Wednesday, 9 July 2014


By Brian Hannan

ALIENS never learn. Every year, round about this time, they invade Planet Earth.

Sometimes, they rise up from within, having buried themselves deep within the earth millions of years ago, waiting for an alarm clock to ring from outer space.

They used to focus on the United States, but now, clearly conscious of how important the overseas market has become to Hollywood, they have an air of interplanetary tourists, and might decide that instead of blowing up the White House, they should take in the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben or (as inTransformers: Age of Extinction) the Great Wall of China.

In this film, aliens have gone decidedly upmarket and in the middle of one battle the camera freezes so that we can register skyscraper-high posters advertising Vogue magazine or Tom Ford clothing. A Victoria’s Secret bus is inexplicably caught up in the carnage.

In the past, aliens could be seen off by giving them a dose of the cold or its modern equivalent, a computer virus, or by an ordinary bloke who is just too clever for them. But, these days, we are more likely to enlist the help of other aliens, such as here, headed by Optimus Prime and his gang of Dirty Dozen sound-alikes.

Curiously, at the start of this Transformers movie, the good aliens, as a result of shenanigans so ridiculous I won’t waste space explaining them, are actually bad aliens.

Mark Wahlberg is the said ordinary bloke, though, after years of deceptively convincing acting, he has reverted to his previous shouty persona. There’s a sultry teenager (Nicola Peltz), her make-up done by a girl of ten, and, shades of Armageddon, a boyfriend Wahlberg intensely dislikes but has to work with.

And there’s a ship. There’s always a big ship in this kind of blockbuster, often dragged along the ground like a Neanderthal knuckle as a weapon by the warring combatants.

In movies like this, Hollywood generally gets away with the “bigger is better” argument, but I think we have to draw the line at “longer is better.”

This is an epic two-and-three-quarter hours (the same running time as The Dark Knight Rises) but with all the gravity of a meringue.

I have a sneaky feeling that in the past Hollywood used to employ the Logic Police. But when franchises get this long past their sell-by date, it is clear there is no point employing any logic.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger was educated at the Jefferson High School for Science and Technology where, presumably, he was taught to baffle people with science.

The plot, such as it is, involves Stanley Tucci. He’s paid double for looking both stern and smug, (never mind that, Kelsey Grammar, another bad guy, thinks acting is growing a beard and not twitching) as a billionaire bad guy who sees the error of his ways and is then forced to drag around a “seed” that is the equivalent to an atomic bomb (work that one out).

Without logic to get in the way, our ordinary bloke is able to penetrate a top-secret, most highly-guarded factory and also to loiter uninterrupted on the enemy spacecraft.

Mostly, people run, or shout, or in the case of the Peltz, look doll-faced. Aliens run and shout, but luckily, so far, we have not been treated to any female aliens. Maybe next time. Perhaps Victoria’s Secret was the hint.

