Thursday, May 28, 2009

Midnight Express: Redux

Ivorismo Rating: *

Old rubbish never dies, it just makes your mind fade away. Go on, take a load off me: You find the appropriate cliché! I never thought I’d have to sit through this old sack of dreck again, but, instead of a remake, almost thirty years later, we get the Director’s Cut. It’s kind of funny, actually. I really like Oliver Stone’s On Any Sunday, which also just came out in a new, marvellous director’s cut. Well, I’ll be danged if, after raving about Ollie’s best piece of work, I don’t get to review his total worst a week later. Fair enough, he didn’t direct this one, but, as screenwriter, his DNA is splattered everywhere. A huge success when it came out in 1975, Midnight Express, allowed its director, Alan Parker, the chance to pick his own scripts ever after, which more or less destroyed his journeyman career. It also allowed Stone the chance to direct his own script, Salvador, and onward to sustain hit after hit with the likes of Platoon, Wall Street, Nixon, JFK, U-Turn, Natural Born Killers, World Trade Center, and, of course, one of the greatest comedies ever, Alexander.

Stone’s academy award-winning script is based on Billy Hayes’ memoir of the same name. You know you’re in murky territory instantaneously, because, along with the percussive putt-putt-putt pummeling of Billy’s heart, a big yellow banner says, just like in those old Warner Brothers thirties classics, ‘Based on a true story! Yes, we’re inside a nice, wonder bread college boy’s chest as he straps a couple of kilos of hash to his stomach and gets caught at the Istanbul airport just as he’s boarding a plane for New York. For the next two hours, we go for a brutal-but-beautiful ride, as our pretty, virginal Billy (Brad Davis) is battered and buggered by the savage, homo-eroticized Turks with the accompaniment of composer Gorgio Moroder and his disco-bleep synthesizers. Billy is rendered naked a lot, and the hairy-eared Turks, led by an ox of a huge, head screw, Hamidou (Paul Smith), who welcomes him by hanging him upside down during the first night and then rapes him. As the film piles on the torment, Billy slowly deteriorates and becomes more or less like the English junkie, Max, a nice star turn for John Hurt, the hotheaded American psychopath (Randy Quaid), and the scores of exquisitely beautiful thirteen-year-old boys who seem to have been imprisoned solely for the pleasure of the evil Turkish prisoners and guards.

Yet, no matter how degraded and tortured Billy is, beneath the deathly pallor we still see the steadfast true-believer eyes of a Slavic Christ icon. And those dirty Turkish prisoners and screws, sodomites all, seem to do nothing but stab one another, scream and shout in their funny language and come off not so much as icky Moslem foreigners, but as a different hairy species. By the time Billy snaps—in the midst of giving a seductive kiss to a Turkish informer which becomes a horrifying, slow-motion act of biting off the informer’s tongue and then spitting it out—it signals an end to the former, expected, run-of-the-mill sort of “this could be what happens to you if you break the law in a foreign country”-film sort of way, into a kind of propaganda bludgeon. What follows is a long, Fellinesque coda accompanied by a Moroder synth wash. Dragged off to the sector of the penitentiary reserved for the insane, Billy becomes a raving, raging mumbler. By the time Susan, his girlfriend, visits, Billy is a hysterical babbler. Then, abruptly, five years later, after somehow getting himself together, Billy manages to escape.

The massive box office success of this movie seems incomprehensible to me still. What I do remember well from seeing it in the theater is the mass cheer that came from the audience as Billy spat the Turk’s tongue out, which turned to applause as he stood there, his arms upraised, another white champion triumphing over the innate wickedness of the barbarous third world, a pixilated slo-mo Christ spattered with heathen blood. Michael Seresin’s cinematography, an earthy palette of burnt siennas, mustard browns, and a journey through the full gray scale, has to be complimented. In the hands of a less subtle lens artist, say the subtlety-free work of that bludgeoning iconoclast John Alonzo, the film might have slipped into a state of total, umm, vulgarity.

Midnight Express is a relentless exercise in audience manipulation. A cynical use of manipulative technique very far removed from any mode of sincere artistic impulse. Parker and Stone use a cow prod to goad the viewer from one brutal shock to the next. There are no ambiguities in this xenophobic tract. It’s a cruel bit of rabble-rousing. The Brit and Yank prisoners (oh, and the one flamingly gay Swede) are civilized and noble. The Turks, even Billy’s lawyer, who picks his nose and clears his ears with his pinkie in the only comic turn in the film, are sadistic, filthy, and, did I say, hairy?

How could I help but check out the extra commentary from Parker and Stone that accompanied this, the glorious director’s cut with seven added minutes of footage hacked cut out of the original release?

