Friday, December 17, 2004

A victory for justice

A day after Blunketts resignation, the law lords have harpooned the former home secretarys appalling anti-terror legislation.

The indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists at Britains own Guantanamo Bay is one of the most shocking results of Blunketts far right anti-terror laws. However, this latest blow is both damaging to the government and a huge embarrassment for Blunkett on a day when he was probably hoping to slip out of the headlines.

His successor, Charles Clarke has promised to stay tough, but after being defeated 8 to 1 in the law lords vote that may be difficult.

The questions will now also be asked about Blairs entire election strategy. 6 months before a possible election that the PM has promised will be fought on security issues and he has lost both his Home Secretary and been totally humilated by the law lords.

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these." - Lord Hoffman

It's been a good week.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


In the end it came as a surprise. I had spent the day telling myself that David Blunkett would survive; that despite controversy that had engulfed him for weeks, my local MP would be like his greatest ally, Tony Blair, to be made of Teflon.

But in the end, it was dignified. David Blunkett went when he knew he was beaten. And he was right to go.

I completely agree that an MPs personal life should not be the focus of debate in the press or parliament, but when the line between personal and public life is crossed there can be no second chances. Blunkett was in the 3rd highest office in the land.

Those who know me are well aware that I have wanted nothing more than to see Blunkett out of office, yet I still find the entire situation mixed with sadness. Unlike those delusional Blairites who sincerely believe he has left office with his integrity intact and expressed anger at his hounding in the press, I feel no such thing.

My sadness comes from being unable to fathom how a decent, left-wing, plain-speaking Labour councillor could have become one of the most authoritarian Home Secretaries of modern times. I know what I sound like... a soft liberal... a pacifist who would have let Hitler 'get away with it'...

That's not the case.

I'm not soft. I believe in justice, and in tough punishment for repeat offenders, and in not bowing to tyrants. But to support a man who believes in abolishing jury trials, or preventing your political opponents from gathering to protest, is to lose sight of democracy and justice itself. David Blunkett fully accepted the false ideology of Tony Blair, that a climate of fear was a good thing to keep the people safe.

That we now live in a country were people are more afraid of terrorists than ten years ago when bombs were going off in Manchester, Warrington and London is the true legacy of Blunkett. That we now live in a country were people have less of a right to protest than the people of the Ukraine is the true legacy of Blunkett.

David Blunkett sold his very ideals for the price of being a key ally of Tony Blair. That he was brought down by his personal life is a sad tale, but I for one will not shed a tear for a man who so easily shed his constituents when they became unimportant.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Half Life 2

Few games can have been as eagerly anticipated as Half Life 2. The sequel to the groundbreaking FPS from Valve finally arrived 14 months late and the recriminations are still ongoing.

I completed HL2 last night, so now feel ready to review it. I'm glad I waited till the end to write this as the end really is a curious thing that may well swing peoples opinions of the overall game.

As in the original, HL2 has some stunning gameplay. The tried and tested formula of slowly building your experience up with the various weapons available is carried off to nice effect, but as always I found myself sticking to my favourites for most situations.

Where HL2 really stands out is in its expansive environment. As with the original and it's never-ending mazes of corridors, air ducts and railways, HL2 really immerses you in a world that is both complex and mesmerising. Where this game improves on it's original is that you are not trapped indoors for the majority of the game. While this was a benefit in the original, the fact that you are able to travel along the roads, rivers and rooftops of City 17 make for some stunning visuals in the sequel. When you do go indoors, HL2 loses none of it's charm. From crumbling prisons to cramped basements, the indoor levels are fantastic.

Again, the enemy AI is nice with soldiers ducking out of site and vehicles shooting down your rockets. Unfortunately, this is let down by the lack of AI in your canon fodder soldiers that come to aid you later in the game. At times it seems like there is an endless stream of footsoldiers at your disposal. They run into the street; they fail to duck for cover; they die; more soldiers appear to help. It's a little monotonous and would have been better if the soldiers helping you actually bothered to act like real soldiers.

The introduction of vehicles is a fun diversion in between the real action moments of the game, with the hoverboat providing one of the most exciting sequences in the early chapters.

Of the other additions, the one the stands out the most is the gravity gun. This weapon really does allow you to interact with the environment in a way that had not been possible before. It also comes in mightily handy when low on ammunition. In the final stages of the game, the gravity gun is transformed into an uber-weapon, which is no end of fun... allowing you to pick up soldiers and fling them at their comrades killing all before you.

In the end though, it's these latter stages that prove the most disappointing. After 12 chapters of stunning action and remarkable gameplay you arrive at the Citadel; the central base of City 17. In Chapter 12 ("Follow Freeman") you'll have taken on almost an entire army of troops, destroyed several striders and traversed the ruins of the city. So by now you'll be expecting something special, right?


The final two chapters of Half Life 2 are a major letdown. With the exception of getting the upgraded gravity gun as your sole weapon, the levels offer no major challenges. In total, it took me about 30 minutes to get through both levels and into the final face off, and half of this was comprised of cut-scenes where you are have no control of anything. The final confrontation took me two attempts and about 2 minutes to get through.

After the excitement of the previous levels it was a bitter pill to swallow.

