Euro 2016: England, the Knock-Outs and Player Ratings

England have finished second in their group to Wales, scoring three, conceding two, and I couldn’t be happier with the way we’ve played.

If there’s one thing that we’ve seen from England in Euro 2016 that we’ve rarely seen in the past decade, it’s a team that can keep possession of the ball.

Easy to do when the opposition aren’t pressing you for it, but it says a lot about England’s reputation now that teams are frightened to attack us.

Under Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006, we were a slow, lumbering team that could barely string three or four passes together before Beckham lumped it 40 yards up to lone-striker Crouch to knock down for the Ecuadorian defenders to easily collect.

Fabio Capello tried to implement the basis for a possession based team in 2010, but had neither the players suited to this nor the ability to create anything more than a snooze-fest of players content to take three touches each before rolling the ball sideways. Inevitably it would end up with Gerrard losing patience and hammering his fabled Hollywood diagonal balls out to touch.

Nevertheless, current manager Roy Hodgson, in his third attempt, has put together a group of players who not only can pass the ball about without giving it away, but don’t result in you losing the will to live whilst watching.

This isn’t tiki-taka, thank God. Unlike Spain in 2010 and 2012, this isn’t a defensive style of play for England. We don’t retain possession so that the other team can’t have the ball, boring the opposition into surrendering, and grinding out 1-0 wins all the way to the final.

Despite claims by Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, England are still showing the “passhun” that has often been a hammer to strike us with in the past. All passion with little quality dogged England teams post-98.

Our midfield as it stands after the first three games of Euro 2016 has shown a capability to shut out opposition counter-attacks before they really begin, whilst also playing out calmly with the ball-to-feet for our attacking players to surge forward.

There’s an enterprising style to England’s play. We’re able to patiently build up attacks, edging closer to goal without losing our heads. Alternatively, we can attack with pace from wide positions as our full-backs bomb on like a budget Cafu and Roberto Carlos on either flank. Our options even allow us to play through the middle, with midfielders Alli and Rooney driving forward, forcing defences deeper.

Despite qualifying with our 100% win record, and despite having the second youngest squad in the tournament, with the Premier League’s top scorer leading the line, this dark spectre of Tournaments Past looms ever large in the background.

Even if the opening group game felt that way, we are yet to lose a match. Snatching victory from the red, clawed, scaly clutches of the Wales game showed a resilience and doggedness not seen at all in the last Euros in Poland and Ukraine, nor as we crashed out of Brazil two years ago.

We may have only scored three goals in three games, with only two of those from open play, but this is the best that an England side have played at an international tournament since Euro 2004.

Fitting then that we might face Portugal in the knock-out stages on Monday evening should they finish second in group F. It will be a grudge match for the English as we were twice knocked out in succession by the Portuguese.

As the only team in that group not likely to crowd their own penalty area for the duration of the game with just one or two players as outlets, it will present a different challenge to England.

Russia, Wales and Slovakia effectively set themselves up against England not to lose, with one player taking on sole responsibility to cause England trouble (Dzyuba, Bale and Duda respectively). Iceland, Hungary and Austria would potentially pose similar problems for England with Sigurdsson, Arnautovic and Dzsudzsák their respective outlets.

As much as England have played well, they have found this style of opposition hard to penetrate. Portugal are more adventurous and unlike the final friendly where England won 1-0, they are unlikely to play in a similar manner. For a start, they are quite likely to keep all 11 players on the pitch, and as misfiring as he has been, they do have Ronaldo back in their squad, who will cause a nervy defence like ours all kinds of problems.

Gareth Bale’s attacking threat was successfully kept to a minimum in the Wales game, and England will take positives from that, looking to quash Ronaldo’s impetus in a similar manner.

England’s greatest concern will be trying to put the ball in the back of the net. I can’t help but feel that if we had a player like Michael Owen in the squad, this would not be a concern. However, if England just keep playing the way they have done so far, a place in the quarter-finals is not out of our grasp entirely.


