Part 2. GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

As mentioned last time… 

“Hilarimouse Engerish abounds.” Not wishing to be superior or disparaging but it is humorous seeing Engerish featuring so prominently across South Korea, such as the brightly neon-lit SODOMIA Hotel on Rodeo Street or the Queen’s Room. And it’s near cousins…

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 But at least there is “happymoney.”
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Hauling in to Incheon International Airportfrom Christchurch, the first thing I noticed was how QUIET everyone disgorging from the plane into the Incheon cattle yards are.  A large hall full of sardines, and EVERYONE is silent, respectful.  This seemed very unusual to me.  In European or American contexts, people would be chatting and talking. Not here. It appears to be a public mindset I suspect a survival instinct in a society so full of people.
I really like Incheon airport.  It is spacious, well-lit, caters to people, and has won several awards.  The architecture is spectacular. Public sculpture is very modern in South Korea.  Although, there are glitches.  This gigantic phallus on the main drag outside the airport.  “Sou Korea..velly fertile?” They even light it at night. Ahem.
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ongdo Central Park is worth visiting.  It has the distinctive “Tri-Bowl” building. It supposedly represents the “sky (airport),” “sea (port),” and “land (metropolitan traffic network)” but I just see inverted Columbia space shuttle booster rockets.
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Then of course, there is this (below) [not photoshopped].  “Sou’ Korean boys… velly good flow.”
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Korean food is flavourable and delicious; the style is to go to open air BBQs where the staff roast different meats in front of you and you wrap it in various vegetables and edible leaves with your fingers. A common drink is Soju (“burned liquor”) which is like Saki. Korean food is balanced with good fresh vegetables. Cost-wise Korea is about the same as NZ but eating out is a bit cheaper because they have the populace to drive down establishment costs, something we should consider in NZ (ie try some Immigration).
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Being rather high up, and from Christchurch, we were perturbed to find this small wooden box in the closet in case of fire. I guess you climb inside it? Inside was a tinfoil fire blanket and a thin rope that you tie to a hook on the wall by the window that doesn’t open. We spent about 20 minutes each trying to open the window at various stages of our stay, which is set ajar. Merely a hope of saving yourself as you burn to death. We never did work out how the box would help. Maybe just tentatively reassuring and ticking a hotel insurance box.  Everything inside was completely useless.

Part of our visit was for a wedding. One of my new relatives is Eun Yee Un who collected us and was a marvelous host, but knows not a shred of English, or us Korean. Yet we communicated well and thoroughly enjoyed eachothers company all week.  Lots of smiling and nodding and laughing, universal human language.  Koreans are most generous.

Next time…off to North Korea.

GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014. Part 1

October 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

My eldest son lives and works in South Korea, and recently we got an opportunity to visit there as well as North Korea. Despite being well-travelled it was actually my first visit to Asia so I jumped at the chance (North Korea fascinates and appalls me). So, swinging in both wives and two Off Springs, it afforded an occasion to post some reflections by Kiwis and an American in our party of five on ‘Megasia’ in the style of DPF’s yak haul up to Base Camp earlier this year. The Marathon Runner followed me to parliament, so here’s some reverse serendipidy in the spirit of Political Hack (not Yak) Travel Blogginess.

We used Incheon as base camp (Incheon is kind of a whole separate city suburb of Seoul, with its own International airport). Here is a typical street scene.

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Obviously the first thing that strikes you in Asia, is it is very busy. Incheon is also very young; lots of twittering yooths and fashionable androgenous lovelies. Young Koreans ape western fashions, hairstyles and looks to-the-max. There are actually seminars and forums on how to ‘look more western.’ This tends to result in boys looking like girls, and vice versa, or like Justin Bieber (who is neither), but I understand that is actually desirable today. Gender is so passé and nineties. Queue the 2014 man/woman Labour nominee for Whangarei Kelly Ellis, or the opening monologue of the Capaldi Dr Who [Strax on the ambivalence of gender].

I suppose this is symptomatic of living in a massive culture where conformity is everything. Contrary to western prejudice, all Asians do not look the same; that is just ignorant. My son can tell Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Malaysians apart. They are also very competitive, as much as Aussie and Kiwis are (who do look the same).

Breakfast with my wives at the posh hotel (Benikea Incheon Royal Hotel, I know, sounds posh, aye?) and I’m hit immediately by the courtesy and customer service orientation (not a sexuality) of all Koreans. But Engerish is still a problem.

“Serial” instead of cereal at breakfast written in perfect calligraphic penmanship and slotted in to a golden holder amid the virgin white napkins. This (inevitably) prompted a polite English Teacher “see me” guidance and correction on a napkin handed respectfully to the Consiergé so-as not to embarrass. Can’t help myself.

Hilarimouse Engerish abounds. Not wishing to be superior or disparaging…[Tune in for Part 2 soon].

Below: Something odd for breakfast. When traveling I am adventurous (more on that later). These actually turned out to be lychees, so not so weird after all.
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Election Race 20 September 2014 ~ John Stringer

September 21st, 2014 at 12:51 pm by Kokila Patel


Guest Post: Losing Our Heads Over ISIS

August 22nd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by John Stringer. Note that the remainder of the article over the break has a photo that could be disturbing for some:

The beheading of US photo-journalist James Foley of GlobalPost by a British heavily London-accented jihadist – now identified as a member of “the Beatles” ISIS troop – who had travelled to the Middle East to ‘fight’ for ISIS, changes everything. 

 A radicalized Briton has beheaded an innocent US journalist.

Think about that.

The jihadists are using innocent Europeans and Muslims who do not subscribe to their narrow religious cult with heinous brutality (80 Yazidi men ‘executed,’ their women and children sold into white slavery) as tools to conduct a psychological campaign of fear.  We call this “terrorism.”

It is designed to strike terror and is used as a weapon.

US journalist Stephen Sotloff is next.  The second in a sickening queue we will be forced to endure at the hand of these iSIS butchers.

Can journalists and Europeans function or even visit Muslim nations after this?

The Hamas tunnels in Israel (the latter so vehemently criticised and protested against by Internet/Mana rent-a-mobs in New Zealand last week) were designed as snatch holes. They want Israeli citizens, so they can be held, money extorted, or executed for propaganda purposes.

Now all and any Europeans are vulnerable to kidnapping, torture and beheading on camera for the purposes of propaganda. It does not matter who they are (they might be Olympic athletes in a Canadian Olympic village; perhaps a touring All Blacks team): simply non-jihadists and it’s better if they are Western and Christian.

What happens when this is done to a Western woman?  Or a celebrity?  The fuse of an international powder keg is burning.

This is like something out of the biblical Assyrian campaigns of Sennacherib’s terror across the ancient Middle

East: impalings, mass beheadings, mass slaughters, executions, torture, rape. etc. designed to create psychological awe.

Beheadings have a certain cultural oeuvre in the history and mentality of the extremist jihadi.  But they are not alone.


Meanwhile in Christchurch, somewhere in Gerry Brownlee’s electorate…

August 2nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel


Courtesy of John Stringer

NZ and the Debacle that is now Everest

April 20th, 2014 at 8:30 am by Kokila Patel

<8708992.jpg>As we celebrate death,  resurrection, and ascension this Easter, we have the news of another massive human tragedy on Everest. 12 or 13, perhaps as many as 20, climbers are dead. Chomolungma has reasserted her majestic terror.

New Zealand obviously has a close cultural affinity with Everest through Ed Hillary’s first ascent with Nepalese Indian Sherpa Tensing Norgay on 29 May, 1953 (61 years ago). There was also the 1996 death of Rob Hall at the summit staying with his trapped American client Doug Hansen, as his legs and hands failed (made all the more poignant when his final satellite phone call from the summit to his wife was played on the radio, “Sleep well my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much“).

John Krakauer was one of the lucky survivors of that ill-fated 1996 expedition and was covering the climb as part of a commercial deal for Outside magazine.  He later wrote the Into Thin Air book which was made in to a film.


Rob Hall

The Neil Finn song “The Climber” is also about that event.  On 22 Feb. last year, it was announced Christian Bale will play Rob Hall in another movie of that 1996 tragic climb (Universal Pictures, Working Title working with Emmett/Furla Films).

So, the commercialisation of Everest and the issues surrounding its ascents continue. This was certainly something Ed Hillary lamented and was critical of.


Brain Blessed

Also last year, during a visit to NZ (to make ads for an Australian bank in NZ) British actor Brian Blessed (‘father’ of Blackadder, series 1) currently starring in a series of NZ bank ads, said adamantly, “I don’t think there should be any expeditions to the mountain unless they are climbing it without oxygen – 29,035ft is just high enough to be climbed without oxygen.

“It’s achieving nothing in the development of human will and human achievement and in the spirit of adventure. It’s all vanity.” He said first Everest conquerors Hillary and Tenzing were different because they were “going into the unknown”.

“Blessed said people did not appreciate how dangerous an Everest ascent could be. He described the need for weeks of acclimatization and the difficulties of conquering the various stages of the climb.