“I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Express and the stuff I’ve been reading about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo,” Parker--now Sir Alan Parker-- says very solemnly in his awful North London accent as he revisits the film’s creation. Now I know the problem. He’s an Arsenal supporter. Running a nervous hand across his comb over, Parker adds. “Prison brings out the worst in human behavior.”

All right, now I get it. Prison brings out the very worst in human behavior. On the other hand, Stone, being a writer and all, digs a tad deeper. “It strikes me that, despite a few bad examples of errant behavior by ill-trained guards at Abu Ghraib, our people, whether, you know, it’s the army in particular, or the penitentiary system in general, our people are just not capable of the kind of behavior you see going on in this movie.” Enough said. It seems to be imperative for Americans to believe that we are, all of us, naïve and misunderstood. As the gregariously crusty barkeep of The Simpsons, Mo Cieslak, sings in a state of utter frustration at the rest of the cruel populace:"Why don't they like me?/Nobody likes me?"

Nah, I can't let Stone have the last word. Having failed so miserably with Alexander, his elegiac World Trade Center movie proved to be a fairly subtle success. Now, with Wall Street 2 shooting, the signs are there for all to see that the cupboard is, if not bare, down to a few canned goods. With Shia LeBouef replacing the long-since-dissipated Charlie Sheen, one wonders if he might do a redo of his whole oeuvre. Consider those five missing years Billy Hayes spent in jail getting his shit together. Billy Hayes: The Lost Years. It's a natural for Stone. Neither a prequel nor a sequel, the film would be something conceptually new: A mequel. Well, Brad Davis may be dead, but I'm sure Shia will be game, as long as the Turks brush their teeth.

Black Book

Ivorismo Rating****

If you like good, old-fashioned entertainment, Black Book is a worthwhile picture to check out. Its director, Paul Verhoeven, hadn’t made a film back home in the Netherlands for more than twenty years. Best known for balls-to-the-wall Hollywood entertainments like Basic Instinct, Hollow Man, Robo Cop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and the frighteningly bad Showgirls, Verhoeven first caught the eye with Dutch masterpieces like Keetje Tippel, Soldier of Orange, Turkish Delight, The Fourth Man, and the relentlessly brilliant Spetters. His movies are not for the faint of heart, or the politically correct. There are always buckets full of blood, robust sex scenes, a disturbing obsession with rape, scripts which often feature very awkward dialogue, and always, always, always, brassy, heavily made-up blondes and redheads. Verhoeven knows what he likes, the dark gray and chromed edges of black and white conflict between good and evil, and what could serve his sensibilities better than World War II?

There's only a single problem with the film. It's built to be a thriller, and we follow the brave progress of our stunningly gorgeous, brave, red-headed Jewish heroine, Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten) with curiosity as she puts her life on the line for the resistance, again and again. So why does the film begin with a scene showing Rachel teaching at a kibbutz in 1956? Only Gerald Soeteman, Verhoevan's old screenwriting buddy from Turkish Delight-days could say. Nevertheless, despite a few problems with the plot, the biggest production in Dutch film history, Black Book packs so much energy and excitement into its two-and-a-half hours, I felt drained at the end.

The plot of Black Book runs thick and fast. In 1944, after their house is destroyed by an air raid, Rachel and her family escape Amsterdam to a farm, and are then betrayed as they flee the country on a barge. Only Rachel survives, despite being shot in the head. Having been rescued by two heroes of the resistance, Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman) and Gerben Kuipers (Derek De Lint), they waste no time about dolling her up and sending her into the Amsterdam headquarters of the Gestapo, and the bed of the prettiest male Nazi kommandant I've ever seen, Sebastian Koch as Ludwig Muentze. Koch, recently seen in the academy award-nominated The Lives of Others, as an East German writer who may or may not have spied on his friends for the Communist secret police, is superb in another role where his character is torn asunder by his own ambivalence. For a Gestapo kommandant, Muentze is a pleasant fellow, especially compared to the really really bad, sadistic thugs, Gunther Francken (excellently played by Waldemar Kobus), and General Kautner (Christian Berkel). Francken is flesh-crawlingly evil throughout, stepping on corpses as if they are part of the pavement, and licking his lips after each kill. I won't give away too much, but betrayal piles upon betrayal as the Nazis endeavour to capture the special black book belonging to the resistance, filled with the names of operatives and friends. In such a war as this, where one Nazi is fairly good and more than one resistance operative is a mole, the moral ambiguities of all the characters becomes questionable. Halina Reijn, Rachel's relentlessly, promiscuous hooker sidekick, proves somehow to be the true moral compass of all these shenanigans.

