Review: Season 6:3 Game of Thrones (Jandals in May)

May 17th, 2016 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


Review: Game of Thrones 6:2 (The Dwarf gets his dragon-on)

May 13th, 2016 at 8:30 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

6:2. So this week we waited to learn if Jon Snow was really dead…and waited to see if he was really alive. The Red Witch (star of the final scene of 6:1 – no spoiler; go watch that) tries to revive his very dead corpse but failed. But watch the Dire Wolf’s eyes under the table. Red Witch is disillusioned; her gods have failed her with false visions (or have they?)  “F**K em all then!” (Lord Davos).

Below: Jon Snow; Daenrys Targaryen (true heir to the Iron Throne); the Dwarf Tyrion Lannister (everyone’s favourtite)
8GOTReview: GoT 6:2 (The Dwarf gets his dragon-on) | coNZervative

[Spoiler] Meanwhile Ramsay’s adopted dad has had a son (his first true born) and second heir which to Ramsay the Bastard means only one thing; Adopted-Daddy-o needs a knife in the nethers and Ramsay of course doesn’t hesitate. He also dispatches his new brother and his wet nurse to a rather grisly nasty end – Ramsay is being set up as a nastier bit of work than Joffrey Baratheon/Lannister.  Oh come back Theon and wreck your terrible ‘Reek’ vengeance!
[Actually the ‘wet nurse’ is Lord Bolton’s wife and Ramsay’s step-mum (Ramsay is really a ‘Snow’); but this seems unlikely in the episode: Bolton simply chose this woman as her father offered a dowry of her weight in gold – so Lord Bolton took her: she seems like the baby’s wet nurse to me in this episode].
[Spoiler] Meanwhile in the Iron Islands another father and House lord is despatched in this game of epic musical thrones. Balon Greyjoy as the Lord of House Greyjoy of Pyke – not to be confused with Lord Walder Frey who is Lord of the Crossing and mastermined the infamous Red Wedding (referred to in Obama’s White House Correspondent’s dinner) they both have long straggly white hair – goes out on a swing bridge in a storm. That can mean only one thing in GoT!
Funnily enough I was watching an episode of MythBusters just before in which Jamie (not Lannister) and the beret Walrus build a 100 foot long rope bridge out of duct tape and attempt to cross it.

Balon walks out on to the rope bridge in the rain and dark only to meet his brother and a show down. Without a spoiler let’s just say the rightful heir Theon (‘Reek’)  Greyjoy now has some room to move and a kingdom to inherit and sort out (now there is some vengeance that could sort the psycho Ramsay!)  Who else? That showdown is VERY personal. This may help kinda (flowcharts are necessary when watching GoT)…


Review: GoT 6:2 (The Dwarf gets his dragon-on) | coNZervative

Tyrion and Varys are still setting about re-establishing order in ‘Dragon town’ since Daenrys flew away.  Tyrion does something incredibly brave but foresightful: he goes in to the dark dungeon where the dragons are chained and tells them a wee story and unchains them (how come my trailer chain and ‘D’ ring is never that easy to unshackle? Even with Dragon drool all over it?).
Tyrion sets them free so they can fly out and ‘forage’ (ie burn up insignificant rural hamlets like Bulls and eat their BBq-ed people and -well- bulls). In doing so Tyrion is now ‘Friend of the dragons’ and maybe setting himself up as a consort to Daenrys? OR are we seeing a  transfer of power from Daenrys to Tyrion and Daenrys will end up Dothraki horse-shag?  Interesting. You read it here first! You can never underestimate the Dwarf!
The Wildings take the Wall back. (“The Wildings” as flogged from Tolkien’s Dunlendings or Wildmen of Dunland also wrapped in fur skins as the Dothraki are pinched as the Roharrim but with a cross-breeding of Southron Haradrim). It’s not epic-fantasy without generous helpings of Prof Tolk.)  There’s a great scene where a BlackWatchman shoots one of the Frost Giants in the neck with a crossbow bolt and gets “splatched” against a concrete bulwark and tossed across the snow leaving a crimson ribbon like the line of a red marker.
There’s another similar scene where Cersei’s Giant Knight bashes the head of a disrespectful village man against a brick wall while he’s relieving himself: quick efficient and bloody and a taste of the efficient desptaching of all Cersei’s enemies by this hulking Hulk Hogan in armour known as “The Mountain.”

I’ve always found the men of the Black Watch a bunch of wimps so an all round massacre by the bearded WWF Norseman in pelts would not be remiss. But effectively they are now a combined fighting host of the North and can meet the hordes of Dothraki migrating West; under Jon Snow if he ever resurrects perhaps joinde by House Stark and Theon Greyjoy etc.

Arya Stark is accepted as Girl with No Name among the Faceless Gods Helter Skelter cult but I’m sure is still Arya Stark inside (maybe she’ll even find Needle again and do some more family dynasty utu-ing). Speaking of which two Kiwis star in this series: Keisha Castle-Hughes in Dorne and Joe Naufaahu (runs an Auckland gym) amongst the Dothraki. Once Were Warriors!


Some backstory to Hodor arrives via a vision of the past while Bran Stark and Co (kind of Hobbits on a walk about) are wrapped in to that weird memory tree. Tree huggers with the Three-eyed Raven played by the famous Max von Sydow (who usually plays a WWII German General). This is cool; a kind of future and past wandering Internet service where they can see the past and future and make decisions for the present.  Bran played by Issac H-Wright has had an adolescent growth spurt and is now a young man; he was a small child in Season 5. Bran is still crippled but how will Hodor carry him about on his back now? Might look a bit gay (the actor who plays Hodor actually announced he was gay; who cares?). When Bran is eventually united with Sansa and Arya Stark (a holy Trinity?) as the House Stark they’ll be like super-powered X-Men or Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

Cersei Lannister is recovering from her Walk of Shame and Inquisition but faces down the Red Keep guard with her Giant house gimp with the bruised face (who is this person? Is it the Hound returned?). Cersei is reconciled to her soft insignificant ‘king’ son the ring-in Joffrey Baratheon/Lannister II (I can’t even remember his name. He’s like some guy from Spot On). But the script appears to set him and Cersei Lannister up as a despicable Mum + Son vengeance troupe ala Alexander the Great and Olympias or Nero and Agrippina-the-Younger.

Episode 6:2 pretty much a forward development of all the story strands: but the end of two lines: 1) House Bolton (Father and second heir first-born after dastardly deeds done dirt cheap by the bastard Ramsay) and 2) the brother-cide of Balon Greyjoy setting up a murderous uncle for ‘Reek’ to go and sort out (to Sansa Stark – “Can I borrow one of the horses?“).

So House Bolton destroys Stennis Baratheon’s pretensions (and his army) only to disintegrate internally via Court regicide? Awesome! Go the Bastards!

Prediction: Theon will obviously return to the Iron Islands; unite that empire with Winterfell and the other people of the North around Jon Snow and House Stark for the epic showdown with Daenerys and Tyrion et al that – like Winter – you can tell is coming! With bells on – or maybe fox pelts.




Guest Post: Can Trump Beat Clinton? 20 Reasons

May 12th, 2016 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer –


None of us – including seasoned American political pundits – predicted Donald J Trump could win the Republican primary. He was “a joke;” I called him “early primary entertainment.”

But he has been a force of nature; a genuine grass-roots phenomenon that has utterly surprised everyone!  Trump beat one of the strongest Republican primary fields EVER. 17 candidates made of: Senators, Governors, a Bush, establishment figures, a brain surgeon etc.

He beat them; he thrashed them; and he did it early and BEFORE he even reached the 1237! amidst MASSIVE speculation of a contested convention and wonks pouring over the maths of 1237 delegates. It was a clean sweep of a talented field (compare the Democrat field).

Trump cleaned up:  He’s a winner! You’re all FIRED!  Boy if ever anyone lived up to his reality TV persona and the ‘back atcha’ demands of The Apprentice (even Celebrity Apprentice). D J Trump has delivered in gold-plated casino spades!

Even if he loses he will always be a Winner. BIG TIME! The Trumps are now American royalty and listening to Donald Jr well there is a dynasty ala Kennedys, Bushs, Clintons.

I can’t really believe it (although I expected him to win): Trump is Presidential Nominee for the GOP! ??

But Can He Now Beat Clinton?

I think he can and probably will

Trump has shackled his wagon to the tide of anti-Establishment and anti-Federal on both the GOP and Democrat sides and in wider America.  His candidacy is a direct reaction to the eight years of Obama and his appeal will draw from untapped sources. He is essentially anti-political correctness and this has growing support amongst the great silent majority who are voting (and why polls are getting predictions so wrong).

Republican registration is way up. Democrat support is down – this will be telling; Clinton assumes the massive 2008 Black vote that came out in support of Obama. She misunderstands that was an Obama vote not necessarily a Democrat vote.


The Democrats are divided; the Bern is humiliating Clinton’s assumed support base AMONGST HER OWN PARTY;  beating her unexpectedly in several stares. She sits there presumptive purely on the basis of the gerrymandered Super Pack system! Sanders is going to challenge this; and if he loses; then will he do a Ross Perot?  A third party candidate on the Left?  Hello President Trump!

Clinton has baggage: she voted for the Iraq war; Benghazi; she old school; her husband’s issues with women that reflect on her; Trump has no political baggage.

20 Reasons Trump can beat Clinton:

  1. Trump has defied everyone including the polls and will again
  2. He is not that ‘negative’ against women
  3. Clinton has the support of African-Americans but 20% don’t back Clinton and if Trump even wins some of them he’s close to the Presidency
  4. Hispanics want jobs and Trump is talking jobs
  5. Trumps exit poll demographics are widely spread; his appeal goes across the divides of class and gender and socio-economic and even party affiliation
  6. The campaign has not even begun and he will kill Clinton or she will over play negatives against Trump
  7. Clinton’s negatives are entrenched but Trumps are not; he has room to address and remove them or at least neutralise them; her’s are set
  8. Clinton’s negatives are on honesty and integrity – political killer blows
  9. She has a genuine FBI investigation over her (which is why The Bern stays)
  10. Bernie Sanders is still campaigning hard and will hobble her path to victory
  11. Clinton will campaign traditionally; Trump is unorthodox; fresh and doesn’t follow the establishment rule-book – this will disorient Clinton’s campaign
  12. The Left will now come out with HATE HATE HATE against Trump and will over reach and damage their cause against him
  13. Any Islamic terror will play to Trump’s narrative
  14. Any Mexican drug cartels or immigrant crime issues will play to Trump
  15. Trump cleaned up in a three-horse race with over 60% of the vote in some states that suggests he has MASSIVE popular appeal that the Left and pundits have under-estimated.
  16. The intolerant violent Leftist protest movement against Trump and his supporters at his rallies will swing Middle uncommitted America over to Trump
  17. Trump will hire-in a strong shadow Cabinet that will unify the GOP and its nay-saying Establishment.
  18. His pick for VP will be inspired and swing GOP and Independent voters in behind him.
  19. The more his kids and family speak out the more votes he wins (they just look and sound so wholesome and successful and gorgeous and youthful – everything America loves); the Clinton family doesn’t cut such a smily Hollywood persona (especially with Billy Boys history).  Would Lewinsky endorse Trump?  Ouch!
  20. Trump seems strong against Putin; Mexico; the Chinese; ISIS; Europe; and Clinton is “Obama Term III” and regardless of personal politics this is right up there with American voters who will support Trump on that facet alone even if they hate him in others respects. “Make American Great Again” is an inspired campaign slogan with mass appeal.

Happier Days


Review: Season 6:1 Game of Thrones

May 12th, 2016 at 8:30 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

6:1. Well we did find out that Jon Snow IS REALLY DEAD so that is the demise of a major core character although I still predict he will be “resurrected” as an ice hoard zombie.


Review: Season 6:1 Game of Thrones | coNZervative

(Update 26/4: Gee I might be right helped by this season 6 promo meme of Jonny Snow as – wait for it – well a White Walker!  Told ya!)
The big surprise in 6:1 [SPOILER} is that the sexy red witch is REALLY a wizened ancient old crone witch (icky she’s been having magic sex with all and sundry but is obviously under a doppelgänger spell “Look I’m young and perky-breasted!“). That was very cool. Loved her lumpy back bone spine pushing through pasty white skin: this is a great plot-line twist to the story so far. She backed the wrong royal horse in Stannis Baratheon who is now meat on the snows of the North!
I like that His Annoying Arrogant Wannabee Regicide Stannis Baratheon is dead and his army massacred in the snow by the Boltons of the North (House Bolton of the Dreadfort the ruling house of the North whose banner is a flayed man crucified upside down on a cross after Roose Bolton’s quip “In my family we say: A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man, none.” Charming. (K GoT not for the faint-hearted).
There are so many characters in this epic that it is good to excise a few and with Stannis gone well that really cuts out the Baratheon pretenders to the throne as a family line (the Stag’s Head sigil?)  And who better than to end his sorry ‘royal’ days rather royally than [SPOILER}  Brienne of Tarth!  Excellent.  Her knightly execution of Stannis Baratheon was appropriate (but note: we did not ACTUALLY see  her blade sever his nasty Pretenders head – so like so many – is he REALLY despatched?)