On the eve of the 6oth anniversary of Hillary & Norgay’s ascent, mountaineers revealed a new insult to the great mountain – a ladder across the Hillary Step. This is a tricky 12m high outcrop of rock just before the final stretch to the summit itself.  Hillary climbed it by working his way up a crack or fissure of the rock face, which is why it carries his name.

Congestion and waits of longer than 2 hours (serious at this altitude) are now occurring at the Step, which is a natural bottle neck and has caused so many deaths, particularly during the 1996 season when it was discovered by Hall that there was no fixed rope at the Step. 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest in the last climbing season.  Similar commercial congestion caused the 11 deaths on K2 featured in the film The Summit K2 (2013), now surpassed by this 2014 Easter tragedy.

The Guardian covered the plans to put the ladder up the Hillary Step to ease that congestion.

Frits Vrijlandt,  president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain. I think the solution would be to restrict the ascents to 100 a year, and run a lottery.

Apa Sherpa, who climbed Everest a record 21 times before retiring in 2011, described the Hillary Step as “very hard” and said a ladder was a good idea.

Pertemba Sherpa, who played a key role in the British expedition led by Sir Chris Bonington, and climbed Everest’s south-west face for the first time in 1975, told The Guardian that the security of the sherpas working on the mountain should be paramount.

“The route is changing, there is more rock, less ice and snow. It’s very dangerous,” the 65-year-old said. “For [the] safety of sherpas, this is good.”

So, differing views.  Putting a ladder up would reduce the congestion (not much) and probably increase the number ascending, so the bottlenecks may remain or even get worse.

For me, the issue is about the growing commercialisation of Everest and the “need” to ascend, as some form of personal development or enrichment or “vanity” as Brian Blessed rightly calls it.  This is what I would do:

1. A no-climbing moratorium for 5 years to allow a pause in the rapid commercialisation process and to allow the fraternity to reflect and refocus.

2. A covenant that a party must climb to a certain height, and bring down a certain weight of rubbish (tents, used oxygen tanks, etc), or a dead person for burial, as part of a compulsory acclimatization and a prerequisite before they are allowed an attempt at the summit. (A bit like foresters required to replant trees after they harvest stands of wood).

3. Perhaps an absolute age range limit on the mountain and certified years of climbing experience.

I’d be interested in David’s thoughts and his impressions of the risks we impose on Sherpas, Nepalese and other poor Third World mountain people (such as the Pakistanis on K2) porting, guiding and otherwise servicing our Western obsession with climbing these mountains.  Why not just go to Base camp as he is doing: enjoy the scenery, the challenge, support the Nepalese, but don’t risk their and other climbers lives insisting on climbing to the summit?
~ John Stringer

Hobbit 2 Review – John Stringer

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

I went on Christmas Eve, and here are my thoughts.  See my
review of Hobbit 1 also published on Kiwiblog.

This second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy opens with a
delightful cameo of Peter Jackson. So, we get this
out-of-the-way from the get go. A pub patron steps out of a
Bree Inn, bites a carrot in half, and stumps off in to the
rain drenched muddy alley way of Bree main street. Tick.

The elves in Hob 2 are much darker, more threatening than
before, even more than Hugo Weaving’s excellent ‘Agent
Smith’ Elrond from LoTR I-III. We see them in context,
as a race, pruning orcs from their borders and having warred
with the dwarves and Sauron.  We also catch a glimpse of
their gracious tragic arrogance. Lee Pace’s King Thranduil
is one of the stand out performances of this episode. The
elves too, this outing, seem to have liquid eyes (Mirkwood
Gucci) and more close-ups to enthrall and allure us in
contrast to the comical dwarves (of which more below).We
also get a lot more of Legolas’ back story, his relational
context, and the new character Tauriel introduces a love
triangle conflict with one of the dwarves. This is added by
Jackson (absent in Tolkien). Legolas is ennobled in this
tale and the elf-dwarf humour is back. There is a lovely
scene where he denigrates a dwarf passport drawing, “Is
this one of your hideous dwarf women?” “Noo. That’s
may wee bairn, Gimli.”  Legolas’ eyebrow twerks.

Jackson absolutely blew me away with Hobbit 1 which exceeded
my expectations as a long-time Tolkien buff.  So first,
some brick bats.

1. Hob 2 starts off lightly.  It comes across too
cartoonie, like the Disney-esque Radagast the Brown wizard
in instalment 1 which almost went over the line with the
rabbit sleigh (back this time too). Radagast is played by
Sylvester McLoy (Dr Who 7) a kind of Catweazel Worzel
Gummage figure with birds nesting in his hair.

2. Hob 2 is a bit disjointed, with cut-aways and flash backs
(especially Gandalf’s role in this movie) as Jackson seeks
to link this trilogy with LoTR (The Hobbit was written first
before LoTR was conceived). Fortunately the film is
redeemed in the second half by the drama with Smaug. But
you are aware of an episodic feel to Hobbit 2.

3. The barrels scenes with the dwarves escaping the elven
halls is ridiculous.  It is Tintin gymnastics to the
extreme, with Legolas doing those fanciful circ du
soleil Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon somersaults and
skateboard tricks.  Quite how the barrels stayed upright
with heavy dwarves in them in white water must have been a
miracle of the Valar.  It was silly and demeaned the
characters; bordering on Disney kids holiday rollicking.
Perhaps Jackson was attempting to capture something of the
children’s storybook nature of The Hobbit, which Lord of
the Rings is not.  But he recovers well.

4. Bilbo is also rather pale in this movie. He is almost a
second tier character beside Thorin, Bard, Smaug and the
Orcs. It is called The Hobbit after all. I’m not so sure
Martin Freedman was the best option as Bilbo. I wish Leo
McKern was still alive (Rumpole of the Bailey) either as
Bilbo or Thorin.

5. Mayor of Laketown played by Stephen Fry was a
disappointment, a bit like Barry Humphries as the Goblin
King in Hob 1. Fry is such a good actor (he was brilliant as
Oscar Wilde) but was off-key in this role.  It would have
been better if he played Lord Melchett.  Badly cast, a
lack-lustre performance and a missed opportunity.

6. There is ridiculous physics and timing in this film, like
when the dwarves somehow erect a massive moulded dwarf, fill
it with liquid gold, and then pull it apart in an attempt to
drown Smaug.  MacGyver on steroids. I would have cut that
out of the film altogether as too Indianna Jones and the
Temple of Doom.

7. Sorry, but I hate Bombur. He looks like Obelix with a
pleated beard and clashes with several of the dwarves,
especially Thorin, who are presented as gorgeous
metrosexuals, while others have the knobbly noses and stumpy
feet we expect of fantasy dwarves. They feel like two
different races.

Now the good bits.

There is a wonderful, dangerous, dark character in this
episode, and that is the bear-of-a-man Beorn the
skin-changer.  Jackson really captures the man, wild eyed,
slightly unpredictable, anchored in history. His makeup is
amazing.  Not too much, but enough to suggest the
Wildlands. I won’t show him to you, you have to go see the
movie for that. A highlight of Hob 2.

In Mirkwood there is a wonderful extended scene reminiscent
of the human-eating bugs in King Kong. Bilbo slays the
Spiders with the help of the Ring and saves the dwarves.
This is masterful, and even exceeds the book, Jackson at
his best.  I loved when Bilbo slips the ring on, and we
can hear the Spiders’ language. We also discover why Bilbo
and Frodo’s elven blade is so-named.

Jackson does some great linkages between Hobbit and LoTR,
establishing the origins of the Black Riders, and visually
linking Sauron’s form to the All Seeing Eye. He also
develops the personality of the ring itself. There is a
great wizard duel between Gandalf and Sauron at Dol Guldur.

Laketown is amazing.  Jackson portrays this once grand
place, now decrepit beneath the shadow of Smaug’s Lonely
Mountain as truly Tolkien-esque without too many
similarities to medieval Britain. The model makers deserve
an Academy for Laketown.

Thorin Oakenshield is fleshed out more deeply and we are
beginning to become torn by his heroic melancholy and his
corrupting greed for the gold and kingship. I personally
think the actor (Richard Armitage) is too pretty. A
knobbly ugly war-scarred dwarf is how I imagined Thorin
Oakenshield.  But his duel with Smaug, calling him a
flabby worm (as Tolkien does) is fantastic, as they duel
verbally for psychological rights to be “King Under the
Mountain.” Thorin is certainly brave.

A poignant moment when Thorin finally steps in to the halls
of Erebor beneath the Lonely Mountain. Here I think we catch
the obvious allusion to the Jews, and I’ve written on
whether Tolkien was allegorizing Jewish history in the
dwarves before.

The orcs Azog and his mongrel son Bolg are great, reminding
me of Satan and Son of Satan in Constantine. They grunt and
conspire their way through this movie. We also get much more
of the Wargs.