Thursday, 3 July 2014


By Brian Hannan

DYING divorced middle-aged guy (Kevin Costner) returns to Paris to attempt a reconciliation with his estranged teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfield).
He has been away for so long his flat is occupied by squatters, whom the law says he cannot eject till Easter.
He buys his daughter a purple bike only to discover that was her favourite colour when she was little. To overcome her resistance he enlists the help of the owner of a taxi firm, who has two teenage daughters.
The ice is broken when, shades of The Bodyguard, he rescues her from being molested at a club. He teaches her to ride the bike. An Italian associate obliges said daughter with a pasta recipe.
One of the squatters is pregnant and Costner attends the birth, aware he was absent at his daughter’s birth. Best of all, he finds a drug that prevents the spread of his cancer and reconciles with his ex-wife (Connie Neilson). Having been told he would never see Xmas, the movie ends with him under the Xmas tree.
The trailer for Three Days to Kill was a bit remiss in explaining the family complications. Costner is also a CIA assassin. His boss (Amber Heard) looks like she’s auditioning for Sin City, all sleek lipstick and bustling cleavage, with a part-time job managing a strip club.
She has diverted him from full-on daughter reconciliation by promising him an experimental drug to stop the onset of his cancer, but every now and then, usually (and inconveniently) when he is about to shoot the enemy, he collapses.
She is whip-smart. ‘You’re not my type,” says Costner. She replies:  ‘I’m everybody’s type.’ Why she needs him is anybody’s guess because she’s pretty good with a gun. His daughter’s boyfriend’s dad turns out to be a big bad guy.
The main villain is called The Wolf and his henchman The Albino, even though he is bald and otherwise lacks that condition’s physical prerequisites.
The taxi owner is a semi-bad guy, whom Costner kidnaps when he wants help with his daughter. The recipe-spouting Italian is another kidnappee. A bottle of vodka is required to combat the side-effects of the drug. The plot, should your brain still be in one piece after absorbing the above, concerns Costner tracking down The Wolf who sells dirty bombs.
There is enough gunfire and explosions – an opening shootout in Sofia, a set-piece in the middle of the Paris traffic and a finale in a deluxe rooftop apartment – to just about qualify for an action picture.
But the movie just cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. The reconciliation is touching enough and Costner steers his lost soul with some conviction.
Steinfield, memorable in the remake of True Grit (2010) is a cliché away from every movie teenager. There are enough oddball characters - the taxi owner and the head squatter - to give it some flavour, although the Paris backdrop is too upfront - the Eiffel Tower, bateaux mouches on the Seine, and bike-riding sequence taking place at Sacre Coeur.
But the two movies just don’t mesh. Costner has long since lost the box office cachet that made the Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves (1990), Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991), JFK (1991) and The Bodyguard (1992) such big hits.
Too many flops (Wyatt Earp) and odd choices (The Postman) damaged his status. His last starring role was in 2008. You probably last saw him in supporting roles in Man of Steel (2013), playing Clark Kent’s dad, or Shadow Recruit (2014), the miserable attempt at rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise.
He even turned to television – Hatfield and the McCoys. Hollywood has a poor record in looking after its senior citizens (50 is old these days for a male star - unless your name is Clint Eastwood - and Costner is 49). There are so many washed-up old stars you could name a tsunami after them.
But if you’re looking for reinvention, France is the place to go. Luc Besson’s company Europa was behind Taken, the action movie that turned Liam Neeson into an international action star.
Besson is an accomplished director in his own right – The Big Blue (1988) was a huge success in France and a cult hit in the States, ditto Leon (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997), which starred Bruce Willis. So it’s not hard to guess that Costner thought he could follow suit, only the film would have to be tweaked a bit to provide more of an emotional core.
Besson is most famous in France as the writer-producer of the three record-breaking Taxi films featuring quirky characters and car chases. He wrote and produced the two Transporter films that specialised in car chases and shootouts.
Taken, you might remember, is also based on daughter-reconciliation. The big difference between Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner in the action stakes is that you would not want to cross the former.
Costner’s movie persona is a cross between Gary Cooper and James Stewart, the decent guy who won’t give up. Neeson always possessed a dangerous air, so the transition to out-and-out tough guy was no stretch but Costner is less believable.
Next up for Costner, though, are two sports-based movies and with memories of Bull Durham(1988), Field of Dreams (1989) and Tin Cup (1996) – three of my favourite movies –  he might just get back to winning ways.
On the other hand, I spent more time in the last decade being disappointed by Kevin Costner films than any other actor. I loved Taken (and have a fondness for Unknown) but Three Days to Kill, far from being a hole-in-one, is more like long shank into the bushes.

Friday, 27 June 2014


By Ben Palmer
When Kenny Miller rejoined Rangers for a third time, it wasn't met with the typical narrative fans have displayed when discussing the Glasgow side in the past few years.
For a Rangers fan, was it met with anger? Perhaps. Miller has already two bites at the Rangers cherry, and at 34 his soon to be false teeth may not manage it. Why should he deserve another?
For a Celtic fan, not them all I must state, was it met with the laughter and mockery that they have emitted when discussing their Glasgow rivals in recent years? Again, perhaps. McCoist re-signing an old buddy who was is surely now on his last legs; I can understand why that may be met with a giggle.
For Scottish football observers it may have been met with the typical sigh that comes with every piece of news from Edmiston Drive. It's not one of relief though, it's one of disbelief and frustration. Will the Rangers saga ever end?
These perceptions of Kenny Miller's third signing for the Gers may well be true. But a common denominator amongst all reactions to the signing was sheer confusion.
When Miller scribbled his signature for a third time in the Ibrox boardroom, a former Rangers youth player, Charlie Telfer, was doing the same thing up at Tannadice.
Acknowledged widely as a talent, a beacon of hope for the talent which Rangers may need in just a year’s time to challenge in the Scottish Premiership, is gone, instead trying to further his career a division above.
This theme of confusion is a direct derivative of Ally McCoist's transfer dealings. Why on Earth was a young talent going out, when one on his last legs was coming in?
Kris Boyd's signing this week looks set to revive this confusion. Boyd, the season after one of his most impressive – endeavour and activity wise – is taking a step down to once again pull on the Royal Blue.
Although his striking prowess will result in an abundance of goals in the second tier of Scottish football, the signing beggars belief if anything.
At 30, Rangers have signed a No.9 on his dénouement, his final years are imminent. McCoist, however, must know what he is doing having deemed 25 year old Andy Little surplus to plans.
Having averaged a goal every two games at Rangers since his début back in 2009, McCoist saw no place for Little in his plans to get Rangers over their final hurdle since liquidation – on the pitch at least – and back into the Premiership.
When Rangers begin their pre-season at Highland League side Buckie Thistle's Victoria Park next Thursday evening, not only will it be a confusing sight to see a team building for the future consisting of a strike-force with a combined age of 64, but it will be a hard sight on those who are indeed building for the future.
Once Rangers went under, it was a chance for the youngsters to break into the side, Fraser Aird made that jump, but the lack of company is unsettling. The work of the Rangers youth coaches not being utilised at the end of the natural conveyor belt: an Ibrox in the Scottish Premiership. 
McCoist letting Callum Telfer and Andy Little jump ship created a graze, Kenny Miller's signing burst open the wound, Kris Boyd is pouring the salt.
Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller may well score dozens between them this year, but with retirement on the scope, and the younger promising generation disappearing, McCoist's transfer dealings may not be as shiny as first hoped.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