Meanwhile in ‘Persian Ottoman’ Dorne: “weak men will no longer rule Dawn!” meaning not “weak” but “men” and this is set to become a realm of treacherous plotting Amazonians (cue GoT skimpy attire and more lesbian love scenes – which we could all do without thanks) resplendent with Keisha Castle-Hugh’s sisters and their phallic warrior weapons (with lots of B&D leather to keep that community transfixed).



The gut-wrenching pathos and full frontal male and female nudity of Queen Cirsei Lanister’s “Walk of Shame” (S5) with that tolling nun bell was great if a not too gratuitous for TV. But now with the murder of her ‘nice’ daughter by the harpies of Dorne (fathered by incest with her twin brother) and the introduction of her 8-foot high Gimp with the swollen bruised face (like something out of Mordor) is Circe set to become an embittered betrayed raging Fury?  I think thee so!  A great counterpart to Daenrys Targarean. Girl Fight!

Arya Stark (‘Needle’ lost in a Stark stack) is very cool as one of the trainee Faceless Gods With No Name Helter Skelter groupees.
Daenrys meanwhile has wandered off like Little Red Riding Hood again and been kidnapped for raw horse sex with her ex-in-laws the plains Dothraki (yawn; that is an aside we could do without; they should have advanced her destiny plot directly towards the West with her dragons in tow breathing rage and fire. Daenrys is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne so get on with it! She has been denigrated mid-S 5 into 6:1 in to a little girl with her episodes becoming a season of Lost (with her literally lost).
But this may be a twist to unite the Dothraki again with her Eastern slave cities and the Dragons to take on everyone else for the Iron Throne.  Fire v Ice.
It also creates space for Tyrion Lannister (“who always pays his debts”) and one of my favourite Machiavellian characters the bad and ball-less Varys to take over and govern Daenery’s abandoned latest city on her behalf. At last a ‘crown’ for Tyrion.
The Men of the Nights Watch?  Meh. Bunch of manly wimps dressed in furs who are much better in the books and a bit undercooked in the TV series. But hopefully they will unite with The Wildings (now on their side of the wall thanks to the ‘traitor’ Jon Snow) with their cool Snow Giants and fight the White Walkers as the latter give them the “Winter Is Coming” cold shoulder.

Prediction: Jon Snow will unite the Walkers’ Ice Zombie army of Undead with The Wildings and the Nights Watch and House Bolton against Targarean.

The revival of House Stark from near oblivion is a great story arch and a central vein in GoT. Nice to see ‘Reek’ (Theon Greyjoy) redeemed and paired with cuzzy Sansa Stark and Brienne of Tarth. The convergence of the three Stark children together (and is Tyrion really a Lannister or a Stark? What was Sean Bean really up to all those cold nights at Kings Landing as the Kings Hand?) is an inevitable and obvious plot path – but is anything ‘envitable’ in GoT?

Oh and we’re all awaiting the terrible and gruesome death of that really really nasty psycho Ramsay. He’s even worse than Joffrey Lannister so Ramsay’s demise is an anticipation probably coming sometime season 6 we would all hope. he has to kill dad first though. Like Tyrion did.  If there is incest we need some paricide too!

Prediction: Watch for the three Stark children to be re-united with Jon Snow (now dead) and Tyrion; to revive House Stark perhaps with The Wildings and the Men of the Night Watch and the White Walkers in an epic confrontation between Deanerys Taragraen’s dragons and fire empires plus the Dothraki in an almighty Tolkien-esque Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Prediction2:  Will the love sicj knight errant XYZ gradually turning in to a Stone Man touch daenerys and turn her to stone like those extinct Dragon fossils beneath the crypts of King’s Landing?  I think so

It’s great: I can’t get enough

Below right: Cousins Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy (‘Reek’) of Winterfell and the Iron Halls- two branches of the family House Stark re-united (the execution of Sean Bean as Lord Stark season 1 has still not been avenged; or the massacre of his entire family at the treacherous Red Wedding).  I’m rather glad to see ‘Reek’ redeemed; that story arch was pretty ugly and dark (the torture scenes and the psycho mind games reducing a human being to a humiliated shell of humanity – ick: GoT really pushes the envelope). Almost too much.


Probably got lots wrong (it’s so complex and myriad-epic) so jump in with corrections and your own predictions.


Review Spectre Bond 2015

December 15th, 2015 at 11:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


To switch obsessive Craig theme for a moment, from Colin to Daniel, I went and saw the 2015 instalment of James Bond 007 this week “Spectre” in a packed cinema. (With the Colin version, I feel I’m also watching a movie perhaps even in it: a black tragi-comedy).

The opening Spectre sequence is a bit creepy; naked dancing women caressed by embracing erotic inky black octopus tentacles in the style of Hans Ruedi Giger. It suits more Octopussy and Goldfinger than Spectre. Perhaps it’s a hat tip to those two past Bond films. But haven’t we moved past that 70s misogyny of women as dehumanized sex objects? No faces on these babes, just thighs and curves.

The modern Craig Bond movies (this is Daniel’s fourth) all begin with a hallmark opening chase scene (remember the chase up the construction crane?). This is no exception but has creative twists.  There is a chase by… walking, and through a crowd of close-packed people.

After an opening hint of the Bond music, the movie starts typewriter font on black screen  “The Dead…[pause]…are living.” Then BOOM we’re plunged in to the midst of the Mexico City Day of the Dead festival amidst floats and crowds wearing skeleton masks (Mardi Gras meets the grave). Bond is about to bed his seductive Mexican beauty but slips instead out the balcony window, as ya do, walks casually across the rooftops bringing his cool laser assassin gun in to kill mode as the dead pass below; kills two guys in a building opposite before a bomb unexpectedly goes off; building collapses almost on top of Bond and the chase is on.  And then, oh boy, it cranks up with a helicopter fight above a stadium filled with skeleton people worshipping gigantic skull floats. Dramatic EXCELLENT opening in the Craig genre. 10/10.

Spectre has the usual international conspiracy; a secret Illuminati organisation (“SPECTRE”) taking over the world (see your Bond history).  It’s CEO is revealed in dramatic back-lit fashion after a prospect has his eyes squashed out by a heavy (Mr Hinx) with metal finger nails (like Jaws with his metal teeth in The Spy who Loved Me;or Oddjob with his steel-rimmed death hat in Goldfinger). Hinx pursues Bond throughout the movie (oh and the girl of course). He’s as broad as an oak tree but has those metrosexual fingernails. Every self-respecting SNAG should.

We traverse Mexico City, the Tunisian desert, the Austrian Alps, London and the Thames as well as Rome. Nice Bond city cinematography tick box. I like the London scenes (James’ eternally unpacked flat; Thames-side modern architecture) and we get a lot more British M15, M16 and the ’00’ programme, ‘M’ (who as Judy Dench posthumously commissions Bond’s current mission, “If I’m dead, Bond, don’t miss the funeral in Mexico City”). There’s ‘Q’ and ‘C’ and all that.

Ralph Fiennes plays Bond’s very British boss ‘M’ (Dench’s’ successor) defending democracy and on-the-ground Intelligence against a rising technologically distracted surveillance mega-Geek ‘C.’  He’s an amalgamation upstart establishing a Joint Intelligence Service consisting of the recently merged MI5 and MI6. ‘C’ campaigns for Britain to join “Nine Eyes,” a global surveillance and intelligence co-operation initiative between nine member states, and uses his influence to close down the ’00’ programme.

[SPOILER] he’s actually in league with Big Baddy (combining the intelligence of nine nations which will be hacked and controlled by SPECTRE, a veiled ref. to the real “Five Eyes” agreement?  ‘M’ and Bond covertly fight a geo-political all-seeing”Big Brother” and defend British sovereignty. “Ru-uuule Britannia…” I’m air punching in the dark. I always want accountability and the human factor.  If you’re gonna play dirty spies, it has to be done with manners.

Bond has traceable blood fused in to him by ‘Q’ so he can be tracked by Her Majesty’s Secret Service after several roque operations which created political problems for the Home Secretary.

There are some great extended punch-up scenes (in a train; in a helicopter; in an exploding building, on boats; and one of those nasty protracted medical psychopath torture sessions in an impeccably clean white room with eyeball drills, similar to Dragon Tattoo).

There is a great scene in the rigged for demolition old HQ of M15/6 (ruined in the bomb blast in Skyfall) when target practice posters flip round with James’ face on them and he passes illuminated ante-rooms show-casing recent dead Bond characters put there by Big Baddy. I would have liked these to have been past 007s i.e. Connery, Brosnan etc. Nevertheless, Spectre has some great retro nostalgia.  For example, SPECTRE first appeared in  Diamonds Are Forever (1971and the Octopus ring central in this movie, inOctopussy (1983).  So this latest outing ties several old Bond movie themes together as well as story-cycles.  Tick.


The Bond back story is finally completed (hooray I hate it when things are left unresolved, like the entire LOST series). James’ dark past is revealed; Why ‘M’ (Judy Dench) was killed and by whom and for what purpose. Turns out [SPOILER]  that James was adopted as an orphan but German step dad preferred James’ blue eyes to his real German son who has nursed a psychopathic grudge ever since and killed off all James’ Bond girls, including ‘M,’ to ruin his life. “It was me all along James, to give you a life of pain.”  Boys need their Daddies attention.

There’s a nice play on the classic James Bond original Austin Martin (Goldfinger andThunderball; which recently sold for $4.4 million) and perhaps a hint at the end that this is the last of Bond and the departure of Daniel Craig.


Big Baddy is revealed as ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld‘ aka Franz Oberhauser and is here presented as the ULTIMATE Bond villain. I’m not clear after a first watch if Franz has taken on the persona of this well-known previous Bond villain (the inspiration for Dr Evil in SpyWhoShaggedMe) or whether he was him all along. Franz receives the same eye scar as the classic Blofeld/Dr Evil fiend. He is rather ordinary till James’ up-scars his face and eye with a clever ‘C’ device while Bond is being tortured. He then becomes a much more suitable Big Baddy with a poppy dead eye and facial scar to Bond’s square jaw good looks. Bond: “Ouch, that must hurt!” 

A nice script quirk in that at the end James’ chooses justice over guns after his woman has worked on him psychologically. This is a visual romp but it’s well-worn James Bond franchise.

I enjoyed Spectre but this line from the film perhaps sums it all up,  “James what would you do if you stopped?”  “Stopped? I don’t know.”

And that’s the thing. Bond has no life. It’s just all – to requote the film- “liars and killers…liars and killers” and at some point we need something more.  Not sure how long James can keep on running, jumping, shooting, ‘C’ inventing, and fighting global conspiracies. It gets a bit “m-eh.”

Great “Shaken not stirred” dialogue at a bar at an Austrian alpine celebrity clinic.  “I’m sorry sir, we don’t serve alcohol here.”  Later “Do me a favor. Tip this organic fruit shaky thing down the toilet and bypass the middle man.”

There’s a few red herrings [SPOILER] : “the Pale King” is “Mr White” who introduces us to the ‘Bond Girl,’ the daughter of one of Bond’s nemesis’ who has to now protect her “because he gave his word” and sealed it by passing over his loaded Bond pistol to the bad guy who could shoot him or trust him.

I’d like to see James in the future reworked back in to the conventional Her Majesty’s Secret Service 007 assassin; maybe do a retro 1950s -look movie.  The new stuff is fun but it’s starting to lack soul and purpose.  We can only take so many cars crashing in to canals, zooming down luscious old Roman street steps (ala Bourne Identity etc) it’s all been done before so many times.

This is the cast with Moneypenny on the left and the Big Bad Guy (Franz Oberhauser) on the right.



YUP       and           NUP

‘Q’ (Quartermaster) has not really worked well recently: John Cleese and this guy (above right Ben Wishaw) a younger cardie wearing be-spectacled British computer geek).  Inventors are really old guys and I’d like to return to an older, perhaps retired 007, who is a whizz at making ever so British things like Dam Busting Bouncing Bombs and RADAR and magnetic mines and stuff. Desmond Llewelyn was a great ‘Q’ seen here in Octopussy in 1983 (above left).

Spectre has implausible falls and leaps and crashes without wrinkling fabulous suits (as we love with James Bond) but it’s plausible enough not to laugh out loud which I did once or twice, like when he fell several stories in a collapsing building only to land on a well-placed sofa. The British have all the lucky escapes (Dunkirk, Gallipoli).

But what I do like is the British counter to Americana BIG GUN IS BEST with James in his impeccable suit and wee suit pocket aesthetic Walther PPK pistol.  A deadly cigarette case.

Spectre is classic Bond and a visual fast-paced feast.  So go see it but the next James Bond has to turn over some new leaves or corners if we aren’t to get bored with the modern James Bond franchise.