Smaug (pronounced SmOWg) is simply magnificent and exactly
how Tolkien portrayed him in my mind. He is malevolent,
dangerous beyond measure, and this is the most intimidating
portrayal of the majesty and weapon-of-mass-destruction
Dragon ever seen.  Smaug, spoken by Timothy Benedict
Cumberpatch, totally redeems the movie.  The second half
is fabulous with a long fight scene between Smaug, the
dwarves under the Lonely Mountain all the while with Bilbo
trying to burgle the sacred Arkenstone.  But Smaug is on
to him.

It is delightful seeing the Scrooge McDuck vaults times one
hundred, filled with gold and somewhere under it all, a
sleeping dragon.  Bilbo steps out tenderly as if walking
on egg shells, but gold booty is so NOISEY.  It slides and
rattles. GASP.  “If there’s one thing ya do laddie, don’t
waken it!”

The movie ends well, with Smaug flying off into the evening
sky with the hopelessly vulnerable Laketown below about to
be nuked by this jealous, angry psychopathic arrogant
ballistic missile with wings. Bilbo and the dwarves look
helplessly on; what have they awoken?  But Bard, already
well scripted by Jackson and team as an isolated outcast
whose grandfather failed to kill the dragon, has one family
heirloom black arrow left, and knows where the dwarven wind
lance is.  Queue Hobbit 3 and a day for Men! But first, a

Great closing music.

All-in-all a dutiful middle piece to the trilogy.  Smaug
lifts it. 8/10.

John Stringer 22 August 2013 – A reprise? (Shearer goes)

August 22nd, 2013 at 9:00 pm by Kokila Patel

Dec 2011…


Why did Bob go?

July 6th, 2013 at 3:10 pm by David Farrar

John Stringer blogs on 10 reasons why he thinks Bob Parker went:

  1. CEO not a poli.
  2. Marryatt and Consents
  3. Endless negativity and character assassination
  4. The Press
  5. Polls
  6. Wife and “well-being”
  7. Reputation and legacy
  8. Communication
  9. Transferred frustration
  10. Media prostitutes.

I don’t agree with all of them, but I do think the endless negativity was very real, and partly explains what Marryatt stuffed up also. He definitely made many mistakes, but I suspect the fact that some Councillors spent so much of their time attacking and undermining the Mayor and CEO, is why he was reluctant to let them know when problems arose, such a the consenting.

Now that is not to defend his decision. He should have informed the Council. But some Councillors are to blame also for creating a culture of negativity and attack, so the CEO did not feel he can be upfront with them. If he tells them of problems, they’ll just use it to attack him.

Review: World War Z by John Stringer

June 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Kokila Patel

Review: World War Z by John Stringer (

As a selective zombie genre fan (Zombieland, Legend, 28 Days/Weeks, The Walking Dead) I vote this a good addition to the zombie film cultus; how appropriate to have a lead actor named Pitt front a zombie film.

World War Z (for Zombie) is based on “World War Z” the 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks which was a follow-up to his 2003 book, The Zombie Survival Guide. However, the movie bears little relation to the Brooks’ book.

Brad Pitt (Gerry Lane) is a retired UN operative (last mission Liberia). The world starts goin’ crazy, fast (ie when a wing-mirror gets smashed off by a cop, you know your day’s goin’ downhill when that happens) with a rapid-spreading, 11-second-infecting rabies type virus afoot (or no foot, as the case may be). Most cities of the world are over-run and these zombies move fast. Gerry and his family only just make it to a military flotilla out at sea, safe from zombies, where a US official (Fana Mokoena) is running things after everyone else in Washington has got their teeth in to something else and “turned.”

Gerry heads off with a special Ops team in exchange for his family’s place on one of the ships, to try and track down the original source at possible locations around the world. They want to understand how and why the infection is spreading. Don’t get bit.

This is essentially the very successful British 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007, starring Robert Carlyle, one of the best actors around) zombie romps redone, which introduced sprinting zombies. Z borrows heavily from both movies.

We have the clichéd Mummy and Daddy separated and kids caught in between issues, seen in Legend, Walking Dead, 28 Days and War of the Worlds, now a required plot staple of these movies (is zombie-ness a meat-aphor for separation?) and perhaps most poignantly addressed in the seven minute Australian zombie movie Cargo (appropriately directed by Ben Howling another great genre surname).

The drama and special effects of Z are fantastic. There are also some riveting scenes (like when zombies attack on a plane; and the attack on Jerusalem). Others I really enjoyed:

the over-running of several mega cities is dramatic and poignant political commentary under the zombie veneer.
The desperation on the Belarus airplane after they think they’ve escaped but find a zombie in the toilet, and how that plays out. No spoiler.
Pitt instantly chopping off the female Israeli soldier’s hand (Segen) to save her from “turning” a partnership begun but not really developed in the movie. I suspect the script had a betrayal and conflicted love story in it that got edited out.
The Laboratory lab technician zombie on the other side of the glass door from Pitt for hours on end, with his teeth-chattering Hannibal Lector impersonation.
A zombie going nuts in a plane seat still strapped in, after crashing.
The turbulence caused to the Belarus airplane from a nuclear detonation we glimpse out the port side window.
I also like how Pitt wraps Vanity-Fair or Vogue magazines around his limbs to protect himself (will zombies be put off?) a kind of parody on himself and the paparazzi.
This movie also gives us the most frightening zombie I’ve seen yet, a black female lab technician with dreads, locked in a glass lab. Awesomely disturbing.

If you didn’t catch it, the scene where Pitt and his family are trying to flee from the rooftop by helicopter and Pitt suddenly runs over to the edge of the building, and counts to 11. He thinks he’s been bitten and counts to 11 to see if he turns. If so, he’ll fall off and save his family from himself.

I would not watch this in 3D, it was fine in 2D, but one NZ critic found the action in 3D exhausting. That is sometimes my experience too; you can have too much clarity, like drinking too much champagne.

Mum is freckle red head Mireille Enos (incidentally a Mormon); the ubiquitous black man in charge is Fana Mokoena; and Z also stars British actor Peter Capaldi known to Commonwealth audiences from the Dr WHO Torchwood TV franchise (incidentally playing a Dr here of the W.H.O Research Centre).

There is plenty of modern politics woven in here too:
1. Israel catches on quickest that the zombie outbreak is happening (in India) using its “tenth man paradigm” and closes its walls and thus protects itself, or does it? So, some subtleties there about walls, Jews, immigration and how Israel is besieged.

2. North Korea controls its outbreak when all 23 million act as one, and smash each other’s teeth out so there is less biting. Gummed to Death in North Korea might be a sequel. It adds a new dimension to Gangnam.

3. Working with Belarussian airways.

This is apocalypse on steroids. It is gripping racy drama, and I loved the tension all the way with the same pressure applied in different contexts (a supermarket, dark apartment hallways, a crowded city, in a research centre -vestiges of Alien II there).

Pitt is great, restrained acting and good presence, but the narration at the end is a bit of a hokey anti-climax. The discovery of how to deal with the zombie threat is somewhat implausible (well, this is an Undead movie I suppose) and frankly, wifey and kids were redundant other than as inconvenient satellite phone callers (you’ll see). Why too, do only our two protagonists survive the mega plane crash. Luck? Pitt’s good looks?

A great addition to the genre, and really worth a watch – I enjoyed it immensely, especially the Jerusalem scenes – but it’s not deep (just enjoy, you don’t read Shakespeare on a roller coaster after all).

One point behind the grittier British 28 Weeks Later with its relentless opening scene, 7/10.

~ John Stringer.

Christchurch v Wellington – Guest Post John Stringer

May 9th, 2013 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

Wellington is 1/10th as Good as Christchurch (even after the

Kilometres of Christchurch beaches make Oriental Bay look
like a sand pit, which it is, just dumped ships ballast. So
you’re sunbathing on a tip!

Up until the year 2000, I had lived equal durations in both
the Wellington and Canterbury regions, raised my kids in
both, so am qualified to take on Colin Espiner and his
assessment of Wellington vs Auckland.  I’m sorry, but this
will be a one-eyed total slam dunk.

Christchurch is named after God; Wellington after some
British warmonger.

Colin opines,

1. Better coffee. Wellington is powered by caffeine. And
there’s none finer than in the capital.

Well, if “coffee” is Wellington’s best “asset”
let’s just stop now. The same coffee in Wellington is
distributed elsewhere in NZ, so that is an impotent point.
Christchurch has hundreds of cafes and all the main brands
of coffee, as well as its own local roasters.

2. The Brooklyn windmill. Don’t scoff. One of the first in
the country and now a major tourist attraction. The views
from the carpark are stunning.

Any views in Welly (if you’re not being blown over) are
about a tenth as good as the 360 degree views from the Port
Hills (try the Christchurch Gondola, not that red fire
engine on a cable thingy; ours is silent, yours rattles and
bangs away).  Against the Welly Windmill (an ironic but
appropriate fit for Windy Welly) Christchurch has the
Victorian Jubilee clock tower, the bells of several
neo-gothic churches, two massive cathedrals, and had the
Lyttelton time ball.

3. The Bucket Fountain. You’ve got to love a town that
keeps something so hideous and so broken that it’s become
a city icon.