Player Ratings after the group stage:

Joe Hart – Looked dodgy against Russia as the looping header sailed over his head in the 92nd minute. Looked really dodgy against Wales with his weak-wristed attempt to flap at Gareth Bales’s free-kick. Admittedly, Hart looked more comfortable yesterday against the 4-6-0 formation that Slovakia played, but given that he was required for only two shots on target by Hamsik and his team, that’s not surprising. The fact is, England’s first choice keeper could make a Robert Green sized gaffe and still his place as the undisputed number one would not be under threat. And let’s not get carried away with the criticism; he may not be Manuel Neuer or David de Gea, but he’s still a very good goaly. (6)
Fraser Forester – 
Not yet featured. (-)
Tom Heaton – 
Not yet featured. (-)

Kyle Walker – He’s essentially playing as a right midfielder as no team have dared to attack us in numbers yet. He’ doing well, but having little direct impact on results. Seems to prefer to play crosses into the box to feet, compared to… (7)
Nathaniel Clyne – …who likes to chuck balls into the box at head-height. I like Walker and would retain him as first choice, but Clyne did very well against Slovakia. Either could start in the last 16 and it would not make too much difference to our style of play or the outcome. From shoe-horning Wes Brown, Phil Jones and Jamie Carragher into the right-back position as cover for Glen Johnson, to having these two now vying for a starting berth, it is an enviable position for England to be in. (7)
Chris Smalling –
Partly at fault for not spotting the danger in the Russia game, plus an awful chested back-pass yesterday that could have cost us if the Slovakian forward was more alert. Otherwise, he’s looked our most dependable defender. However, it seems that there’s always one inevitable mistake lurking in each 90 minutes he plays for England. Fears over him playing as a left-sided centre-back have largely been quashed. Aside from a late header that surged just past the post from Bale, both he and Cahill both nullified the Wales counter-attack – arguably the only attacks they’ve had to deal with in the entire three games. (6)
Gary Cahill – Seems to be the defender whose responsibility is to bring the ball out of the back four, which shouldn’t be that surprising. He is the centre-half who scored a Brazil-like overhead kick against Birmingham whilst playing for Villa. He was much more assured against Slovakia whilst wearing the captain’s arm-band, but like most of our defence, still looks nervous at times. (6)
Danny Rose – Didn’t have a great game against Wales, but then he didn’t exactly play badly either. Like Walker and Clyne, he hasn’t really been tested defensively (mismatched Vasili Berezutski header aside) but attacking-wise, he’s penetrated and roamed with the freedom of the left-hand side without offering any significant threat to worry opposition defenders. (6)
Ryan Bertrand – Actually I have to confess that I preferred Bertrand to Rose before the pre-tournament friendlies. After his chance last night, I felt that he looked like a liability. Accidental as I’m sure it was, he was lucky that he didn’t get sent off for cracking Peter Pekarik’s nose in half with his elbow. A player supposedly more reliable in defence than Rose, it seems his greatest contribution is that he allowed the aforementioned to have a breather in this tightly packed schedule of games. (5)
John Stones –
Not yet featured. (-)