In summary, this is an amazing game, let down by a truly dire final two chapters. HL2 is a lot shorter than the original in my opinion, which is a real shame as I feel those final chapters could have been extended a long way if only the effort had been put in. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to starting a new game on 'hard'. There is enough excitement and gameplay in the first 12 chapters to keep me happy. I'll just have to block out the end.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sci-Fi Movies Episode 5: The Top 10

My inherent laziness almost got the better of me there, but as promised here are my personal top 10 Science Fiction movies of all time.

2001: A Space Odyssey, (1968)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Written by Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C Clarke
"Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going."

Was there ever any doubt that Stanley Kubricks and Arthur C Clarkes collaborative masterpiece wouldn't make my top 10? No. This is seminal science fiction. 2001, loved and hated probably in equal measure is still the bar by which others are measured by. I think that when I look at my own favourites in this genre they often tend to be big on exploring the human condition. 2001 is entirely about the human condition and it leaves the viewer often with more questions than answers, thus sparking endless debates - yet another thing I love about movies.

For Stanley Kubrick it was a risky venture. A 140 minute movie that had only about 25 minutes of dialogue and little incidental music, it is easy to see why some label it boring. However, that old adage about pictures being worth a thousand words is alive and well in this film. From the opening scenes with apes evolving to the climactic journey into the very soul of Dave Bowman, 2001 is one of the finest pieces of cinema in history.

Akira, (1988)
Written and Directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo
"He's not your friend, he's ours! If somebody's gonna kill him, it should be us!"

The only animation to make it into the top 10, and not a single employee of Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks had anything to do with it. That's because Akira is not run-of-the-mill family entertainment. It's gritty Science Fiction in which you feel totally immersed.

For many westerners, myself included, Akira represented a first view of what could really be done with animation. The haunting images of Testuo descending into despair and violence where shocking for me as a young boy, and still are now. The tortured minds of the inhabitants of Neo-Tokyo serve to remind us all of the real dangers inside us.

I'm don't really know anything about Anime or Manga, I love this film because for me, it illustrated for the first time how animation could be used to deal with adult themes. It's offers a scary illustration of how close we all are to the abyss.

Blade Runner, (1982)
Directed by Ridley Scott, Written by Philip K Dick
"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

The darker, more brutal visions of the future offered up by many of the great Sci-Fi films only serve to heighten the human traits we smother in our current democratic societies. The film is an example of how we all fail the basic moral tests laid in front of us. Like all the best Sci-Fis, Blade Runner asks all the right questions about humanity and our society in general. The thing I love most is that the characters are no different from you or I. Human or Replicant, the characters represent our own hopes, fears, desires and aspirations.

The futuristic vision of LA is an expert piece of craftsmanship. With many films it is all too apparent that these are actors on a finite number of constructed sets, but that's not the case with Blade Runner. The parts of the city we don't see, feel like they exist. Ridley Scotts vision allows us to venture around the corner to sets that haven't been built and imagine them for ourselves.

Add to all of this another fine story from Philip K Dick, some of the grandest cinematography in a generation and a masterpiece soundtrack from a man at the peak of his career (Vangelis) and you've got one hell of a movie.

Dark City, (1998)
Written and Directed by Alex Proyas
"I have become the monster you were intended to be."

A year before Neo learned all was not as it seemed in his world, Rufus Sewell slowly unraveled the mystery of his eerie city; a city that no one ever leaves; a city where people and places seemingly change overnight; a city in perpetual darkness.

When I re-watched Dark City I was struck at just how similar in concept it is to the Matrix. Both involve the concept of humans and their environment under some form of control. Both deal with a loners struggle to free the masses. The Matrix may have had the coolness factor and big budget, but Dark City is the one with real depth. The Strangers are far more sinister than the Agents; the heroes far more flawed and real. If you like Sci Fi, watch this film.

The Day the Earth Stood Still, (1951)
Directed by Robert Wise, Written by Harry Bates & Edmund H North
"Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!"

I was on the IMDB message boards the other day and was amazed at just how much debate this 50 year old movie had generated. No one could seem to agree about whether the messages coming out of this film were of hope or impending doom. The fact that people will debate it to death so long after it's release is a testament to it's greatness.

The concept was always simple. An alien and his robot land on Earth to warn the people that they must give up their violent ways. The humans, with their fledgling dreams of space travel and their abundance of Nuclear weapons are now a serious threat and as such must not be allowed to grow further. The warning was blunt. Give up these ways or be destroyed.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is a perfect example of 1950s America. The fears and prejudices of an entire people are on trial and in the film, many of them appear guilty. It raises so many questions about humanity and I often argue that if such an event was to happen we would never give up our violent ways. We wouldn't drop our petty squabbles in favour of a new enlightened way of life. Why? Because to do so would require an intrinsic change in what drives the people of Earth. A change from selfishness to selflessness.

But I digress. And in doing so I think I've found my own argument as to why this movie makes it into my top 10. The Day The Earth Stood Still is the movie that, for me, raises the consciousness to a level were the viewer truly understands how fragile life is and how futile the quest for peace has become.

If you haven't seen this film and call yourself a Sci-Fi fan, then shame on you.

Donnie Darko, (2001)
Written and Directed by Richard Kelly
"Oh, please, tell me Elizabeth, how exactly does one suck a fuck?"