If this is one of Welly’s finest bench-marks then it’s
all over.  It’s a hideous thing.  To counter, Christchurch
has it kitsch Queen Mother Corgis, the stunning Drummonds
outside the Christchurch Art Gallery, the Anzac bridge, the
hideous 9/11 memorial sculpture on Madras St (perhaps the
ugliest public sculpture ever made) or any number of
brilliant public sculptures that grace like artificial
flowers this very fair Garden City.

4. The Penthouse cinema. Arthouse cinema at its finest,
complete with decent red wine and its own theatre cat.

The Art Centre cinemas (Cloisters and Academy), Hollywood at
Sumner, the Rialtos, the Metro, the Regent, as well as the
chains: Hoyts, Movieland and Readings. Christchurch has
gazillions more cinematic options than Welly and even more
than Sydney.  We even have outdoor cinema.

5. Westpac Stadium. Sorry Eden Park, but the Cake Tin is
better in every respect.

I have to concede this one, as Jade is damaged, but we have
several others (our Westpac Stadium for example, as backup)
and Christchurch is getting a huge multi-million dollar job
bordering Cathedral Square.  It will be state-of-the-art.

6. Public transport. Aucklanders haven’t heard of this,
but it’s a fast, cheap, convenient and quick way to get to

Many young adults in Christchurch simply do not have drivers
licenses because they can get anywhere in our city, hassle
free, inexpensively, on the amazing transport system.
Moreover, we have San Francisco style trams, London
double-decker buses, an efficient rail system; it all leaves
Welly for dead.  Our bus drivers are also friendly and
helpful; Welly bus drivers are known for their grumpiness.
It’s the weather.

Christchurch has far more bikes than Welly and the most
amazing suburban rides as well as mountain-biking options
with views the best in the world for this sport.

7. Sunshine and fresh air. OK, sometimes too much fresh air,
but Welly clocks up many more sunshine hours than its
northern sibling.

Blenheim actually has the record, so this goes to a
Mainlander.  Christchurch has much fresher air because we
have a massive range of mountains along our spine, and our
city is much closer to direct prevailing sea winds.

8. Cuba Street. No other city in New Zealand does cool
grunge like Wellington’s Cuba Street. Plus it’s home to
Midnight Espresso, home of the finest nachos in the country.

Sorry, Cuba Street is a second-hand shop with a few buskers.
Christchurch wipes the floor here with its impressive
Cashel Street pop-up Restart Mall (now an international
attraction) and New Regent Street with its tram flow and
Spanish Colonial architecture.  Then there’s Rolleston
Avenue flanked by Christs College, the Canterbury Museum,
the Avon, and spectacular Hagley Park, the rival of NY’s
Central Park. No contest.

9. Wellington’s waterfront. Whereas Auckland and
Christchurch have turned their backs on their ports, the
capital’s is a living, breathing, human space. And you
can’t beat Oriental Parade in the sunshine.

It is abutted by a huge Soviet box (Te Papa paid for by the
rest of us) and trying to access the foreshore is not that
easy.  In Christchurch stroll down to New Brighton and walk
along the Brighton Pier, read a book in the library on the
sea front, or go over to the many bays of Banks Peninsula
where you can swim with dolphins, catch various ferries to
exotic bays like Diamond Harbour, or enjoy the seaman’s
culture of Lyttelton, Scott and Shackleton’s final ports
of call.

10. Houses you can actually afford to buy. Not much point in
living somewhere if you can’t afford it. Wellington house
prices are not cheap, but they’re not stupid either.

You can buy a 2-3 bedroom in Christchurch by the sea for
$149,000 (there are several on Trademe today) or you can buy
multi-million dollar homes in a massive selection of
beautiful suburbs, several with rivers flowing through them.

We haven’t even mentioned the Crusaders (I have to show
some mercy), or the easy access to the great outdoors that
Christchurch has in spades: from alpine skiing to ocean
sports, ballooning, sky sports, caving, mountain climbing
and all within the hour.

Kilometres of beaches make Oriental Bay look like a sand
pit. There is mighty chinook salmon, and trout fishing, in
Christchurch. You can literally hand feed wild trout and NZ
eels within a block of Cathedral Square. We are wrapped
around by an ocean reserve with whales, dolphins, and ocean
fishing. We have a working Maori village, a working modern
Maori tribe, Ngai Tahu, a role model for how Maori can make
the most of historic Treaty settlements.

Our art gallery puts to shame anything in Wellington as does
the vibrant arts community across the spectrum.
Punting-on-the-Avon, the Antarctic Centre, the Cardboard
Cathedral, our huge network of parks, gardens, river and
wetland reserves; the texture of Banks Peninsula. Then
there’s Autumn and Spring.  Christchurch is utterly

Since 1900, Canterbury has produced seven prime ministers
(Hall-Jones, Holland, Kirk, Palmer, Moore, Shipley, Key) to
Wellington’s three (Fraser, Nash. Marshall).  Aaron
Gilmore may have stood on our List, but he moved to live in
Wellington, so he’s yours.

You may have the (recent) Wellywood investment of Sir Peter
Jackson at Miramar, and Weta, but where are all those films
actually shot?  Canterbury. Heavenly Creatures is a
Christchurch Story.  The Riders of Rohan gallop Canterbury
vistas. Narnia’s centaurs and fawns carouse among our
limestone outcrops.

Sorry Welly, but perhaps the best measure is that more
people choose to live in the Garden City than in the glass
and steel corridor of Welly, jammed in between the Petone
highway and the Ngauranga Gorge.  Christchurch is the second
largest city in New Zealand and shines beside Wellington’s
flickering torch.

~ John Stringer,

Review: Oblivion 2013 (Cruise)

April 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

~ John Stringer,

“you have the satisfying sense of a five-course meal with a great dessert at the end.”
I went and saw this on opening night last night. I have to say, this is Tom Cruise’s best movie since A Few Good Men (1992) and Vanilla Sky (2001). But I’m a huge fan of intelligent sci-fi. so may be biased. First the synopsis…

A veteran US tech. (Cruise, Jack/”Tech 49″) and his female British station assistant (‘Victor’), United Nations/Earth Fed. 2077, are assigned to the devastated Earth after “the war.” Humans won but were forced to leave for Titan, a moon of Saturn. They protect several huge nuclear extractors, processing sea water as energy for humanity on Titan under the NASA control of The Tet circling above them in the atmosphere, like an orbiting moon (destroyed by aliens). Comm.s link and Control is “Sally,” evoking “HAL” of 2001, “Data” or “Computer” of Star Trek). Jack and Vic. maintain really cool drones that are mopping up enemy ‘alien’ Scavs (scavengers) on Earth. But memories torment Tech 49.

Ok, that’s all I’m going to say, as the real star of this film is the story, and that is why this film is so good. The story rocks first. Now to the stars…

Tom Cruise (Jack Harper/Tech 49) is brilliant as lead. He doesn’t over act, is less intrusive, and – like Vanilla Sky – moves beyond clichéd handsome sex-hunk saving the world single-handed and getting the girl (hooray, hate that rubbish). Oblivion has restored my interest in Cruise as an actor after several recent flops (Rock of Ages 2012). His acting is a good balance. Perhaps three divorces has grounded him. Morgan Freeman (Breech) plays his usual wise-head sage role, but is under-cooked in this movie (I would have liked more screen time). One of two leading ladies is Olga Kurylenko (Julia) a Ukranian actress whom we’ve seen as a recent Bond girl (Quantum of Solace). She looks Maori and plays the juxtaposed black-haired First Lady to red-head surrogate Andrea Riseborough (Victoria ‘Victor’), a British actress in her first A-list role, Cruise’s mission side-kick.

This is a movie of a graphic novel (like Walking Dead, Constantine, et al) by Joseph Kosinski (who also directs, brilliantly). The novel is as yet unpublished by Radical but was given out at a 2009 comics con. delayed by art development for the film. The concept made it to film first after initial conception in the graphic novel genre, a form of backwards development.
“Oblivion” is Prometheus meets Star Wars (Ewoks and Sandmen) meets Red Planet. There is also some time travel interplay. It has a great kick at the end.

We begin in 2077 after the Earth has been devastated after the arrival of aliens. Humanity fights back with nukes, wins, but in the process devastates the earth. Earthquakes and tsunamis finish off civilisation and humanity flees to Titan, a moon of Saturn. Our heroes are on Earth as “An Efficient Team” in a sky station 3000 feet up, maintaining war drones and protecting the massive sea water nuclear processors. Scavs (scavengers) are still about, remnants of the defeated ‘alien’ army who interfere with drones and the processing plants, like the Ewoks and Sandmen of Star Wars.

The design of this film is immaculate (Cruise calls it “elegant”). The space craft are stunning, on a par with the predatory cat droid of Red Planet (‘AMEE’). Delicious. Cruises’ space and ground transports are awesome.

Sci fi frequently adopts Classical or Biblical allusions. The names of space craft often feature (Zion, Nebuchadnezzar, Prometheus, Icarus, etc.) and in Oblivion, Jack’s mission craft is called “Odyssey,” an obvious message there. Latin prose from Roman poet Horatius’ The Lay (stanza XXVII) also features strongly in this film, but no spoiler.