The ironies here may be layered on with a trowel by Verhoeven, but the cold ruthlessness of the resistance leadership in coercing a damaged young woman to use her body as a kind of Venus flytrap surely lays waste to the latest round of 'Good War' propaganda perpetuated by the American culture machine in the likes of Saving Private Ryan and HBO's Band of Brothers and the nonfiction bestseller, Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. This is not to say that Saving Private Ryan is a bad film, per sé, but that we, as an audience, never get to see the enemy as anything but part of a ruthless component of a Nazi killing machine. This may have worked 70 years ago, but in these times, where we read daily about the atrocious beastly behavior of America and its enemies, too much simple thinking renders us all collectively stupid. Thus Rachel Stein becomes a whore for the resistance and becomes best friends with a real whore—one who admittedly has always used her body as a sort of cudgel to acquire whatever is necessary for survival in a Darwinistic world. This kind of thinking will not win Verhoeven any friends in the feminist world (save perhaps for that guerilla warrior Camille Paglia). In the end, as the betrayals pile up as high as the body count, the two pretty whores, prove to be the only ones who transcend Nazi evil and their Allied bosses pimp-like expedient use of them as whore assassins.

Movies about the resistance movements in World War II have, up to this point, been rather staid exercises in propaganda, save perhaps for John Frankenheimer's brilliant The Train. The very idea of a good Jewish girl sleeping with a Gestapo man and enjoying it will surely outrage some folks out there. Read the war diaries of Marguerite Duras, however, and you'll see that this, too, really was a way the war was won. A 150 minute film about World War II, in Dutch with subtitles, may not sound attractive to you, but, let me assure you, Black Book really is a first-rate action film.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jews On Catherine Wheels

Not even tumbleweed
rolls as well as certain Jews, partially dissected,
vilified, pinned by their points, like high school butterflies,
to Catherine Wheels. Torture. Fireworks.
Their brown liquid, beagle eyes glimmering,
they shriek. They ululate. Each remembering how
they were warned by their Yiddisher mammas,
warned in cheder, warned by Paddy Chayevsky. Skidding
noisily down Wall Street, scratching
the snowy surface of the pounded pavement,
too raucous to avoid the obstacle
of the bull’s hacked-off balls.
Ahoy! Hey, I recognize that nose
Alan Greenpan, Louis Ruckeyser,
the giggling ghost of Arnold Rothstein.
You can run baby, but you can’t hide!

And: Speaking of clichés:
Meanwhile, back at the Connecticut Country Club prison:
Bernie Madoff is being blown by two toothless lifers.
He is contemplating upon the sticky-fingered Swiss.
Stagnant calm, television, the bull’s mutilated torso.
Propaganda. Anderson Cooper.
News: an endless wire of suicidal aristocrats,
spluttering octogenarians, bereft celebrities.
The oligarchic All-American rabbi, broke,
down to his tzitsis,
down to his gatkes, shrugs.
“Bernie,” he says, winking, “made off mit mein money.”
On the wall,next to the door of Bank Leumi
Someone has spray-painted: 'Madoff is a Jew!'
Well, that much is true, but the street is vacant
and the writer and his subject are gone.

June, 1990. On his deathbed
My father was not amused.
What with the Wall falling down and all.
"They'll open the Gulags," he said.
"And the speculators will speculate!"
Seventeen years for his prophecy to take, but
that's like an atom within a grain of sand
in suffering Jew time. The Thing is:
Well, He's not making Yids like he used to, Dad.
Saul, David, Spinoza, Lepke, Shecky, Heine and You:
These were a few of my favorite Jews.
On the the turning Catherine Wheel,
it's the spokes that break you
'cos the ashes from the crematoria were
long ago inhaled into the opened nostrils
of a grateful Polish population like so much cocaine.
Catherine Wheels. Torture. Fireworks: We love it!

—Ivor Irwin

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best Horror Flick Ever!

Ivorismo Rating: ****

Monster movies these days pretty much follow a rigid formula. In that sense, Alien begat The Relic, which begat Event Horizon, which begat Mimic. Each of these movies follow a formula in which a pseudo-scientific setup in the opening leads to a series of shocking scenarios where the heroes are trapped in enclosed territory, a spaceship, vehicle, jungle, subway system or tunnel with a brand-new, vicious monster whose form defies definition and classification and is, until then, completely unknown to man. This monster, usually camouflaged by nature to take on the color and atmosphere of said environment, repeatedly leaps out of hiding places at them, finding new ways to bite, cut, burn, disembowel and, finally, kill the weaker members of the group in ways that make special-effects technicians look brilliant. In the end, however, it always seems to be the smartest person in the group matched in a high-noon-type showdown with the monster. This is the formula, it works, and Hollywood is sticking to it. The finest of all of them is Mimic. If you missed Mimic on its first go-around, I urge you to catch it now.