Eric Dier – The 22 year old has been our most consistent player – and arguably our best. He remains composed when England are hit by counter attacks; he’s calm in possession, has scored a great free-kick and even chipped in with a few dangerous-looking balls pinged forward too (which is more than any of his colleagues managed against Slovakia). The Spurs holding midfielder is the player that we’ve been lacking in the national side for the past decade. It’s the role that Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick (plus Hiddleston, Shelvey, Drinkwater, Gerrard, etc etc) have all tried to fill since Owen Hargreaves regrettably succumbed to his injuries. He makes everything tick when playing this formation and is the perfect cultured footballer to compliment the more attack-minded options around him. The real test of his abilities will come when we play a team who don’t camp in their own penalty box for 90 minutes, but so far, so bloody good. (8)
Adam Lallana – All effort and very little end product. This seems to be the story of his career. Unequivocally England’s most talented player with the ball at his ambipedic feet, but he never looks like scoring. Although that’s maybe rather harsh as creating chances rather than burying them is his forte. He created nearly 50 of them in the Premier League last season from less than 25 starts at Liverpool. It seems likely, given his impressive start at Euro 2016, that he’ll continue to be a key player for us. (7)
Wayne Rooney – All scepticism about Rooney operating in the “Scholes” role was put to bed in the opening game as he orchestrated many of our attacks against Russia in an impressive opening 45 minutes. Again, when up against a resolute Wales defence, he dictated play. Rotating him out of the squad for the Slovakia game was the right call, but he had little-to-no impact when coming from the bench. Whoever we play in the next round, he quite rightly deserves his starting midfield spot – more than most (including myself) would have given him before the tournament began. (7)
Dele Alli – Few bright spots in the tournament thus far, but that may be due to the system he’s employed in. Whilst Harry Kane looked an isolated figure up front against Russia, the formation was crying out for Alli to switch to a central role and link up play with his club teammate. As indeed happened for the final 15 minutes of that game where Alli looked his most effective in the entirety of the group stages. He hasn’t put a foot wrong yet, but by the same token, has failed to show his impressive Premier League form in France. A few half-chances here and there are not what we have come to expect from such a dynamic attacking threat. (6)
Jordan Henderson – Industrious in the centre of the pitch against Slovakia, as we have come to expect from Liverpool’s captain, but still had a very off night. He linked well with club-colleagues Clyne and Lallana down the right in the first half, but soon looked off the pace. He frequently misplaced passes and failed to beat the first man with his set-pieces – that is when he wasn’t wasting possession with the irritating phenomenon of short-corners. I would actually rather see Harry Kane take corners in future than Henderson! His game was summed up when, in the 95th minute, rather than floating a ball into the opposition’s penalty box as England chased a winning goal, he instead jogged 15-20 yards with the ball into the centre-circle, turned… and passed it back to central defence. Peep-peep-peeeep. (5)
Jack Wilshire – 
Supposedly brought into the team to be our ball-playing midfielder who can control the game with his range of passing and unmatched vision and reading of the game. Ha! He offered nothing against Slovakia. As many suspected, he looked short of match sharpness with no creativity in the final third. There goes Hodgson’s promise to only pick in-form and fully-fit players for the 23-man squad, eh. (4)
Raheem Sterling – Wilshere is saved from being our least influential player at the tournament so far by a dyer showing from Manchester City’s £49m winger. Indeed, he is our only out-and-out winger in the squad, with Hodgson opting not to include Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Ashley Young. I would say it’s an oversight, but our formation doesn’t call for width from these sorts of players as it relies on full-backs. Sterling barely deserved to remain on the pitch against Russia – and definitely did not deserve to retain his place against Wales. Shorn of confidence, he skied his best effort on goal in both appearances early on in the first half. Effective substitutions at half time probably mean the most expensive English footballer ever will quite rightly not start again for the remainder of the Euros. He could be an option from the bench against tired opposition legs, but we have better alternatives. (4)
James Milner –
Went into the tournament as England’s highest rated player for some reason. Despite wearing the number 4 shirt, he’s featured only once, coming on for the final five minutes against Russia in place of the unavailing Sterling. In that time, we conceded a goal. Causation or correlation..? (-)
Ross Barkley –
Not yet featured. (-)