Another high point are the sweeping devastated vistas (ala Planet of the Apes): Washington DC as a flooded delta, the tip of the Empire State Building, the tops of the Brooklyn Bridge etc, you get the picture. At times it feels like New Zealand but was shot in Iceland.

There’s a Modernist-feel to the sky station that ’49’ and ‘Victor’ inhabit, coupled with a 1960s Mad Men chic that flavours the high-tech Star Wars/Red Planet-esque sci-fi aesthetic.

The gadgets and armoury are gorgeous, restrained but highly designed. This is not the grunge of Alien or the pop culture of Star Wars, something satistfyingly in-between. The comm.s link from NASA control in The Tet is crinkly black and white (like the 1969 moon landings). Nice.

The story grips you immediately, and has twists and turns. Good movies move through several plot-altering episodes, and Oblivion does this in spades. So you have the satisfying sense of a five-course meal with a great dessert at the end.

Tech 49 has a huge secret that he has kept from Victor, who plays the Company game and is a rigid stickler for protocol. Recurring memories, deja vu and bad dreams are a key to this movie, but no more on that.

This held me all the way. Oblivion is luscious in its cinematography, the CGI Special FX are dazzling unobtrusive supporting actors serving the story, which is deep, satisfying, moving, exciting, and resolves brilliantly. I empathised with the characters, came to hate the enemy, and enjoyed the ride at several levels.

9/10 (one point behind The Avengers, a perfect move, because I wanted more development of Freeman).

~ John Stringer,

Stringer cartoon

March 16th, 2013 at 6:16 pm by David Farrar



I’ll just point out that the public seem pretty supportive of same sex marriage, and they can vote for or against MPs on the basis of their vote. 41 electorate MPs voted for it, and 30 against.

Did you know the Nazis were liberals???

March 7th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Stringer blogs:

Nazism largely succeeded due to mob mentality.  We are seeing some of the same pressures pervasive amongst liberal dogmas and social engineering being applied in the West, where if you disagree you’re pilloried and abused. There is even a whole glossary of semantic bully words to describe conservative dissidents (homophobes, sexist, bigots, archaic, unprogressive, intolerant, opposed to equality).

John is effectively comparing the Nazis to those who dare to argue against him. Not a winning strategy. Any comparison to the Nazis is offensive and ill-considered unless someone is actually out there committing genocide and the like. Calling someone a name is not comparable. Not even in the same universe actually.

Let’s remember, Hitler’s politics was Socialist before it was fascist.

Yes, but socialism and liberalism are very different things.

The Christian church was prominent among the few who stood up against this 1930s “progressive” ‘new morality’ hope and change wave, and then shielded the Jews at peril of their own lives. History repeats.

Is John saying he is risking his life by arguing against same sex marriage? Does he see himself as a brave martyr risking the mob burning down his home?

Also on a historical note, while there were many brave Christians who risked their lives to save Jews, the record of the Christian churches as a whole was very mixed.

It is utterly historically inaccurate to understand Nazism as a conservative movement, which it patently was not.  It was radical, violent, self-righteous, liberal, progressive, new; it threw away, mocked and persecuted the old order

Oh yes, the Nazis were liberals and progressives. For someone who is meant to be complaining about the use of language to demonise, John does the exact thing he complains about.

Newflash to John. The Nazis executed Germans for being homosexuals – they didn’t allow them to marry. They banned gay organisations, they burned impure books, they arrested 100,000 homosexuals for being homosexuals and thousands perished in concentration camps. This is not liberalism.

In 1936 Himmler created the “Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion”. Does that sound like something a liberal regime would do, or a “conservative” one? The correct answer is actually neither as labels are inadequate for the Nazis, but oif John is going to play that game, well I’d say 99% of people would say such an office sound more conservative than liberal.

John says the Nazis were liberals and the wonders why he gets verbally abused by some. You get verbal abuse when you say outrageous  offensive things such as the Nazi were liberals. Don’t say stupid offensive things, and you won’t get so much flak.

White Roses or red blood.  Read more about that historic movement and lessons we can learn for today, here White Rose. 

John praised White Rose for fighting Hitler. I agree they are heroes. Quite inspirational.

One of the founders of White Rose was Hans Scholl. He was executed at the age of 24 along with his sister. Many Germans revere them and their bravery and convictions.

Scholl incidentally was earlier arrested by the Nazis and accused of various offences including a same-sex teen relationship when he was 16.  The Daily Mail reports:

During their interrogation neither of them cracked, but Sophie explained that Hans’s long drawn-out ordeal at the hands of the Gestapo years earlier over what they termed his ‘sexual deviance’ was ‘the most important reason’ for her subsequent decision to defy Hitler’s regime. 

So I’m not so sure Hans or Sophie Scholl would really appreciate John’s portrayal of liberals (such as supporters of same sex marriage) as akin to Nazis.

A callous post

February 2nd, 2013 at 10:06 am by David Farrar

John Stringer at CoNZervative blogs:

In a report on the Select Committee hearing the Redefinition of Marriage Bill -that the media continue to misrepresent as the “Marriage Equality Bill” (a partisan epithet – latest distortion The Press, p. 2 Jan 31)- we are expected to believe that teenage gay people are committing suicide because they cannot marry each other.  That really stretches credulity.  Even a lawyer maintains this, citing a study.

“The denial of equal rights lies in the background here, as parents are encouraged to see non-heterosexual as properly excluded from the normal institutions of society.”  What utter manipulative rubbish.  

This tired old untruth is trotted out all the time, as a justification for giving gay people everything they want, hero parades, special support groups. Basically it says, “if we don’t get what we want, we’ll kill ourselves,”  or “gays are so persecuted, they are considering suicide.”  That is disingenuous, distortionary and demeaning to the gay community.

The only thing disingenuous and distortionary is John’s blog post. It’s appalling. Absolutely no one has has said gays will go out and kill themselves if they don’t get gay marriage passed.

What people have said is that gay teenagers have a high suicide and attempted suicide rate, and any move which makes them not feel that they are “wrong” could help reduce that rate.

If people are so insecure about being different, or about their sexuality, to the point of ending their lives, they have a mental health issue, and need support and care, not “marriage” being redefined.  If the claim were true, then bisexuals and people in multiple partner relationships would also be dropping like flies.  New Zealanders also have a high suicide rate; should we all get Australian citizenship?

The lack of empathy in this paragraph is truly appalling, and worse from someone I normally have a lot of time and respect for.

To just state that it is just a mental health issue, if you are a suicidal gay youth suggests no idea at all of what it must be like to be young and gay. Most of us can only imagine what it is like, but only a small amount of empathy is needed to understand how agonising it must be to be say 15 or 16 and realising you are different from your mates. You like guys instead of girls. How do you tell your parents? How do you tell your mates? Should you tell them? Will they dump you as a mate because they’ll think you fancy them? Will you get called a faggot? Will you be beaten up? Will you have a happy life? Will you ever have kids? Will your parents disown you? Of course you’re going to be fucking insecure if you are a gay youth.

I recall from when I was at school, the terrible teasing effeminate kids got about possibly being gay. Rumours (almost certainly untrue) that x and y had been caught doing something weant around the school. They were called names. They were asked outright if they liked cock. I think back and wonder how fortunate it was there were not some suicides. Now thankfully many kids today are more enlightened (mainly due to legal and societal changes of the last 20 years) and are more accepting. But hell, anyone who thinks because you are insecure over being a gay teenager you are suffering from a mental health issue – well words fail me.

And yes I for one absolutely think that a law which allow gay couples to marry, will have a beneficial effect on young gays. It is a powerful sign of acceptance, and of saying that even though you are different, you may be able to one day also marry the person you fall in love with.

Of course no one commits suicide solely because they can  not marry. But no one has suggested that. All the suicide experts know that suicide decisions have many factors. But acceptance is a factor.

Treat us, the public, with respect and don’t insult our intelligence with representations like this. What utter nonsense.  Young Christians are hassled, mocked, derided and picked on constantly in schools, the media, on TV, for their faith.  Only this week Green MP Keith Hague said teenage Christian Grace Carroll was “outrageous” and “offensive” because she mentioned “virtue.”  Black really has become White.  Christian teenagers don’t commit suicide.  They soldier bravely on, shouldering the mockery and having the courage of their convictions, often to death in overseas countries. I’m sure many teenage gay people do too.

First of all people choose to follow a faith. Does John think, as Colin Craig does, that people choose to be gay? And is he really saying that is it harder being a teenage Christian than a teenage gay?

And finally John not content with saying that any insecure depressed gay youth just has mental health issues, also claims:

There’s no doubt that many gay teens are harassed and bullied (a study published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health suggested gay and lesbian teens get bullied two to three times more than their heterosexual peers), and some of them may take their lives because of it. But there’s little evidence that gay teens have a dramatically higher rate of suicide than heterosexual teens.

Really? There is no definitive prevalence rate for gays and lesbians so no definitive suicide rate, but over a hundred studies have found higher rates of suicide attempts. Look at this or this or this list of 100 or so studies.