Yet another film to suffer the 9/11 blues, Donnie Darko still amassed a cult following. The hip paradoxical time-travel story about a delusional school kid who believes the world is about end is the newest of all my top 10 films.

The "suck a fuck" quote pretty much summed up this entire movie for me. A nice white upper-middle class American family sit around the breakfast table while Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his sister (real life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal) have the kind of argument that makes parent cry. By supplanting the increasingly disturbing dreams of a tortured mind within scenes of seemingly normal family life we get a film that is both haunting and touching in equal measure.

What is most astounding is that this is a debut full-length movie for writer/director Richard Kelly. At the young age of 26 he's created what can only be described as a legend. Donnies visions of a life size bunny make for a superb mystery and as the film approaches it's climax the many threads unravel at a frantic pace. And in the end we are left with that chilling cover of Mad World by Gary Jules.

It has had critics up in arms about how confusing it is, but I've always held the belief that a movie that leaves you with more questions is far more fulfilling than one with all the dots joined.

Gattaca, (1997)
Written and Directed by Andrew Niccol
"We now have discrimination down to a science."

This, for me, is a landmark Science Fiction movie. It deals with the moral implications of genetic manipulation and the depth of humanity in a way that is both refreshing and frightening. It launched Jude Laws career and even made Ethan Hawke look good!

Gattaca arrived at the perfect time. With genetic manipulation the subject of daily news reports the movies opening subtitle - The not too distant future - seems strategically aimed at this generation. The totalitarian style of society, coupled with the emotionless 'valids' is exaggerated to brilliant effect. While the final conclusion and fate of one of the central characters is haunting.

It may not have entirely original themes, but Gattaca delivers a message that can so often become lost in a directors push for pretentiousness.

A brilliant score from Michael Nyman completes one of the finest sleeper hits to come out of Hollywood in recent years.

Metropolis, (1927)
Written and Directed by Fritz Lang
"There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator."

Do I really have to explain this one?! Metropolis is THE science fiction movie. From emancipation to totalitarianism, it captures so many great themes that have been done to death over the last 77 years. Star Wars, Blade Runner and Dark City are just 3 of the films in my original shortlist that were heavily influenced by this masterpiece.

The acting is particularly hammy in places, but still offers a poignant look at how fragile human society is. Even the religious overtones are palatable in the modern day, while it's political messages on socialism and capitalism are still relevant so many years later.

Like Blade Runner, the city itself is a living, breathing entity. You feel like you could become lost in this endless maze of cold structures, only to find that there is still humanity in it's darkest corners.

Sadly there are now too many cuts of this movie to count, and you have to be careful to see the right one. The 2001 restored version is probably the most comprehensive version now available.

Planet of the Apes, (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, Written by Pierre Boulle, Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
"You maniacs! You blew it all up. Damn you. God damn you all to hell!"

When I first saw George Taylor (Charlton Heston) drop to his knees in desperation on that quiet beach I cried my eyes out. I was about 10 years old and I just couldn't believe it. It raised in me so many questions about humanity that as a child I was simply unable to comprehend, and as an adult I still can't answer.

However, Planet of the Apes is more than just its ending. It's a story about our place in the world. The humans of that futuristic setting are dumb primitives, while the apes are an intelligent dominant species. The roles are reversed and the evil we see in the apes is nothing more than the evil within humans of our day.

Again, its message is still as relevant today as it was in the dark days of the 1960s when the world seemed always on the brink of its own extinction. Which is why a small nod to Tim Burton must be made. There is one rule in Hollywood, that MUST be adhered to. Never remake a movie, when the original still has a powerful message to convey.

Quatermass & the Pit, (1967)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker, Written by Nigel Kneale
"We are the Martians now."

Fittingly, the last film in my list is probably the one I debated over the most. with such powerhouses as 1984, Westworld and Close Encounters it would have been easy to discount this relic of the British Film Industry. In the end though it came down to the reasons why I like Science Fiction enough to write about 5000 words over 5 blogs.

I enjoy stories that delve into the human mind. With Quatermass the familiar theme of striving to overcome our worst fears and prejudices are again apparent. The idea that human evolution was down to the interference of aliens has always fascinated me. The reaction of so many people to such news would result in a loss of faith, which is clearly apparent in the views of some of the central characters.

The characterisation is typical for the period and rather than having a set of action hero scientists we are treated to actors who appear more realistic in their roles.

Naturally, 45 years have taken their toll. However, the visions we see through the eyes of Barbara Judd are truly terrifying while the final confrontation, with its religious undertones, is spectacular and reminded me of why I think building cranes are scary!

Battlestar Galactica: Flesh and Bone

After the horrors of Baltars melodramatic in last weeks ep, Galactica seriously needed to get it's feet back on the ground. It achieved it with the relatively thought provoking 'Flesh & Bone', in which Starbuck is charged with questioning a cylon agent (Loeben) found on bard a civilian ship.

The episodes central theme is nothing new. Good guy (or girl) tortures the bad guy to give up information, but in doing so loses perspective. It's a common theme in science fiction television; the episode in which a character gains a deeper understanding of their own humanity.

Despite the lack of originality, this is a solid episode, with some witty banter between prisoner and interrogator. The insidious thoughts of the Loeben cylon leave us with the impression that it is Starbuck who is the captive; trapped in a futile existence. The messages that Loeben plants in the minds of those he encounters are quite devastating and am sure will resurface in the future.

