement, even under the stewardship of some top level managers. In Conte it seems the club may finally have found someone with the will to elevate these players and finally achieve some level of consistent results.

Best signing of the season: Luis Diaz (Liverpool) 

Worst signing of the season: Dele Alli (Everton) 

The Ephemeric Premier League Team of the Season 2022:

english epl bpl premier league best team xi of the season 2021
A surprisingly difficult XI to pick this year. Alisson in goal picks himself, along with the league's two standout players Salah and Son, but for every other position there were at least two or three players who could have made a credible claim to be in this team. 

The inclusion of Reece James over Trent Alexander-Arnold may raise a few eyebrows, but quite frankly it shouldn't. TAA has shown himself time and time again to be shaky at the back (as we saw this past weekend to tragic effect), while James has been arguably Chelsea's most rock-solid defender, to the extent that he has often played at centre-half. James' attacking talents are also underappreciated, the fact that he has a higher combined goals and assists tally than TAA despite being injured half the season says everything. Trent is a fantastic footballer, but Reece James, when fit, was arguably among the league's best players this season.

Harry Kane is another who seems to have flown under the radar, possibly as a result of Son stealing the headlines. While it is true that Kane has had a quiet season by his standards, the statistics don't lie. 17 league goals and 9 assists, a very formidable tally by anyone's standards. Kane remains one of the most dependable attacking talents in world football.

Then there is Kevin de Bruyne, the Premier League's official player of the year. His pick over the likes of Salah and Son may be questionable, but there is no denying that he is a world class talent and the beating heart of a very good Manchester City side. I choose a tantalising central midfield for this XI with the marauding creative talents of De Bruyne and Mount (fun, underappreciated fact: only two players in the Premier League had a greater combined goals/assists than Mount) playing off a Declan Rice fulcrum. 

Completing the defence with the standout players of the league's most miserly defences seems like a no-brainer.

So there we have it, another season of Premier League football gone by. We'll see you again next season!

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Directed by Rupert Goold
Written by Mike Bartlett
Starring Bertie Carvel, Tamara Tunie, Lydia Wilson
Theatre Old Vic

47 47th old vic donald ivanka trump biden kamala harris theatre 2022 bertie carvel charles
Even though his time in office has come to an end, it's clear that it will take some time for the world to shake the spectre of the 45th President from its collective consciousness. This fixation comes not just from a place of revulsion, but fascination. There are many out there who still yearn to understand, not just the man, but his following. How could such a person command a fervent and loyal base of support from so many? How could his reprehensible ideas and obvious nonsense find any measure of resonance, not just among the uninformed, but in some cases the intelligent and powerful? For all his controversies and corruption, Donald Trump remains a mystery that compels interest in even those who stand against him. The 47th indulges that fascination and in doing so crafts some superb entertainment, without ever really providing any deep new insights.

Politics makes for great theatre and indeed this is far from the first look at the 45th President that has graced the London stage. But politics can be tricky to get right, particularly when the subject matter is so current. Writer Mike Bartlett, fortunately, has a record of doing political theatre well. His most recent original West End show, Albion, made for an astute and memorable Brexit parable. But the 47th shares most of its DNA with what is arguably Bartlett's most notable work to date, King Charles III

King Charles III envisioned the succession of the British monarchy to a more politically inclined Charles interpreted as a Shakespearean court drama, even going so far as to be penned in blank verse. The 47th pulls much the same trick, imagining instead the succession to the Trump dynasty amid a hypothetical third run for office. But where King Charles III was a fairly straight-faced homage to Shakespeare, The 47th mostly uses those influences to comic effect, relishing the contrast between the stately Shakespearean form of language and the contemporary crudeness of Trump and his circle. Hearing these characters lace an eloquent monologue with inelegance and references to the likes of Selling Sunset and Lin Manuel Miranda is inherently humorous. In an odd way, Trump's nonsequitious manner of diction fits well with this style. His constant asides and tangents are reminiscent, as indeed the play itself notes at one point, of Shakespearean characters playing to an audience during a monologue.

If King Charles III was an homage, The 47th often feels more like a pastiche. Rather than simply being a modern play in the classical style, the plot here lifts heavily from specific plays, with very clear lifting of narratives and characters from the likes of King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III and Julius Caesar. Trump's offspring vying for his patronage, Joe Biden's fretful sleepwalking, Ivanka Trump's machiavellian scheming, even some directly borrowed dialogue ("for Ted Cruz is an honourable man"). Where Bartlett saw serious Shakespearean drama in the succession to Elizabeth II, here he sees pomposity and self-aggrandisement ripe for the mocking. 