Review: Life of Pi (2012) Movie

January 18th, 2013 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

~ by John Stringer (

Went and saw this last night with eldest son.  It was fantastic. I recommend 3D as this film is very colourful and cinematic. You will want to enjoy its epic sweep in 3D.  I read the book a few years ago, and recommend you do that too. This is a great movie adaptation.  I wondered how they would actually do it, as the book is almost impossible to adapt visually but Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Dragon/Hidden Tiger – there’s that tiger again) and David Magee (screenplay) (Finding Neverland) pulled off an amazing job.

Plot: Indian family of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, sells up their zoo on land they rent and decide to move to Canada; sell the animals in North America and build a new life. Ship is lost at sea, Pi survives with a few animals in a life boat and raft, the final being a large vicious Bengal Tiger (called Richard Parker). Pi survives (just) for 277 days on a raft tied to the lifeboat by a rope in which the tiger is stranded. That’s all I’ll say.

French (now Russian) actor Gerard Depardieu is the cook on the ship, but the others are not known.  Pi is brilliantly played by a series of various aged Pi.s  His name is really Piscine Molitor (a French swimming pool) or “Pissing” as his schoolmates call him, thus later “Pi” to avoid bullying. This is all well-explained in the movie.

I love the opening sequence where the movie moves in slowly, capturing the magic and wonder of the animal kingdom created by God.  This is quite a metaphysical film, with Pi traversing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It asks who we are and how God communicates with humanity.

There are some wonderful scenes. I noted particularly the dramatic sinking of the ship, the whales, the flying fish episode, and of course the drama throughout with a massive tiger in a boat just a stone’s throw away where all the canned food and water is. There is a lovely moment when the tiger is hanging on to the side of the lifeboat and the boy/tiger have a moment with their eyes.

I think Lee spent a lot of time filming an actual tiger in a lifeboat, as any CGI is invisible to detect, the tiger is completely real all the time.

The movie portrays the realities of this implausible scenario with brilliant detail, to the point you can imagine it totally happening (how to get water to the tiger; what will it eat? etc). There were no cringe moments.

The book and film have one of the best endings ever, on a par with Sixth Sense (aka I See Dead People).  Go and see it to find out, no spoiler here.

The characters are strong, including the tiger, and I liked the humans at the beginning, especially the uncle with the expanded chest and the transparent luxuriousness of the French swimming pool.

This is a movie about the power of story, and how “science” knows only some, religion knows a whole lot more.  Those who mock religion and live in know-it-all science castles with trite factual answers to everything, would benefit from seeing this great film.

For me there are some key dialogue moments that reveal what the movie is really about: the Christian priest in India (we cannot understand God in His perfection, so he came as one of us, to be accessible); Pi’s mother interpreting Pi’s father’s rationality (head vs heart); Pi’s conversations with God in the lowest moments amid the storms; and Pi’s wrap-up about what is true at the  end of the film with the writer looking for a story for a novel. “Which story do you prefer?”  “The ship sinks and I lose my family in both, so which is better?”  ”What do you see Richard Parker? Tell me. Speak to me!”.

I get that “story” is intended to be wonderful and used to portray emotions, mysteries, nuances that help us explain, see and wonder. This is what poetry, music and art are all about. The film seeks to explain to us that the meanings and function of stories can be many things, on many levels, because that is what humans are like.  This is the obvious contrast with a marooned boy named after a mathematical formula, and the number Pi which is infinite and is not divisible. Look for the conclusions about what actually happened by the Japanese insurance assessors at the end, in their report to the Japanese company who owned the ship.

There is just more to life and the universe than 1+1=2.  You could say 1+1 = phosphorescent plankton (the smallest creature in the sea feeding the largest mammal ever known). One of my favourite quotes helps sum up this movie. Pablo Picasso, perhaps the artist of the 20th century, said, “Art is a lie that helps us to understand the truth.”

I heartily recommend this film to parents of children, lovers, philosophers, people interested in the oddity of life, and probing the depths of who God is, and why this world.

Life of Pi was written by Yann Martel and first published in 2001, after suffering several publisher rejections (like Harry Potter).  It was a runaway success and has won many awards.  Now the film adaptation has collected some gongs too.

Guest Post: HOBBIT #1: An Unexpected Journey , Review – John Stringer.

December 31st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

[There are NO spoilers here: we all know the story of The Hobbit].

I took Domestic Goddess to see this last night.  We watched the 48 frames per sec 3D version (there are three options) and this is the way to go, although 3D gives some people a headache. I loved it, there is no going back, and 3D/48 is the future (like talkies and colour TV).  The future is full immersion with the audience ‘inside’ the movie using 360 cameras (now achievable) and being able to shift yourself about as one of the characters with different perspectives (10 years time?).  I have already seen this done in live theatre with wrap around screens, projection and live performance.

Far o’er the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

I WAS STUNNED.  This is the best cinematic experience I have ever had.  Peter Jackson is brilliant.  I’ve had occasional doubts about him (Lovely Bones) but this proves (or reproves) he is a true genius and can do anything with film. I have no hesitation calling him the greatest filmmaker and story-teller alive.  Guillermo del Toro (Hell Boy, Pan’s Labyrinth) also a great director, was originally hired to direct, but moved on after the union delays. I am so glad Jackson was hands-on here to complete the tale in his characteristic style. Hobbit #1 is another stunning classic in the canon of film and will forever be the crossover movie into 48 frames.  Andy Serkis (Gollum) managed the second film unit, so establishes himself as a close Jackson colleague, having starred in many Jackson productions.

Sequel Syndrome Challenges

Telling The Hobbit on the tail of LoTRings is a daunting task.  Most sequels flop or arrive as re-hashed re-grooves.  But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a completely new experience, with a different but complementary ‘feel’ to LotRings.  It is doubly awkward, because it comes before LotRings, so Jackson is working backwards with characters and plot. He fleshes out the Shire and Rivendell more within their contexts.  Gandalf is more wizened here and quirky (less the austere all-powerful wizard) and a maia with much more personality and obvious weaknesses. There are five mysterious maiar in Middle-Earth: Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, Saurman the White and two unnamed others.


The movie starts slowly as narrative, but this is fine, as we spend 20 minutes establishing rich characters (Bilbo and the dwarves).  Jackson fleshes out the Hobbit dwarves more deeply as a people (tinkers, tailors, toy makers, their lust for gold, their vulgarity and stubbornness) in contrast to the lithe gracefulness of the elves. Hob1 is perfectly paced, with action, back story, flashback, and appropriately placed drama roller coasters. One is never bored.


Martin Freeman (Bilbo) channels Ian Holm (Bilbo in LoTR) to create a seamless transition between the two actors. Ian Holm is in this too, as the older Bilbo in the first 20 minutes, along with Elijah Wood as Frodo to establish the latter’s connection to the earlier story, when in the book he is not present. Freeman is perhaps best know to us from The Office (UK). I was dubious about his casting at first, but he is fantastic. Hugo Weaving returns as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as the magnificent Lady Galadriel with gorgeous dresses.

Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain has a nemesis. Azog is a pale, scarred orc captain who rides a warg, visceral and threatening, like some zombie SS Einsatzgruppen at work in Poland. His son Bolg features later in the Hobbit story.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield (so-named after fighting Azog with a real log of oak) is perhaps a little pretty for me here, with his Jesus eyes; he also sounds very like Boromir which I found distracting.  I would have cast him more bulbous-nosed, stumpy and war-scarred (not Fabio meets Conan).  Bombur looks like a cartoon Obelix, but otherwise the dwarves are brilliant, with Mark Hadlow of Christchurch the dwarf with plaited white hair.  Jackson captures the essence of Tolkien’s dwarves, with their Celtic livery, accents and roguish lustiness. I love their head-butting greeting. They are best characterized as a dwarfish army in a flash back to a great battle with the orcs, where we witness classic Tolkien epic brought to visual extravaganza.  The allusion of the dwarves to the Jewish Diaspora is obvious (which I have written on elsewhere) as well as the adoption of Jewish mythical “golem.”

Barry Humphreys (Dame Eda) unrecognizable as the Goblin King is brilliant with his hideous neck goiter.  His voice and dialogue is gripping, and ghastly, evoking chilling isolated terror of being caught down there in his kingdom with nowhere to go, in the hands of some psychopathic serial killer who will kill you long and slow.  Ugh.  (“Be good children, or the goblins will get you!”). His demise by Gandalf is apt. The variety and design of the goblins is great. I loved the messenger goblin with deformed feet on a flying fox.  The goblins (small orcs) with their long ears are well characterised (if moving a little too quickly for my eyes).  I would have preferred more medieval hoods and armor much like they were portrayed in Labyrinth (David Bowie) but this is Jackson’s style.

Gollum is a real star in this, and obviously should be.  His character and schizophrenia are crafted more and he is portrayed a little blacker than in LotRings and slightly more dangerous, perhaps with the added confidence of having his Ring. The riddle scene with Bilbo is critical and Jackson carries this off.  There is a gut-wrenching scene where Gollum has lost Precious (after 500 years) and is arched, gasping desperately at the water’s edge, lamenting the loss of his everything and all.