I liked this but not as much as Craig’s first and second outings Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) but more than number three Skyfall(2012). This is Craig’s fourth Bonding.  Actually we’d have to throw one of my favourite ‘Bond’ movies in here, the in-between 2011 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo also starring Craig. He may as well have been Bond. It’s brilliant.

I give this a 6.5 + 0.5 for the opening Death Festival sequence and the opening chase, so maybe up to a  7/10.

We were shaken, but not stirred.  ~ John Stringer (Christchurch)

Here’s one of the trailers…

Review: The Martian (Matt Damon). Nov. 2015

December 8th, 2015 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

John Stringer


Went and saw The Martian, yesterday, the movie adaptation of Andy Weir’s book which I read a few months back, see here. It stars Matt Damon in almost the exact same scenario he played in Interstellar where an astronaut is marooned on Mars. Maybe that’s why he was cast in this. They seem like exactly the same character to me. Jeff Daniels plays the humourless head of NASA and there is the ubiquitous female space ship commander (Jessica Chastain) who has a guilt complex as large as Rex’s in Toystory, for “leaving our boy” out there. Sean Bean plays the Crew Liaison guy in an undercooked role to Daniels’ NASA corporate hard-arse.

There have now been three movies of this ilk, where a manly hero is marooned on Mars and gets captured by the female commander in almost the exact same way (him coming up fast from the planet in an obsolete, usually Russian, retro capsule fuelled by poos, or lime juice, or a torch battery) to be captured by the orbiting female boss in orbit riding a booster jet thingy on a rope (Red Planet; Mission to Mars; The Martian). Vestiges of sperms swimming towards embracing eggs, but in space. There’s lots of round pods with long swimming tails. The right stuff. “Gotcha!” Tears, cheers, humanity roars.

Recycled space-pod spermy scenarios:

  • Carrie-Anne Moss hauls in Val Kilmer (Red Planet, 2000)
  • Connie Nielsen tries to haul in Tim Robbins (Mission to Mars 2000)
  • Jessica Chastain hauls in Matt Damon (The Martian 2015).


A big brick bat in that the movie moved away from the book’s cool way that Watney gets in touch with NASA. But bouquet for the non-book scene where he cuts his suit and uses the escaping oxygen as a jet, controlled by his fist, to jet himself the last 100m to his adoring guilty ex-commander, or spin-off in to eternity as a floating corpse in a space suit. Adam meets Eve in space surrounded by technology. Why didn’t Tim Robbins do that, instead of just die? Sucky. Bit edgy on the science though, would’t Damon just implode in the vacuum of space? Calling all space Geeks.

Kinda hokey but good entertainment, although the scenes of hopeful people in Times Square, Tiananmen Square, Trafalgar Square was a bit naff. Most people would watch this today on Social Media. Hell-o. This is not 1945 and the end of WWII.

The Mars scenery is fantastic, and I like Damon, who is doubled by a very thin actor (with towel over hard as Damon exits shower, etc) as he slowly starves on Mars.


The book was great – “I’m gonna have to science the sh*t outta this.” But the movie is just another American “reaching goals” and “solving one problem after another.” And like Interstellar, the elephant in the room is no one goes crazy being completely alone, harassed by life threatening stress all day every day, for years on end living inside a fishbowl. And eating only spuds. Just a bit of a beard after 4 years on Mars. Ho-hum. What about a sub plot on depression, or suicide? Wrestling with self and loneliness, some imaginary friends, like in A Beautiful Mind. Now that would redefine “aliens.”

If you add Gravity 2013 (Clooney and Bullock) this is the fifth recent movie of this genre, which is now getting quite worn. Several gazillion to rescue one man on Mars, meanwhile on earth, millions starve. But it’s held up like so much of Hollywood, as humanity orgasms with technology while saving the planet, progressing the fictional evolution of mankind, and air punching for humanity. Meanwhile back on earth… ISIS, Syria, Iraq, drugs, school shootings, etc.

The book is better, with all the detail of what Mark Watney does and how he survives, which is kinda glossed over a bit in the movie, especially his extended trial journeys out from the HAB, calculating water, weights, distances, etc. In the movie, Matt Damon just drives several thousand miles in a rover and arrives early to eat nuts, while NASA formulates a plan. The book is knife-edge. His life hangs in the balance, dependent on duct tape holding a thin membrane of PaknSave plastic bags. In the movie,

All the nuts and bolts fit, cables match, torches have batteries. On earth we can’t even get standardised phone chargers, let alone standardised Russian and American moon tech junk several decades apart.

There is a cultural cringe sop thing to China and America coming together as brother scientists in love and braininess (don’t mention cyber hacking?) and this movie has all the back room back-on-earth problem solving of Apollo 13, led, you got it, by a Chinese in a baseball cap. Cos they’re good at math, right? “You got 27 days!” “We’ll do it with duct tape and paper clips in 15.” There’s the ubiquitous unorthodox pizza-eating coffee-swilling mega genius who lives in a pig style, in this movie. He’s a politically correct Black ghetto dude who is into Astrophysics. Guess he picked it up in da Hood, y’all. Mars yo-yo. The Barack Obama of Mission Control.

It was fun, and I’d recommend you go see it on the big screen. But the script failed the drama of the book and could have been much better. I’d have worked Damon (Watney) much more on the edge of life, and have cranked up the catastrophic problems of atmosphere, oxygen, explosions, starving to death. Instead, Matty boy just duct tapes everything and chews gum. Easy.

The disco jokes re the commander’s private music logs gets tired. Martian needed a bit more ‘Sigourney Weaver’ of Alien I to spice up the drama. It was too clean, too easy. “Oh dear, there’s Martian dust on my solar panels.

I’m screwed.” (Uses a powered spray gun to wash it away, instead of a cloth. In the book even his poos is vital to survival to squeeze every ounce of power out of anything).

Of the three, I’d rate The Martian third, behind Mission to Mars (2), Red Planet (1). So, that is de-evolution despite the technology ramp-up. The 2000 Kilmer film (Red Planet) is excellent and repeat-watchable. I also adore Carrie-Anne Moss in that, she’s fantastic. Mind you, I absolutely fell in love with her as Trinity in Matrix and we’ve been in a onscreen relationship ever since, so maybe I’m biased. Yes I am. She kicks-butt and is awesome in vinyl).

MacGyver in space, a bit light on the potential drama captivated in the book, but still worth a big screen watch. 6/10. Maybe a 7 for the Martian cinematography.

Here’s the trailer.

The Martian | Official HD Trailer #1 | 2015

The Craig over-spending allegations

August 11th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Colin Craig has been accused of election over-spending by a former Conservative Party board member.

Craig denies the allegations.

At a press conference on Monday, John Stringer alleged Craig had left more than $7000 of campaign spending off his electoral return.

The amount would have put Craig over the permitted spending cap, Stringer claims. …

According to Stringer, the group estimated Craig had under-reported his spending by about $7000.

Adding Craig’s unreported spending would put him $2000 over the election expenses spending cap of $25,700 including GST, for all parties, Stringer claimed.

There may or may not be substance to these claims. They should be investigated, but the key issues are three-fold:

  • Were these expenses declared either on the electorate or party expense return?
  • If they were declared on the party return, were they a Vote Conservative expense rather than a Vote Colin Craig in East Coast Bays expense?
  • Were they apportioned to another electorate?

Candidates are allowed to apportion some of their local costs to the party vote campaign. If a billboard promotes both yourself and the party, then you tend to split the cost 50/50.

It gets slightly more complicated if the candidate is the party leader. Their photo is on the party vote billboards also. However I’m sure a party vote billboard of John Key is not treated as an expense for Helensville even if it located in Helensville.

Basically it will come down to what was actually said on the advertising material Stringer is highlighting, whether it was included in the party vote return or electorate returns, and if doing so was correct.

The Craig booklet

July 29th, 2015 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

The Craig dossier is on Scribd, put there by Ben Ross. [link removed as dossier is allegedly defamatory]

The Herald reports on some responses:

Mr Slater said he first heard about the defamation claim this afternoon, adding he had not been served court papers.

He said he had two words for Mr Craig: “Bring it.”

Mr Slater said he had “not one single concern” about Mr Craig’s legal action because he was capable of funding his defence and he had evidence for everything he published about Mr Craig on his website.

“New Zealand can find out once and for all what a ratbag Colin Craig is,” he said.

Mr Slater said if someone was going to stand for Parliament, it was important that the public knew about their background, especially if it contrasted with their Christian values.

Asked about Mr Craig’s allegations of “dirty politics”, Mr Slater said: “A: So what? B: Politics is dirty full-stop and if he doesn’t like it then perhaps he shouldn’t play away.”

Mr Stringer, a former Conservative Party board member and candidate who is based in Christchurch, said this afternoon that he stood by everything he had said about Mr Craig.

He said he had never met Slater or Williams, though he had corresponded with Slater since Mr Craig resigned.

“There is no dirty politics campaign against Colin Craig,” he said. “I’ve certainly not been part of one.”

Craig sues

July 29th, 2015 at 2:37 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Colin Craig is seeking compensation for alleged defamatory comments made by the “Dirty Politics Brigade”.

He’s making cases against Jordan Williams, John Stringer and Cameron Slater in the order of $300,000, $600,000 and $650,000 respectively.

He made the announcement at a press conference in Auckland this afternoon.

He will also be releasing a booklet that outlines the “campaign of defamatory lies” he claims was purposely launched to undermine him.

If this goes to trial, discovery could be very interesting.

What To Watch This Winter (July 2015)

July 27th, 2015 at 11:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


Martin Freeman is brilliant as Lester Nygaard in the 2014 SOHO TV series FARGO spin-off of the 1996 film.

What does one watch after Breaking Bad?  Can anything be as good?  Is life doomed as half-baked forever afterward as you wait for the next season of GoT or The Walking Dead?

There’s Season 2 of True Detective (starring a surprisingly different-looking Rachel McAdams of The Notebook) or Season 2 of Ray Donovan. Both are great, but neither quite cut the blue crystal meth. When the rellies were over from Perth recently, I forced everyone to watch FARGO (1996), because you’re not truly human till you’ve watched FARGO, don’cha know.


The classic and now iconic, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) FARGO 1996.

FARGO was that supremely awesome 1996 genre-breaking neo-noir black comedy crime thriller set in Minnesota and North Dakota near the Canadian border and based on real events.  One of the key characters is dialect.

The Coen brothers are such excellent film makers.  In 2006, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and inducted into the US National Film Registry for preservation. Has won heaps of awards.

It starred that surprise find Frances McDormand (above) as Marge (‘Margy’) Gunderson, a heavily pregnant local Minnesota police chief, and other well-known actors, such as William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard) whose inept crime falls apart due to bungling and the persistent police work of the extremely normal Marge.  McDormand hasn’t been seen much since she played in a weird movie with George Clooney and Brad Pitt (Burn after Reading, 2008) in which Clooney plays an adulterating serial sex addict and Pitt plays his favourite crazy guy again (Fight Club and Twelve Monkeys). 

SOHO to eternal praise has extended the 1996 FARGO film by creating a TV series that picks up exactly where the film left off.  A suitcase of cash is stashed in the snow along a fence line in snow-swept wastes with a red windscreen scraper stuck in the ground to show where it is.  And the Fargo legend continues.

The TV series is as brilliant as the film (described by some as the best new TV series). It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a seriously evil psychopathic serial hitman working amongst a cast of ordinary Joes over several years. Main protagonist is Lester Nygaard (rhymes with Lundergaard from 1996) played by Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit).  All are just excellent. Allison Tolman re-plays ‘Marge’ but as Deputy Molly Solverson also pregnant like Gunderson in 1996. The Police Chief is ‘Sol Goodman’ of Breaking Bad (Bob Odenkirk) whose character in BB was so rich, the character spawned his own spin-off TV series as the ambulance chasing small-town crime lawyer. In Fargo 2014 he retires at the end of Season 1, due to the trauma, and Molly takes over as police chief, to complete the Marge Gunderson circle.

The series is full of black comedy and then sudden, unexpected violence, all the more black because of the ordinariness of it all (ceramic ducks on the back wall and sensible woolen jerseys with snow flake patterns).  The juxtapositions are jolting. Well worth a watch.

I just LOVE this series.  Season 1 is finished on SOHO but Prime is re-running it again on 4 and SOHO have SOHO POP-UP on 11 that runs the series as a marathon back-to back if you watch for that.

Here’s a quote from 1996:  “So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.” ~ Marge Gunderson.

Don’tcha know!

Here’s a  great clip from the TV series.

Still fighting over a dead party

July 6th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The public stoush between former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and board member John Stringer has taken a new twist, with Stringer resigning and calling for Craig to start his own party.

Stringer confirmed on Sunday that he had thrown in the towel after formally resigning to party secretary Nathaniel Heslop on Thursday. …

“I think the best outcome is that Colin goes and sets up his own Colin Craig Conservative party and he takes whatever Conservative Party members want to go with him,” Stringer said.

“The more sensible, moderate conservatives who have got political acumen will continue with the Conservative Party and rebuild it.”