If it is perhaps all a bit too knowing and wry, it's hugely entertaining, Bertie Carvel's swaggering performance in particular. But aside from tantalising brief glimpses into the psyche of Trump himself offers little in the way of fresh insight as to the movement or people behind him. The depiction of public unrest and insurrection inspired by Trump feels more like a retelling of the January 6th attempted coup than any kind of prophecy, right down to the lifting of imagery from that day (the buffalo-horned shaman even makes an appearance). The 47th depicts vast masses of people enthralled by conspiracy theories and lies without ever really asking why. It reminds us of the threat Trump poses to democracy, but doesn't really extrapolate further from that point in the way that King Charles III did. 

Where The 47th does ask compelling questions is in how far one can go in order to defend what is right and just. As Trumpism ravages the nation in carnage and chaos, those who stand against him are faced with the dilemma of how to counteract his movement. Continue to play by the rules and likely lose out to his dirty tactics, or compromise your principles and lower yourself to his level. It presents a sort of Faustian dilemma wherein whichever choice you make, you lose. Either maintain your ideals and lose the fight, or win the fight but in doing so validate the anarchic worldview you stand against.
The show ends with the sting in the tail that posits Ivanka may be the more dangerous Trump, similar to King Charles III's final act depiction of Kate Middleton. But whereas King Charles III fully demonstrated Kate's ruthless ambition and machiavellian scheming, that really isn't felt in this instance. We see Ivanka briefly demonstrate her political nous, before being largely overpowered by her father's chaotic whims. We don't really see anything to suggest that she has that capability, so this parting message rings somewhat hollow.

The 47th is an immaculately presented piece of theatre marked by a spellbinding central performance. But much like its subject matter, it is gaudy and designed to elicit a visceral reaction, rather than a true exploration.

Sunday, 27 March 2022


oscars 86th academy awards 2014
Welcome back to The Ephemeric. It's that time of year again where this blog astounds you with its super accurate Oscar predictions. Ideally I would have liked to post this last week, but unfortunately it has been about four months since I have been able to get away from work. Instead, we will need to make do with what is a very last minute effort! Think I'm exaggerating? Look up last year's post, this paragraph was copied word for word. It's not laziness, that's how short of time I am!

This year I find myself in the unfamiliar position of actually agreeing with most of the likely winners. Looking at the predictions below, it's only the two big ones with which I take issue. Whether that is a sign of one or two particularly strong frontrunners or a generally weak roster I will leave for interpretation. So take a gander at the list below, an idea perhaps of who is likely to come away with a statue from this year's ceremony.

Best Picture

  • Belfast – Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas
  • CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger
  • Don't Look Up – Adam McKay and Kevin Messick
  • Drive My Car – Teruhisa Yamamoto
  • Dune – Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve and Cale Boyter
  • King Richard – Tim White, Trevor White and Will Smith
  • Licorice Pizza – Sara Murphy, Adam Somner and Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Nightmare Alley – Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale and Bradley Cooper
  • The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier
  • West Side Story – Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger
And the winner: CODA
Who should really win: Belfast
Explanation: This awards season has shaped up to be a two-horse race between CODA and The Power of the Dog, the latter of which had generally been considered the presumptive favourite. There are many reasons to think that CODA will fall short: the lack of below-the-line nominations, (a travesty in and of itself) its early 2021 release date, the lack of a big name filmmaker and its relatively modest awards-season campaign efforts. Despite this, CODA has gone to pick up two of the three biggest and most predictive pre-Oscar awards, the Producers' Guild Award for best film and Screen-Actors Guild Award for best cast (the other major award, the Directors' Guild Award for best director, went to The Power of the Dog). For this reason, plus the fact that, you know, CODA is a vastly superior film to The Power of the Dog, I am going to go with CODA for the win. As to which film should win. CODA is an excellent film and a deserved winner, but I still contend that the peak of 2021 cinema was Belfast, an absolutely masterful and impeccably produced picture.

Best Director

  • Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
  • Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car
  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
  • Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
  • Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
And the winner: Jane Campion - The Power of the Dog
Who should really win: Kenneth Branagh - Belfast
Explanation: Jane Campion was always going to be a strong contender for this prize. She is one of those beloved and highly technically adept filmmakers that the Academy loves to celebrate. Having already won the DGA award for best director, she is basically a lock here. But I think there's more to directing than just slick cinematography (after all, that is why there is a separate award for best cinematography). The handiwork of a great director can be seen in everything, from the staging, the attention to background detail, to the choreography of the actors. I think you rarely see a film where every detail has been so masterfully crafted as with Kenneth Branagh's Belfast. He would be my pick for this prize.