Of course, the reasons why a pilot would be trusted with the job of interrogating a prisoner are glossed over, but that can be forgiven this time ;-)

Overall, I am impressed with the direction of the show so far. The central storyline seems to have shifted from the idea of a last band of humans being pursued and into a deeper exploration of humanity and what makes the new cylons and humans different.

Summary - A good episode, lacking in explanation about some of the more bizarre scenes but with accomplished performances from the central characters.


Sci-Fi Movies Episode 4: Trilogy is 3 arsehole!

Two new computer games have appeared on the horizon, to distract me from both Civ3 and my Sci-Fi top 10. They are Football Manager 2005, and Half Life 2. So this may be my last blog for some time ;-)

Round 3: The final round
AKA the moment of truth. AKA The moment when My Stepmother is an Alien wins.

When I embarked on compiling my own top 10 definitive list of Sci-Fi movies, I really hadn't imagined it taking this long. In a 30 minute brainstorm, I managed to shortlist 31. Truth is, it could easily have been 51 if I'd given it more thought. Once I sat down to write these blogs I realised I'd forgotten a whole host of movies. The human memory really does suck at times.

Anyway... 16 movies remain and they are:

1984, (1984)
2001: A Space Odyssey, (1968)
Akira, (1988)
Blade Runner, (1982)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977)
Dark City, (1998)
The Day the Earth Stood Still, (1951)
Donnie Darko, (2001)
Empire Strikes Back, (1980)
Gattaca, (1997)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (1978)
Metropolis, (1927)
Planet of the Apes, (1968)
Quatermass & the Pit, (1967)
The War of the Worlds, (1953)
Westworld, (1973)

What? No Barbarella? I hope all the Jane Fonda fans out there can forgive me.

When I look at the list above, there are a number of movies that I already know would be in my top 10. They are the dead certs; the films that, for me, define the very nature of Science Fiction. First into the top 10 go 2001, Donnie Darko, Metropolis and Planet of the Apes. Reasoning to follow.

12 movies left and only 6 places, so it follows that the axe must now fall.

Empire Strikes Back jumped out at me first. I love this film. It's the best Star Wars film by a long way and coincidentally the one that Lucas had the least input on.

What draws me to Empire is that it gives all of the characters a chance to shine. Mark Hamill may not have been the most accomplished actor, but his performance in the Dagobah swamps is superb, given he was pretty much alone. The chemistry between Ford and Fisher is a true success and something that Lucas was unable to follow with Jedi or the new prequels. Similarly, splitting up the droids avoids much of the annoying campness that has crippled the more recent films.

Empire is the film that offers a more sober and realistic view to the fantasy of good vs evil. However, despite my love for the number one Star Wars film, Empire does not warrant a place in my top ten Sci-Fis. Empire is a movie about good vs evil, but it's themes are still quite simplistic when you break it down.

The 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic piece of cinema. It scared the life out of me as a child, but I was never happy with the oh so perfect ending. However, in 1978 Philip Kaufman (Quills, The Right Stuff) produced a masterpiece remake. Out went small-town America and in came the big city, as one by one the residents of San Francisco are replaced by emotionless clones. Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy are superb, while the ending is anything but perfect for the good guys ;-)

Time may have told on this classic, but behind the horrible 1970s kitsch is a true frightener. Not quite top 10 standard, but the ear shattering screams are everlasting.

As far as Science Fiction stories go, few can claim to have had such a lasting effect as HG Wells' The War of the Worlds. As a novel it influenced Science Fiction across the globe. As a radio play it convinced millions that the world was actually under attack, and as a movie it gave Science Fiction its first true blockbuster. It's easy to get lost in the hype surrounding a story and for that reason The War of the Worlds is perhaps one of the most surprising cuts from the top 10. For all the brilliance of the original story, the movie lacks the same punch. Transferred from turn-of-the-century Britain to post WW2, small town America, the movie feels slightly out of place. The book at over a hundred years old, retains it's charm and naive optimism about the future.

Perhaps the knowledge that the original movie is so dated is the driving force behind Spielbergs decision to remake it. What he fails to realise is that the true brilliance of the book is in it's setting. A time when machines were truly alien and western confidence (and arrogance) was at it's highest. A modern day remake has already been done... it was called Independence Day and unsurprisingly, it failed to make my shortlist! Give it up Spielbergo!

*pause for breath*

Now that we are down to nine films more clear-cut choices become obvious to me. The break that set 2001, Apes et al above the others now wields it's magical wand of justice and promotes a further four movies into the top ten. Welcome to the elite Blade Runner, Dark City, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Gattaca.

5 films left and only 2 places for them to go. Bollocks! But I want them all in there. Waaaah!


This final decision became a real challenge. It was only now that I realised why some reviewers lumped movies together (a la Guardian). After carefully weighing up the options, it was time to say goodbye to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Westworld. Close Encounters is arguably one of Speilbergs finest pieces of work, made at a time when he could do no wrong. The mysterious drive towards the final encounter with the aliens is riveting storytelling, while the light and sound show of first contact has been ripped off by everyone from the Simpsons to Independence Day. Despite the tremendous impact it had on me as a child, and the haunting symbolism throughout it falls at the final hurdle.

