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 The novel is as yet unpublished by Radical but was given out at a 2009 comics con.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cartoon – 2 November 2012

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

By John Stringer

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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.

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Cartoon John Stringer 14 October 2012

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

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Cartoon 12 October 2012 – John Stringer

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

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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

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Crossword Answers 13 April 2012

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

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13 April 2012 Cartoon

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

UPDATE – Cartoon included. Sorry folks – Kokila Patel

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Crossword Answers 6 April 2012

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

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Cartoon 6 April 2012

April 6th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 6 April 2012

April 6th, 2012 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 30 March 2012

March 31st, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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It’s Tax return time again!

March 30th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 30 March 2012

March 30th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer – Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 23 March 2012

March 24th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 23 March 2012

March 23rd, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer. Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 16 March 2012

March 18th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword – 16 March 2012

March 17th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer, Answers on Monday, 7 am

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Crossword Answers 9 March 2012

March 12th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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