by Brian Hannan

COLIN FIRTH and Reese Witherspoon are billed as the stars of The Devil’s KnotThis is Atom Egoyan’s documentary-style account of the trial of the teenage West Memphis Three, accused of the diabolical murders of three eight-year-old boys in 1993.

The movie is involving, but people on these shores may struggle to keep up as the director assumes a familiarity with the notorious case, and his dispassionate style verges on sedation.

A small town, riven by grief, fear and hysteria (the murders are thought to be the work of a Satanic cult), is well drawn. The police are more human than normal, the shock on their faces at discovering the bodies testament to that.

The movie takes some liberties with the facts; for instance, in reality, the bodies were discovered the next day, but since movies require more tension, the hunt lasts days.

But with so many characters bobbing around, Firth and Witherspoon were clearly parachuted in to lend the movie some focus.

Perhaps Firth was attracted to the name of his character – Ron Lax – or owed someone a favour. Firth has been struggling to follow up his Oscar-winning turn in The King’s Speech (2010). Hollywood had him pegged for comedy (as Hugh Grant’s slightly smarter brother, perhaps) but Gambit with Cameron Diaz was a flop.

Firth prefers serious work, but few people were attracted to The Railway Man or Arthur Newman or Main Street (bonus points if you have heard of the latter) and he was in the supporting cast (albeit in a pivotal role) ofTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

It’s hard for a British actor (apart from Daniel Day-Lewis) to be taken seriously in Hollywood. Liam Neeson’s rebirth as an action hero is courtesy of the French. Otherwise, the cream of British acting talent normally surfaces as a villain.

Blame floppy-haired Hugh Grant for changing perceptions of the capabilities of British actors. The hard-edged performances of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Michael Caine are now a distant mirage.

Firth has coped by turning himself into an American, as he does here, with a fine head of hair and a passion for antiques (he is introduced at an auction bidding thousands of dollars).

In one sense, he has the central role, as an investigator giving his services to the accused for free. And that would be great, if the director let him play the crusading private eye.

Instead, Egoyan is as interested in the impact of the murders on the community and on the police and the accused and their parents and the victims’ families and the judge and…you get the idea.

The title is apt. It’s the very devil finding space for Firth and Witherspoon. They end up being a distraction. Stars are meant to get more time onscreen.

To make sure we don’t forget they are there, the director resorts to showing them exchanging glances (for no meaningful reason) in the courtroom, or for Firth to loll about at the back of the court (of a rather officious judge, would you believe).

Ron Lax did uncover important evidence, but since the climax of the movie takes place in a courtroom, where an investigator has no place, the movie struggles to include him.

Worthy projects have a nasty habit of turning into career cul de sacs.

Firth is next up in Woody Allen’s Magic by Moonlight, where he plays second fiddle to Emma Stone, and Before I Go to Sleep (second fiddle to Nicole Kidman). To keep his career on track he has wisely pulled out of the role of the voice of Paddington Bear.

Witherspoon is in the same boat, both movie-wise and career-wise. After winning an Oscar for Walk the Line (2005), Hollywood stuck her in romantic comedies. Mud, her last serious turn, attracted good reviews but little box office.

