Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

When a film is so beloved by generations of nerds (myself included) any attempt to remake it is well and truly behind the 8-ball before it even begins. It’s bound to be met with scorn, derision, calls for the heads of the producers etc.

Just put “the day the earth stood still sucks” into Google and see if I’m wrong.

A lot of the derision is around the casting of Keanu Reeves as emissary-from-the-stars Klaatu, originally played by Michael Rennie.

day_krI think it’s actually a fine piece of casting. Klaatu’s taken on human form but hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet. What a perfect excuse  for wooden acting and awkward movements.

And of course, the original being 57 years old means that a lot of the plot updates were necessary.

The threat of nuclear destruction (the original film being grounding in Cold War-era nuclear paranoia) has been replaced with the threat of environmental apocalypse, and the government security requires a bit more hoop-jumping for Klaatu to escape.

Other changes are just to ratchet up the cool factor, like the silver-jumpsuited robot Gort becoming an agglomeration of nanobugs and the flying-saucer spaceship a nondescript glowing orb.

the-day-the-earth-stood-stillThe thing I found really interesting was the Klaatu-as-Messiah imagery (only hinted at in the original) being so much stronger, giving the story a very clear link to Christian end-of-days mythology.

Watch out for references to God-born-as-human, healing hands, forgiveness, stigmata, sacrifice and a new world order. They’re all there.

Of course, the point of the film is an admonition to protect the environment and while this important point is made, in a few places it all gets a bit lost in the cheese.

For some reason modern Hollywood scriptwriters stumble when writing profound dialogue. It was managed much better in the original film, but it could be that Michael Rennie was just a better actor than Keanu.

Either way, like most modern cinematic science-fiction this manages to walks a fine line between saying something important and saying it well.

3.5 out of 5

Monday, 29 December 2008

Proof That Jesus Heals

Well, that’s egg on my face.

 Xmas 2008 008

Thanks, Jill. I mean Santa.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

One week to go

Christmas is just around the corner, which means there’s only one week left to get your entries in for the

2009 Celebrity Dead Pool !

Entries are flooding in already, you can read all the rules here and email me with your nominations at

Don’t delay!

It’s Not Mystifying

John Clarke QC has wrapped up his investigation into the Mohamed Haneef affair, in which an innocent man was accused of being a terrorist.

Amongst all the damning evidence of Federal police incompetence and political interference, the most interesting thing was Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ decision to cancel Dr Haneef’s visa.

That was described as “mystifying”.

Of course it’s not mystifying at all.

Andrews was a populist little toady pandering to a government led by a racist and autocratic leader who knew that fear is a much better way to control the public than compassion.

And it was in the lead-up to an election, when then previous election had been won on the back of appearing to take a hard-line on issues exactly like this.

So where’s the mystery?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

The wonderfully mysterious Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck off the Greek coast in 1901.


Dated to about 100BC, the mechanism’s discovery completely changed our modern view of just how technological the ancient world was.

About the size of a shoebox, it’s a steampunk lover’s dream.

A sophisticated system of hand-cranked gears and cogs provides an accurate calendar and astronomical clock. It maps the relative positions of the sun, moon and planets (or at least the ones that were known in 100BC) and the stars.

It even keeps track of the dates of the Olympic Games.

A new working model of the mechanism has just been completed, incorporating all the very latest discoveries.

The longer it’s investigated, the more amazing things are discovered.

But of course the real question is:  when can I get one?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Chuck Weighs In

Oooh, now it gets interesting.

Entering the latest War on Christmas debate, sparked recently by that sign erected in Olympia, Washington, is none other than Chuck Norris.

Yes, the rough, tough, roundhouse kicking Walker Texas Ranger has decided it’s personal, and he’s taking it to the man.

His argument is pretty straightforward, as you’d expect from the man who destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.

It basically boils down to “Yes, yes, First Amendment and freedom of speech is fine, but NOT IF IT OFFENDS ME”.

Which seems to be typical of your modern US Christian.

Then he proceeds to list all his grievances (both real and imagined) against atheists, while pretending that he’s not really complaining because there would be no point doing that. Or something.

It’s all a bit muddled, to be honest. But in the end, it’s just a plug for his new book.

I recommend this one instead. It’s hilarious.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Humanism in schools. Hooray.