Still, don’t go to see Mimic if you’re looking for anything novel or new. If, however, you like to find a few new hard-core twists and turns on the same ol’ same ol’ durable old merry-go-round model, a movie like this one works because it has been well planned and constructed. This is hyperbolic I know, but Mimic (1997) is superior to any of its relatives, made before or since. Stylishly directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the film’s visual sense adds a poetic, beautiful wash of texture that suffuses everything so much that it becomes scarier. Having made Spanish- language horror masterpieces in Cronos (1993) and, later, The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Del Toro arrived in Hollywood with the right attitude, bringing in Mimic quickly and below budget. After shooting The Devil's Backbone in Spain, Del Toro did that rare thing, directing the superior sequel, with Blade 2 (2002). After lensing four smash hits Del Toro obeys what ever fancy takes him these days and has made Hellboy (2004), a disappointing Hellboy 2 (2007),and, a third, more cerebral masterpiece with Pan’s Labyrinth(2006). None of them can frighten me like Mimic, though. No other movie can, either.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1968, Del Toro is part of a triumvirate of fine young Mexican filmmmmakers, along with Alfonso Cuarón (¿Y Tu Mamá Tambien? and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarratu (Amores Perros). All three of these young directors are bilingual and have been very deft and clever about turning out well-crafted commercial Hollywood hits to help them raise the cash to make their own films. They take a leaf out of the iconoclastic book of John Cassavetes, who raised cash for his eccentric projects by acting in scores of mediocre, good, bad and indifferent films. Anything to pay for his 'habit'! Mimic may indeed be a bit of fluff compared to, say, Pan's Labyrinth, but, as such, it is marvelous entertainment.

The film begins with television news reportage of a plague which has attacked young kids in Manhattan. Spread by cockroaches, the disease is destroyed by genetic engineering. Susan Tyler, a scientist, played by Mira Sorvino, creates a ‘'Judas Breed’ in her lab. This designer-crafted mutant bug is half mantis, half termite and owns the ability to infiltrate the roach population, infiltrate their nests and kill them off. The designer bug ends the plague. Then three years pass, and now the mutant, supposedly sterile bugs, have, it turns out, kept on evolving.

Nothing new so far, right? We shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature but we do. Yet Del Toro, like our egocentric Dr. Tyler, has added two new kinks in the same old trope. Cronos (1992) concerned a fancy antique Victorian brooch which somehow turns into a tiny savage antique steel vampire bug, Indeed, all of us are instinctively scared when any being shows itself as one thing and suddenly transmogrifies itself into something else. When little bugs and mobile brooches hide out after revealing themselves, most of us get nervous about the idea of sticking our hands into dark unknown places where these little entities might bite and usually do, especially so when children are in danger.

When Dr. Taylor’s mutant bug disappears into big box of shredded paper, she reaches in with her hand to find it, my butt puckered up tight. Of course, she screams when she gets bitten. When two little hood rat kids who collect bugs for Dr. Tyler think they know their way around the subway system, our anxiety travels with them. At the same time, there's a local shoeshine man whose kid plays the spoons in such a manner as to mimic the clicking sounds of the Judas Breed: Mimicing the mimic. These kids, we know instinctively, will, in all innocence, stumble upon a full measure of evil without ever understanding the stakes they’ve entered into. This kind of strategic storytelling, a bubbling soup of withheld suspense, is very effective. As both Hitchcock and Frankenheimer knew well, waiting for an explosion gives the viewer a far better thrill than actually seeing one.

No way I'm going to give away too much of the plot, dear reader, Still, what I can say is that the insect predators, who are never actually seen until late in the film, really do shiver our timbers as we, bit by bit, incrementally ascertain how they have learned to mimic. A word also about the visual machinations created by Del Toro's clever use of locations in Manhattan's subterranean world. Instead of locking us forever into dark, claustrophobic tunnels, as a more monomanic director like Ridley Scott did with Alien, Del Toro creates an abandoned subway station with a vaulted ceiling and overhead windows; utilizing many locations he later recycled for Hellboy, his underground world, despite being of Victorian origin, takes on a kind of Jules Verne-ian timelessness. Indeed, there's a fantastic shot where a scientist, trapped below, looks up to see people walking in the daylight above—so close, and yet so infinitely far away.