Here, as a victim’s mother at least she gets to emote and, in another creative liberty, turns amateur sleuth. One last point, this has a 15 certificate, but contains one of the most shocking images of children I have ever seen.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


FORGIVE me but isn’t it about time a little more realism was introduced into the World Cup.
Include me among the multitude of television watchers who are savouring the excitement and drama of Brazil 2014.
There has been goals aplenty, no shortage of memorable moments and occasional sheer brilliance. But while the finals have been compulsive viewing for those of us who worship “the beautiful game,” it also has to be said that some who earn their livelihood commentating and reporting on such events have gone slightly over the top.
The finals have already been hailed as great, but those who use the word epic are being a little less than circumspect, in my humble opinion.
Being of an age to remember 13 past World Cups – albeit I have only a hazy recollection of the grainy black and white television pictures of 1962 finals in Chile when the game was disgraced by the so-called “Battle of Santiago” featuring the host nation and Italy – I can think of others, notably Mexico 1970, that were more exhilarating.
Perhaps it is simply a case of the passing of time appearing to make what has gone before a little more appealing than it truly was, or have we have come to expect too much?
We were assured in advance of the opening match by those TV “experts” who salivate at their own self-importance that the world’s very best players would elevate us to heights never previously reached.
I refer to Neymar of the hosts, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s solitary man o’ war Christiano Ronaldo, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Uruguayan Luis Suarez, in particular.
But at this point in time only one of the five has truly delivered. Let me declare straightaway that I consider Suarez to be an odious individual, given that he is prone to “cheating” and sinking his teeth into opponents. But my dislike of the man cannot be allowed to disguise the brilliance of his ruthless destruction of an England team that chose to convince itself that injury would negate Suarez’s threat.
Scorer of both his side’s goals, Suarez delivered on the hype. Messi has still to do so fully while Ronaldo will not have the chance beyond the initial group stages and Pirlo may also make an earlier than expected exit from the tournament.
Pirlo, peerless against England was largely anonymous in the next match against Costa Rica. True, Messi scored two wonderful goals to drag Argentina to victories over Bosnia and Iran but for much of the time he failed to dominate the play in the way that his predecessor Maradona did.
Ronaldo, recently voted the best player in the world, produced one flash of spellbinding trickery against the USA, but he too failed to light up our television screens in the manner that had been predicted, albeit injury may have been a factor in his and Portugal’s failure to cope with the Germans’ ruthless efficiency and the Americans’ work-rate and enthusiasm.
Neymar, meanwhile, has been compared to Pele in almost hushed tones. On the evidence of his and Brazil’s performances against Croatia and Mexico it must be hoped that the volume remains turned down for the time being at least.
Few such claims of greatness were bestowed on the Dutch in the run-up to the finals. Yet in their opening match against the holders Spain the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were a joy to behold – true masters of their craft.
There was an immediate temptation to tip Holland as probably winners at last after the heartache of being beaten finalists on three occasions. But what might have happened had Spain scored to go two-up? Holland’s subsequent displays against Australia and Chile also leave question marks as to their staying power and mindset to play as a team.
So, which country will emerge triumphant at the magnificent Maracana Stadium in Rio on July 13?
The Germans, ruthless against Portugal and decidedly unimpressive against Ghana, will no doubt be there or thereabouts, given their World Cup record, tenacity and military-like discipline and organisation.
Will Brazil overcome the frightening level of expectancy that has reduced some of their players to emotional wrecks and deliver a fifth world cup triumph?
Can Belgium’s hugely talented squad, strongly fancied as dark horses, gel as a unit? Will the French stay focussed and build on their impressive wins over Honduras and Switzerland?
Are Argentina more than just a one-man team? Do Italy and Uruguay have the necessary strength-in-depth to prevail whichever one of them survives in the wake of their unexpected defeats by Costa Rica?
With a raft of matches to be played there is still time for Brazil to host a truly epic Wold Cup. But for the time being the 2014 finals have been hugely exciting, thanks largely to a high rate of scoring. Its right to be acclaimed as more must be judged in relation to the performances that led to these goals.
One thing is certain though, come the winter chill on a Saturday afternoon spent watching Scottish Premiership football and we’ll all be reminiscing about the Boys who were at Brazil.
Still, there’s a chance that Ronny Deila may bring a smile to our faces by baring his backside when Celtic complete their stroll to the SPFL championship title around the middle of January.
We can also eagerly anticipate having a laugh or two at the annual Hibs manager crisis when Scottish football’s Frank Gallagher, the utterly shameless and blameless Rod Petrie sacks the latest incumbent and blames chief executive Madame Defarge, aka Leeann Dempster!

Saturday, 21 June 2014


By Bryan Cooney

“STEVEN GERRARD? Well, he’s had a terrible end to the season. He appears to have gone at every imaginable level.

“Ever since he gave away the goal against Chelsea in the Premier League, he’s been awful. Roy Hodgson is always saying what a good player he is. Hey, good players play well when they have to.

“When the team needs them, they tend to step forward and flourish. What did Luis Suarez do when Uruguay needed him? He scored two goals! And he was only 70 per cent fit!