Daniel Sturridge – Has yet to play in his preferred central-striker role, but has seemed like England’s most likely source of goals in his two appearances thus far. Hodgson’s gamble to throw both Sturridge and Jamie Vardy on the pitch at half time against Wales seemed risky, but his quick feet and coolness in front of goal prevailed with a sublime finish to poke past Palace shot-stopper Wayne Hennessey that secured three vital points. Whether drifting out wide, running in behind, or dropping deep, he’s offered an outlet for England’s attack and linked well with the players around him. A definite starter against whomever we face next. (7)
Jamie Vardy – 
England, and indeed their opponents, are not set up to play to Vardy’s strengths. Reliant on his pace when running onto through balls and clinical finishing, we haven’t see the best of the Leicester striker when up against compacted defences during the group stages. Took his goal against Wales like an instinctive, natural striker should (despite positionally being a good few yards offside, catching a lucky break with the ball bouncing off Ashley Williams) but has had few opportunities to make an impact since. When his chance came against Slovakia, racing onto a dinked ball splitting the unusually high-line of defence, an in-form Vardy for Leicester would have slotted the ball in at the near post. Instead, perhaps lacking belief in his own ability, the startled striker shot straight at Slovakia’s keeper. Few touches in the game are to be expected given his style of play, but he will likely feature mainly as an impact sub from now on. (6)
Harry Kane – 
Tired. Jaded. Lethargic. Cumbersome. Isolated. All words that have been written about last season’s Premier League’s top goal scorer after the opening three games. England’s number 9 has yet to find his feet in the 4-3-3 formation so far. Support from out wide has not served him well, and with no link directly behind him from an Alli, Rooney or similar, he’s cut a frustrated figure in front of goal. The 4-2-3-1 formation in friendlies – and even the oft-experimented with 4-4-2 diamond – suited Kane’s rhythm, but it seems for all England’s talent going forward, we’ve yet to get the best out of any of our strikers. He’s had one or two chances; a few flicked headers here, a scuffed shot there, but when his best contribution so far is to leave a free-kick to his Spurs teammate Dier, then it’s not been a great tournament for him so far. (5)
Marcus Rashford – Unlucky to not get on the pitch against Slovakia as his lively introduction helped swing the tide against Wales. A nervy start soon dissipated as he shook their sturdy defence with some intense attacking play. It might be too soon to see him start in the round of 16, but his 20-minute cameo was enough to suggest he could still play a crucial role for England. (-)

Euro 2016: Round 1 Review

After each round of matches in this year’s European Championship, I’m going to attempt to look back on each game. Some will have slightly more time and words dedicated to them than others.

This first report is almost exactly as it will appear on the final episode of my audio podcast Front Row, due out later this week, but for the sake of posterity, here it is slightly more timely than that.

It’s basically just a bit of fun. Seems a waste to spend so much time watching all these football matches and not do something productive with it. So, as France see off Albania 2-0 at the start of round 2, I’ll leave you with this summary and see you again on Sunday.


Euro 2016 kicked off on Friday with home nation France snatching victory over Romania in the final minute of the game, thanks to a wonder strike from midfield maestro Dimitri Payet. The talented West Ham midfielder switched the ball from right foot to left before bending a 20-yard strike past the diving goalkeeper to ensure Les Bleus started the tournament on the front foot. The emotional Frenchman left the pitch at the Stade de France to a standing ovation from the home fans, as emotion overwhelmed him and the tears started to flow.

The quality of football from the French may not have been the most beautiful on show during the week. Yet from the passion of players such as N’Golo Kanté, dominating in the centre of the pitch, to the flair of playmaker Payet, overshadowing teammate and Man Utd target Pogba, meant the game was as thrilling as an opening tournament match should be.

Matchday two began with a heated clash between Albania and Switzerland. The Swiss team – full of nationalised Albanian-born players – set the game up for a feisty affair with Albania’s captain, former Sunderland midfielder Lorik Cana, seeing red in the first half. But a goal from central defender Schär made sure of the win for Switzerland.

Later that afternoon, Wales made victory over Slovakia look like hard work, requiring an 81st minute header from substitute Hal Robson-Kanu to put Wales back in front after Slovakia’s Duda cancelled out Gareth Bales stunning free kick. England will not be looking forward to playing either team after an unconvincing second-half performance against Russia.