Westworld, meanwhile, is easily Crichtons finest work. It's memory may be somewhat tarnished by the atrocious followup 'Futureworld', but it still has it were it counts. The dialogue is hammy and the vision of the future on par with the 1970s kitsch we've come to love. This is probably it's biggest downfall. Like The Andromeda Strain, Crichton seems to struggle with creating realistic humans we can easily relate to. Despite this, Westworld remains one of my favourite movies and has influenced a number of modern greats, including another favourite of mine, The Truman show.

11 films, 10 places and the toughest choice of all. In the end, I opted to say goodbye to 1984. Orwells haunting vision of a totalitarian future is possibly one of the biggest influences on my own Sci-Fi Thriller. I love theorising about the replacement for Democracy and stories like 1984, Brazil and even Equilibrium offer those harsh futures that I just can't get enough of. The 1984 version of... errr... 1984 is lacking in that it fails to carry the impact of the book completely across. I know that this is probably true of most movie adaptations, but with 1984 I feel it is relevant. The movie is a scary depiction of the future, but it isn't as compelling and utterly gut-wrenching as the book was for me. Hmmm, maybe it's time for another remake ;-)

So, that's it! The also rans have been listed. I'll publish details of the final top 10 later today.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: Six Degrees of Separation

Most of the recent offerings have kept Number Six in the background, and as such have made her character tolerable. The blonde hottie (not my personal opinion I might add) who's most interesting feature is how little clothing she is wears from one episode to the next is perhaps the result of a brief relapse by Ron Moore into Star Trek mode.

In this episode the likeable, but somewhat melodramatic Baltar has a hissy fit over his dream lovers obsession with religion. As a result, she disappears from his delusions only to reappear for real as a girl on a mission to reveal Baltar as a traitor.

Now on the surface, I haven't minded the religious undertones. I think it illustrates how the cylons have come to resemble the humans more than they realise themselves. However, the direction of this episode which forces Baltar to address his faith once more, was covered in the first episode ('33') and just feels totally unnecessary now.

However, the biggest let-down is in the characterisation of Baltar. The increasingly delusional state he is suffering made for some amusing scenes early on, and while I don't argue that his particular brand of crazy is at times refreshing, this time it is perhaps the most melodramatic piece of acting I've seen since William Shatner collapsed in tears at the death of his on-screen son.

The episode moves from increasingly camp circumstances, including one rather ill-advise toilet cubicle scene between Baltar and his one remaining friend Lt. Gaeta. By the time Baltar started re-enacting the 'files are in the computer' scene from Zoolander I was ready for packing it in. I stuck with it, perhaps mainly because I had friends round!

In summary, my perseverance didn't exactly pay off, although the new fate of Baltar was quite a nice touch. The camp Carry On moments were either the result of bad acting, poor direction, poor scripting or a combination of all three. The few highlights included Adama, who clearly didn't trust Number Six from the start and Boomers brief stint at flirting with a Cylon raider... don't ask!


Battlestar Galactica: Litmus

Running behind again, but hey. Litmus is a strong offering which delves quite nicely into the effects of a witch-hunt on board the Galactica. With the knowledge that Cylons look like humans official, Adama gives the Sergeant-at-Arms absolute authority to investigate the spate of attacks on board. As Tyrol, Boomer and even Adama are called to answer tough questioning, loyalties become clouded.

I think what I like about this episode is that it accurately depicts the way in which the military would handle similar investigations. The public need for a person to pin the blame on has to be met, even if the person is no more than a Lee Harvey Oswald.

Unlike many other popular Science Fiction shows, the resolution is not always easy to stomach. Adama, in choosing to accept the incarceration of a potentially innocent man does so purely out of pragmatism. He doesn't have many experienced men left. And as such he can't afford a vital member of staff to be fingered with blame. It is a dangerous compromise, but one that is more realistic than the typically happy Star Trek endings out there.

Similarly, I like the direction being taken by the Cylons on the now occupied Caprica. The humanoid models seem more human than even they realise. They are curious about every aspect of human existence and while I have come to detest the Number Six/Baltar relationship I do very much enjoy the more subtle Boomer/Helo sub-plot.

In summary, a strong episode, with some good performances. It doesn't offer happy endings and leaves things nicely set up for the future.


Human rights trampled on again.

Yet another long-standing human right was overturned by the US on Thursday. From now on the military can use evidence acquired through torture, in the cases of the Guantanamo prisoners.

Torture evidence has been inadmissable in US courts for 70 years and this latest outrage only serves to illustrate the alarming shift of America from the great protector, to the great threat in our society.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Finding 'my own' Neverland

Life is full of coincidences. My decision to watch Finding Neverland last night because we were late for The Incredibles was a sound piece of timing for me.

Watching the climactic 30 minutes of this film about the inspiration behind Peter Pan allowed me the chance to lose myself in a way I hadn't thought possible anymore.

Peter Pan, more than anything is an adults story. It may make the children laugh but it is the adults that find real meaning in it's tale of the boy who refused to grow up. And in Marc Forsters account of JM Barries life we find a truly magical tale of a man out of place in the rigid upper echelons of British Society.

