Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Case for Personal Hell

A wee while ago, I passed judgement on the settlement of Gisborne. However, my judgement was pronounced with a degree of impartiality, trying to balance my own prejudices with the prejudices that everyone should share.

What I did not mention is that, as pleasant and innocent as it might seem at first glance, Gisborne is also the gateway to a particular brand of torment – the personal hell. And very singular and personal this version of hell it is. I suffer from an intense dislike of polystyrene. The texture of it is mildly unpleasant, but what really gets me is the noise polystyrene makes when one piece is rubbed against the other. For me, it is akin to fingernails down the blackboard. And a very particular distaste it is too, as similar
screeching sounds made by other objects do not create the same stomach churning reaction. Even fingernails down the blackboard are on the more pleasant side on a scale of auditory stimuli than polystyrene squealing.

I was thus mortified to find a shop in Gisborne that not only seemed to specialise in polystyrene packing but was packed solid with the offensive material. I counted myself lucky that the store appeared locked and bolted, possibly closed for the weekend, and hopefully sealed and blessed by the power of Christ and Mohammed and Buddha combined.

I have found my hellmouth. Its not in Sunnydale, California, but here on the East Coast of New Zealand. I encourage anyone planning a modern crusade to begin their holy jihad by burning this place to the ground, and consecrating said ground once this sacred act has been performed. Consent should be obtained by the property owners and local religious leaders first, of course.

Verdict: Condemnation upon all places of polystyrene worship.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Case of the Curse

At the centre of Wellington's movie scene stands the magnificent edifice that is the Embassy movie theatre. Any big spectacle movies need to be seen here to be fully appreciated. One runs the risk of falling down the fairly precipitous stairs or being deafened by the superior sound system assaulting your eardrums, but the size, splendour and quality of the place makes it a moviegoers paradise and a wonderful place to sit and relax.

And the perfect cinema in which to enjoy the Curse of the Golden Flower, though to be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what the "curse" actually was. The film itself was overwhelming in its visual spleandour. Every set and costume was a rainbow of colours, with gold the most abundant. And the sheer scale of the human involvement, even if digitally enhanced in the lavish battle sequences and the overwhelming "housekeeping" scenes, was staggering.

I am a big fan of Hero, another of Zhang Yimou's films with its more intimate fight scenes and flights of fancy, so while the scale of the sets and the fights in Curse of the Golden Flower film were incredible, I wasn't completely won over. Mano a mano fights tend to impress me more than the huge, chaotic army on army battles (though, to be honest, space battles almost always win out over everything for me), and there were only one or two brief fights of this type. And storywise the main characters were an unhappy lot most of the time, running around scheming and frowning.

On the big plus side,
Curse of the Golden Flower stars the incredible Gong Li, who I will go see in almost any film. While she wasn't give a whole lot to do except look stunning, miserable and pant quite a bit, she lit up the screen whenever she appeared, outshining most of the incredible sets.

Overall, the film was fairly depressing, but worth seeing for the sheer spectacle of the sets and the fight scenes alone. We had a preview for the new Spiderman film and while it does look amazing, a lot of it looks rather fake (funnily enough) whereas with the Curse of the Golden Flower felt like everything was a real physical construction rather than a computer generated simulation. And, seeing this film inside the splendid construction that is the Embassy, felt like the perfect combination.

Verdict: 4 Golden Flowers out of 5

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Case for Telecom

Telecom may get a lot of stick for being an evil, shadowy corporation that struggles with the truth at times, but every so often they do something that redeems them, like the current animal ads, especially the bunny:

"I love texting, even though I have no thumbs, and I am still single. I KNOW!!!"

If only TVNZ hired these people.

Verdict: Advertising Gold

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Case for Pan Demon (Ium)

Pan’s Labyrinth, the Spanish film that won the best foreign language film at the last Academy Awards, is an incredible film (actually it was just nominated for an Academy, as Morgue points out in one of the comments - I apologise for my error! But it did win a BAFTA fpr Best Film not in the English Language). So amazing in fact, that it was even screened at Readings, which normally does not dabble in foreign language films. So amazing that the session I went to was almost totally sold out, apart from those awful seats that are far too close to the screen. So amazing that it polarised the audience, as its graphic violence left little to the imagination.