The three lions had the majority of possession in the game and created the most chances, fully deserving to take the lead in the 73rd minute through unlikely goalscorer Eric Dier smashing a free kick past Akinfeev. It was defensive naivety that left England ruing missed chances when Russia captain Berezutski looped an injury time header over Joe Hart’s outstretched arms. One point for England, but three points and top of group B for Wales.

It was the performances of Harry Kane leading the line, and captain Wayne Rooney deployed in midfield that were the big surprises from the match. The former barely had an influence on proceedings whilst the latter was behind all of England’s best play and was indeed unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a thunderous shot.

It remains to be seen whether Kane and / or ineffective winger Raheem Sterling will retain their place for the Wales game on Thursday afternoon, with Milner expected to come into the side to help nullify the threat of Bale.

There have been few surprises elsewhere in the first round of matches. Luka Modric scored a stunning volley in Croatia’s 1-0 win over Turkey. A humdrum Germany comfortably put two past a hapless Ukraine.

Northern Ireland’s energetic performance was in vain as Poland beat them 1-0, with their neighbours the Republic of Ireland preventing Ibrahimovic’s Sweden from walking away with all three points after a 1-all draw.

Monday’s matches began much as they were expected to, with reigning champions Spain claiming a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic’s sturdy defence without ever looking like convincing challengers for the championship.

Perhaps the biggest upsets have been 30-year absentees from international tournaments Hungary winning 2-0 against many people’s dark-horses Austria. Alaba, Arnautovic, Fuchs and co. could scarcely believe the result with the Hungarians clearly not overawed by the occasion.

Of course we also saw Italy batter the Belgians 2-0; the latter of whom came into the Euro’s as the bookies’ favourites. There was little evidence of that on display with captain Eden Hazard and his team rolling over to his future Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s men with barely a whimper. Emanuele Giacherrini – a player who formerly couldn’t get a game at Sunderland – powered a shot past Courtois before Southampton’s target-man Graziano Pelle wrapped up the game with a superb volley into a virtually empty net with the last kick of the game.

And finally, it was a quiet night for Ronaldo on the pitch. The closest he came to sparing Portugal’s blushes was a late header in their 1-1 draw against Iceland on Tuesday, but it was hit straight at the keeper and meant an unlikely point went away with the smallest nation competing in France.

The less said about the hoo-ha made of the world’s highest paid sports star’s antics off the pitch, coming across as a sore loser with comments about Iceland parking the bus and not deserving of their place at the competition, the better.

Best players of round 1:

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Switzerland)
Defender: Shkodran Mustafi (Germany)
Midfielder: Dimitri Payet (France)
Forward: Gareth Bale (Wales)

Team Fire HOSE documentary

Back in February, Buckingham Fire Station (Red Watch) agreed a community partnership to promote a six-week Health and Wellbeing Programme with The Buckingham School and Tesco Store, Buckingham.

Paul Rutland and I arranged to film the programme, using equipment from the University of Buckingham, charting the progress of twelve year-7 students handpicked by the school to participate in these fun and educational after-school sessions.

The aim of the course was to help develop the children’s understanding of the importance of staying healthy, as well as being structured to gradually build up the participants’ knowledge, skills and confidence.

Each week saw new challenges and classroom based activities for the children to engage in, from minesweeping and communication exercises, to breathing exercises and how to stay safe, and learning how to save a life. But the most fun seemed to be had when they got to put on their fire fighter kit, blast water from hoses that they themselves set up, or ride in the fire appliances with full sirens blaring.

The programme culminated in a demonstration of learning and an awards ceremony at the Fire Station in front of some very proud parents, members from the Fire Service, School, Tesco and Local dignitaries.

We produced a short 30 second trailer, a five minute presentation video and this full 27 minute documentary, which will be used by Buckingham Fire Service to promote the course.