Mira Sorvino's casting in the role of the scientist has been criticized in some quarters, perhaps because of the success she had as the daft, giant hooker in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite. Make no mistake, although she's six foot-something, moves a little awkwardly and owns liquid faun eye, Sorvino uses these inadequacies to convey a smart, savvy scientist who is forced to pretend to know everything and hopes she got it right. All because so much of what she does intuitively flies in the face of a conservative academy and her own need to pry research money out of venal politicians. I particularly love a scene where, after they've killed one of the giant mimic insects, she grabs a handful of insect goo and authoratively shouts, ``Here! Quick! Rub it all over yourself!'' And they do. And it saves them!!! And you can't help but wonder why you ever doubted her in the first place.

Jeremy Northam plays her husband, also a scientist, well, his American accent quite convincing; Charles S. Dutton is a relentlessly, belligerent, cloth-eared sociopathic subway guard privileged in owning a lot of information about the underground system; Josh Brolin, before his twangy performance as Dubya made him a star, brings in some deft comic relief as Northam's coroner's office cop/buddy, and the eternally handsome Giancarlo Giannini, his face a topographic map of dissolution, is the shoeshine man, father of the rainman kid who survives thanks to his savant's gift for mimicing the mimics. It's a stellar cast. Good enough, to convince that this hokum could be real. Indeed, F. Murray Abraham's wry cameo as Sorvino's old professor/mentor, gleefully takes pleasure in cautiously taking issue with her statistical use of absolutes. Science, it seems, can be just as easily be debunked by use of reason as its parallel nemesis, religion. Insects, he insists to Sorvino as she talks the talk about the inbred redundancy of her pet Judas Breed, find a way to adapt and evolve, no matter what obstacles are in their way. This is a pretty convincing trope for a simple old school horror flick. Kudos to Del Toro for finding the story by Donald A. Wolheim in a S.F. magazine, and then adapting it with Matthew Robbins.

Mimic is the shining top dog of its genre. The notion that an insect might conceal its presence by hiding, in plain sight, as it were, in the disguise of a tall, eccentric, bohemian trendy stalker sounds absurd. But the scene in the subway, where Sorvino is temporary relieved by the thought that her stalker is not the mimic bug, but, rather, a rapist, may be the best bit of bait-and-switch horror ever filmed. The utter disbelief on her face as the flying monster carries her away to its nest in the scene that follows will make your jaw drop. Del Toro is a director whose authentic visual sense draws us into his story and then, after utilizing the standard ingredients, truly makes the same ol' sausage seem fresh and very, very scary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review of The Fix by Declan Hill

'The Fix' by Declan Hill***

To anybody who really follows the game, this book is no surprise. Historically, Hill, normally an investigative television producer/journo, gives the reader a good sense as to how lowly-paid players (before worldwide broadcasting brought hundreds of millions in cash to the game) were always susceptible to bribery from bookmakers and various gangsters. Nowadays, Hill shows, in a pretty much indisputable way, that match fixing in soccer is even more widespread, including matches at the World Cup level.

The fixers Hill discusses come from Asia, where betting on all sports is almost a fanatical religion. The vulnerable teams he discusses are from poor nations, usually in Africa, where player salaries are low. They are soft targets. Hill concentrates on Ghana's Jekyll and Hyde performance at the 2006 World Cup. This part of the book is very disturbing and definitely effective. Hill names, Stephen Appiah, a former midfielder for Italy's Juventus and Turkey's Fenerbahce clubs. Appiah, a young player in his pomp, once touted to be Patrick Veiera's successor at English powerhouse club, Arsenal, was freed from his contract by Fenerbahce, either as the result of a bad knee their doctors missed when they originally bought him, or, far more likely, as a result of his snitching. Indeed, since talking to Hill and the release of this book, Appiah's hopes of catching on with another big European club have thus far disappeared. It seems that both Hill and Appiah are high on FIFA President Sepp Blatter's mierda list.

Hopefully, this should help Hill sell lots of books. Hill surely had Blatter tearing what little hair he has left when describing contacts between fixers and players beginning at FIFA youth tournaments which theoretically 'promote' the ever developing game. FIFA, which is the ruling body for the professional game, a worldwide organization that rules with a kind of heavy-handed greed and secrecy that can't help but remind you of the mafia, does not come off well in this book. Hill nails the organization bang to rights. Unfortunately, Hill, who took on the Russian Vor ve Zakonye (a worldwide gangster organization) when he exposed their corruption of the NHL in some sterling work for the CBC, stops short here. A vague threat from ethnic Chinese gangsters to hurt or kill him is stated implicitly, but the full story hinted at is never quite told.