Yes, what at first may have sounded like a tribute to a 1980s David Bowie film lived up to its R16 classification. It was less a fantasy film, and more a film about happenings during the Spanish Civil war. And, even though the film was populated with children-eating eyeless beasts and vomiting gargantuan toads, it also showed that sometimes the cruellest monsters can wear human faces. The Captain in particular was disturbing in his single-minded fanaticism, a cruel and merciless person who unfortunately one cannot really describe as inhuman, as we see those traits all too often in the real world.

With stunning visuals, and amazing cast, and well subtitled (white subtitles on white backgrounds used to be all too common), it was an amazing experience. I am not sure that I would rush to see it again, as it was fairly harrowing and also a bit depressing, but it was definitely a good film.

Verdict: Gracias, Espana

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Case for Putting Oneself First

Normally, one should be kind and courteous and let others go first.

However, after recent events in Virginia, USA, and putting aside any discussion about the ease of obtaining weapons in the US, the societal pressures that convince people that shooting rampages are the solutions to the myriad of problems facing them, the state of the mental health system, and the disturbing media frenzy that always follows these “sensational” events (who will be first to release a book on their experiences and how many New Zealanders will be linked in some tenuous way to these events, the cynic in me asks), I really just have one piece of advice to impart:

If you are planning to shoot yourself, please make sure you put yourself at the top of that particular list.

Verdict: I am an angry Judge today!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Case for the Existence of Aliens

Everyone knows that Aliens are responsible for a great many things that go on in this world. Not the illegal alien, foreign national sort. But the full on, chest-bursting, omnipositor-inserting, anal-probing sort. The ones the X-Files always went on about. And there is proof of their existence, if you know where to look. While Richard “Munch” Belzer would say the evidence exists on the far side of the moon and in the development of Velcro, there are other clues much closer to home.

And some of them aren’t even that well disguised. Take the New Zealand Stock Exchange building right here in Wellington.

First off, the NZSE changes its name to NZX (and X always denotes a place of mystery; or else, admittedly, a brothel).

Then, they decorate their building on the Wellington waterfront with one of those electronic Stock Market indices things. In Times Square, New York, one of these things makes for an interesting diversion and keeps in character with the hustling, financial capital city vibe. However, in New Zealand, anyone who would be interested in the Stock Market would probably not go to the Wellington waterfront to see it; or, if they were at the waterfront, would be better served looking out over the harbour or around Frank Kitts Park. In other words, the NZX puts this big, ugly, but most importantly changeable sign post thingy on Wellington’s waterfront, directing that display out to the waterfront where almost nobody would be (if able) interested or (if interested) able to see it. Unless, of course, your invisible Alien mothership is parallel parked next to the Overseas terminal.

And then, every once in a while, they send coded messages. The accompanying image shows a time when I was able to capture this clandestine transmission of intelligence to the Alien overlords! Not quite sure what the message itself may have been (perhaps a thanks for sending Wellington some uncannily benign weather?), but then, who knows what nefarious plot these Alien intelligences have hatched?

But with time perhaps these plans will become more obvious. And I, for one, will keep my eyes peeled to make sure those plans do not catch me unawares…

Verdict: The Truth is Out There

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Case of Sado-Masochistic TV

Before I start off, a big thanks to everyone who has commented on my blog thus far! Nice to know what really gets people going is Wellington weather (and that I am not alone in dissing it) and young Czech men.

And so, on to today's topic...

In the Dock: Sado-Masochistic TV, Part 1

First off, a definition: Sado-Masochistic TV is a television show that one has in the back ground, that one can read over, talk over, and almost not be terribly interested in, but is still, despite all evidence and reasons to the contrary, compulsory viewing. Sound stupid? It totally is, but there always tend to be a few TV shows at any one time that fall into this category with me. Honestly. Currently, there are a few of them.