It was a great learning experience for us and of course a lot of fun to be involved with. I’m sure the programme will go on to further success should it be picked up by other services within the county – or even nationally. The kids seemed to love it and to see them grow from shy, quiet and unassuming young people into the confident team they were at the end of the course was a remarkable achievement by everybody involved.

University of Buckingham FC 4 – 2 Willen FC (Match Report)

uobfc

A full video report was featured on Buckingham News (live broadcast at 5pm, for which I was sports anchor).

The University of Buckingham FC’s 4-2 cup final win over Willen FC exactly one week ago today, on Wednesday 20 April 2016, is vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon’s “best day at the University so far”.

Three first half goals and a converted penalty in the second were enough to ensure a remarkable upset in the North Bucks & District Football League Division One cup final.

University of Buckingham FC player-manager Michael Sirius described the performance from his team as “fantastic”, adding “it was an amazing performance”.

“They’re not a bad team we played against and we managed to win 4-2, like easily the better team”, he said. “I’m quite happy with that result.”

Thirty points stood between second-from-bottom University of Buckingham FC and table-topping Willen FC, but it all came to naught as the underdogs earned a hard fought 4-2 victory to take home the trophy.

The commanding presence of team captain Tobi Akinbiyi in centre midfield inspired his team to three goals within the opening half an hour, with Willen unable to weather the storm.

The University of Buckingham captain led from the front, opening the scoring himself with a 30 yard screamer that dipped over the outstretched arms of the helpless James Green in the Willen goal.

Onlookers at the packed Buckingham Athletic FC ground were off their feet again soon enough as two quick-fire goals followed. Tricky left-winger Ririo Oshima slotted the ball in from a tight angle at the far post before a deft header from lone striker Adekunie Oyekan put the University team comfortably into the lead.

Tidy finishes from Ryan Guinnane and Ryan Howkins either side of the break put Willen back in the game at 3-2, suggesting a comeback was on the cards.

A much improved second half performance saw the pre-match favourites begin to take control of the game, leaving Buckingham’s American goalkeeper Chris Armar having flashbacks to last weekend’s away fixture, where Brackley Old Boys overturned a 1-3 first half deficit to win 4-3.

But a magical cup comeback was not to be. Buckingham were resolute in defence, stifling a frustrated Willen’s late surge on goal as they began to throw players forward.

A penalty smashed down the centre of the goal by midfielder Omololu Onabolu with around 10 minutes remaining ensured player-manager Michael Sirius would be taking the trophy back to the University campus after all.

Appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham in September last year, Sir Anthony Seldon said: “It was altogether my best day at the University so far.”

“Apart from dazzling performances on the pitch, the support of so many university spectators was incredibly heartening.”

Goalkeeper Chris Armar said: “It was a great experience. I will definitely carry that my whole life.

“I spent all of Tuesday night preparing for the game by watching Joe Hart highlights”, he added. “After seeing the second leg of the Manchester City and PSG match, he just boosted my confidence.”

Willen remain one point ahead of Wing Village in the North Bucks & District League Division 1, with a game in hand.

Buckingham are set to play Wing on Tuesday 26th April and the Wing Recreational Ground, with Willen hoping their cup rivals will match their Wednesday evening heroics.

Transcript: Chancers – The Great Gangster Film Fraud

Recorded on Thursday 4th February 2016 – Listen to the full episode (including review) here:

Chancers: The Great Gangster Fraud is a documentary that details the creation of a low-budget British crime thriller – otherwise known as a geezer movie – called A Landscape of Lives.

Or, maybe I should take a step back and correct myself there.

Although the film was made for well under £100k (a relatively small sum of money compared to the vast majority of movies that make it into the cinema) it was billed as having a £20m budget.