Best Actor

  • Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos as Desi Arnaz
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog as Phil Burbank
  • Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick... Boom! as Jonathan Larson
  • Will Smith – King Richard as Richard Williams
  • Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth as Lord Macbeth
And the winner: Will Smith - King Richard as Richard Williams
Who should really win: Will Smith - King Richard as Richard Williams
Explanation: I feel bad for Andrew Garfield, who in any other year would have been in with a good shout for his musical-biographical turn in Tick, Tick... Boom! But this year it was only ever going to go to one person. Hollywood loves to reward lifetime achievement with its acting prizes. Will Smith has been around forever and has a number of nominations to his name at this point, there was always going to be a sense of "maybe it's his turn". But this is not some DiCaprio-esque coronation, Smith's performance in a complex and tonally challenging role is undoubtedly excellent. For my money, he just about edges it.

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye as Tammy Faye Bakker
  • Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter as Leda Caruso
  • Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers as Janis Martínez Moreno
  • Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos as Lucille Ball
  • Kristen Stewart – Spencer as Diana, Princess of Wales
And the winner: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye as Tammy Faye Bakker
Who should really win: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye as Tammy Faye Bakker
Explanation: Best actress is always a tricky one to call. The bigger films of the year still tend to focus on male protagonists (or perhaps those with male protagonists get better traction with the Academy, make of that what you will) and so these nominations tend to come from less widely distributed pictures. Nevertheless, the usual factors apply. Jessica Chastain now has three unsuccessful Oscar nominations to her name and has collected several of the big acting prizes already this year. I expect this will be her year.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Ciarán Hinds – Belfast as Pop
  • Troy Kotsur – CODA as Frank Rossi
  • Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog as George Burbank
  • J. K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos as William Frawley
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog as Peter Gordon
And the winnerTroy Kotsur – CODA as Frank Rossi
Who should really win: Troy Kotsur – CODA as Frank Rossi
Explanation: The main tools of an actor are his face and his voice. Conveying emotion without one of the two requires extraordinary skill and that is precisely what Troy Kotsur has demonstrated in CODA. Ciarán Hinds comes close, but it's difficult to see this award not going to Kotsur, especially if CODA ends up having a good night.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter as Young Leda Caruso
  • Ariana DeBose – West Side Story as Anita
  • Judi Dench – Belfast as Granny
  • Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog as Rose Gordon
  • Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard as Oracene "Brandy" Price 
And the winnerAriana DeBose – West Side Story as Anita
Who should really win: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story as Anita
Explanation: Ariana DeBose is having a bit of a moment. From bit-part player in Hamilton to a starring turn in AppleTV+'s hit musical series Schmigadoon, and now headlining a Spielberg picture. West Side Story may have been a qualified success, but one thing it did not lack was charisma in its second lead actress. DeBose is no longer just a star in the making and it seems to only be a matter of time before she becomes a household name.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Belfast – Kenneth Branagh
  • Don't Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
  • King Richard – Zach Baylin
  • Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
And the winnerDon't Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
Who should really win: Don't Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
Explanation: It may not have been especially subtle, but Don't Look Up is still clever, entertaining and deeply poignant, anchored by some very underrated performances (DiCaprio and Rylance in particular). This is one of those films that grows on you over time, and should be considered required watching in today's world.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • CODA – Sian Heder; based on the original motion picture screenplay La Famille Bélier written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Éric Lartigau
  • Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe; based on the short story by Haruki Murakami
  • Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth; based on the novel by Frank Herbert
  • The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal; based on the novel by Elena Ferrante
  • The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion; based on the novel by Thomas Savage
And the winner: CODA – Sian Heder; based on the original motion picture screenplay La Famille Bélier written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Éric Lartigau
Who should really win: CODA – Sian Heder; based on the original motion picture screenplay La Famille Bélier written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Éric Lartigau
Explanation: A lock if CODA has a good night, and perhaps even if it doesn't. Telling a story without words (for large portions of the film anyway), in a way that is compelling to audiences, is a remarkable accomplishment and a fine example of the artistry behind good screenwriting. CODA deserves this prize perhaps more than any other.

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars tonight, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! 

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