At the same time, Italian football has always been corrupt. Massive scandals involving players, club directors, general managers, organized crime figures and even the prime-minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who owns A.C. Milan and the lion's share of Scudetto (Italian League) television rights. German Bundesliga games have also been fixed. A certain English striker, once a star for a top four English premiership team and a major Spanish club, has been banished from the England national squad for making and taking bets recently. With the hundreds of millions in laundered oil and drug cash floating around the game in Europe and hard rumors of Interpol catching mobsters fixing the 2008 EUFA Cup Final red-handed, one gets the sense that Mr. Hill knows a lot more than he lots on!

One problem Hill has here is the narrative first-person stylings he uses spasmodically to move things along and make himself into the hero investigative journo. Hill is repeatedly 'shocked' to find gambling going on around him, so that it gets silly after a while. I'm reminded of Claude Rains' policeman raiding Rick's mini-casino in Casablanca. Hill plays up his narrator/self as a mirror of the naïve boy who used to watch Arsenal games at Highbury as a teenager with his dad and stops to cry for himself. Nevertheless, he seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Arsenal team which featured the beautiful trickery of Liam Brady also played Spiv thugs like Peter Storey, Peter Simpson and Frank McClintock. The Fix is a good read, but Hill has barely scratched the surface. Be sure to read it, but follow it up with a far, far better book on the way corruption in the game actually works, Broken Dreams by Tom Bower. Hill concentrates on soft targets in Asia and Africa. Next time, perhaps, he'll go after the Big Game.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The 20 Worst Signings of the Premier League Season

During last summer and the January window, a promiscuous amount of dosh was lavished on some really dreadful footballers. Here, for your consideration are Ivor's Top Twenty Worst Premiership Signings of the Season:

1. Dimitar Berbatov: Manchester United’s £32m languid, lazy Bulgarian has only done one thing successfully since leaving White Hart Lane. He has broken up the neck-breaking high-speed diamond attacking machine that saw Rooney and Tevez do the awesome spade-work to supply Ronaldo's goal scoring exploits in 2007-2008. His tame old lady farting of a penalty kick at Tim Howard in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton may have been the last straw to United's fans, but it will only serve to make our stubborn Gaffer love him all the more. With Ronaldo and Tevez most likely gone this Summer, expect Ferguson to retool the forward line around Berbatov.

2. Robinho: At £31M, Robinho was expected to deliver upon his massive potential instantaneously when he joined Manchester Shitty. To be fair, the lad has delivered more than a few spectacular goals and his often breathtaking ball-handlings skills are splendid. The problem is that, when he's not in the mood to perform, which is most of the time, he is invisible on the field. To be sure, Robinho prefers playing off the right wing, coming in from behind the striker. Unfortunately, because the youth striker brigade of Evans, Calceido, Sturridge, and, formerly, Jo, didn't score and Craig Bellamy and Valery Boijnov are a sick-note, Robinho has often been expected to be the striker. Well protected by the referees in Spain, not to mention the goon squad antics on his behalf from Mohammadou Diarra and Gago at Real Madrid, Robinho has received no such special treatment in the E.P.L. I believe he's way too good to remain a flop, but he needs to stay out of the nightclubs and find a better club.

3. Ricardo Quaresma: The little Gypsy winger was expected to fare just as well as his Portugal nationalk team wing partner, Cristano Ronaldo, when they came up together in the Sporting Lisbon academy. Having failed three seasons ago at Barcelona, Quaresma returned to Portugal with F.C. Porto and was a huge success. This season, the self-styled 'Great One' Jose Mourinho decided to take another gamble on him at Inter Milan. For the £20M spent, Mourinho expected instantaneous brilliance. Quaresma, however, flopped spectacularly again. Thus the Tsigana wizard of the dribble so pissed off Mourinho that he loaned him out to Chelsea during the January transfer window. More of the same has followed at Chelsea, although no one professes to understand why. If you ask me, it's all about nurturing and personality. Quaresma thrives in the company of family-oriented coaches like Carlos Queiroz and Paolo Bento. I see no reason for him to flop in the bosom of Manny U or Spurs under the feel-good coaching of Sir Alex Ferguson or Harry Redknapp. Indeed, if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves for Real Madrid, Inter might happily dump their expensive mistake in the Gaffer's lap for cheap, especially if we sent Nani t'other way. Hint! Hint!

4. Jimmy Bullard: Poor Phil Brown is the Yorkshire version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, "Oh, Boy of Tears." Hull City paid Fulham £6m for the brave, hard-working, but injury-prone midfielder with the idea that the ever-grafting ginger one would help stop the rot and end their slide down the table. Naturally, Bullard injured his knee only 37 minutes into his very first game and will now miss the rest of the season. Watch for him to recover next season, gag on the Championship Division, and return to the premiership in January.