“England needed the real Steven Gerrard against Uruguay…there was only one trouble: he wasn’t there!”
WE should, of course, ignore the temptation towards gratuitous gloating.

But the facts are incontrovertible:  England have provided us with, on what has become a biennial basis, a classic sob story that fills a few million handkerchiefs.

With Costa Rica beating a perfunctory Italian team on Friday evening, the English effected another inglorious exit from another major football tournament - almost before the players had time to break in their multi-coloured footwear.

The obligatory autopsies were performed on our television sets. But I’d suggest these were pretty insubstantial, even inadequate. The medium that should be specialising in definitive post mortems once again quailed and quivered at the door of the mortuary.

BBC and ITV sent the world and his brother to Brazil, dipping into exchequers rather than budgets to support sybaritic lifestyles. Yet, so many of these highly-remunerated ex-footballers failed, some spectacularly, some incoherently, to tell the English nation what went wrong. I was anxious to hear an unalloyed version.

One reason why English players are flying home comprehensively ahead of schedule next week was delivered, rather forcibly, in the introduction to this blog.

The words came from a man who seems comfortable with speaking his mind, no matter how many egos might be offended in the process.

Nigel Clark was the Football Editor at the Daily Mail in that newspaper’s pomp in the late Nineties. I used to call him the Wise Old Owl because he provided a compendium of knowledge about the game and understood those who played it.

He grew up in an age where the freedom of speech had not been overtaken by the twin terrors of censorship and political correctness. He worked and travelled with men like Sir Alf Ramsey, Brian Clough and Malcolm Allison. They knew him and respected him.

Let’s return, then, to his acerbic summary of Gerrard’s contribution to England’s 2-1 defeat. It’s only the beginning of a criticism of a national team that Clark has been following for six decades.

Gerrard is not alone in the dock of his court of justice: the Liverpool player has accomplices, none more so than Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson, whom Clark likes as a person, finds his credentials examined in an equally forensic manner. “We’re in this sorry position because he picked the wrong team at the outset,” Clark insists.

“You can’t win with a side that goes forward but can’t defend. You should pick a centre-half who can organise. So, why leave John Terry out? Suarez’s second goal emphasised the stupidity of that. Do you imagine it would have been scored had Terry been around?

“Look, Phil Jagielka is all right as a footballer, but basically he’s a midfield player who has been converted to centre-half. When a high ball comes at you like that, the first instincts of a centre-half is to back peddle, Jagielka obeyed the instincts of a midfield player and allowed Suarez freedom to run on.

“Terry would have dealt with it, put the ball in Row Z of the nearest grandstand. He is far more able to read things, defend and organise.

“He has been a leader and a captain all his life but, because of what I believe to be a rather petty squabble (involving the Ferdinands), Hodgson decided to bomb him out and opt for the quiet life. Hodgson believed he was doing the moralistic thing but he ignored the basic mantra of football: you pick your strongest team.”

According to Clark, however, England’s defensive frailties go far deeper than that. “Yeah, if you’re going to attack, you’ve got to defend. England can’t do that. Ashley Cole is a better left-back than Leighton Baines. He might even, in some eyes, be a horrible bloke, but he’s a better footballer. Baines could not tackle a deep fried Mars Bar!”

Nor is Baines’ full-back partner, Glen Johnson, exempt from scathing opinion. “I’ll repeat: you can only attack if you can defend. Everyone knows that down the years that Johnson hasn’t got what it takes to defend.”

Clark feels that the £3,500,00-a-year Hodgson may confound expectations and stay in the job (he evidently has already been offered a two-year contract extension. Isn't it great to see the dear, old FA have their foot firmly on the ball?).

But he still can’t understand why the manager put his philosophy into reverse gear. “The thing is the players call him Doubtfire. There’s a bit of respect gone there. Could that be significant?

"Roy’s always been a very organised manager, he’s always been considered a safe pair of hands, yet the greatest surprise was to go gung-ho in this competition. And just look at the run-up: we struggled against Honduras and Ecuador. It told you we’re not very good.”

The criticism becomes even more detailed. “Frank Lampard was brought over for morale - Roy thinks his legs have gone. Now, I would have thought that might be the case over 90 minutes, but surely not for 30-minute segments.

“ You wanted an old head in there directing operations at 1-1. The solution would have been to put Lampard on. Instead, Roy wanted to go for a winner: he gambled and lost.”

And Wayne Rooney? “I think Roy’s been stupid. You play your best players in their best positions. You don’t suddenly find Uruguay punting out Suarez to play wide right or left, do you? Roy thinks he has players who can multi task. It’s not on. Players generally have to be told what to do because they tend to be a bit thick.”