I don't need to tell anyone that Johnny Depp is fantastic. As always, his performance is remarkable and he captures the essence of Barrie as a boy who is trapped in a land full of adults. But this is very much an ensemble piece, and from Kate Winslets ailing muse to Dustin Hoffmans gentle performance as Barries backer there is not a single poor performer. Special mention must go out to young Freddie Highmore as Peter Llewelyn Davies. His deeply emotional display makes the journey into the land we adults have forgotten that much easier and it's hard not to look into those deep eyes and not be amazed by his talent at such a young age.

Every once in a while a movie comes along that touches me in a way I find both compelling and inspiring. I haven't cried in a movie for a very long time and even I was surprised at my complete loss of self-control in the cinema. This movie, much like the play that inspired it opens a door to a place many would give anything to return to. A place of innocence and magic.

For a brief period last night I lost myself in the idea that there is more to life than this. It wasn't just a case of looking back to a childhood lost but also forward toward a fuller life. As adults we are so consumed in our monotonous daily lives, from the constant pressure of our financial obligations to the dead-end jobs we spend our most productive years trapped in. We are so consumed by it all that we lose sight of the very dreams and aspirations that made us unique as children.

This film is an inspiration. So much so, that for the first morning in a long time, I drove to work with smile on my face.

Finding Neverland: 10/10

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: Act of Contrition/You Can't Go Home Again

I'm running behind, so I'll cram two eps into one blog... which works out nicely seeing as the eps in question form a nifty two-parter.

With a shortage of pilots Starbuck is forced to instruct a team of kids in the art of flying. Still pained by the guilt of letting Adamas son (and her lover) Zach die unnecessarily, Starbuck begins to lose control of everything around her.

This is another strong offering with very good performances from Katie Sackoff (Starbuck) and Edward James Olmos (Adama). Character development eps in early seasons can often feel like fillers but this is not the case here. The use of flashbacks within flashbacks is a smart piece of direction that keeps the viewer hooked and makes each event lasting and fresh. The biggest let down is perhaps best dubbed the Top Gun moment. Luckily the episode redeems itself by not having the all-American ending I had dreaded. Instead we are left with the most depressing three words in TV history:

"To Be Continued"

In part two (You Can't Go Home Again), the emphasis shifts from the development of Starbuck to that of Adama and Apollo. Forced to deal with the prosepct of losing yet another member of his "family", Adama risked the entire fleet to save one pilot. The conflict between the President and Adama is memorable but on the whole this is a weaker offering than the previous ep. The conclusion is a little too obvious and rushed, although it does offer an intriguing insight into the cylons.

Act of Contrition: 7.5/10
You Can't Go Home Again: 6.5/10

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Babar Ahmed

Human rights abuses don't surprise or shock me anymore. They should, but I fear I've become desensitised to the suffering around me because it really has become an every day thing.

Babar Ahmad is a British citizen, arrested and beaten under the veil of the Terrorism Act. Released without charge he was subsequently re-arrested on an extradition warrant from the US.

I don't know the guy. But I do know that nobody, be they innocent or guilty should face the barbarism that is now rife in our justice system.

The dirty world of football

Not a week goes by without a story hitting the headlines of drug abuse, gang-rape, "spit-roasting" and granny prostitutes. All of them involving top footballers idolised my millions.

In this article in the Guardian, it's hard to feel sorry for anyone. The footballers may start out as naive and innocent, but it's a clear sign that peer pressure, money and fame corrupts in the most sickening way. Nor is it easy to feel sorry for these 'groupies'. Girls who may feel used, but have allowed themselves to be used, because of the status it gives them amongst friends.

It's a world dominated by overpaid fashion stars, agents that refuse to let footballers talk to their families, and clubs blinded by the desire for success, that will stop at nothing to get it.

Football is a sport I love. For how much longer... I just don't know.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The tale of two Charles'

Prince Charles is not someone I would normally cite as a modern thinker with his finger on the pulse, but his comments about the false expectations given to children in schools is right on the mark.

Now another Charles - Education Minister Charles Clarke - who is even more loud-mouthed and obnoxious than even the bonny Prince could ever be has waded into the debate.

While I may think that Prince Charles' comments in a letter to a member of staff were arrogant and elitist, his comments about schooling did nothing but call it how it is.

We live in a country were children are given the false belief that they really can achieve whatever they want. The truth is that they can't. That's not how society works. For every kid who becomes a Wayne Rooney (god forbid) or a Ewan MacGregor, there are tens of thousands who, lets face it, lead average lives.

At no time in school are children told that 90% of them will actually find a normal job, earn a mediocre wage and struggle to make ends meet throughout their 20s and 30s.

This is yet another storm in a gold plated, diamond studded, royal teacup.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

War's hell

Falluja is pacified. It's a line that fails to sum up the true nature of what has gone on in Iraq over the last week. With over 1000 Iraqis dead in Falluja alone and the entire country breaking into violence, serious questions must be asked of the military tactics.

Mosul is set to be the latest city to be 'pacified'. And of course here is were the biggest problem lies. There is an assumption amongst the military planners that these insurgents are purely radical Muslims; members of Islamic Jihad and predominately foreign fighters. However, with over 1000 insurgents captured, it appears that only about 20 are not Iraqi citizens. Public support amongst the Iraqis for the US action has plummeted, and we are now told that elections may have to be put on hold.