The Humanist Society of Victoria has developed a curriculum for primary school students based on humanist ethics.

Their focus is the wonderful idea that ethics can be derived without reference to any religion; that you don’t need to defer to some magical God or ancient book or (more often) the authority of the clergy to know what’s right.

This is a really important idea, and absolutely the sort of thing we should be instilling in our children.

But of course that’s not the way it’s being reported.

Instead, we get headlines like this:

Religion in schools to go God-free

Students to be taught there's no God

This angle completely misses the point. But that’s to be expected in a culture with such an entrenched religious tradition.

And the predictable backlash from religious, particularly Christian, vested interests has begun.

This is my favourite quote, from fundamentalist godbot Jenny Stoker of Christian lobby group Salt Shakers:

"If you go there, where do you stop? What about witchcraft or Satanism? If you accredit humanism, then those things would have an equal claim to be taught in schools."

Wrong, Jenny. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you teach Christianity in schools then all those things have an equal claim. They’ve all got precisely as much evidence as each other to support them.

Our government should never promote any one religion over another, and certainly not in our government schools.

So, Jenny, unless equal time is given to all religions (and that includes Wicca and Satanism and Scientology and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) then no time should be given to any of them.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


It's raining in Melbourne.

Raining like it hasn't rained in years.

Raining like it used to in the dim distant rain-soaked past, before the Big Dry and water restrictions and desalination plants.

Once upon a time Melbourne was famous for its rain. Tourism ads for Queensland would play on the point. A rugged-up Melburnian looks out the rain-soaked window of a tram to see... sunshine! And beaches! And bikinis! And so much of it! Just a short(ish) trip away!

That all changed with El Niño, the weather pattern in the south Pacific that sucks all the rainfall to the north and causes endless political bickering.

To recycle? Or desalinate? Costs now vs costs later. Use less! Save more! Take a bucket into the shower. And an egg-timer. Don't flush that! If it's yellow let it mellow.

And now it's raining. Beautiful, cleansing, soaking, sodding rain. It's rained for almost 24 hours straight.

So is this the end of the drought? Can we quietly forget the recent admonition to use only 155 litres each per day? (that's about 40 gallons for our Imperial American friends).

Probably not.

We foolishly don't gather storm water so most of this precious bounty will just be running out to sea.

If it rains over the city catchments we might see the dams rise, but it'll take more than a day or two to make much difference.

This is just another round in the cycle.

You know ... those droughts and flooding rains.

Just like in the poem.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Keanu . . . In . . . Spaaaaaace

Prior to its release here on Planet Earth, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still will be beamed into space.

Why? Well, it’s not really clear why.

Presumably it’s so some intergalactic David and Margaret can tell us what they think. You know, from the aliens’ point of view.

This seems to be latest funky thing to do. I think it all started earlier this year when NASA beamed the Beatles’ Across the Universe into space to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary.

Of course The Day the Earth Stood Still in no way compares to that little masterpiece.

And anyway, given its theme of aliens destroying the intergalactic menace that is humanity, surely it’s not necessarily the best choice?

We need to tell the Universe how nice we are. I’m thinking It’s a Wonderful Life. Or Bambi.

However, if we must go with the alien theme then why not Contact, which shows hyper-advanced and hyper-intelligent races that we might be worth talking to?

Actually now that I think about it, it might be better to go with Independence Day.

At least that shows we’re not to be fucked with.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Get Ready for Celebrity Dead Pool 2009!

With just three weeks remaining of 2008, we're on the downhill run for the 2008 Celebrity Dead Pool, which means . . .

It's time to start thinking about who's going to be dropping off the perch in 2009 !

We've had a some surprising celebrity deaths this year, and you can bet your last dog-eared copy of Who magazine that 2009 will be no exception.

The only question is . . . can YOU pick a winner?

Just like the 2008 Celebrity Dead Pool, the game is very simple.

Simply nominate a list of 10 celebrities you believe are not long for this world, and submit them to me before 12am on 1 January 2009.

You can email your nominations to me at

And that's it! From then on it's just a ghoulish waiting game.

Entry is free and the prize once again will be a double pass to Village Cinema Gold Class.

And finally there are, of course, some rules.