Why? Because the bankrupt Jordanian entrepreneur Bashar Al-Issa and his co-producer, an Irish student-turned actress, dream up a hairbrained idea to steal £2.5m from the British government. Their plan primarily involves exploiting a tax incentive for independent British filmmakers, by exaggerating the production costs of A Landscape of Lives by well over £20m.

Eventually caught out for their attempts to scam the government, the Great Gangster Fraud uses interviews with virtually all of the players involved; from the archive interviews with the two fraudsters themselves, as well as those unwittingly caught up in the crime such as actors on production and even the man who let them film in his own office.

Perhaps none are more interesting than Paul Knight, a one-time criminal himself turned legitimate film director and writer, who manages to salvage the failing film project. His backstory about formerly being involved in east-end London criminal life, now turned responsible father and husband, gives a remarkable polar-opposite narrative to proceedings.

And as good a salvage job as Paul Knight manages to do, with the best will in the world, from the clips of A Landscape of Lives that we see during the documentary, the finished article does not resemble anything like a £20m budget film.

To give you some perspective, it would be like comparing the production values of, for example, 2012’s Looper starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt, made for a modest $30m, to something resembling the higher end of an ITV TV-special. Clearly, they were never going to fool anybody into believing they were making their first film for so much money – let alone the scrupulous British tax man.

There are a few other interesting talking heads who pop up to give some outside perspective, like renowned film producer Jonathan Sothcott, who rebuffs the idea that first-time film makers in the UK could receive anything like a £20m budget, regardless of their shady financiers. But it does stoke the fire of the lack of a true British film industry and raises the question about how the business can ever grow in this country.

The Great Gangster Fraud was shown on BBC4 here as part of the Storyville series and can be – and should be – viewed on the BBC iPlayer website. [edit: but obviously this is no longer the case!]

Transcript: My Nazi Legacy

Recorded on Thursday 28th January – Listen to the full episode (including review) here:

Produced by Wildgaze Films, in association with BBC Storyville and BFI, the extraordinarily absorbing documentary, My Nazi Legacy, follows the journey of three men traveling together across Europe.

Two of whom are forced to confront the atrocious war crimes committed by their fathers during the second world war. Themselves now elderly, grappling with the horrific and often conflicting truths about the legacy’s that their fathers have left for them is a tumultuous emotional journey.

The third man accompanying them on this voyage of self exploration is Philipe Sands, an English author and respected international lawyer of Jewish ancestry, whose own relatives’ past intertwines with that of his new friends’ history.

There’s no getting around it. As captivating a human-life story as My Nazi Legacy is, it juxtaposes the inescapable bleakness of humanity at one of its lowest points in modern history alongside an unremitting perseverance of will and character. You will struggle to see any other documentary this year that portrays such a deeply personal insight as seen here. The humbling effect that the encounters have on each of the three men appears sincere and genuinely moving for them.

However, the stubbornness of Horst von Wachter, son of Otto von Wachter (a former high ranking Nazi official) will have you pulling your own hair in dismay at his growing reluctance to acknowledge any of his father’s wrong-doing. As an international lawyer who has worked on many high-profile cases, Phillipe’s patience wears thin; so too will you grow increasingly frustrated at the infantile justification put forward by Horst.

“My father was just following orders.”

“Everybody said he was a man of high moral character.”

All I’m saying is: if you sit down to watch this, take a stress-ball with you.

As the journey continues over the course of the relatively short run time, you will be glad that you brought it with you.

Alternatively, of course, you might find sympathy in the simple story of a son who is just looking for the good in a father where none has yet been found.

The documentary is extremely well directed by the Emmy-nominated and BAFTA-award winning director of TV and film, David Evans, with editing provided by David Charap who is probably most well known for his work on the Oscar nominated Virunga.  They combine to give the overall production a touch of class, although it is difficult to shake that TV-vibe. At times it’s like watching an extended (if extremely high quality) episode of Horizon.

You may still be able to catch it in select art-house cinemas around the country after its Holocaust Memorial Day screening on Wednesday 27th January, but if not, you can pick it up on Digital HD and DVD.