Craig wasn’t ruling out a return as leader but said any role he had would be possible only if Stringer was out of the picture.

“I can’t see a possibility where he and I are involved in the leadership of the party together. The actions of Mr Stringer have made that an impossibility.”

The future of the leadership and board was now a matter for the party membership, of which Craig said he was still a part.

“I will be part of the process of electing the new board, just like any other party member.”

He said Stringer’s resignation was a good move and meant the party could get on with the process of electing a new board and leader without any clouds hanging over them.

Stringer said Craig had been an “impediment” to some people joining the party and, if all ties were cut with the former leader completely, then new members and donors would arise.

He said senior leaders in the party had asked him to step up as leader and he had not ruled out doing so.

“I haven’t publicly endorsed that, but I haven’t ruled it out either. It’s never been my motivation.

“I want to only consider the leadership options, of which there are several, once we’re outside the Colin Craig nonsense …”

Stringer wouldn’t confirm who had backed him for the leadership, or who the other “prominent New Zealanders” were that were being considered.

So both Stringer and Craig want to be leader. I don’t think they realise how much damage the fight has caused to the Conservatve brand. Before this happened, I would have given them a reasonable chance of making 5% next time. Now I think they would struggle to get even 2%.

The real victor from this is Winston and NZ First, who compete in much the same ideological space.

The BurnOuts at the Beeb (TopGear & Clarkson)

March 27th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


I really likeTopGear, Jeremy Clarkson and James May (and the other good-looking one from The Monkeys). I watch it on rainy sunday afternoons, or with beer and dogs while Her WithinDoors is away and I have the man house to my rule-breaking self.

The three (plus The Stig) have a chemistry and a lad-ishness that gives me hope as a 50-something white flabby male. It’s either that, or take up Himalaya trekking and swimming. I’m not a petrol head, but once had a Jag (well, actually a Daimler Series ii , but everyone thinks it was an XJ6 and it’s made by Jag) and a 1939 Austin Minx (which I reminded everyone was born while Hitler was driving into Poland).

It was about the characters and the writing; May’s dry wit and Clarkson’s gorgeous turns of phrase. The three irresponsible petrol gurus take no prisoners, they are not beHOLDEN to corporate auto conglomerates who pay mega amounts to have their cars castigated and belittled. They are also passionate about driving, cars and on road awesomeness.

They’ve drawn millions like me, into a stupid car geek programme and made it thrilling, funny, entertaining, and made The Beeb millions (TopGear is their star programme). 12 seasons.

And so this debacle with Jeremy Clarkson, the tallest moai on this Easter Island, was like a very British spinster stoush unfolding on Coronation Street.  Auntie Beeb and that tart Mrs Clarkson going at each other with handbags and hair nets. The Mirror reported Clarkson had made an “expletive-laden rant at a charity event” against BBC exec.s earlier in the week, later qualified as “meant in jest.”

But May was right, it was initially a fairly small private meltdown that became way bigger than it should have which was a “tragedy.” See here.

James May has done a series of on camera reactions from the front door of his modest Council-style flat (ya gotta love those Brit celebrities and their humble ‘ostentation’).

So initially I played this as a case of Political Correctness gone mad.  Yes, there was the off camera ‘N’ bomb (which you can hear endlessly by any Black comedian and Rap artist over and over again, including in films) and the “slope” comment, which was obliquely racist but a really funny pun in the context of the sloping bridge. (Let’s be honest, EVERYONE does that behind closed doors; all human groups nick-name other groups).

But the Beeb – as May said on the clip – probably had their hands tied. It was not really about blokey Blokiness standing up to oppressive Stalinesque modernism that is hand wringing political correctness.  No, it seems Jeremy is suffering from MANopause and went too far.  As May says, “He’s a Nob.”  The Sydney Morning Herald  said he was a victim of his own behaviour. Brilliance and hubris; like that myth that all artists are manic depressives, their genius stalked by a converse.

But you have to give The BBC credit, they’ve handled this pretty well.  Sure, it got away from them, but like a honed working-class British greyhound, they hauled in that runaway fluffy bunny and mouthed it several times. Tony Hall conducted a thorough investigation, and spoke to both parties about the incident.  It was reported Clarkson had turned up at the producer’s house to make an apology,  but was cold-shouldered.

Seems to me Clarkson was a bullying oaf; a 20 minute tirade of abuse against an innocent victim based on perceived elevated celebrity status and not getting special treatment (prima donna stuff) and then some sort of ‘handbagging’ incident.  Various reports about a punch or not.  Probably just some middle-aged man shuffling.

Reading Halls’ explanation (in full here below) you have to accept The Beebs position and actions. Clarkson is brilliant, loved by millions for his irreverence (note his Twitter count) and Britishcock a snoop, but was a bully and lost control.  Tony Hall initially stepped in to delay an immediate sacking. Pproducer Oisin Tymon (opposite) was attacked and endured a sustained superiority tirade, in a work context. Unacceptable. Bullying is bullying, and no one should have to endure that, especially at work.

“First – The BBC is a broad church. Our strength in many ways lies in that diversity. We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.

“Second – This has obviously been difficult for everyone involved but in particular for Oisin. I want to make clear that no blame attaches to him for this incident. He has behaved with huge integrity throughout. As a senior producer at the BBC he will continue to have an important role within the organisation in the future.

“Third – Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear. Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.

“The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw [Controller of BBC Two] to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.”

Right result.  Oisin Tymon will stay on, Clarkson has gone for unacceptable behaviour after a final written warning.

What next?  Well, channels will be falling over one another to hire Clarkson for mega gazillions. Netflix is already a rumoured suitor. A successful rival may buy-up James May, Richard Hammond lock stock and barrel and parallel a similar show, or something new. The fans will slide and wheel burn over, and it will make the new company tonnes of money. But they’ll have to pay high, as Hammond and May also have other BBC shows they are involved with.

And I suspect Hammond and May without Clarkson will not work, like The Two Ronnieswithout sexual innuendo. But I hope they all work together to complete a successful 2015 series, perhaps with a funny focus on Clarkson’s departure. That would have class.

I like Clarkson, we need brigands like him, irreverent, Churchillian bulwarks against namby pamby, metrosexual hand-creamy politically correct 1984-ness. They give us hope. Clarkson is a kind of Beowulf epic hero, clad in furs with a dripping metaphoric battle axe of wit, double entendres and scathing put-downs.

So, Clarkson has been bumped on a pedestrian crossing and rushed to ER, where he’ll revive, arise as an anti-Beeb phoenix albeit somewhat shattered on a fast ferrari windscreen, and get paid even more. And as admirer Tony Hall director general  of the BBC admits, “continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”  Like a revered but slightly naughty vintage classic that leaves too much oil on your driveway.

This was a very British debacle. The issues were all traversed through the tabloids, no one got too hand-wringy, the issues got put, there was perspective, and values, and a hard call (worth several gazillion to the BBC) taken in the interests of fairness, equal treatment. We got an actual outcome (Clarkson got sacked) , the victim was reassured and cemented in his employment (as the innocent in all this, he was). Clarkson was cut adrift with respect and acknowledgement today to slew new speedways, but without covering up or failing to acknowledge his offending Nob-ishness.

We await the next lap with petrol-heady expectation.

~ John Stringer

A Completely Dumb Brilliant Marvel Movie (with a Racoon and a Talking Tree)

January 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by Kokila Patel

by John Stringer (


I pretty much like anything Marvel, except this stupid comic (1969- ; self-title 1990). I have a pretty good collection of early 1960s Silver Age Marvel comics to prove it and DaughterofAwesome (aka Cypher) has met Stan Lee (so she’s on the quirky Xmas card and presents list). Comics can be a great investment. See here: $100k Comic Found in Wall.

The recent comic-to-movie transitions have been mostly successful following the travesties of the earliest Spiderman movies (1977). Iron Man, Cap. America, Thor, The Avengers, the two parallel Spiderman franchises (Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi from 2002) are all pretty good interpretations propelling Marvel to a whole new level and empowering a completely new genre and creating a new audience. These reboots will replace the comics over the next generation, along with computer games and new media. Comics will become vestiges of collectible nostalgia for Baby Boomers and Gen. X and historic oddities for Gen. Y.  Who reads comics anymore, apart from the video store guy in The Simpsons or the Fatso pony-tail guy?


And so, having recently watched Guardians of the Galaxy on dvd at the insistence of WifeofAwesome and wondering WHY this Marvel comic was ever made in to a movie, I present the Guardians of the Galaxy Honesty Trailer. Because we need this. (I actually really enjoyed this 2014 movie, it was extremely watchable and really entertaining. I just hated the Racoon. Too Disney!). But, let the Honesty Video speak…

Guardians of the Galaxy. was one of the biggest (unexpected) movie successes of 2014, snobbed by reviewers, loved by fans at the box office. Of more interest, was that it was a genius departure from the Marvel cinematic universe. And the give-away about what was really going on with this movie, was the final scene, after the credits, when Howard Duck makes a cameo appearance (heralding a forthcoming movie? Please, no!).


Howard was a socially satirical cigar-smoking anthropomorphic duck from New Stork City on the planet Duckworld. He was a 1970s Marvel anti-hero superhero, a tongue-and-cheek lampoon of Marvel itself by Marvel.  A mash of Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Marvel all-in-one, demonstrating that Stan Lee (and creators Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik) have great self-awareness and a robust sense of humour.

Guardians Of the Galaxy is pretty different from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and is perhaps ‘high’ on its own power but has the same tongue-in-cheek self-awareness and self-deprecating in-house jokes. In Guardians, one critic says Marvel is trolling its own world and “doles out middle fingers to the audience they know they have in the palm of their hands.” I’d agree with that. But the spaceships and vacuum of space wars are awesome.

You like superheroes? Well how about a movie that stars a stupid raccoon and a one-word speaking tree called Groot? (a rip-off of Tolkien’s Ent). Yup, that’ll work. The critic concludes, “And here’s the one finger salute, ‘the raccoon, the tree, the many-colored people and the white guy –who brings them together– made a metric crapton of money for Marvel.’ To which I say,

“People, it’s a movie based on a comic.  Just enjoy it. I did.  Immensely. A great holiday watch if you’re bored with the cricket.”

~John Stringer, Christchurch.

Review: The Hobbit #3 (2014): Battle of Five Armies

December 18th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

For many of us, reading our first copy of The Hobbit, (published 1937) was seminal. It is still one of the most favourite children’s books of all time. CS Lewis comforted his recently bereaved adopted son with a copy inShadowlands (1993) while discussing The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (Tolkien led Lewis to the Christian faith. Both classics were written within the fraternity ofThe Inklings pub group) And for many of us, the magic never really left. (50-year-old men like me still mention this). I went last night to a closed premier with a group of male and female friends in their fifties. It was a great ride and a fitting climax to the trilogy prefacing the LoTR trilogy.  It was nice to see Bilbo back in the story, center stage where he belongs as the hobbit in The Hobbit.  He was a bit awol in Hobbit 2.

Thorin Oakenshield’s ‘dragon madness’ is also center stage, like “Achilles’ wrath, the direful spring of woes unnumbered” from the Iliad. Sir Peter Jackson has captured the personality and forces of this mania in Homer-esque fashion in-keeping with that epic meter.  Thorin’s driven lust for gold, home, and his ultimate redemption through killing Azog the Destroyer are central weaves to this tapestry.

Our premier was prefaced by a short intro from the actors and crew, opening with aTVOne News piece of the first production announcement. (Those nineties hairstyles and Richard Long’s moustache!).  They all thank New Zealand for hosting this long three-film production, reflect on their connections here, how much they all loved New Zealand (except Cate Blanchett who has a cheeky Aussie riposte.  Stephen Fry says, “Just like Australia, but without the boasting”). Not too cheesy and cringe-worthy.

For me, Peter Jackson’s greatest achievement is forever marrying LotR and Hobbit to New Zealand.  And this is his film, not the Tolkien Trust’s.  I was saddened to learn chief trustee Christopher Tolkien, who finished some of his father’s work, such as The Silmarillion, has declined to ever meet Sir Peter.

Jackson Divergences and Women Added.

So, we have some Jackson divergences in this movie:

1) the creation of Turiel and a female elf love triangle between Legolas Greenleaf and cross-cultural dwarf interest Fili.  I think this works.  Tolkien was an Oxford don and his appreciation of women was somewhat distant and worshipful. Jackson (well, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens I guess) provide an updated version with Turiel written in to the script.  I like her; she works, and modernises the gender appreciations we have now that were not present between 1937-49 when LoTR and Hobbit were written (no dwarf women-folk; and few heroic female characters). Without the update, a Jackson-Tolkien literal would already be outdated. It had to be modernised and I agree with Jackson on this (also deleting Tom Bombadil altogether).

2) Jackson also gives us Dune-esque “were worms,” who chew through the mountain and allow Azog’s army to ambush the squabbling Elvish, Dwarfish, and Man armies.  This was brilliant and I liked them immediately, huge Dune worms with triple-lipped mouths like the diamond head of a tunneling mine drill.