5. Jo: The 'Fro-barneted Brazilian striker represented £19m down the toilet for Manchester Shitty. He couldn't buy a goal at the City of Manchester stadium, and, together with his fellow Brasilenhos, Elano and Robinho, had Sparky Hughes tearing his hair out. Never mind, Shitty's owners have oodles of oil dosh! They'll be okay. Surprisingly, having been loaned out into the more nurturing arms of Everton's Davie Moyes, Jo has performed well for the other Scousers. As the Toffees are unlikely to be able to afford to come up with the readies to make any move permanent, it will be interesting to see which club ends up taking on this erratic, yet sometimes brilliant lad.

6. Robbie Keane: Sure, Liverpool managed to recoup a fair chunk of the £20m they paid Spurs for the Irish forward. Still, despite the fact that Rafa Benitez keeps implying that the signing was somehow not at all his idea, this was a disastrous stinker of a deal for both clubs. A real grafter, a courageous player with physical presence—someone like Emil Heskey or the improving Bobby Zamora of Fulham—was what was needed as company up front for Fernando Torres. Either one of them could have been useful during the squeaky-bum title run-in, but, in signing Keane under false pretenses—he may be the least physical striker in the premiership—the Scousers sewed the seeds for one more season of beautiful loserdom. That is unless you think second place will do and that Yossi Benayoun can keep saving Liverpool for ever.

7. Deco: The £8m schemer, a great midfield general for two ECC Champions at Porto and Barcelona, was breathtakingly good in his first few performances for Chelsea. Unfortunately, between a spate of niggling injuries and some very lack luster games, the Deco of old has disappeared when put to work with Ballack, Lampard and Obi Mikel. One of the major factors in Felipe Scolari's firing, and an embarrassment to the club, I expect him to be flogged at a bargain price into the warm, tender clutches of his old boss, Jose Mourinho, at Inter this summer.

8. Huerelho Gomes: For £11.5 Spurs expected more from this erratic Brazilian keeper. Signed from PSV Eindhoven, where he'd burned all his bridges with two coaches, the Chairman and the fans, Gomes, at 6'4" with a huge hand span and scores of posted YouTube highlights, promised much. To be sure, Big Phil Scolari, his old coach at Cruzeiro, called him the most underrated goalie in the world and urged Juande Ramos to sign him. His first 10 games at Spurs were, however, a flapping nightmare. Yet in big games against the big four, Gomes has performed big. Go fig-ya! Anybody know a good Portuguese-speaking analyst?

9. Fabricio Coloccini: How much? £10.3m? Poor poor pathetic Newcastle!!! Another bust of a buy. Dennis Wise's purchases must have had Mike Ashley in tears. He's got a fine head of hair has the young man, but the Argentine stopper looks overmatched against the likes of Emile Heskey, Kevin Davies and Darren Bent. Enough said! Not to worry, he'll be dumped on the cheap and will look like a world-beater at Rangers or Paris St. Germain. Of course, it would be tantamount to putting the boot in if I also mention Xisco (£5.7M), or Guttierez (£8M)

10. David Bentley: Worse in the profligate stakes than even Newcastle and Keano's Sunderland when it comes to consistently crap signings, Spurs paid Blackburn £15 million for the ex-Arsenal and England midfielder, with up to an additional £2 million based upon “future performances.” Arsene Wenger may be many things, but he's not daft! One breathtaking goal against Les Gooners aside, Bentley has been dreadful. Perhaps he ought to head back up north where he's appreciated. Surely Sparky can remake and reboot the lad at Man Shitty? His sterling performances at Ewood against Manchester United and Liverpool for the Rovers seem like a fuzzy long-distance memory.

11. Paul Robinson: The ex-England goalkeeper was Paul Ince’s first signing for Blackburn. "Rubbish! You're rubbish!" the Blackburn fans chant when he gets near the ball. At £3.5m Robinson wasn't a bad gamble for the sarcastic, arrogant Ince; unfortunately, since Incey got fired, whatever confidence Robinson once had is long gone. He panics when faced with floating crosses and is more passive then ever when communicating with his defence. I gather that Hollywood is remaking the Three Stooges. How about casting Robinson, Scott Carson and Calamity James?

12. Anton Ferdinand: Sunderland paid West Ham £9M for Rio’s little bra'a. Anton is no Rio, that's for sure, unless you're talking about some of Rio's bad habits. To be sure, the lad has a lot of potential, but Sunderland need stopper help now. Why did a certain El Hadji-Diouf, heretofore only known for slapping his wife around, now at Blackburn Rovers, ignore the peaceful lamentations of the Q'ran toward his fellow man and try to beat Anton's head in? Something about this young man seems to get other folks' nose out of joint. It doesn't seem like he'll ever be able to live up to the hype caused by his big brother's long shadow, however. Returning to one of the London clubs might be an attitude changer, though.