I don’t know what happened to Christopher Lee’s Saruman in this movie, he is pallid and ordinary, like a school headmaster lecturing a student on his way to a fancy dress party.

Special Effects CGI

The special effects are amazing, but 48 frames a second is unforgiving and a few fakes are evident.

  1. The two heavy axes on the bald dwarf’s back appear obviously plastic at times, they sway and move as if light.
  2. Hobbit feet seem prosthetic and rigidly clumsy at moments.

However, the covering of horses in wool and packing them out to make them seem like little ponies as the company ride out of the Shire is brilliantly convincing.  I am not a huge fan of CGI.  Most CGI creations move too quickly, to mask the limitations of the technology; I would have liked the orcs and wargs to slow down a bit so I can take them in. The underground dwarf kingdoms contrasted with the ramshackle maggot labyrinths of the goblins, also underground, are among the most startling special effects and cinematography of the film (and rival LotRings) are gob dropping in their sweep and creativity.

Jackson does well to restrain Smaug in Hobbit #1; we get only tantalizing glimpses, and never a full view, but enough to evoke the terror and power of this Fire Drake from the North, of which more later.The three stone trolls are brilliant and just how Tolkien wrote them.  I enjoyed this episode for its humor and fleshing out trolls more as viable creatures with personality rather than as mindless oxen of LoTRings.

Gawihir Windlord and his wonderful giant eagles are again the cavalry hooray factor, and they play across the other star in this show, New Zealand, with gorgeous sweeping vistas and landscapes (no need for CGI here).  Jackson uses visual hyperbole: precipices drop not hundreds of feet but thousands, toppling trees hang inches from chasms, destinations lay on horizons swathed in mist, etc.


There are moments of real dramatic pathos here, although the film lacks a romantic element (like Arwen and Aragorn) hinted at only slightly by collegial affection between Galadriel and Gandalf.  The two moments that stand out for me, are:

1) BIlbo invisible with the ring on about to stab Gollum through the throat, who cannot see, but senses the hobbit.  They stare at each other full of loss, hatred, desperation, fear, loathing, compassion all-in-one. This evokes the central line of the movie, spoken by Gandalf at the beginning, “true courage is to know when not to take a life” obviously setting up Gollum’s critical role in the whole long epic.  Frodo confronts the same crossroads. Bilbo’s insight and compassion are moving, a lesson to us all.

2) The second scene is similar, as Thorin and Azog eye each other up in the dramatic forest burning scene.  Thorin heir of Durin marches magnificently towards Azog through fire, like the Terminator, to avenge his fathers, a gripping moment of goody vs baddy that ends not quite as you expect.

Weak scenes

A few implausible scenes that bordered on the annoying rollicking of Tintin:

1) Toppling down in to the goblin tunnel that no one would have survived.  Not one compound fracture; are dwarves made of concrete?

2) The collapsing platform inside the goblin kingdom with everyone onboard, after mass slaying of goblins, is too Indiana Jones. We need plausibility to create real terror throughout the epic.  If they survive anything, it becomes ho hum. Good fantasy is ‘real.’

3) The Stone Giants scene was a bit slo. mo. Transformers for me, and the characters hanging on to them as Ragnarock is played out, might have been best edited out of the movie.  Although, how can you omit the Stone Giants smashing mountains?


Somewhat contradictory, I still enjoyed the Disney-esque rabbit Santa sleigh of Radagast the Brown.  He is a wonderful character, and adds breadth to Gandalf’s valar order.  Radagast played by Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Dr Who) is reminiscent of Catweazel played by Robin Davies. I especially enjoyed the assault on his quaint dilapidated forest cottage by large shadowy spiders, a hint of things to come. He adds real humor while contrasting completely the sinister yet mysterious Necromancer in the ruined tower (the Witch King of Angmar returned) that preoccupies Galadriel so much.

There is no Jackson cameo here, that I could see.  Also, Radagast is using Gandalf’s staff from the LotRings movies.  I don’t know if this is significant to later Hobbit films, or whether it was an unnoticed prop share between the actors (unlikely).  So watch for that in Hob#2.

Music and Title Lettering

Light reflecting across uneven (ie handmade) brassy title  lettering in Tolkien script, tick. Theme sung by Neil Finn, excellent.  I liked how Jackson sub-titled his movie “An Unexpected Journey” about 20 minutes in, the dual titles and how they fitted with LotR three sub-titles was always going to be problematic.  Jackson’s ability to chop visual story-telling into related and coherent chapters is one of his strengths.

Length and How to End Hob#1?

I wondered how Jackson could spin this out across three movies, but he achieves this admirably.  Hob#1 is a coherent self-contained movie in its own right, but obviously part of a whole.  It has its own drama (fights, the riddle episode, the three stone trolls, the burning forest, the goblin kingdom) and we await so much more: Beorn, the Battle of Five Armies, Smaug, Dale, the Lonely Mountain. This is such a rich and deep tale that it can easy stretch three movies (good on New Line Cinema for agreeing to that).

But how to end Hob#1?  I wondered as we drew to a close how Jackson might do this.  I won’t spoil this for you, but let’s just say it is a genius segue to LotRings but using the context of the Hobbit with an eye for detail.  Nuff said.

This was so good I would go back the next day and watch it all again.  Enthusiastic 10/10. I recommend 3D 48 frames version (take your glasses to save $1).

Looking forward to Hobbit #2 next Christmas.

BASIC STORY for the Uninitiated: Hobbit #1

  • Dwarves live in magnificent opulent kingdoms of power and wealth underground toiling and mining.
  • They are corrupted by lust for gold and the jewel Arkenstone (the heart of a mountain).
  • A fire drake name of Smaug attacks the realm of the Dwarves like a flaming Exocet missile entering a terrorist bunker.
  • Dwarves flee and are dispossessed (sack of Jerusalem 70AD by the Romans).
  • Smaug snuggles into a mountain of gold and gems plunder (Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool of money).
  • Not heard of for 60 years.
  • Durin’s-heir Thorin Oakenshield  gathers willing dwarves to seek to retake their homeland.
  • Birds have started returning to the Lonely mountain, a prophetic sign the dragon will be dispossessed.
  • No one will help.  Enmity between dwarves and elves for past grievances.
  • Gandalf gathers 13 dwarves and 1 hobbit (Bilbo).
  • Adventures on the way towards the Lonely Mountain and Smaug’s stolen lair with monsters and battles.
  • While lost in the heart of the mountain and the goblin kingdom, Bilbo meets an unusual creature called Gollum in a fetid lake.

He finds a magical invisible-making ring, the possession of Gollum for 500 years.

Cartoon – 2 November 2012

November 2nd, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Guest Post: Living with Dementia (my story)

October 27th, 2012 at 4:43 pm by David Farrar

A guest post from John Stringer:

This is my Mum, aged 75.  She has advanced alzheimers (dementia). Her memory is about 5 seconds long. She does not know who I am, who she is, where she is, yet we still have a meaningful and loving relationship. My youngest sister and I have just won Joint-Guardianship and Administration of her with the support of the WA Government and Attorney’s Office.  If you’re living with dementia, or about to confront it, read more below the photo. This is our story.

My Mum and I have always been close.  We had long and intelligent conversations about life, God, the world and people. We wrote to each other a lot about literature and history. We’re both melancholic personalities which leads one to pondering life’s deep waters. But that is all changed now.  Mum is gone, and someone else is in her body.  Her personality is different.  Her memory is staccato, but otherwise she is in perfect health, walks, and is very sociable.  She is also very loving.

Sometimes she thinks I’m her father.  She asks constantly if I have a girlfriend or a wife?  She has no idea she lives in Perth, Australia; thinks she is in Christchurch, NZ, where she lived most of her life and raised her family of four children. She has no idea she had children or was married.  I still travel the 5000 km to see her and my youngest sister, when I can, because it’s so worth it.

Y’see, it’s not about me.  It’s about her; honouring her memory and her integrity now as a person.  It doesn’t matter that she can’t remember me.  I am caring for her now, like she did for me and my twin sister and siblings when we were mewling, puking and needed our nappies changed. Her love was unconditional then, mine is now. This is the transaction of life for the unselfish.

If you can do this, and accept dementia as simply a wearing out of the body, like eyesight, or mobility, and adapt philosophically to change, you can cope with alzheimers.  Love conquers all. It’s possible to maintain a loving and rich relationship with your demented parent.

One of the tricks to being with dementia sufferers is “white lies.”  Dementia patients are deluded and their minds live in fantasies and incongruities (that they are eight, that they are going home to a long-dead mother).  It is best to play along, because establishing “the facts” is inappropriate to their worn out brain and causes them distress and confusion. In conversation with my Mother I play along, “Oh yes, I am married, we have seven children,”  ”yes, I have a girlfriend…several [laughter],”  ”I have a proper job,”  ’I’m a pilot,” “I’m a doctor,” “yes, we are in New Zealand, not Australia,”  ’We’ll go home after lunch,” etc.  As a Christian I have no moral dilemma with this.  My mother always had a sophisticated sense of humour and multi-levelled conversations.