3) He also gives us more of Radagast the Brown and his Disney bunny sleigh.  Didn’t like that in Hobbit 2, but he works here, and I really liked his link to bringing the eagles to the Battle of Five Armies (the fifth army: elves, dwarves, men, orcs, eagles).”The Eagles are coming!”  They always save the day, so heroic and clean amid all that orcish/troll scum filth. Radagast’s link here is an addition that fits with the spirit of Tolkien.

4) Dain Ironfoot II and his Iron Hills dwarf army of the north (near the Lonely Mountain, arrives on a kune kune pig and there are some mountain goats with large horns.  But I accepted this; it makes sense, and when Thorin and his hand-picked team of four hurtle toward the orcs, the horned rams make excellent mobile…well…batteringRAMS. They then pronk up the mountain side towards Azog’s command post. As a Jackson interpretation of Tolkien, I think that works very well. Dwarves delve in and love rock, mountain goats also, so that’s a symmetry that makes sense in Middle-Earth despite being absent in Tolkien. Movies are about interpretation and new layering.

5) In Jackson Legolas kills Bolg, but it was Beorn in the book.

But there the departures end. The rest is very faithful, even down to the book’s “Bolgers” at the Bag End auction, a nice hat tip to our former prime minister Jim Bolger. Jackson again cements this epic to New Zealand.

Empowering Women

This is not The Hunger Games, but there are lots of empowered women in this film (like Jackson/Walsh did with Rohan’s Lady Eowyn in LoTR). There’s Galadriel, Turiel, and a peasant woman in Laketown played by Sarah Peirse who was the murdered Honora Parker-Rieper in the famous true Christchurch murder Parker/Hume crime (see here: Parker & Hulme Pt 5 (Review: Peter Graham’s 2011 Book). That story was immortalised in Heavenly Creatures (1994) Jackson’s first ‘proper’ movie (the film that ‘found’ Kate Winslet) and really launched Jackson as a serious film maker.


Capital Blood. Vamping It Up in Wellyblood

December 8th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

Review: What We Do in the Shadows (2014).

~ by John Stringer.

2014’s What We Do In The Shadows written by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Fot Conchords) is a short black comedy about a group of vampires flatting together in Wellington, New Zealand.

  • Viago, a dandy Victorian vamp. (Waititi);
  • Vladislav, a Roumanian vamp. (Clement);
  • Deacon an eastern European vamp. (Jonathan Brugh) who knits and whose excellent gypsy-cum-Indian folk dance prefaces the movie’s opening template (hilarious); and
  • Petyras the 800-year-old Nosferatu vamp (Ben Fransham).

Together they rework the Flight of the Conchords wannabee-musicians-in-NY cycle but in NZ via a contemporary goth vamp romp. Also featuring is ‘Murray’ (Rhys Darby) as the alpha male pack leader of a group of counter-gang Westside Story werewolves (“not swear wolves!”).

It’s hilarious and there are some great lines in the film.  “Leave me to do my dark bidding… on TradeMe–I’m bidding on a table” and jokes about age disparities, blood, werewolves, trying to get invited in to nightclubs, the police coming by to check on fire alarms and whether they’re installed correctly, etc.

The essence of the film is that now hallmark New Zealand (Napoleon Dynamite) ordinariness juxtaposed with the ludicrousness of historic vampires adjusting to mundane life flatting in Wellington (“Stu’s in to computers and stuff”).  There are flat meetings (“Do your bloody dishes!”), chore rosters (“I dragged a body down the hall, so in a way, I swept the dust up“) and farcical attempts to attract ‘wictims’ to their flat.  I laughed a lot.


One of the downsides of being a vampire, is you cannot eat chips.  One chip, and a rookie vamp. suffers projectile blood vomiting of Peter Jackson Brain Dead proportions.  It’s also difficult on relationships to eat friends, the main one of whom is appropriately called “Stu.”  Stu helps the vampires catch up with technology; they can watch sunsets on-line, and send txt messages, and most importantly, Google virgins.

It is maladjusted immigrants and geeks adjusting to Nu Ziland but remaining true to themselves and having lifestyle issues, filmed as a reality TV documentary; The Osbornes meets Blair Witch and Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I liked the “Unholy Masquerade Ball” organised by the Karori Zombie Association, Wellington Vampire Society and Upper Hutt Werewolves Group which has a showdown when the flatmates bring Stu,  a human, to the undead ball (ie vestiges of Cinderella). There is also a great “vampire fight!” as two vamp.s flit in and out of bat and human mode.

Lots of visual puns over vampire reflections in mirrors; virgin jokes; “bisketti and spaghetti;” stakes and crucifixes; and several workings of the vampire powers of hypnotism (stronger and weaker in various vamps) “No, the electriceety bill is p-a-i-d. …No, you will not cut off the telephone, we-paaaid-the-bill!”

I got the joke after a minute (but kept laughing all the way) but this would perhaps have been better as a more compressed one hour TV programme (47 minutes with ads) rather than a full length film.  It also lacked a central narrative and would have been richer if there was a stronger story woven through, perhaps a romantic narrative or a quandary.  Otherwise it’s just an episodic extended joke.

I did like the editing cutaways to magazines and historical books early on, which cleverly conveys the historical backstory in a quick run.  The music is perfect and the actors are all great; Jonathan Brugh and Clement especially turn in talented performances.  But my favourite vamp was actually Petyr, who never speaks.

The title is clumsy, why not just Wellington Vamps or Capital Blood? Sometimes the setups for the jokes are a bit laboured. I would have also omitted the dvd Extras as they diminish the finished product.  As a more edit-compressed faster TV one hour, this would have become a cult classic.  But as a film, it’s just too stretched, but nevertheless a hilarious Saturday night TV watchwith popcorn. 6/10.

Here’s the trailer.

Congress Declares War on Obama. The end of his Presidency?

December 7th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


The gum-chewing celebrity stand-in for President is under serious threat as, in breaking news 5/12 NZ time (Associated Press and Fox), the US Congress – the real power behind the ‘throne’ – has just voted down Obama’s Executive Order immigration initiative to vote amnesty to five million illegal immigrants. (Incidentally, Obama won his second term by about five million votes; so this might be viewed by some as a cynical Democrat ‘buy-up’ of an electoral buffer [ten million people] against the other side, a bit like the electoral implications of Sir Robert Muldoon’s universal superannuation initiative, that it could be argued significantly expanded the National party voter base).


Capitol Hill (or “The Hill”) that houses the US Senate (right) and the House of Representatives (“the House”) (left) sometimes also referred to (confusingly) as “the Congress.”

The bicameral US Congress (House of Representatives & Senate) is the real power in America, among several checks and balances.  They vote the money and a president must have their support to go to war (remember all that pressure from Churchill to Roosevelt to enter WWII, and Roosevelt needing to navigate Congressional sentiment and feeling and using them as his effective UK filibuster?).

Presidents Reagan and Bush both used Executive Orders, but to enact already passed laws; Lincoln used the rare power under emergency in time of civil war.  Obama has used it simply to circumvent the democratic process in America to get what he wants, a policy he cannot get sufficient votes for in the House. Obama has ‘made law’ on the hoof without reference to, indeed in the face of direct opposition from, the democratically elected political representatives.  He has done this by appealing to some ‘higher morality’ for the ‘righteousness’ of his party political and factional ideology, the pathological arrogance of a lot of Left political thinking. That is an anti-democratic outrage.

Back in Democracy-land (Govt of the People by the People) the elected House voted 219-197 to declare Obama’s immigration actions “null and void and without legal effect.”   Obama himself described his own potential action as “unlawful” before doing it. 22 times he said that but he’s weasel-worded a 180 degree ‘switch-a-rooney’ to now say it’s ok; brought in his lawyers. So, government by selective lawyers. At first the ‘constitutional professor’ (Obama) said it would be illegal and unconstitutional to take the action he now has, but has since ‘learned’ how wider the powers of the President actually are.  Gee, how convenient. Government by research and autocracy. No wonder he’s attracting the epithets “Emperor” and “King.”


So, this is no longer about Immigration, but the Constitution and Democracy.  Like gun laws, you don’t fight Americans on C and D.  Obama will lose and his ‘presidency’ may unravel. But it gets more serious than that, because this stand-off is potentially tied to the Budget.  The Constitutional debt ceiling (already historically lifted by Obama amidst acrimonious factional debate and stonewalling) expires on 11 Dec. 2014. Current government funding will expire. The House will be disinclined to give the President his way.  It could potentially be a bleak Christmas for government workers.


Moreover, 17 States led by Texas have voted independently to sue the President over the Constitutional legalities of what he is doing (see the States list at the bottom of this post).  That is serious disunity in the Union.  Remember, the breakup of the Union and civil war occurred previously over political policy disagreements (slavery, property rights, State autonomy vs Federal authority, transference, among other complex issues).

A severe issue is the political mismanagement of this.  Obama seems oblivious to the budgetary and political consequences of his immigration autocracy, and that implications would inevitably flow like falling dominoes for contravening the Constitution and slapping Congress in the face. Did he not understand that of course the majority Republican House would want to leverage the Budget issues against his unprecedented contempt over immigration policy?  Wakeup Mr President; do you not understand how politics works?

The 113th Senate must also pass this House “null and void” bill (and may not); the White House has already said it will veto the House bill (to block the immigration initiative).  So, this is war.

The difficulty for many Republicans, is the backwash against them if they stonewall the government flow of money, as it hits many Americans in the pocket (government workers).  So, short-term pain for long-term Constitutional and Democracy principal and politics? It’s a risk. Some Repub.s want to delay the Immigration fight until 2015 (when there will be both a Republican House and Republican Senate majority).  Makes sense.

[Note: Despite the recent 2014 mid-term elections during the 113th Congress which gave the Republicans a majority in both wings of Congress, the 114th Congress does not ‘meet’ in Washington DC until 3 January 2015. Until then, the 113th Congress continues, a bit like our Parliaments, until they are sworn in. (Recall the constitutional crisis over currency devaluation between the outgoing Muldoon administration and the incoming Lange 4th Labour government? [the 40th-41st NZ parliaments]).

My pick is the House bill will not get Senate support, but it will sound a warning to the Obama presidency that will galvanise the 17 States pursuing legal suits against him over the Constitution.  Then in early 2015, the Republicans will rally and engage their President in an almighty Constitutional scrap (Senate & House) over their system of government. It will be a challenge for the 2016 presidential runners, and surely, will play trump cards to the Republican nominees, presenting hustings themes of the highest order to American minds (Constitution, Democracy, Federal Power, Monarchy vs Presidents,  etc. You can hear the booming stump speeches already). Hillary Clinton, if selected, will be drowned out in the greater debate.

The federal lawsuit against President Obama, includes: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

~ John Stringer.


Review: Interstellar (2014)

November 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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Went and saw this last night, it was definitely on my list of new releases to see on the big screen, butFury won out first (Review: Fury (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014) and I think I made the right choice despite very good reviews across the board.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about this movie, so let’s cut to the building blocks.

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Lead man is Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) well-known to all of us but not really a big star (U-571etc). This is perhaps his biggest break since Sahara 2005 when he was also the lead.  A restrained, square-jaw, McC is undisputedly manly but does he have the gravitas to carry-it-off? Just I think, as an interstellar pilot.  He’s a reprise of Keir Dullea (Dr. David Bowman) of the 1968 classic 2001:Space Odyssey and this film is essentially an oblique rework. It even has HAL 9000s in the form of “Case” and “Tars” coolOdyssey monolith-esque walking talking robot jenga blocks.

Lead woman is Anne Hathaway and ever since her AMAZING piece in Les Miserables is just legend! We also have Michael Caine, John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun, appropriately), Ellen Burstyn (The Five People You Meet in Heaven,appropriately) and Matt Damon makes an unexpected mid-way appearance.  Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane of Hunger Games, and the creepy kid in American Beauty) is a crew member. Produced and directed by the UK Nolan brothers; Chris Nolan made his big break with Batman Begins, same year as Sahara.

The synopsis is a team of explorers travel through a wormhole near Saturn, put there by“them” in an attempt to lead us to a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity. “We were never meant to stay here, but to leave.” Things are bad on earth. There is a subplot of the Great Depression Dust Bowl, and the movie even has vox pop video records of actual people talking about that experience but appropriated to the current.

And we get lots of fields of corn, ala Signs (Gibson) and Field of Dreams (Cosner). What is it with corn fields (is it the crop circles)? There’s even a great chasing through the corn fields as per North By North West.  So, several classical movie allusions hidden in here.

Here’s the trailer…

There is a very cool unexpected tsunami scene. I liked too, that since things ‘collapsed,’ drones from India have continued flying for decades powered by solar panels, and occasionally come down.  Cooper ‘grabs’ them using his laptop and harvests their solar units to run his combine harvesters (frustrated farmer-astronaut).  There is also a great piece during the Parent-Teacher interview, when “Murph” the daughter is scolded and gets into a fight for believing the Apollo Moon missions were not a faked conspiracy to bankrupt the Russians into space exploration and expense, now Educational dogma. Space Jock daddy ain’t havin’ that (Unbelievers! …Ah well, back to farm).