Guess who’s back.. back again..

OK. Two things. Firstly, apologies for abandoning this blog pretty much immediately after my first term at University ended. I was writing primarily to support a module I was taking and running both this and Failed Critics when I didn’t actually need to just seemed like more hassle than it was worth.

Secondly, I do plan on revamping this blog at some point in the not too distant future; if only to host a select portfolio of my written work. With that in mind, I’m going to start posting transcripts of my movie reviews from the Bucks101 Radio show that I run with Paul Rutland.

Around about the start of last term (late January), Paul and I got together to start a radio series called ‘Front Row with Owen and Paul’. So named because I was to review films, with Paul rounding up the week in sport. The term ‘front row’ is arguably applicable in both scenarios (do I need to spell it out? I’ll spell it out: being at the cinema or a sporting event) but it’s not just talking; we get to pick and choose songs that we want to share with the audience.

If you’ve never listened to the live broadcast, it’s available to listen to online either through the Bucks101 Radio Facebook page or by searching for it on the TuneIn Radio app, available on Android and iOS. Our show airs on Tuesday’s at 5pm and it would be great if you could switch on and boost our listener figures!

Alternatively, Front Row is released as a podcast via the Failed Critics RSS feed (without any of the music, unfortunately). Visit failedcritics.com/front-row to find out more.

Anyway, the point I’m getting at is I have decided that rather than let my precisely constructed movie reviews be lost to the annals of time, I thought I might start posting transcripts right here on my blog.

From time to time, I will endeavour to write more stuff on here as well. You know. Thoughts and opinion pieces that may spring to mind, rather than solely movie reviews and re-blogs from Failed Critics.

With a bit of luck, the first new article in nearly four months should follow this post relatively quickly. Thanks to every who has subscribed already. Tell your friends and what have you…

What I’m not voting for in this year’s film awards

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FAILEDCRITICS.COM

As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in the Failed Critics Awards 2015 [and as I’ve already pestered you all for votes on my personal blog] I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before the deadline at midnight tonight.

Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6Transporter RefueledLost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.


Foxcatcher

steve_carell_foxcatcher1Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.


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Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age-of-Ultron-0003Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.


Southpaw

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I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.


SPECTRE

spectre-daniel-craigThis might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.

Top 10 films of the year?

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Merry Christmas (Eve)! Seemed the most polite way to start this article off. Basically, all I’m doing here is scrounging. Scrounging for your votes. Your opinions. If you’ve ever read my blog, or interacted with me on Twitter, Facebook, Letterboxd, over at Failed Critics (or in real life) …. (or if you’ve never interacted with me at all and this is your first time reading anything I’ve ever written) then I want to know what your top 10 films of the year are.

I mean, yes, I personally want to know what your top 10 movies of 2015 actually are because I’m always interested in that sort of thing. Lists, recommendations, outrageously high opinions of films I have nothing but contempt for or visa versa. All of that sort of thing just fascinates me.

However, I am also asking for another, more selfish reason.

A film review website that I run called FailedCritics.com is asking for votes in its annual awards. We want to know your picks for all of the following categories:

  1. Top 10 films of 2015
  2. Best male performance
  3. Best female performance
  4. Best documentary
  5. Best British film
  6. Best film not in the English language
  7. Best soundtrack
  8. Worst film

You don’t have to vote in every category listed above – you don’t even need to pick 10 movies. If you’ve only seen eight films released this year, and only three of them were any good, that’s fine! Just tell us which three.

The closing date for votes is growing ever closer, so if you would be so kind as to take part, then visit the link below to submit your votes by Sunday 27th December.

The winners will be announced on our end of year podcast, released a day or two later.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER YOUR VOTE(S)

The best films on TV over Christmas

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FAILEDCRITICS.COM

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films reads a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet TerrorFurious 7 may have been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins who passed away this year with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.