13. Johan Elmander: Bolton’s £8.2m Swedish striker Johan Elmander looks he is running through a tub of custard out there. A devastating force in the French league, he seems lost and overmatched in England. 6'4", with the look of a Thor-like comic-book character, or maybe a lamer, limper version of Jan Vinegoor of Hesselinck or Jan Köller, Elmander has managed to make Gary Megson look pretty gormless. Although, he looks like a tank, Elmander performs like a jellyfish. The odd man out on a club full of hard cases, look for his imminent return to France.

14. Dave Kitson: For £5.5m, Stoke thought the rangy red-headed striker from Reading would be a perfect finisher for their tall, tough, well-shaped side. Melancholy and languid, even when things are going well, Kitson seems lost without Stevie Coppell's coaching. Unfortunately for Stoke, after 16 games and no goals, and being renamed 'Shitson' by all and sundry, he was a disaster. Loaned back to Reading, he still looks very tentative and depressed.

15. Scott Carson: Valued at £10M two seasons ago before botching up numerous opportunities for England, the Scotty Dogg was dumped by Liverpool on West Brom for £3.75m. Running neck and neck with Pauly Robinson, Carson has made so many cock-ups over Albion's long, miserable season that every Dummy Brummy out there winces when his name is mentioned. Rebuilding his confidence in the Championship may yet turn out to be a blessing. He'll certainly be the most expensive goalie in the Championship Division next season.

16. Borja Valero: West Brom paid a club record fee of £4.7m for Valero to Real Majorca. Formerly a midfielder in Spain's World Championship winning youth team, Valero has made 29 appearances this season, not one of which anyone has noticed him playing in. Valero seems very much intimidated when he has to go up against the likes of Mascharano and Marouane Fellaini. Still, the coach, Tony Mowbray, insists that Valero is his future team leader, despite the relentless chorus of booing from fans. Big plans: Let's hope Borja doesn't just disappear into thin air.

17. Tal Ben Haim: The ruthless Israeli stopper's £5m signing from Chelsea seemed like a fantastic idea at the time because he'd had so much success under Sparky Hughes at Blackburn Rovers. The year he spent at Chelsea sitting on the bench, being totally ignored by his coach, fellow Israeli Avram Grant, seems to have completely made his confidence disappear, however. Now on loan at Sunderland, he has a docile centre-back partnership with Anton Ferdinand. Both look like they would be much happier at home in bed. I wouldn't be surprised to see him happily returning into the clutches of Big Sam at Blackburn next season.

18. Nicky Shorey: An expensive buy for Aston Villa from Reading at £7.5m, he has been in and out of the team for the whole season because of a series of niggling injuries. A sometimes spectacular left back for Reading two seasons ago, he looks lost in the claret-and-blue. Caught out of position a lot, Shorey tends to often find himself stranded in a forward wing position when teams execute a quick breakaway. Schooled by Stevie Coppell in a Reading system that allowed him much more freedom and utilized his ball-handling skills, Shorey will need a lot of patient coaching from Martin O'Neill this Summer if he's to stay and succeed. Will he ever be able to work off the superb, high-speed skills of Ashley Young, though?

19. Kevin Nolan: The highly-regarded Nolan was once thought of us as 'the next Keano.' Tough-tackling, energetic and a fine, accurate passer of the ball, he was a kind of Captain/Prince for Sam Allardyce's rowdy set of Bolton Wanderers' bruisers. Sold for a surprisingly low £5.5M to Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United, many pundits thought he would be the ideal enforcer to put some steel into the spine of the Toon's anemic midfield. This has not been the case. The game of managerial musical chairs at St. James' seems to have stripped Nolan of all confidence. Perhaps if he could hook up again with Allardyce at Blackburn!?

20. Hugo Rodallega: Expectations were high for this large, yet lightning-quick Colombian striker. For thrifty Wigan Athletic, the investment in a £4.5M striker was a big gamble. The top scorer for Colombia in the South American qualification rounds for the FIFA Under-20 last year, Rodallega had every big club in Europe watching him and salivating. His purchase by Wigan was definitely a coup. His success in the last Mexican league season at Necaxa did not, however, prepare him for the speed and brawn of the EPL. Wigan's manager, Stevie Bruce, has been very successful at buying and selling on cheap South and Central American players because of the club's wise investment in some very good scouts. The jury is still out on Rodallega, however. If he doesn't work out, look for Brucey to return to the low budget players again.

Anyone I've missed out on? Any comments? Please be in touch.