The movie tantalizingly does not set us in an era; there’s no opener “Earth: 2034.” Gramps Lithgow recalls the late 20th century, people still drive pickups, there were wars over food. Crops have progressive blights and are failing. “We still have corn, but that too will die.”Most people are farmers.  The earth population is much reduced. NASA has secretly survived, hidden away.  So, perhaps mid 21st century ( 2050?) but it does not pinpoint it for us.  Because this movie slides Time all over the place.

Great special effects, spacescapes, craft, cryogenic freezing, robots, but this movie is a philosophical piece inside the capsules and on icy planets with great views, and so has more humanity and monologues of interest than Gravity had, which was visually spectacular but just lacked the human element. This movie has a good blend of both and the second half is better than the first.

We get lectured about time continuums and poltergeists, gravity as a communication tool transcending time for Beings in a fifth dimension, and all that pseudoscientific gumph. Michael Caine has a lifetime full of blackboards covered in real maths; science and maths as the Hope of humanity. Except mid-mission Anne Hathaway introduces Love.  Maybe love is what should decide what choices we make, isn’t that core to humanity, maybe that’s what things are really all about? Ya’ think? Gee, all that time I waisted on that PhD.

And of course McC (Cooper) is sighing and crying the whole time about his abandoned family back home in the dust, starving, and “Murph” his daughter who daddy promised to come back to. A grudge held across time and space and a whole lifetime. That’s gotta suck.

The movie holds together, with a great climax into a time conundrum reminiscent of the psychedelic Space Odyssey finale, but better explained.

But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I loved the Dr Who time gymnastics (they have to make decisions that will cost them back on earth (if they ever get back)…”every hour we spent here is seven back on earth.”  So they work fast, to get back to family before they die or are as old as they are now.

Some poignant TV video logs to eachother over time, pics of babies coming and going, people aging, as the crew just stay the same, and a tear jerker at the end between Cooper and Murph (no spoiler).

But there were too many implausible bits that jarred.  The crew bar one descend to ahopeful planet leaving the black guy behind to scramble data over the relative longer time and try and learn something about gravity to help the NASA team back on earth. When the crew finally make it back to the ship, well black guy has been there alone for 23 years.  Same with Matt Damon, who has lived an eternity alone on a space rock; and at the end, Anne Hathaway, playing house all by herself for eons.  It just doesn’t wash. People go mad that alone.  What do they do for decades, play Solitaire?

After 23 years Cooper just brushes past the black crew member and doesn’t even say hello. Callous as a comet core. Racism and ageism in space?

And the ending is unresolved, a bit like Space Odyssey.  It felt rushed. Gee, we’ve run out of time in a time movie. The sub plot around the son is simply abandoned, we see him no more. Why all the earlier development and angst? Murph dismisses Cooper, “I’ve got my children around me now.”  Hello?  A lifetime apart, not knowing if he was alive, you’d want a chat and cup of tea, maybe a Mackers, yeah?  Nup. “You belong up there, in the stars..GO!” Man alone in the sunsets stuff.  Saving family by leaving.

Some overly loud sudden crescendos of classical music (I suppose to mirror Odyssey’sfamous sound track of the Blue Danube?).

Overall I enjoyed this. The characters are excellent and the dust threat on earth interesting.  The NASA conspiracy is believable, but once we get out there in time continuums and bouncing off black holes, and breathing pure ammonia, well, the science and attempt to be ‘believable’ lost me. But, a good addition to the sci fi stable this season.  I preferred the story and action of Tom Cruise’s latest outings Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow; and Prometheus; and Gravity.

7/10 stars plus a black hole from me.

Part 8 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

November 10th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

FinalTanks, Planes, Temples and some LoTR Southron Warriors

Hauling back to Seoul and Incheon from the JSA and the DMZ on the border with North Korea, it was back in to the streets.  I really like this picture, which for me sums up so much that is South Korea.

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After the official tours, we took a guerilla tour of our own through some of the back streets, and got lost, to see how real South Koreans live. I really enjoyed this.  Lost down catacombs of chaotic streets laden with produce, boxes, and the detritus of enterprise, we were stared at, but discovered a cloistered, cozy, close-living vibrant community.  People live close together, this is a major urban center after all, but there was a sense of village that our central NZ cities do not have to the same degree.

I’ve mentioned and photographed many of the more humourous Engerish oddities.  A visitor to Korea may be flummoxed by this, as well as the various ‘nazi’ flags flying on buildings. These of course denote temples or places of historic significance, and are actually a very ancient peace symbol (present as wall tiles for example, in the Christ Church Cathedral).  If you know your nazi symbols, you’llrealise the arms are actually in different orientations (inverted) than that used by Hitler and Co. But still, a bit disconcerting if you are uninformed.

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Being from Christchurch and having some responsibility for the Container Mall, I was surprised to come across this urban Police Station IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER.  “Snap!”

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These cool sculptures represent each of the months of the year. And en route, there is this red button on the subway.  Not a Nuclear Apocalypse reset button, but it does say “Do not lean on this button, Emergency Train Stop” which in New Zealand would just be too tempting.  Not in Korea, where people are most obedient of official imperatives.

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Wherever you go on the South side, there is a very real commitment to the ultimate re-unification of the Korean peoples. Signs like this are indicative, expressing the sentiment.

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Korea is of course an ancient culture, so they have wonderful architecture (both ancient and modern). We came across these scarlet traditional warriors, which reminded me of Southrons (Haradrim) from Lord of the Rings (see here: Wouldn’t like to cross them: Kung Fu, Tae Kwon-Do and other martial arts, most likely, and they’d all do well in ‘Mouvember.’ But if those dudes are too scary, there’s always the Blues Brothers behind them.

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Because of the Korean War that New Zealand soldiers participated in, we went to the Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation that celebrates the support of Americans and other nations for South Korea, particularly the First Marine Division.

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This is one of the planes used in the Korean War, set in a garden.  You can climb right up to the cockpit, where you meet this…dummy.

The museum has great arches, steep stairtcases and alleyways which lead to dramatic sculptures and memorials. It is a very steep layered complex, with some precipitous drops, dangerous for children or energetic teenagers, that would never be allowed in New Zealand.

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The Koreans feel quite passionately about the Americans actually putting ‘boots-on-the-ground,’ something very non-PC these days (so ISIS is allowed to murder, rape, torture and massacre its way through children, women and innocent men. But that’s another story).

These steps for example lead to this, a huge bronze sculpture of the landing American soldiers (thus the name of the museum park) backed by a massive sculptural wall carved in relief (which you can see behind it).

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Some more hardware, parked throughout the campus.

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To the left of this amphibious Buffalo armoured vehicle, you can see the New Zealand flag (3rd from left).

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and third from the right, the Australian flag.

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This is an American M24 Chaffee tank.

As mentioned in Part 1, this was my first trip to Asia.  It was great, exciting, different, dynamic, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the sharing of the journey. But it’s always good to get back to New Zealand, the best place in the world.  Let’s hope DPF is not eaten by a Cayman or catches gets of those urethra fish while he’s up the Amazon without a paddle.  Jal itsuh.

~ JS.

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Part 7 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

November 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

The Axe Murder Incident & A Bong on the Border

Before leaving the JSA (Joint Security Area), a post on the notorious Axe Murder Incident.  As mentioned, tourists have been killed in the JSA.  In 1976 there was a very serious incident that almost re-ignited the Korean War.

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Within the JSA stood a large poplar tree on the South side that blocked the South’s view of various points within the JSA ‘corral’ (OP 5 and UNC CP3).  In terms of preparedness for a sudden surge from the North (they have a barracks on site, and build tunnels into South Korea) this need for an unobstructed view is understood.

At UNC CP 3 there is a guard and the site sits next to the Demarcation Line. It is described by the on site troops as “the loneliest place in the world.”  Regular JSA site pruning and trimming was accepted by both sides and had been carried out without incident over the years. However, this area was often walked around by Korean guards as they looped around from their side via the Bridge of No Return and to the Barracks.  So, perhaps in one sense they came to accept it as ‘North Korean territory.’ At least the branches that spread out over on to their side.

Four UNC guards and six South Korean Service Corps began some routine cutting. They were questioned by a North Korean guard, who told them to leave the tree alone. Normal procedure would be for either side to call an immediate on-the-spot Security Officers Meeting in the conference room, but the North did not do so, nor lodge a protest.

Because the North had expressed interest in the tree, the South commander organised an additional ten security staff and put in place a number of other reasonable precautions, including cameras.  The workers had arrived at 10.30am to do the work. Ten North Koreans arrived and were briefed on the work.  20 minutes later, the North officer ordered the South to stop working.

The work continued. He took off his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and yelled “Kill the Americans.”

The North Koreans grabbed the workers’ axes in the and around the tree and targeted the two American officers nearby who immediately went down.  One of the workers drove the truck in front to try and protect the mutilated body of Cpt. Boniface.  This broke the momentum and the North Koreans scrambled back across the Bridge of No Return but not before Cpt Boniface and Lt Barrett had been hacked to death.

The incident escalated tensions, military assets were scrambled, and tensions rose.

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A few days later, several S. Korean and American units formed a ring around the tree (Operation Bunyan) and Engineers cut the poplar down limb by limb. The soldiers were told to defend themselves if attacked.  A number of back-up units were positioned in a chain outside the JSA, for immediate backup and assistance if things went sour.  The Bridge of No Return was blocked by a truck. The delicate issues were eventually resolved at a Joint Military Armistice meeting. But this tree came close to sparking WW III.

You pass this site on a tour of the JSA.

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Operation Paul Bunyan, 1976, and the trimming and final felling of the poplar tree, which took almost an hour amidst highly strained international tension.

Leaving the JSA and back to the Dora Observatory and military base (see Part 4) below. You can see the viewing platform at the far left.

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And some military hardware, as well as this man having a surreptitious bong, in the carpark.

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With one of the Observation Post guards at Dora.

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South Korean ROC at Dora. Cool guns.

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And finally, the view from the balcony towards North Korea and I think the Kaesong Industrial Complex (NK).

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Next time, Final (Part 8): Tanks, Planes, Temples and some LoTR Southron Warriors.

Review: Still Mine (DVD) 2012

November 2nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer


I watched this relatively new film (2012) on DVD with an old friend yesterday.  It stars James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett, Babe; LA Confidential etc) who I love, and Denevieve Bujold who was new to me.

Cromwell is Craig Morrison, a tall, proud, wiry 89-year-old New Brunswick (Canada) traditional farmer.  His strawberries are no longer wanted, because they must now (due to bureaucracy) be delivered in refrigerated trucks.  He can’t afford that. “They were on plants 2 hours ago.”

Bujold is Anne his wife of over 60 years. She begins to suffer from early onset Alzheimers and starts smoking again, for example, after 50 years, and forgetting basic things.  This was therefore a very poignant film for me. See…

The title STILL MINE I think refers to his wife and marriage, but also his retaining his honour and credibility as a master craftsman in the face of bewildering and oppressive modern rules, and managing to build a new home on his land for Anne (a bit like Noah inThe Notebook). It is a blend of The Notebook and Man Alone vs the State.  It is beautifully filmed, with lovely colour vistas and the sensitivity to humanity, family and relationships Canadian films do so well.

The plot revolves around his building a new, smaller house, after his wife falls down the stairs.  But bureaucracy hinders him.  So, we have this proud gritty resistance set against the time delays of bureaucracy and modernity. There is also a lovely Babe Ruth baseball sideline.

If you liked the scene, “That’ll do Pig. That’ll do” from Babe, you’ll love this, especially when Craig goes to the funeral of an old community friend.  Craig Morrison has the same single determination and self-respect as Farmer Hoggett.

Life-long friends die, the community rolls timelessly along, except that change (modern rules around lumber, farming and building – Craig was taught building by his shipwright craftsman father.  Houses in the area are still standing 200 years on), and his wife’s failing memory and their changing relationship.

This is a wonderful movie.  It deals with aging, and the humanity of decrepitude.  There is passion, love, frustration, anger,disconnection (with his adult children). There are no easy answers, just a story of courage and the nobility of facing death and decline with human dignity.

This was great, and I’d recommend all young people view it in schools, because it’s about aging, which faces us all.  This is a perfect film for a wholesome audience, your kids, a chick flick, but also a great date night DVD.  Watch it,  8/10.

Here’s a clip.

Review “Fury” (Brad Pitt) the Tank movie 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 9:59 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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FURY opened on Friday and I went to the premier.  I really enjoyed this movie and give it 9/10 stars. It is directed by David Ayer of Fast and the Furious (2001).

Spoiler Alerts.

Set in April 1945 as the war is drawing to a close, Bratt Pitt, the Sgt commander of a US A4 Sherman tank crew, has been “killing Germans first in Africa, then in France, now in Germany…It’ll be over soon, but before then Norman, a whole lota more people gotta die.”