1. The score awarded for a correctly predicted death will be equal to 100 minus Age at Date of Death.

2. A person's "age" will be defined as their Age Last Birthday. This figure is incremented at the instant of 12am on the date of the person's birthday. This means that if a person dies on their birthday, their age is taken as the age they had just become that day.

3. If a person is over the age of 100 at their date of death, the score will be zero.

4. In the event of dispute about a person's precise age, the issue will be investigated by the moderator (me) and a decision made based on the best available evidence. The moderator's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered in to.


The Rules

1. All nominated persons must be human and must be alive as at 12am on 1 January 2009.

2. If you make a nomination and the person dies before 12am on 1 January 2009, you may substitute another name. You have 1 day's grace, and the substitution must happen before 12am on 2 January 2009.

3. Nominated persons must be famous or infamous in their own right, not (for example) because they're sick, or because they're very old, or because they're hideously and tragically deformed, or because they're about to undergo an extraordinary, ground-breaking and very risky operation.

4. For a death to be valid, it must be reported by at least one major mainstream media outlet. Examples include AP, AAP, Reuters, a major national or metropolitan newspaper or a major national or metropolitan TV network. Your blog doesn't count.

5. The death of a local celebrity will only be valid if their death is reported by a national media outlet, or by a major media outlet in another city.

6. If a nominated person is on death row or known to have a terminal illness at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they die of the expected cause. Similarly, if a nominated person is being held hostage at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they are killed by their captors or in a rescue attempt. Points will be awarded only if such a nominated person dies from another unrelated cause.

7. Each nomination list may have at most 10 names.

8. No name may appear on a nomination list more than once. You may, however, submit more than one list.

9. Any attempts to influence the result via homicidal acts will result in immediate disqualification.


Get your nominations in before 1 January, and good luck!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Won’t Someone Think of the Cartoons?

There comes a time in every moral panic when common sense completely takes a holiday.

Case in point: the ludicrous ruling by NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams that pornographic cartoons of Simpsons characters constitute genuine child pornography.

Now, tell me: when did the crusade against child pornography stop being about protecting children?

Because that has most definitely stopped. At some point it become all about political point-scoring, puritanical moral grandstanding and theocratic thought-policing.

And that’s where we are now.

If our judges can consider stupid pictures of cartoons having sex as anywhere near equivalent to actual child pornography, then quite frankly we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sinister.

What’s next? Well, The Simpsons Movie will obviously have to be banned, because we got a glimpse of Bart’s cartoon willy.

Then we’ll have to ban all TV shows and films that feature crime of any sort. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t real . . . because it might encourage someone to really do it!

Then we’ll have to ban any books that describe crimes. It won’t leave us with much in the way of literature, just a selection of Dr. Seuss books (although obviously not The Cat in the Hat . . . he’s a bad influence on children) and Miffy by Dick Bruna.

And how many otherwise-abused children will be protected by all this nonsense? Precisely none.

But of course, that’s not the point is it? This isn’t about protecting children anymore. It’s about policing morals, even when those morals affect no-one except the individual.

And when the judiciary starts deciding they have the right to do that, then we’re all in a lot of trouble.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


It’s entirely appropriate that a movie called Australia should be directed by someone called Baz.

Ever since Barry Crocker and Barry Humphries did Barry McKenzie it’s a name that’s more representative of the country than just about any other.

Having said that, the earlier Barries managed to make their film a genuine (if narrowly-focused) cultural article, unlike the latter Baz’s odd mixture of nostalgic jingoism, selective cultural memory and a broad-brush style intended to mimic epic storytelling.

While Australia is trying hard to be Gone With The Wind, it ends up somewhere between We of the Never Never, Crocodile Dundee and Pearl Harbour.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film, but there’s probably one too many moments that provoke an unnecessary cringe . . . I’m thinking it’s around the fourth or fifth time Hugh Jackman says “Crikey!”

On top of that, Nicole Kidman is dreadfully miscast as uptight Brit Lady Sarah Ashley. While her stony-faced persona is fine in the early stages of the film, the story demands that she soften at some point and while you can see her Acting with all her might, it just never happens.

The film is really grounded by Hugh Jackman, who manages to channel the outback spirit as the otherwise nameless Drover. But even he can’t save a relationship doomed to a dire lack of chemistry. Where was Kate Winslet when this movie was being made?