First and foremost is Lost. Why does anyone watch this show? It goes nowhere. The characters’ back stories are almost always boring or related in some obscure way that is almost never followed up until the focus of the show shifts back to that character again. It makes next to no sense. Most of the characters are damned annoying. But still, I find myself tuning in the television to watch this show (much to SpecialK’s chagrin) whenever it happens to be on. I may completely ignore the show for the entire time, but it is still on. What is the Dharma initiative? Who are the Others? I need to know!! Thus, it has to be on.

Another example: Smallville. Now, I love superhero stories. I have bought myself the Wonder Woman TV series DVDs, even though the ones set in the 1970s are utter rubbish. I watch the mostly fantastic Heroes. And so, unsurprisingly, I was drawn to watching Smallville, being the story of the young Superman and all. But it is boring. It is dull. There are the odd flashes of inspiration when references are made to the Dukes of Hazzard (as John “Bo Duke” Schneider is on the show as Pa Kent) or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (when James “Spike” Marsters was a semi-regular) or some other show, but mostly the plots are pedestrian, predictable and sometimes painful. But still, I watch. I blame the fantastic character of Chloe, and I know there is assorted eye-candy that keeps others coming back as well (my sister-in-law finds Lex unbelievably sexy). But whatever the excuse, and whenever the hideous time slot, I am there. Up, up and away.

Finally on this list of shame, a comedy to add to the TV genre mix: How I Met Your Mother. A mainstream American sitcom which should almost automatically equal unfunny (and, on this show, it does with frightening regularity). But I keep punishing myself with telegraphed punchlines and preposterous premises. Why? Allyson “Willow” Hannigan and Neil Patrick “Doogie” Harris mainly. I know I shouldn’t. But I do.

On the bright side (there is a bright side to this, I keep telling myself) I am assuming my excess of Sado-Masochistic TV viewing is mainly due to the fact that the other stuff on the box is fairly dire. There are only one or two non-S&M TV shows I watch with anything approaching regularity at the moment. One News keeps putting me off by employing Simon Dallow, and One puts me off in general with those new horrendously awful “See the Light” One promos. So perhaps this is a televisual conspiracy to inspire me to go outside and exercise and other outdoorsy, non-televisiony things. Perhaps.

Does anyone else have some Sado-Masochistic TV shows? Or is this purely a “me” phenomenon?

Verdict: Sad b@st@rd

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

High Treason

Halfway between Gisborne and Wairoa is a small thermal park at Morere. Here, people from around the country and around the world relax while soaking in warm water, and discover more about themselves and, if desirous of conversation, about the others around them. It was an unbelievably amazing way to spend Easter Sunday.

However, it was a very bad day in the annals of my patriotism. Yes, I was a very bad ambassador for Wellington, it has to be said. Some young Czech lads began a friendly discussion and asked me about the merits of New Zealand and the Capital in particular. And while I do sincerely believe that Wellington is an amazing place and one of the most beautiful cities on the planet (or at least, of the ones I have visited), I am also not the biggest fan of its weather. And, whenever I am asked about the climate of Wellington, my honesty can be brutal.

My travelling companions were suitably affronted by my attitude and admonished my negativity. And rightly so. But, while I regret that I was so negative, I feel quite justified in slagging off Wellington's weather. While we had a wonderful few months this year, in general the past few years has seen fairly routinely unstable weather, mostly erring on the side of four seasons in one day, the majority seasonal stakeholder being winter. I am a fan of non-stop sun, so such inconsistency sticks in my mind as a horrendous bore, and leaves a bitter taste in my memory that washes over the few bright spots that probably did occur.

And so, yes, I apologise to all Wellingtonians. I am a shocking ambassador for this wonderful city. And I will try not to do it again. Though I probably will anyway...

