Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Fuggin Mohammed Al-Fayed

Why do we constantly have to be subjected to this utter moron? I've resigned myself to hearing the latest from the 'Diana Inquest' on an almost daily basis, but is it really necessary to give this buffon any more publicity than is necessary? He is clearly bonkers. I would even say he is mentally ill. Prince Phillip a Nazi! How dare he come over to our country, bully the authorities into issuing him with a British passport on account of his wealth, bugger off to Switzerland whenever his tax bill gets too much and then farcically accuse our Monarch of conspiracy to murder. What a wanker!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Hotel Rwanda

Bill Clinton recently confessed that his one biggest regret during his Presidency was failing to avoid the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Almost 1 million Rwandans were murdered in the spring and summer of 1994, as the extremist Hutu's embarked on the systematic slaughter of the minority Tutsi people. Hotel Rwanda portrays one mans account of the horrors of this tragedy, and the failure of the UN to control the ensuing chaos.

Paul Rusesabagina (played impressively by Don Cheadle) is the Hutu manager of a successful hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali, which is forced into becoming a makeshift refugee camp as the fighting intensifies. He attempts to maintain normality whilst simultaneously hiding almost 1200 refugees, many of whom were Tutsi's. However, once abandoned by the UN, this proves too tough a task amid the horrors happening literally outside the gates of the hotel. His survival to that point had been prolonged on account of him being a Hutu and notable member of the community. Once it becomes clear that he is harbouring Tutsi's, he himself becomes a target and the Hotel is set upon. Rusesabagina is thus forced to protect himself and those inside the Hotel through a combination of bribery, smart lies and phonecalls to powerful friends.

There are some deeply moving moments, such as that when the French army extract the Westerners from the Hotel, leaving the local Rwandans inside the hotel thus condemning them to almost certain death. One of the most disturbing points of the film is towards the end, when Cheadle and his driver are returning from collecting supplies from the warehouse of a corrupt businessman. In thick fog, it appears they have taken a wrong turning onto a bumpy track. On stopping the vehicle and stepping outside however, it becomes clear that they are in fact on the correct road, and the bumps are caused by something altogether more horrific.

Overall, I felt the screenplay lacked a certain depth and felt rushed despite clocking up almost 120 minutes, and too many of the key characters were not terribly well developed. The dialogue is a tad clumsy in parts - for example in a scene towards the start when Joaquin Phoenix's American character asks for and is given an idiots guide background to the Rwandan crisis. Surely as a war journalist he would already have known that??! In fairness though, this was obviously aimed at providing the viewer with a brief introduction, although it could have been handled more cleverly. Then there is the stereotypical lesbian-esque Red Cross worker, who is seemingly killled by a land mine mid-movie, but miraculously re-appears in the final scene in true Hollywood style. Despite the films shortcomings, it is still an interesting account of a difficult subject and I would recommend Hotel Rwanda for anyone seeking an understanding of this dark chapter in Africa's recent history.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Liverpools Path to Glory: Benitez v Wenger

Today's Champions League draw has thrown up a number of interesting matches. Roman Abramovich's Russian Roubles have worked their magic in Nyon once again with Chelsea handed a virtual bye against outsiders Fenerbahce, while UEFA have ensured that Manchester United will not face English opposition en route to the final. Liverpool will be glad to have avoided Manchester United, Barcelona and even Chelsea at this stage, but Arsenal have proved a tough nut to crack for Benitez. With a league game at the Emirates sandwiched between the home and away legs, the two clubs will certainly become well acquainted with each other. It is unlikely that one club will win all three encounters, so Liverpool must seize the initiative in the away leg by getting at least one away goal. Benitez will be desperately hoping that Gerrard and Torres can maintain their rich vein of form for the remainder of the season. There is a feeling that Liverpool are now playing with a lot more freedom, now that the 'distractions' of the Premiership title and FA Cup are gone.

Contrary to popular wisdom, I feel that having the home leg second is if anything a slight disadvantage, as the home team can set their stall out to defend the 1st leg without conceeding, knowing that an away goal in the 2nd leg, which tend to be more open, gives them a huge advantage. This was perfectly illustrated by Rangers in disposing of Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup. Some suggest that Arsenal will tire as the season draws to a conclusion but I fail to see the logic in this - the Gunners are one of the fittest teams in the Premiership. Instead, their big weakness lies in the centre of defence. Senderos often makes Titus Bramble look like Frank Baresi, and Gallas is prone to lapses of concentration, whilst Kolo Toure has been struggling for fitness all season. In addition, their failure to collect 3 points from any of their last 3 league games suggests the wheels on the bandwagon might be starting to loosen.

Liverpool should go into the games with confidence, having ousted the Serie A runaway leaders Inter MIlan in the previous round, and I am optimistic that Rafa will once again come up against his traditional semi final foes, Chelsea, for a place in the final hopefully against Barcelona.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The One Show

Does anyone watch The One Show (shown at 7-7.30pm on BBC 1 funnily enough)? Normally I would only have this on in the background whilst waiting for something decent, like football, to come on or whilst clearing up the dishes. Christine Bleakley is as bland as a damp teabag, but recently they have had as guests two of the greatest rock GODS of all time in Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey! I never though I'd hear the legendary Led Zeppelin frontman talking about the declining sparrow population on a sofa with the amiable MOTD 2 presenter Adrian Chiles. Fair play to them for pulling in the big names when it really matters. Makes my weekday evening housework all the more enjoyable. Of course, I'm absolutely positive that his appearance on the show had nothing whatsoever to do with the recent release of his album, Raising Sands, in which he duets with Alison Krauss.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Trump's Golf Plans Hit the Rough

American tycoon Donald Trump's £1 billion plan to build the "world's best golf course" at the Menie Estate north of Aberdeen has caused considerable controversy amongst the planning fraternity and environmental bodies in Scotland. Predictably, opinion is fiercely divided on whether the economic boost to the local economy would be outweighed by the environmental impact. The application was initially backed by Aberdeenshire Council's planning committee, but subsequently refused at the Infrastructure Committee. Incidentally the Head of that Committee, Martin Ford,has since been sacked. The Scottish Government have now announced that there is to be a Public Inquiry to decide whether the plans should indeed go ahead. This has led to a great deal of confusion surrounding the planning process and the legitimacy of Ministerial intervention into live applications.

On the one hand, certain members of the public are sceptical as to why the SNP Government had to intervene, with suggestions of sleaze and dodgy dealings. The Trump Organisation meanwhile have expressed their "disappointment" that the application will come under the scrutiny of an inquiry. This will no doubt be an lengthy process, and it could take up to 2 years for the Inquiry to take place and the Reporter to make a final recommendation. But it is entirely appropriate and normal that such a scheme is 'called-in' and handled in accordance with planning law. Mob rule from over zealous environmental lobby groups should not distract planners from their duty to make a fair and reasonable assessment of the application. As the head of the Royal Town Planning Institute in Scotland, Alistair Stark, recently observed:

"There was a substantial body of opinion that the planning authority should have reached a decision that reflected the majority opinion in the area. This is not an acceptable way to take a planning decision"

Stark's comments reflect a wider public misconception that planners should 'do whatever the prevailng public opinion' is. This is plainly not the case. Whilst public objections must obviously be considered, ultimately, it is the planners role to use his or her professional judgement to determine whether any proposal is beneficial.

No doubt the residents of North Antrim in Northern Ireland will be watching the outcome with keen interest, since Trump has stated that he will take his scheme to the Giants Causeway should his Aberdeen plans fail! I wonder how that would go down at Stormont?