Dementia sufferers regress.  They progressively become 60, 40, 10 etc.  and memories before these ages disappear as their memory banks progressively erode.  After a while they are “too young to be married, “are eight living with their parents,” until eventually they become babies again.  This is what alzheimers does.  So I live in the past with my mother, within memories my mother still has: old places and people she knew, school, favourite holidays, an old bach, her parents, etc.

I can talk for hours with my mother in this way.  We laugh and joke,  She scolds me, or cracks puns.  We do jigsaws, play cards, we frequently hold hands and hug.  She gets lots of kisses, because regardless of what she does or doesn’t remember, and who she is now, she still deserves to be loved by me, now.  And I will do everything I can to make this five second moment happy for her.  It is of no consequence that she will forget it within a breath, and have no memory of me after I leave her, happily tucking into lunch.

Alzheimers patients suffer from a special syndrome called “the sundowner effect.”  This occurs between 4 – 7pm when the sun starts to wain.  They become anxious and want to pack up and go home, so they can feel secure.  It is a common emotion in children, who were perhaps collected late from school by a parent or from Cubs as it started to get dark.  It relates to a threat of abandonment and not being loved.  This time period requires daily attention, and this is where families are needed, to assist staff in homes who cannot necessarily cope with everyone one-on-one.  We rostered family to converge their visits to my mother at this time, to lessen effects.  Sometimes they can be violent and become very agitated.  This is where you can draw in old friends (of theirs) or of yours who had connections with your parent.  Short sweet visits are best (so its not too onerous for them) and they feel able to come reasonably frequently. A 15 minute visit once a week is better than none at all.

If you’re not a talker, like me, there are other things you can do.  Sing songs with them, take them for a drive (they enjoy looking at things).  Take them to a weekly church service, for a walk to the shops, bring them while you get your groceries.  Just include your parent in daily activities.  Home for a Sunday lunch is a simple idea, but avoid busy children and noise as this can distress dementia patients who struggle to make sense of it all.

Other things we’ve done, is laminate ‘photo trees’ of her family with big captions on her wall.  ”My son John.” These create great circular talking points. Also put up big photos of older familiar places with captions.  “My home at Tuam Street” (when she was a child).  Mum remembers these (for now) and the familiarity is reassuring to her.  Have  a TV with dvds of favourite programmes (Coronation St) that can loop in their room. Picture books are good, they like flipping through and exercising their mind trying to work out “whale,” “pussy cat,” etc and this can prompt conversation between you.

A fish tank in their room can be good, they can look at the fish for ages. Pets are excellent. A cat or stroking a communal dog brings great joy.

Security is a big issue.  While my mother remembers little, she still had the presence of mind to memorize the exterior door pad code, and escape.  This led to several very dangerous physical incidents for my mother and to something of a crisis in our family.  She eventually got to a home which is now so secure she can never get out, unless we take her. My mother had seven homes in seven years and this was extremely dislocating for her condition.  She was also taking her heritage jewelry off (ie rings or brooches owned by her mother) and these can disappear (sometimes pilfered by other visitors or staff).  So, we took many of these away for safe-keeping or repatriated them to members of the family to whom they were significant.  This is better than having them lost or stolen.

As well as taking off their jewelry, sometimes patients will take off their clothes. That’s why it’s important to check the quality and personality of the staff in the home you select for your parent, if they are no longer able to live with you at home (which many attempt).  Does the home have an imbalance of immigrant staff on low wages (and therefore perhaps on low wages)?  are the professional staff balanced with a  variety of older men and women with senior qualifications? What is the ratio to staff and residents (my Mum is in a unit with 5 others, in a village of five other units, a total of 25).  This provides good one-on-one care.  Visit several times and get to know the nurses, cleaning staff, cook.  Observe their interaction with residents.  Visit several times before committing. Are they loving compassionate generous people? This is your parent you’re choosing for, so be thorough.

We first noticed Mum’s alzheimers when she asked if we wanted a cup of tea and forgot to make it, then asked us again. She has had the disease now for seven years. It is not only an old person’s condition; people in their forties get it.

As she began to progress, I gave my mother a hardbound ‘Notebook’ of her own, to diary her journey for her grandchildren, before her memory was too far gone,  This gave us a valuable final epistle from the mother we were losing, before we gained a new one, lost in the fogs of time.

My Mum is gone, but she’s still here. It need not be seen as a traumatic curse to be avoided, mourned or resisted.  Just go with it, for your and their sake.  Life is full of struggles, and you can make it work for you and them in this difficult time of life.  How you deal with things, and your attitudes (never get frustrated or ‘blame; them for their condition, or ‘correct ‘ their memory) is as affecting as their condition.  And don’t take it personally.  Your ability to compensate and continue loving your parent is about the quality of your character, not theirs.

Alzheimers sufferers often manifest the attributes and character they had in life, and these traits can accentuate.  If they were kind and patient, they will be more so.  Bitter selfish people tend to become a problem when dementia sets in, and some men can become lecherous. It is a lesson about the richness of values throughout life.

There are dozens of dementia support groups and societies. Other resources I would recommend to you include the movie The Notebook (2004), and Louis Theroux’s BBC series “Extreme Love: Dementia.”  If any of your are struggling, I am happy to talk and help you out (contact me at

~ John Stringer (Christchurch).

Thanks John for such a personal sharing.

Cartoon John Stringer 14 October 2012

October 14th, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

Cartoon 12 October 2012 – John Stringer

October 12th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

Prometheus Review – John Stringer

June 8th, 2012 at 3:45 pm by Kokila Patel


PROMETHEUS [Review]. John Stringer.

As a fan of the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott and James Cameron, I went and saw this tonight. Special effects by Weta.

It is great, but the plot has some holes. It’s a believable storyline, the pre-humans are excellent (they look like Pre-Raphaelite Silver Surfers – gaydom will be drooling), and the Aliens are awesome as usual. Not as scary as Alien I-III (no corridors with big slimy toothy crustaceans chasing you). The best thing about the movie is it ties together several of the Alien story pieces and explains: what the Aliens are (think other-world weapons of mass destruction and Iraq invasion allusions); how humans got to earth; and what/how the ‘alien’ space ship is from Alien 1.
Explanation (you need this). The opening sequence (don’t be late) is one of the human ancestors (“Engineers”) seeding his DNA on the earth at the dawn of time, perhaps Niagara Falls, NOT on an alien planet. Not that well explained visually which led to confusion. The black stuff in the movie seems to be Pre-Raf Ancestor DNA but has been invaded by those messy Aliens in their various life-cycles who swim around in it (we get a new one in this film, a hooded-cobra phase. They start tiny, and like eyeballs).

Prometheus, the Greek Titan, stole fire from the gods by trickery and seeded it to man on earth, viz ‘gods’ dna in this movie. The ship in The Matrix was the Nebuchadnessar, evoking madness from God.

A nice Creation/faith sub-plot centered around a Christian cross necklace (usually an anathema to Hollywood). “After everything, you still believe?” (a bit of a rip off from The Matrix). Sci Fi borrows heavily from the Bible, and this story is basically the “Sons of God” intrigue of Genesis 6.
The characters are not that strong, just ok (the fighting-daddy complex is a bit tired, played by “David” of Kings Speech [Guy Pearce]. There is another “David” here too, ie the giant slayer of Old Testament, Michael Fassbender [Mission Robot] – a reworking of Spock-who steals the show). Ultra aggressive red head Irish uptight geologist had potential, but is eaten early. He comes back though, as Wolverine on speed.

They all had great potential (especially the Captain and his Japanese Sulu) with better scripting, and CharlizeTheron is a bit wasted here. Her end by giant do-nut is good though.

The allusions to the earlier Aliens films are fab. For groupies like me (archaeology runes; deep sleep pods; long dripping dark tunnels; mission android gets head ripped off; acid blood; alien and heroine in the pod unexpectedly together; etc).

It is not as scary, but quite visceral (a self-caesarian section is pretty dramatic stuff) but in the end I wasn’t with the heroine as much as Sigourney fighting to survive and saving children. At least this femme fatale wasn’t the gorgeous tall Amazonian cliche so many Sci Fi.s wimp out on (like “Alien vs Predator Requiem”). She’s just a confused but persevering Seeker not a kick-butt Barbwire Babe (sigh of relief).

Best line: “distance from earth 3.7m x 10 power of 4” screen text. Some great Alien close-ups and fight scenes (not shadows and darkness on this one Bug-eyed Monster lovers). You’ll never eat squid again.

Held me all the way, but missed some of its queues, mainly in the dialogue and character development, and overall, potential was missed. But definitely worth seeing. 7/10.

Avengers is better.

Cartoon 14 May 2012

May 14th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

Crossword Answers 13 April 2012

April 14th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

13 April 2012 Cartoon

April 13th, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

UPDATE – Cartoon included. Sorry folks – Kokila Patel