The Allies are making their final push towards heartland Germany but encountering dogged resistance every step forward, so the merciless killing escalates. The film actually opens with a txt on black…“In WW II American tank crews were out gunned and out armoured, and suffered greatly at the hands of superior German technology” or words to that effect. Ok, that pretty much sets the scene for us.

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This is a grimier, dirtier, more ghastly portrayal of war, especially tank warfare, than Saving Private Ryan 1998 (Tom Hanks). It’s more in common with Enemy At the Gates 2001 (about Stalingrad with Ed Harris, Jude Law). But it’s a quality addition to the WW II war movie genre. It’s about the traumatised men: their numbness, shock, endurance, and tenacity.

Brad Pitt plays a battle-hardened tank sergeant (Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier) commanding a M4 Sherman tank and her five-man crew (2nd Armoured Division). They are out-numbered, out-gunned, and have a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon who was trained to type 60-word- a-minute.  His first task is to literally scrape the face of his predecessor off the inside wall of “Fury,” the tank, their “home.”  He vomits.  The bucket of cold water just smears the blood everywhere.

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Clockwise left to right: 1) Navigator radio op. Boyd ‘Bible’ (arya saved?) Swan; 2) asst. driver the greenhorn Norman; senior driver ‘Gordo’ Garcia, Sgt Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, and the sinister brute gunner Grady ‘Coon-ass’ Travis.

The gunner is a volatile menacing moldy-teethed brute called Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis played by Jon Bernthal, better known to us as Rick’s family friend Shane in Walking Dead 2 whom he was forced to murder at the end of the season.  Then there’s Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, a weeping, smoking “are you saved” Christian with doe eyes (Shie LaBeouf). Latino Michael Pena plays ‘Gordo’ Garcia the all-important driver, and “Norman” is the rookie assistant driver and machine gun operator who goes to church.

There’s lots of philosophical jostling about war, life and death.  “Boys, God says we can kill ‘em but not screw ‘em!” There is a facetious tank crew motto, “Best job I ever had.”

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This would be their tank shoulder patch [the 2nd Armoured Div] and you glimpse it occasionally in the movie.

The 2nd Armoured Division crew are advancing with the 66th Armored Regiment in a normal platoon of four tanks. Pitt’s 5-man team is the only crew to have come through together since D-Day.  Pitt has the usual head-holding stress attacks like Cpt John Miller of Private Ryan (Tom Hanks) about losing men, but hides it. But you can see it in his eyes.  Nevertheless he’s ruthless, cynical, hard-bitten, and will do whatever he has to keep himself and his men alive. This includes ‘blooding’ Norman in to shooting a German prisoner in the back.  “It’s you or him…you gonna get me killed Norman?…shoot him.  Do your job.”


There’s no Cpt. Miller letting Germans go in this movie and Pitt rips up the Germans family photos before he’s shot.  This is tough love and the raw morality of the jungle.

Norman resists and, a church goer, tries to hold on to his humanity, but as they pass power poles with children hanging from them and other SS atrocities, this incongruity is evoked.  His ‘humanity’ risks the lives of his crew-members and when he acts too slowly, a tank crew is hit in front of them and a tanker burns to death.  “That’s your fault Norman, that’s on you, you see what you did? Do your job!” They are, lirerally, a killing machine and must not falter.


Some great scenes in this film.  A highlight is their encounter with a much-feared Panzer VI (Tiger I) tank which ambushes their 4 tank platoon and “boils up” three (men roasted alive) while Pitt and “Fury” charge it to get around behind it and pierce the back armour.  Their missiles bounce helplessly off.  It takes composure and nerve while their mates are being blown to literal roasted pieces around them. High stress white knuckle stuff.


This is the best tank duel I’ve seen on screen.  It is fierce, deadly, nerve-wracking and desperate. You get how vulnerable, scared cr**pless the tankers must have been up against a Tiger, and how utterly brave they all were. The American attrition rate was catastrophic.

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Two of my own 1/72 painted WW II models. I have four 3-tank platoons of Tigers (top) and about 40 Shermans (right); about the right ratio for a fair duel.

The Tiger was actually the first German tank to be captured by the Allies.  There is only one working Tiger left in the world today. Some sobering statistics: it took ultimately several thousand Shermansto wipe out 1500 Tigers (each tank has a crew of 5).  Shermans were a piece of tin against a better-designed, harder-hitting, longer-range metal monster.  It would normally take 4 or 5 Shermans to take out a Tiger, which is why it was feared so much.  The Russians simply mobbed them with T34s.  There are supposed to be no more Tigers left, but Pitt’s platoon is ambushed by one.

I really like how the CGI is done for the armour-piercing rounds.  It’s so violent, so fast, so total in its devastation. Like lasers of death.

Another great scene, is after a battle and the US Army haven take a town.  Pitt and Norman go upstairs and connect with two German civilian women. It is tense with suggested occupier rights to imminent rape, but Pitt intervenes with some eggs he’s found and asks for them to be cooked (women as cooks rather than rape victims). There is some piano playing and singing, a sanctuary of civilisation in this otherwise ghastly hell-hole. Until the other crew-members arrive.

before they arrive, young Norman takes the younger women in the back room (Sgt Collier: “If you don’t take that healthy lookin’ girl in back, I will!”).  When the older German woman tries to intervene, Pitt says forcefully, “Nein!  …They are young, and alive.” (ie, let them be).

But belligerence arrives emphasized by some discordant gorilla bashing on the piano in contrast to Norman’s previous playing by the other tank crew-members as Pitt attempts to preserve this small island of normality centered around the poached eggs. (Sarcastically) “Oo, it must be Norrr-man day.” “You weren’t there in France Norman.  You like horses? It took us three days to shoot all demhorses…the swarms of flies were like fog.”

In this scene we also see that Pitt’s back is completely burned.  However, the war calls, and they have to press on.  It is reminiscent of the little French girl scene and her parents in the sniper incident in Private Ryan. Good people die.

The film comes to an almighty climax, as Pitt’s platoon is ordered to hold a cross roads to stop an unknown German troop getting around the side.  3 of the 4 tanks are knocked out en route by the Tiger, but Fury decides to go anyway and hold the cross roads alone. Their track gets blown off and they are immobilised.  Then a crack SS Panzer Grenadier troop (“maybe 2 or 300 hundred”) with tracked vehicles advances down the road toward them on dusk.

They disguise the tank with a burning German and other debris and set a point blank ambush. All hell breaks loose and it is a sustained and dramatic finale to an excellent movie.

One brickbat (Spoiler). When some Germans finally get two stick grenades inside to finish off a dying sniper-riddled Pitt, they explode. But when Norman crawls back inside through the floor hatch, Pitt is not minced all over the interior of the hull, as he should have been. I deleted one star from 10 for that. I guess Pitt is too pretty for that.

The action is dramatic and riveting.  The characters are solid. I especially liked the interplay between several of them about theology and in the end when Pitt surprisingly quotes Isaiah 6 back at ‘Bible’ Swan.  Like Pitt, I knew the reference, which was gratifying. This recalls Cpt Miller and the secret of his pre-war vocation (English teacher) among his platoon.  Perhaps Pitt was a minister or something before the war and has hidden it to be a killing machine to keep his men alive. It surprises ‘Bible’ Swan. Later he does the same when he’s shot and dying, quoting scripture to Norman. So there is a strong tilt to the redemptive qualities of Christianity in terms of duty, death, and redemption in this movie. This is contextual and valid in the context of WW II American soldiers.

But it is not clean.  Human flesh is squashed indiscernibly into the mud. Heads and limbs get blown off and people rejoice in their killing.  I also appreciated this is not American 100 bad guys shot to every 1 good guy Gun-ho. No, this is more realistic. Americans are out-gunned. They die.  No nationalist propaganda here, just the cruel hard, soul-destroying realities of tank warfare in the mud of 1945 German fields and towns with Tigers prowling around.

Some great lines in the movie:

“Norman, ideas are peaceful, history is violent.”

“Ya see that Norman?  That is a city on fire.”

Some visuals I enjoyed: the grimey mud and subdued palette of the film without drawing too much attention to itself; the small round tanker rock climber helmets they wear, which are a bit dorky, but utilitarian and for me, juxtapose the heroic male coolness factor. Just men doing the hard stuff.  I liked the look.

I totally recommend this film, especially for the blokes. To conclude, I can’t leave you without this commentary and the Tiger fight scene (spoiler).

Part 6 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Typical shopping plaza in South Korea (Incheon) that at night transforms to a Times Square-type neon tapestry. And some more of that modern architecture I mentioned.

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Back to the JSA.  So, this is where the two Korean borders converge inside the DMZ. The Joint Security Area is the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face and ‘share’ an enclosed area that straddles both countries. For this reason it is often called the “Truce Village” by the media and the military or as I call it the Standoff OK Corral.

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North Korea is above the red MDL line (Military Demarcation Line) which transects the blue conference rooms. The House of Freedomis the main gathering building for South tourists with the curved roof (photo below) across which is the Panmon Hall or Tongilgak I think it is also called. Behind that is a North barracks which is why this area is so tense.  It could be overrun quite easily, which would essentially cause a war.  Note that there are lots of access roads on the North side up to the MDL, but hardly any on the South, which identifies the respective intents.

The MDL line is demarcated by a series of white 1m high wooden posts set at 10m intervals so that the boundary is unequivocal.  The post line extends between the blue conference rooms as a concrete sill, which you can see in the photos. Inside those buildings, the space becomes ‘shared’ but the north half is seen as North Korean, etc.

The JSA is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic meetings and, until March 1991, was also the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC). Troops and even past Koreans leaders have actually met here, to agree terms, set boundaries and protocols.  For example, North & South Korean troops met and mingled while inspecting open casket repatriations of UN troops in 1993.  In the conference rooms, the respective parties meet turn and turn about (ie they have turns to call a meeting) to discuss minor armistice violations, various admin., and the Olympics. There are two representatives of the Chinese army present.  Only the senior officer of the calling side speaks.  A statement is read first in Korean, then English, then Chinese.  These meetings are extremely formal, often hostile and always unfriendly.  There are no mutual greetings or handshakes.

I asked why some of the South side soldiers stand half obscured behind the buildings.  This is to present only half a target in case of a sudden attack, ie at least two soldiers might remain to defend the MDL.  This indicates how hazardous this duty is.

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In this photo is the North Korean Tongilgak white building at the back. Note in this older photo it has only two stories. The concrete ‘post’ sill runs left to right immediately behind the brown soft hat North Korean with his back to us.

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In our photo 2014 you can see the North Koreans have added a third story, apparently a recreation room. But it is hardly ever used, sitting there simply to be higher than the South Korean Freedom House (see below).

The blue buildings are conference rooms and management rooms where officials from both sides can meet.  For example, the two security forces for the JSA meet in the blue building to the right to discuss tensions and incidents in an attempt to diffuse issues.  Despite being very formal and not friendly, it seems to work.  The blue building to the left is the conference room and we move single file in to here under strict behaviour instructions and with an armed guard.  The 38th parallel goes right through this building and even the central table, so half is North Korea.  There is a door on their side that is locked from the outside.  South Korea has a door on their side, also locked from the outside.  At agreed periods, each side can bring their tourists in to this conference room where a number of high level meetings have taken place, but never together.

Note the number of windows, 3 for each side and one in the middle which is neutral. If you were to escape to either side, this is the place and there have been attempts. There was a gunfight when a man fled from the North side over to South Korea.  He dropped into a sunken garden area (before the current complexes were built) and there was a gun fight.

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The door to North Korea. The ROK soldier stands guard on the North Korean side of the room, during their allocated inhabitation period.

Inside the conference room, which is bright sky blue, are mahogany tables and chairs.  Its quite cramped and only really for conferences, rather than tourists cramming in.  But its fascinating being in here and standing ‘over the line’ on the North Korean side.

This obscenity actually explains a lot about North Korea.  For them, much of the division is about their mana.  They want everything equal and even minor imbalances are seen as threatening their fragile sense of nationhood (ala the Axe Murder Incident, more later) or cultural self esteem.

Take North Korea’s big white Tongilgak/Panmon Hall behind.  It used to be only two levels, but when the JSA nations put some communications stuff on their roof, which made it slightly higher, well the North Koreans immediately built that whole third floor, simply to be “higher” than South Korea.

Below is what the view is from the North side.  You can see the communications installations covered over by the curved roof, Freedom House.  You stand between the two central pillars and then move into one of the buildings in front on the right hand side.

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Leaving the Standoff OK Corral we take a short bus ride around the rest of Punganuk and pass a North Korean town a short distance away that can be glimpsed through the trees. This is Daeseongdong. The West has a large flag pole at the JSA, so the North Koreans came in and built this massive obscene flagpole and hung a gigantic flag from the top at Dong, to be “bigger” than South Korea.  In both cases, the West has not responded tit for tat, content to allow the North Koreans to feel they are ‘superior’ by peeing higher up the wall. You can see it quite clearly through the trees, a forbidden zone, untouchable fruit, with its hideous flag fluttering above them.