Costa Rica, who have already qualified for the next stage of the competition, provide Hodgon’s final opposition. Can England go out with some manner of compensation?

Clark is not confident about that. “English football is based around determination and organisation, and we must use these things to make ourselves hard to beat. If you don’t concede goals, you don’t get beaten. We’ve shipped four so far.

“Look, no-one has ever said that Hodgson was a great manager. He certainly never did anything spectacular at Liverpool, did he? I certainly wouldn’t put money on us beating Costa Rica.

`”But I think what Hodgson must think long and hard about is whether Gerrard plays again. And, remember, this: they put him in a role just in front of the back four - it was supposed to suit him. The sad thing is that he wasn’t even in the Uruguay game.”

  • The irrepressible and controversial Nigel Clark will be writing about the English Premier Division for No Grey Areas this coming season.

Monday, 16 June 2014


By Mark Cooney

TONY BLAIR - very few sane people would associate his name with truth and justice.

The disingenuous nature of this man led to the violent deaths of more than 100,00 Iraqis, a normally hospitable and generous race who represented no threat to us.

For decades, their only instinct has been to survive.

But then they were caught in the crossfire of a monstrous dictator who ruled them with an iron fist, and two scheming Western governments who ostensibly sponsored their destruction - babies and all.

Today, the Iraqis find themselves once again trapped by their geography and history in a cauldron of violence and hate.

With political, religious and tribal uprisings sweeping the Middle East, they don't even have the comfort blanket of peace in order to pick up the pieces of their lives destroyed by death and destruction.

Old tribal vendettas have re-emerged and exploded into bloody civil war.

While Iraq’s majority Shia and minority Sunni tribes fight for control of the region, the al-Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), has comprehensively rekindled the flames of sectarian bloodshed in recent days. Amidst this carnage, a fourth faction, the Kurds, are on the verge of realising a long-held dream by taking control of Iraq’s northern region.

Blair’s contribution to the chaos is once again to step into the spotlight and declare that the latest insurgency has nothing to do with him.

He has further twisted his blood-stained dagger into the hearts of Iraqis seeking justice by reiterating his spurious claims that he didn’t initiate the crisis over there. Far from it. In fact, in waging a devastating war on the country, he claims he did the right thing.

The Labour Party’s former golden boy has said that Iraq would still be a major problem even without the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. He insists the US-UK invasion was not to blame for the current apocalypse.

In an essay on the Middle East crisis (Read it here), Blair insisted that we had to “liberate ourselves from the notion that we caused this”. Note the “we”.

And, in another unconvincing televised ramble, he added: ”Even if you'd left Saddam in place in 2003, then when 2011 happened - and  had the Arab revolutions going through Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain and Egypt and Syria - you would have still had a major problem in Iraq.”

That claim has already been disputed by some diplomatic heavyweights, including Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to the US between 1997 and 2003. In a newspaper interview, he said the campaign strategy against Saddam Hussein was "perhaps the most significant reason" for the current sectarian violence.

"We are reaping what we sowed in 2003,” he claimed. “This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule.”

And Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN representative in Iraq, also disputes Tony Blair's analysis of the conflict, saying ISIS did not exist before the 2003 invasion. Rather, it grew out of the bloodshed and the regional instability created by Bush and Blair.

He has already said several times in the past that the West's indifference to Syria would put it at risk of being a failed state and that it would spill over into neighbouring areas.

When asked by Channel 4 News if he agreed with Tony Blair that the West should once again send in the troops, Mr Brahimi said: "Military intervention? Not again, please. I doubt if military intervention from the outside again is the right thing because you know how these things start, and how they finish."

Asked if Blair was correct in his assertion that the current slaughter would exist even without the 2003 invasion, he replied: "I'm afraid he's wrong. We would probably still be in an extremely bad place, but nothing like we have now. You wouldn't have al-Qaeda going around. I mean, al-Qaeda taking over three cities in two days...that's unthinkable!

"A lot of people in the region who were interested in listening to Mr Blair don't listen anymore."

Something of a handicap for a Middle East peace envoy.

What is also for sure is that without Blair and George Bush’s trigger-happy attitude, there would be a lot more Iraqi citizens alive today to testify against these claims of innocence.

There would also not have been thousands of British and American parents saluting their sons and daughters returning in coffins, having served their purpose in the eyes of the politicians.

There have also been strong accusations that the Ministry of Defence under equipped our soldiers, which is why their American counterparts nickname the British Army “The Borrowers”. They weren’t given the right tools to execute a very dirty job. The fact that they were not properly protected in a war zone was morally reprehensible.