Beyond these minor quibbles though, the film ticks all the right boxes.

The cinematography is Oscar-worthy, the cast is peppered with All The Big Australian NamesTM (Bryan Brown? Check. Jack Thompson? Check. Bill Hunter? Only for about two seconds . . . but check), and the story ticks along nicely making the film seem much shorter than its almost-three-hour running time.

It’s all highly entertaining, but probably not the cultural classic some were hoping for.

Still, it’s worth seeing if only for Hugh and Nic’s incredibly awkward kissing.

Crikey indeed.

3.5 out of 5

The Apotheosis of the Dance

Hamer Hall, Melbourne

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has capped their 2008 season with a beautiful performance of 19th and 20th century pieces.

They began with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, a fine example of 19th century water music and beautifully rendered.

Next was Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a fine example of why a lot of 1920s-era orchestral music is best forgotten.

While I’m sure it takes great skill to play it, its atonality and lack of structure make it sound more like the jazz noodling than anything by the Masters.

After a brief intermission to recover from that, we were ready for the star of the show: Beethoven’s mighty 7th symphony.

This was why we’d come. The 7th is one of the finest pieces of music ever written, perfectly capturing the great Ludwig Van at the height of his passionate and creative power.

When first performed in 1813 it was so different from anything heard before that it prompted critics to label Beethoven a madman. You can see where they’re coming from: it starts slowly, winding up through two funereal movements to a third that is nothing short of joyful, before grinding out the final stages in Beethoven’s more signature heroic style.

What was he thinking? Ludwig only knows, but what he did know was how to take your soul on a journey.

The title of the concert is a reference to Wagner’s description of Beethoven’s 7th.

It was, Wagner felt, a divine rendering of the human spirit in music. And in the masterful hands of the MSO and conductor Oleg Caetani, it certainly was.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Atheists Were Here First

Before the Winter Solstice was taken over by Christians and rebranded a celebration of Christ’s birth, it was a purely secular affair.

Actually, even more than that: it was an atheistic celebration of nature for nature’s sake. A joyful recognition of the abundance of our world and the importance of looking after it.

A lot of the symbols of the original festival have survived its Christianisation, most notably the Christmas tree, which for some reason few Christians even attempt to try to fit into their story.

Given the atheistic origins of the season, it’s endlessly amusing when Christians (particularly in the US) concoct arguments against a mythical “War on Christmas” supposedly being waged by those who would have religion turfed out of public life. Most probably don’t even know that they are the invaders here.

To illustrate the point, a plaque was erected in Olympia, Washington  reading:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no heaven or hell.  There is only our natural world.  Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Of course it was torn down after an hour after it was erected.

Freedom of religious expression is a decidedly one-sided affair in the Land of the Free.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dead Pool November Update

November was a pretty slow month for celebrity deaths.

On the 4th prolific paperback producer Michael Crichton passed away at the age of 66. His legacies include the science fiction classic Westworld, the story of an amusement park where things go horribly wrong. And science fiction classic Jurassic Park, the story of an amusement park where things go . . . wait a minute.

On the 9th Jayden Federline (aka Britney Baby II) was admitted to hospital suffering a “bad reaction” to “something” he “ingested”. Uh-huh. It turned out he was fine. Sorry, Shannon.

On the 10th legendary mathematician Kiyoshi Itō died of respiratory failure at the age of 93. This guy has a whole branch of calculus named after him which enables analysis of complicated stochastic processes like Brownian motion. This is incredibly useful in financial mathematics, but most importantly it’s one of the main components of Douglas Adams' Infinite Improbability Drive.

The 12th saw the death of Mitch Mitchell, original drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. As a kind of anti-tribute to Spinal Tap and their disposable drummers, he was the last to go.

Finally, on the 29th we farewelled Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who won an award for Norway the Sydney Opera House. There is no truth to the rumour that his funeral will be delayed because of cost overruns and poor planning.

Well, that’s it for November and the scores remain as they were last month:

Spoon 17 Kate 16

There’s only one month to go for the 2008 competition, and unless something big happens it looks like it might be Spoon’s year.

But it is the silly season, so it’s not over yet.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Heavens are Smiling

Sometimes even nature goes all 90s-retro.

Smiley 005

That’s the moon, Venus and Jupiter caught in a formation apparently only appearing once every 5 years.