Verdict: Guilty as sin

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Case for Gisborne

Gisborne is one of those many places in New Zealand to which I have never been. It's not really on the way to anywhere that I have ever particularly wanted to go and there is nothing there in and of itself that has ever given me the inspiration to pick up sticks and head over to the East Coast.

However, the chance for a rendez-vous with friends over Easter weekend gave me the perfect excuse to go there and explore. SpecialK and I took the tiniest of planes in the Air New Zealand fleet and, an hour after departing Wellington, arrived on the train track-crossed runway of Gisborne's airport.

Gisborne itself is a small town, with almost everything within walking distance. Unfortunately, it has been devastated by the blight of inner city apartment development (the Bay View apartments were inappropriately named considering they look more over the industrial port than the beautiful beaches). The abundance of large supermarket chain stores, fast food outlets and, most numerous of all, liquor distribution establishments (I am sure there are more LiquorKings in Gisborne than there are post boxes) confirmed that Gisborne is a Kiwi tourist mecca.

The town is blessed with beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and dripping in as much New Zealand colonial history as anyone can ask for. However, the arrival site of Captain Cook, where he first set foot on New Zealand soil, is marked by a phallic column that now no longer actually has a direct view of the bay, as the aforementioned industrial port has wrapped itself around the park and now almost completely separates it from any sense of connectedness to the Pacific Ocean at all (the accompanying photo shows the view towards the bay - honestly!).

The people we encountered were (mostly) fantastic examples of friendly Kiwis. The impeccably polite taxi driver insisted on calling me "sir" for our short trip to the motel; the motelier herself was fantastically helpful and not at all as scary as other moteliers I have encountered; a retailer was able to laughlingly dismiss my request for a tacky fridge magnet with a breezy, "We don't tend to stock tacky things here", though she admitted as she showed us the magnets available that some of them were fairly garish; and a wonderful woman in a second hand book shop offered everyone cups of tea and then decided to take me on a tour of the shop that mainly involved her pointing to shelves and reading the label of what was stored there, though her failing eyesight meant that I picked up the duties about half way through. Gisborne was also full of antique vehicles for a car show, and, as it was Easter, the true-believing Christians were out in force, driving around on floats and entertaining everyone with the latest on Christian rock music, or else prowling the streets, megaphone in hand and the Word of the Lord on their lips, or else just hanging out with the rest of the Destiny Churchers at Gisborne Girls' High.

All up, we spent but two nights in Gisborne and, as none of us were Surfer dudes and there was a hint of a wind that made hanging out on the beach a bit painful, that proved ample enough time to taste Gisborne's wares. I am sure there are some things we failed to both see and appreciate, but for now I can consider the case for Gisborne closed.

Verdict: Not so much an independent town as a beach-front suburb, but beautiful nonetheless

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Case of the Trois Cent

For a while now, I have been looking forward to sword and sandals epic The 300. But it was Annabanana who arranged a screening at the cinema where all epics should be seen, The Embassy. The last film I had seen there was the last James Bond film Casino Royale (thanks to MariaS) and that definitely benefited form the ultra big screen experience, and the superlative sound. I loved the radio ads comparing the James Bond theme played on a kazoo to the Embassy’s magnificent system.

Back to the movie: I knew going in this was not going to be a studied affair of everyday Spartan existence. It was a comic book, brought to life. And visually, the movie is incredible – it is done by the same people as Sin City and has that quasi-animated look. The colours are washed out and the images are beautiful, some taken directly from the still images in the graphic novel.

The plot was never going to be anything more than it said it was. A battle of 300 against the might of the Persian Army led by (the apparently very tall) Xerxes. The beautiful women were represented, the “freaks” were more numerous (and mainly on the Persian side), but the main delegation of men was obviously from the planet Abkingpro. The performances were solid, the effects impressive, the incidental music quite beautiful.