So, does this one rate as a war crime? That’s one for international law to decide if it ever bothers to catch up with this morally bankrupt globetrotter.

There would almost certainly not be a whole generation of orphaned children growing up with appalling injuries and a lifetime of horrific mental traumas. And who can blame them for growing up with a serious grudge?

In his typical phoney manner, Blair pleaded in the run-up to the invasion that he just wanted to help the Iraqi people and that the troops were going to “win hearts and minds”. Instead, they put bullets in them.

Saddam was hanged for his three-decade murder spree (and perhaps other more convenient reasons). But, following the invasion and slaughter, Blair was bestowed with the distinguished mantle of Middle East peace envoy.

On that kind of recruiting logic, could Kim Jong-un be next in line for UN Secretary General? Is it any more absurd or distasteful?

If it the whole scenario were not appalling enough, Blair has become exceedingly rich off the back of the invasion.

Rather than demonstrate some humility and accountability, perhaps even a smattering of repentance, he continues to enjoy the glare of the public eye, travelling the globe first class to give handsomely-paid speeches to all who will listen to his self-serving version of world events. He is now a multi-millionaire.

Perhaps repeating the same old nonsense to audiences is cathartic for him, and helps relieve him of some of the guilt burden that most of us would carry heavily. But he gives the impression that he possesses neither guilt nor shame.

He ignored the will of the British public, many of whom still fully believe the attack on Iraq to be illegal. Instead, he cartwheeled out of international obscurity and onto the world stage to fully support Bush’s plan to invade. Brothers-in-arms, or, at least, brothers-in-bomber jackets.

He sent UK forces to join the US-led invasion in violation of international law.

America’s favourite poodle sold it on a pretext of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t. But now he says they might have got them at some point in the future.

As for Blair’s “hearts and minds” pledge? Well, it was left to charities to count the bodies (and the body parts) in the streets and market squares.

Perversely, Blair expected us all to triumphantly celebrate the glory of Britain in “liberating” a country and installing “democracy”. He was wrong.

Moreover, this narcissistic egomaniac hoped we would all laud him as a great leader and world statesman who had helped make the world a safer place. Another massive miscalculation.

This week Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, who wants to end England’s 300-year rule over Scotland in September’s Independence Referendum, said: “Tony Blair has now claimed that the invasion of Iraq was about whether or not Saddam Hussein remained in power. Eleven years ago he said it was about weapons of mass destruction.

“He is guilty of breathtaking amnesia on his reasons for invading Iraq and clearly hopes everybody else will conveniently forget his 2003 decision, the consequences of which have played out over 11 years, with hundreds of thousands dead.

“We have reached a position where Western powers’ ability to intervene in any conflict – even in a just manner – has been totally undermined by the legacy of the Iraq disaster, with a damaging loss."

Blair’s denials and delusions suggest he believes only God should judge him.

He has blood on his hands alright, but he’s cleansed himself of all responsibility.

The next time we see Tony Blair, let's hope it's in front of a judge, or, better still, behind bars.


By Brian Hannan

AT least you know the ending! The three-hanky weepie The Fault in Our Stars was a big hit in America, outgrossing Tom Cruise blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow on its opening weekend.

Getting audiences to cry is no mean feat, especially in these cynical days when cinemagoers tend to be a lot more savvy about movies manipulating their feelings.

When I tell you the characters meet at a cancer support group, you might be already reaching for the sick bucket. But fear ye not! Based on a bestseller (natch) by young adult author John Green, the movie does not go down the soppy route, using a combination of acerbic wit and unconventional characters to win over hearts, minds and credit cards.

Bearing in mind how Hollywood has played the crying game in the past, the movie makers need not have worked so hard at trying at keeping the movie fresh. Even so, this movie does employ some well-known tricks.

Love Story, the king (queen?) of the soppy stories worked because neither Ali McGraw nor Ryan O’Neal had achieved stardom. They had not acquired annoying tics, nor had we pored endlessly over their love lives.

Hence, they appeared more real. Both were real cute. Heaven-sent looks, though, do help the heaven-bound as Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort can testify in The Fault in our Stars.

It was all a far cry from socialite Bette Davis in Dark Victory in 1939, which started off the whole rollercoaster of lucrative sorrow.

Davis was not first choice - Greta Garbo chose Anna Karenina instead. But Davis provided the sharp-tongued template.

Sweet November got made twice – in 1968 with Sandy Dennis and 2001 with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves – unfortunately, it was not Reeves who died, although sometimes his acting was so stiff you could not tell.

Leo McCarey liked his 1939 Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, so much he remade it 18 years later as An Affair To Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant.

Sometimes the box office bell rang so loud the audience just switched it off – Julia Roberts was riding very high when she came down to earth with a bang in Dying Young (1991).