Add to this the news that a US Marine is being investigated for executing a wounded Iraqi prisoner and it leaves more than just a bitter taste in the mouth. Let's not forget that only a couple of years ago the US successfully pressured the UN to allow their soldiers to be except from the International Criminal Court. There have now been dozens of breaches of the Geneva convention by the Americans and yet there is no international authority that can bring them to justice. We have to trust in American justice.

Where have all our politicians gone? What we need now are leaders. Leaders who will stand up to superpowers when they do wrong. It is a far braver thing to tell a friend when they are wrong, than to support them blindly.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The only winners are the lawyers...

Well despite the knowledge that the US election was set to be too close to call, and that a result may not come for several days I decided to stay up and watch the drama unfold on the wonders of satellite TV.

Despite the US networks all agreeing not to call any state for a particular candidate until they were sure the margin was big enough, it was unsurprising that the network that handed the last election to Bush (Fox) attempted to do so again.

With 15% of the votes still to be counted in Ohio and Bush leading by a mere 1%, Fox called the state for the incumbent. The result... almost all of the american networks followed suit. All but one. Throughout the early hours CNN refused to call any state that was too close to call and deserve credit for highlighting the possibility that Ohio may yet turn in favour of Kerry. When I left home Bush had a lead of 100,000 votes with about 300,000 still to be counted and a further 250,000 absentee and provisional ballots unaccounted for.

Democratic lawyers were standing by to be parachuted in meaning that the result of this election may yet drag on for some days. With Iowa also being delayed for about a day due to machine failures it looks like the Americans have again failed to perform the simplist of democratic tasks.

What hope for Iraqi elections, I hear you ask?!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: Bastille Day

When it was announced that a 're-imagining' of Battlestar Galactica was in the works, no one opposed it more than the original 'Apollo', Richard Hatch. He campaigned long and hard for a sequel series to be made with the original cast. however, much like the tiresome 15 year campaign of George Takeito get a series made about Captain Sulu, it all ended in tears.

But like a phoenix from the flames, Richard buried the Hatchet (I am so sorry!) with Ron Moore and agreed to guest star in the new show.

'Bastille Day' follows quickly on from 'Water' with the Galactica crew in need of 1000 people to mine the precious H2O from a harsh ice planet. Amongst the fleet is a ship transporting over 1000 prisoners, who have become an increasing problem in terms of what to do with them.

You might be able to see what's coming next.

Apollo and several Galactica crew are dispatched to request that the prisoners work to mine the water, in exchange for points to help earn their freedom.

Naturally, things are never that simple... amongst the prisoners is Tom Zarek (Hatch), a political prisoner, and terrorist dissident, who has been incarcerated for 20 years.

What follows is an intense siege situation which offers a startling insight into the inner workings of the 12 colonies.

This is perhaps the strongest offering yet that shatters the unrealistic notion that all was calm and equal between the 12 colonies. The eventual conclusion will have clear repercussions for the entire fleet in the future.

Again, the Cylons are notable in their absence, only appearing in the form of human-looking agents. The storyarcs on both Caprica and within the fleet are beginning to take shape now and make for some enjoyable television.

Summary - the most polished offering yet, possibly because I love political intrigue. Some good performances and well written dialogue. The start to BSG is not as grand as Firefly, but it's certainly impressive for a first season. Let's hope it continues. Score - 8.5/10.

Battlestar Galactica: Water

Following on from the reasonably strong opening to Battlestar Galactica last week is 'Water'. With water supplies almost exhausted after an act of sabotage on the Galactica, Adama and Roslin send out ships to search for water amongst the desolate planets in the neighboring systems.

Overall it's a strong episode which further explores the mindset of the cylons. We are told that the cylons have a plan, but what this is remains a mystery. Certainly, the actions of the various cylon agents comes across as slightly contradictory, which illustrates a level of tension between the different models. With two Boomer agents (that we are aware of) operating independently of one another, a Number Six on Caprica and a vision of Number Six in Baltars head, it is hard to see the motivation for each of them. The impression I get is that because the agents are sentient, this means that they are capable of choosing, and those choices could easily come into conflict with their missions.

But I think I'm getting well ahead of myself, and perhaps reading just a tad too much into it!

The episode, at last delves into the sleeper agent mentality of Boomer which illustrates both a sinister and innocent side to the character. It also offers a glance at the reluctant relationship of Roslin and Adama which seems destined to be a bit of a roller coaster ride.

It was also nice to see the Baltar/Number Six relationship that dominated the opening ep, reduced to a supporting role. This area could become a little tiresome if played on too much.

On the down-side I felt the actress playing Boomer sometimes struggled with the subtlety of the role she had to play. This may have been down to the direction, but I'll see how it plays out.

Summary - another strong episode, with reasonable performances from all involved. Quite reminiscent of early Babylon 5. Scores 7/10.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The outrage continues.

100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the onset of war in March 2003, according to a reliable study.

Given that it is believed that Saddam Hussein killed somewhere in the region of 250,000 of his own people during his 25 year tenure as President, it doesn't take a genius to work out that perhaps some other world leaders should be joining him in Prison.

Hussein was a tin-pot dictator; a survivor who ruled through fear and murdered so many. I can't ever support a government that thinks slaughtering 100,000 civilians in 18 months is a worthy level of collateral damage.