But, throughout the film, I got the impression the audience wasn’t quite as impressed as it had expected to be. The Embassy was very full on this, the opening night, but there was only a light twitter of amusement as the “funny one liners” were delivered, whereas the almost obligatory stylised love-making scene between King Leonidas and his beautiful Queen met was greeted with far more laughter (probably as, while the two actors involved are stunning to look at, the scene itself played more like the sex scene from Team America: World Police than Titanic). And the action scenes didn’t really seem to rouse those around me, though perhaps I was mistaking my own reaction to that of the rest of the audience.

In the end, I (and perhaps others) found the film slow and ponderous. Most of the action scenes were stilted, the action slowing to a snails pace as the warriors moved their weaponry into position and then rocketing ahead to normal speed once their blades sliced through the enemy, only to slow down again as the blood thus generated came spurting out the other side. Once in a while, it would have been interesting, but as this occurred at almost every confrontation, the effect got a bit tedious. And the narrator’s voice over was unbelievably pompous, with his final rallying cry calling for Spartans to fight against tyranny (I am sure their slaves back home would have loved to hear that) and mysticism (no help from Mighty Zeus that day, perhaps). Having David Werner (or whatever the name of the actor who played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings films) leading a cheer that sounded not a lot unlike “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” made me smile a bit, though that probably was only a connection that I made.

My favourite bit though (while still not trying to give anything away) had to be Lena Heady’s Queen kicking butt back on the home front. I am always a fan of strong female characters. They seem to be far more interesting than their male counterparts as they tend to portray strength from weakness, whereas the men tend to show weakness from strength (though the weakness is never that weak; more a sensitive side than a weakness, to be honest).

So, to sum up: It was what it was and not much more. I enjoyed it, but I am not sure if I would go again. And would anyone who read all this actually invite me to see it anyway? :)

Verdict: 200 out of 300

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Case of Mutton Dressed as Lamb

I went and saw Black Sheep the other day at Hoyts Regent on Manners. Black Sheep is a horror comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead and Braindead, and seeing this film in the Regent kind of added to the creepiness of this cinematic experience.

In the end, the film is okay - gross, amusing, not too long - but one thing got to me. The film is undoubtedly a New Zealand experience, with truck loads of kiwiana wheeled on to the set and thrown at the camera. And while sometimes it merges seamlessly into the context of the story (I suppose sheep-shagging could fall under this category), there are instances where the obvious desire on the part of the film-makers to add something distinctly "kiwi" to the film just leaves me wincing.

This is probably more a foible of my own than something to be held against the film, but while I enjoy films about New Zealand, I do tend to cringe when the "New Zealandness" is taken to such extremes that the whole experience ends up feeling more contrived than usual. In trying to portray an every day New Zealand experience, I think it is actually quite artificial to expect all New Zealanders to be reading New Zealand literature (not a slur on the Penguin History of New Zealand, as it is an amazing book), listening to purely New Zealand music (not everyone has the radio permanently tuned to Kiwi FM, as the ratings probably attest), and speaking in purely New Zealand cliché (American culture has a bit more influence in people's daily exchanges than even I am willing to admit in polite conversation).

It was that more than anything else in an otherwise mediocre movie that left me with a bitter aftertaste. Perhaps I am just overly sensitive to this, and pick up the Kiwi references more than others would purely because I am attuned to them and prefer them to be used sparingly. I always thought Once Were Warriors got the mix right, but then it is an entirely different kind of film altogether. But I will continue to go to the cinema to see if I can find one that meets my exacting standards.

Verdict: Yeah, but no

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

And so it begins

To create a blog. Perchance to join the blogging community.

Its been a long road getting here. Considering how much more confident I feel writing things down than performing publicly, I have surprised myself by how long it has taken for me to get to this point. But then, the problem has been that I have never been able to find a theme.

I am not one to just be able to write things down. I have seen such blogs, rambling streams of consciousness that reveal much about the author whether intended or no. And while I admire their honesty, I can't myself be quite that spontaneous.

No, I needed a theme - and a theme I now have. Judge & Jury. An opinionated blogspot where I will basically be saying what I think about various things of unbelievably small consequence. And with a selection of a theme, the process of writing, of participating, in the wider blogging community begins.

Here we go...