Men are good at dying, too. Tough guy James Caan (The Godfather) got his big break in a made-for-tv movie Brian’s Song (1971) as a football player on the way out. Robert DeNiro did the baseball version in Bang The Drum Slowly (1973).

Of course, some guys can never take dying seriously. Think of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List (2008). Or the Pythons in Life of Brian – taught from an early age that if they get strung up on a crucifix to burst into song.

Even John Wayne (himself dying of cancer) got into the act in The Shootist (1976), but audiences stayed away, preferring the big man to go suddenly like he did in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and The Cowboys (1972). Hollywood preferred the first – giving Duke an Oscar nomination.

Like any other genre, you have to shake it around a bit, so the twist in The Doctor (1991) was having William Hurt as an icy example of the species warming up a bit when he became a patient.

In My Sister’s Keeper (2009), the protagonist realised she has been born to keep alive her afflicted sister and decided (greedily) she wanted to keep all her organs to herself, thanks very much.

Sometimes all you had to do is put two charismatic stars in a film and keep the audience guessing which one was under a dark cloud; witness Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey in Beaches (1988), confusing the audience as to who was in the premature departure lounge by having Midler sing the theme tune.

The twist in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) was that the candidate for the hereafter was an ordinary bureaucrat who had already had every ounce of charisma surgically removed.

But death might yet do us all a good turn. Hollywood is always one trend away from financial stability, and the success of The Fault in Our Stars might spell the end of super-heroes and lowest-common-denominator comedies.

Who knows? We might get a decent drama.

Saturday, 14 June 2014


By Ben Palmer

Before I start, for fear of a cyber lambasting, it is imperative that I state that this is not a piece discussing the pros and the cons of Scottish Independence.

Neither is this a statement of which side of the referendum I will vote for. For this piece, that is irrelevant.

I make these points, because it is becoming increasingly palpable that any addition to this debate is met with a flurry of coarse derision.

Whether it be the Better Together or Yes campaign that is being vouched for, the hounds of the opposite movement snap immediately at the often innocent claims.

But, with No Grey Areas being a politically neutral website where all reasoned opinions are welcomed, I must add that I believe these refutes are being dealt out more frequently by the Yes campaigners. It is a subliminal display of their excellent use of social media to group together the backers of Scottish Independence into one, passionate, bunch.

The Better Together campaign has been virtually non-existent in terms of public display, at least to my personal observations – their snapping is rather muted to that of the opposite, Nationalist, camp.

This brings me to the well documented donation of £1 million by Harry Potter author JK Rowling of her behemoth wealth to Better Together, something which should have been unanimously applauded.

Someone in the public eye openly stating which side of the debate she was on. She wasn't cowering away as so many others are. Except Sean Connery, of course, who swayed in with his part from his home in Monaco and a couple of Americans called Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the direct attention span of the UK, Rowling's donation wasn't even to the level of which the Yes campaign received from their most generous backers, the lottery winning Weir family, yet she has been met with the critique of a treason committing criminal.

Despite being told to: “F... off” a plethora of times on Twitter, to where exactly I'm not sure, the most ludicrous condemnation of her charity I saw was her being told that: “nae one gives a f... about why you think we're better together,” and to: “Piss aff.”

I can handle the poor grammar, we're all guilty of that on social media, but that one tweet sums up every single wrong about this debate.

Whilst Rowling put out her polished and stylish inclusion to the argument, she was met with dumbfounded criticism and lack of impartiality.

I'm not saying that someone's viewpoint cannot be questioned, or outright ridiculed, but a perfectly legitimate stance on a debate which will be strung-out and intricate, to be met with such venom, is wrong.

I understand that people desperately want Independence, and that others are 100% against so, but the lack of open-mindedness and willingness to accept that others have a viewpoint is worrying.

A debate is when opinions are battered back-and-forth, decorated with statistics and arguments. The Independence Referendum is referred to as a debate, but it is slowly becoming a brawl.

The Better Together and Yes movements obviously have a pair of stark wants, but there needs to be a degree of discussion between those on either side of the Independence Referendum fence.

As there are so many stuck in the middle, the fence may be better referred to as a wall to hold up all the bodies for which the two campaigns are battling for. But for those perched on it, there is no authentic opportunity to weigh-up the pros and cons. You must join a camp, get stuck in the crossfire or forever hold your peace.

This is the most important decision to happen to my country since I've been born, and with little over three months until the big day, it looks as though instead of a split union, we may end up as a split Scotland with enough stuck in the middle to make Humpty Dumpty feel awkward and nervous.

The result that determines this split? I hope it isn't both.