I can’t help but think about Orwell’s 1984, and what life must be like for people living in this rather run down grimy village so close to the liberty and freedoms of the West.  If only they knew.  I suspect only the most “politically correct” people (with family hostages elsewhere) are allowed to farm here.

As we drive around this area, we are strictly forbidden to take photos of towers and aerial installations, etc. The whole visit is very sobering and you can sense the tension. Then we come to the spot where some tree pruning became violent and fatal.

Next time: The Axe Murder Incident.

Part 5 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

by John Sringer

Before we get to the intensity of the Joint Security Zone, some more humourous Engerish.  Off Springs 2 and 3 outside the ‘Sodomy‘ restaurant or is it “Soda Me”? Then there’s Kolon Sport and the Gimpo Bridge.

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North Korea sponsors about 9000 carefully managed tourists a year from the north side through China.  To visit North Korea from the South side, the only way is at Panmunjeom via the Dorasan loop and Imjingak (see Part 3 & 4) facilities “on the road to Panmunjeom.”  But to actually go in to North Korea other than through Tunnel 3 in the DMZ, you have to visit the Joint Security Area and Camp Boniface.

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Here’s a map that helps get your head around the set up.  We are in the DMZ that bisects North & South Korea along the 38th parallel.  We’ve travelled by bus from Seoul to the Dorasan Observatory, Imjingak and through Tunnel 3 inside the DMZ.

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Now we’re off to the Panmungak (complex) at Panmunjeom. There are lots of names, and it’s a bit bewildering how they all inter-relate.

New Zealand was a signatory and founding member of this initiative, so, like the UN, our flag flies onsite and we occassionally have personnel posted here as part of the joint initiative, ie, the West verse North Korea.  NZ was of course active in the Korean war. Camp Boniface is the military base and its slogan is “In Front of them All.”

We pull in to the parking area of the Panmaungak. This is the Joint Duty Office (JDO) of the KPA/CPV in the JSA.  The UN and military obviously love acronyms. We are taken into a briefing auditorium.  There is a clunky propagandist short war movie that explains the essential facts, and then we are told, in no uncertain terms, that as we go into the JSA we must never point at the north side or the soldiers, be respectful, not make sudden movements, and stay strictly within the clearly designated areas.

At one point SkyGoddess is sternly told to stop gregarious gesticulation by HusbandOfAppropriateMoments (akaHeWhoMustBeObeyedThisOnce). A woman who wandered outside these areas was shot and killed by the North Koreans and there have been other incidents involving death. Soberly, we are then given this form to sign.

It’s not every day you waive responsibility for personal “injury or death“…as a result of a “hostile enemy act.” There are one or two spelling mistakes, which I circle before I sign.

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We are escorted the whole time, and our guide is a delightful American Sgt from the midwest.  He is armed, and answers all our appropriate questions. I have a long chat with him afterward about what its like working here. He briefs us that if we run towards North Korea, he will do his best to grab us and pull us back, but if we get across, we are on our own and will have to make the best life we can in North Korea.

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We enter a polished marble hall and there are helmeted UNCSB-ROK soldiers stationed about in a Tae Kwon Do pose, fists clasped.  They stand like this on four hour rosters and are immovable and impervious. They are armed; all we have are special red or blue plastic badges to allow us inside. I surmise blue is for wisdom, red is for ‘Gen Y. can I have some more money.’

Then we’re out onto a dais area where most people view North Korea across a short distance.  Many famous people have some to this point, including the Clintons, Helmet Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama etc.  We are allowed to take photos at certain points. I am on the left, and a bus passenger steps too far to the left and a Tae Kwon Do arm immediately flings out to create a rigid human barrier through which he cannot pass.

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We get a few seconds each to take photos in front of the line.  Its a scary place. You can see this from the expressions of the TwentySomethings who are kinda freaked out by Panmungak.  I tell them their red badges are targets. Panmaungak is like a zoo and we’re looking at the North Koreans.  Except they have guns and can shoot us.  They watch us through binoculars. I wonder if they were befuddled by my Dr Who shirt?

Tomorrow: we cross the line.

Part 4 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 23rd, 2014 at 8:59 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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This trip we had two opportunities to visit North Korea, once over the border, and once through one of the tunnels (now closed, obviously) dug by NK to invade South Korea. It’s important to understand that North & South Korea are buffered by a DMZ – De-Militarised Zone. It’s a narrow strip of no mans land full of mines and fences. There was no peace treaty signed by the two Koreas so technically they are still ‘at war.’ The North vs South fences do not abutt eachother, there’s a wide fenced off neutral zone inbetween. This helps relieve tensions and fatal incidents (more of which later). This area converges together at the famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone which I’ll post on tomorrow.

It is vital to bring a passport or you cannot visit. It’s an early start for us, and at the Incheon subway station en route to Seoul where we’ll catch a bus, it transpires more than one of our party has forgotten to bring theirs. So Male50Something is dispatched at a trot back to the hotel to open various rooms, and safes, and recover missing passports.

Walking through the bus at Seoul, the passports are assiduously checked by serious-minded soldiers. They pause and check your photo against your mug, peering into your face for inherent terrorism. I pull my best ambivalent pacifist look. Anyone without a passport is taken from the bus. Serious stuff.

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The first view of North Korea is across the Han River where it runs into the Yellow Sea. The shoreline is heavily fenced with watchtowers at regular intervals, which makes you feel you are inside a camp. It runs for miles and miles closing off this watery weak spot along the border. You can see this barrier in the left hand corner of this photo returning from the DMZ, which is an exhausting place, zonking out two of our party.

The first bus stop is Imjingak Tourist Park, at Paju, Gyeonggi-do, which bares several scars from the Korean War. It’s the closest borderland to the DMZ and is the hub from which you get to grips with North Korea at the Dora Observatory, Dora Station and the 3rdTunnel.

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This is Imjingak

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Imjingak Park was built so that refugees from North Korea could face the home of their ancestors and pay homage. There’s a viewing platform offering a glimpse of North Korea and it’s also home to the Freedom Bridge, built in 1953 to bring 12,773 prisoners across. You can also see the bullet-ridden train that once ran the railway between North and South Korea. There’s a huge Tibetan-like Freedom Bell. The S.Koreans are deeply committed to peace and unification and have thoughtful memorials and displays like this “Peace Wall” throughout the Imjingak leisure park.

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This interesting artwork is made of rocks collected from different battlefields in 64 nations. It’s a memorial to the futility of war. That’s actually North Korea DMZ behind the wall memorial.

From Imjingak we take the bus to the Dora Observatory and military base. This features a wide walled balcony from which we can observe North Korea across the DMZ.  There is a yellow line, across which you cannot take photos (so you cannot shoot North Korea, and we are advised to strictly follow this protocol). Looking out through the observation binoculars I can see a North Korean man working some rice fields. It is very quiet, no vehicles moving people or activity.  We are told many of the buildings are actually fake (iemovie props).  They can tell this, as the windows do not match the supposed floor laterals.

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But perhaps the highlight at Dora is one of the many North Korea tunnels discovered at this location. No photos are allowed. Before you go in, there is a small museum and we are briefed on how the tunnels were discovered, and why they were made.  There are several interesting artifacts. The wall plaque below shows the discovery.  They are so deep, almost 80m they are very difficult to locate.  Soldiers go in and listen, just like WWI.

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We don hard hats and are taken in to Tunnel 3.  It is 400m long and 76m deep, one of 4 found so far, dug by the North Koreans to attack Seoul from their side

(see map at top). It’s fascinating and eerie. It slopes down and is a long walk.  Quite hard for tall people, as it is Korean size and at 5 ft10” I have to stoop the whole way while walking which is hard work. Try 400m at a crouch.  You totally need the hard had, as the sound of dozens intermittently bashing against the exposed irregular rock ceiling echoes down the narrow corridor cut through solid rock.

It’s quite claustrophobic, so don’t go in if you are in any way anxious.  The walls and ceiling are a rusty coloured rock.  At the very end, we can see drilled holes where explosives were laid by the North Koreans, but most of the tunnel was hand cut. The termination is now a series of concrete chambers.  These sit three deep as bulwarks and one is filled with water.  Our end has an open window in the casement so you can see in for security purposes.

It is a very interesting experience, and technically, we cross over in to North Korea through this violating tunnel, now sealed with concrete bunker rooms. Maps show us the several tunnels attempted by the North (like Hamas into Palestine) through which North Korea intended to amass thousands of troops for a surprise invasion to take Seoul.

So this is quite serious stuff. The South Koreans are consequently very vigilant and continually listening and probing for tunnels.

Next time: The famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone. A really scary place.

GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014 Part 3

October 22nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Koreans have a high work ethic and everyone works in Korea, from young to old. This may be because they have a much leaner welfare system than New Zealand [insert ACT policy quotes here]. You see few beggars and bums on the streets of Korea and lots of ancient grandparents minding family shops.

Which brings me to the bowing.  Korea is structured with social customs that EVERYONE honours.  A senior person is always deferred to (which had implications for Korean aircraft safety and protocols and prompted changes to inflight cockpit systems across all airlines. Co-pilots and junior staff had to be trained to question senior pilot decisions). For example, a younger person will always nod and use both hands to an older person, and serve them food or a drink, never in reverse.  An older person would only use one hand to reciprocate to a younger person, etc. This creates widespread respect and social cohesion between the generations, something we completely lack in urban NZ.

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Note the tiny cart underneath which will be pushed by an elderly person.

As an example of the work ethic, there appears to be a civil recycling system in the city, whereby businesses put all their clean rubbish outside, and an army of people come with little push trailers to collect it up. No sooner is it out, than it’s gone. I saw one man unpacking a fridge for his shop, and an elderly woman standing there waiting for the box. The army of collectors take it to numerous small back alley sorting yards on every other block, discretely tucked out of sight, where they sort it all by hand, and obviously sell the material.

We saw this in operation in a back alley self tour we took through the catacombs of Incheon to see what the city was really like for ordinary people. This process cuts down the need for rubbish trucks in the streets, which would be problematic. (Actually, a bus became cast down a sloping alley close to our hotel. Pretty funny observing the extrication). For the load you can see pictured, a person would receive a few dollars. These workers are often elderly people, perhaps without sons or daughters to support them. It’s a win-win system focused on people and their need to work and support themselves, keep the streets freer of trucks etc., and distributes recyclables locally. Again, an evolved social efficiency. Despite this, Incheon still has a litter problem.

Generally Korea is pretty clean and tidy, but quite badly littered in big public spaces (I guess just because there are so many people). But you do observe constant street sweeping with Harry Potter brooms by random people and shop owners.

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We saw only two ‘street people’ the whole time we were here. I think this is because Koreans are prepared to work and are less lazy than some Kiwis. I met this man in a Methodist Park dedicated to John Wesley and gave him some money. He was most appreciative and humble. None of the demanding attitude I meet quite often among NZ homeless persons who have a sense of entitlement.

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Prices and currency comparisons are easy in Korea. It’s Won 000s to the NZ $1, so $50,000 Won is $50 NZ Kiwis. Easy peasy when shopping and comparing. It’ll cost you about $20 for a full night out, drinks incl. which because of the number of restaurants, is much cheaper than in NZ.

I tried these silk worm bug casings (below). They are actually very nice. Also, periwinkle type shells – suck out the cooked thingy inside. Also very nice.

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Incheon is full of tall pack-‘em-in-sardine-style apartment buildings, and we noticed they are numbered 101 etc.  This helped us not to get lost, until we did, and then realised EVERY apartment skyscraper on every lock is numbered 101, 102 etc. So, that didn’t help. Despite a lot of utilitarian Soviet-style residential stacks, Incheon has some welcome modern architecture. I also like how the Koreans take a little time and not much expense, to paint the underbelly of their over bridges, so life at street level is a little more pleasant than Soviet concrete. A good idea for Christchurch. Such a simple inexpensive idea.

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Like London and NY, Incheon and Seoul are, by necessity, cities of subways. This is something Len Brown is attempting, but it’s simply too expensive for New Zealand. The subways are easily negotiated in a different language, are efficient, and very clean. But note your routes and take smart phone pics of your relevant stations.  You also need to talk to someone about the fare cards, how to top ‘em up at the machines, otherwise you’ll get marooned inside the labyrinths.  Best to travel in a pair or more, so you can hand back an access barrier card if your partner’s barrier pass has expired.  Problematic for us a few times.

Following a subway ride to Seoul it is a long bus ride to the North Korean border and the DMZ.  The pickup is a large square in Seoul, and while we were there, there were large memorials to the horrific ferry tragedy a few days earlier.  The outpouring of concern and care was very moving, and Koreans perhaps engage with such issues as much for the humanity as ‘correcting’ Korean mana, apologising and restoring balance.  For example, I went over and spoke to some police officers, but they did not want to be photographed with the ferry memorials in the background.

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The border with North Korea is scary.  This pic sets the tone.  More next time as we cross the border….