I hope these figures haunt Tony Blair until his dying days. So many, will never forgive him for this injustice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It's cold outside...

The BBC are no strangers to controversy, and their latest documentaray series about The War Against Terror (TWAT)is no exception.

Episode 1 of The Power of Nightmares delved into the evolution of two radical groups, the Neocons of the US and the Islamic Jihad. What was striking about this show was how the two groups were forged out of the same feeling that liberal america was destroying society. The Neocons blamed all of the social problems of the 1960s on the liberals while the radical muslims of the Middle East were disgusted at the insidious effect the american culture was having on their own countries.

There is too much to detail here, but needless to say the show is an important piece of television, that strives to put the fear of impending doom into context.

However, there still remains an important question who is the biggest threat? The Neocons or Al-Qaeda? Only time will tell.

Episode 2 airs on Wednesday night at 9pm on BBC2.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: "33"

"God is punishing you Gaius"

Ten months ago a relative sleeper 3 hour miniseries hit the SciFi Channel in the US. It was a re-imaging (to borrow a Tim Burton quote) of the original 1978 film BattleStar Galactica. Amidst the cries of "Heathen!" and "WHAT?! Starbuck's a girl!", Ron Moore brought us a polished epic that dared to challenge established canon while remaining true to the spirit of the original.

It was little wonder that the stunning success of the remake led to a full series being given the greenlight.

Last night, with the airing of "33" the show started in earnest.

For Ron Moore and Galactica, this is their big chance. The original was never meant to be a series. The decision to turn a 2 hour movie into a fully fledged series was perhaps it's biggest downfall. The series became a repetitive series of events, often capped off by a lucky escape from the cylons.

The early signs show that this time, things will be different.

In "33" we rejoin the rag-tag fleet pretty much where we left off. Just over 50,000 humans remain; an exact tally scribbled on a white board on the Presidents makeshift flagship. The cylons have been relentlessly pursuing the fleet, and each attack has left the refugees increasingly more exhausted and desperate.

It's this image of a desolate race that makes the show instantly compelling. Here the full magnitude of what has happened is beginning to sink in. But there is no time to grieve, for the survivors new lives are constantly in the balance. It's dark, gritty and realistic. With the original the sheer scale of the event failed to sink in to the writers. They seemed to forget that all of these characters would have lost most of their family and friends and, as such, suspended any notion of realism.

Another refreshing point is that this first episode did not veer off to tell us the background of characters. Rather, it is slowly being built up over time. Indeed, the screentime for such heavyweights like Starbuck and Boomer is relatively limited. There is much more of an ensemble feel to the show, as there should be.

While most of the characters are busy trying to deal with both the cylon attacks and their personal grief, we are treated to some time inside the mind of Baltar. His recurring visions of the cylon infiltrator 'Number Six' offer some fantastic monologues on religion and serve to push Baltar closer to brink. The fascination that the cylons have for their 'fallen gods' makes for good television and I hope to see more of it.

Again, the docu-style direction works well, with the camera moving in and out of focus to give you the feeling that you are caught up in the event, as it happens.

Plot-wise the script is solid and feels more like a continuation rather than an episode that stands alone. There are some interesting twists... particularly concerning the now cylon occupied planet of Caprica. Again, areas that were not addressed in the original show.

It's early days, but the signs are good. Maybe SciFi isn't dead afterall. 8/10.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Money talks

With the American election approaching its endgame it is refreshing to know that while Kerry and Dubya argue over the best way to help the needy, their campaigns have racked up more money than the GDPs of over 30 countries.

When it's all over Bush and Kerry will have spent over $1 BILLION on slurring each another.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sci-Fi Movies Episode 3: Nice Wookie, Shame About the Fairytale

31 movies entered the arena. 22 remain. In round two we remove another 6 to set up a thrilling finale.


Round 2

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Brazil (1985)
The Matrix (1999)
Mysterious Island (1961)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Tron (1982)

Ooooh, it's getting serious now. By the second round I was pretty exhausted. In Civ, the Egyptian capital of Thebes had proven hard to defend after my ill-planned two pronged assualt on the nation stalled. In the world of Sci-Fi some real biggies fell to the Light Sabre of criticism. No I'm not talking about Star Wars... but Tron. Surely the biggest movie in this rounds cut!

In many ways Tron and that minnow Star Wars are quite similar. Both follow a pattern of good vs evil, with the hero being a nobody at the start, but... aaaw shucks... you just know he'll come good in the end!

But seriously, I don't doubt the revolutionary effect that the original Star Wars had on the film industry. It created the modern special effects industry. It created the movie merchandising industry (not a good thing). But neither of these things make the movie great Science Fiction. If we look not too closely at A New Hope (Or Episode 4, or just plain Star Wars, or whatever the hell Lucas chooses to call it this week), the story is derived from quite basic plot lines.

First and foremost, it is a fairytale. Luke is the lowly farm boy, unaware of his destiny. Obi-Wan is the aging Knight with a secret past. Together they elicit the help of the loveable rogue Han and off on an adventure they go; an adventure to rescue the Princess from the clutches of an evil King (Emporer). The story leads our motley crew into the heart of the evil Kingdom, where our brave old Knight will face his destiny and do battle with the Kings evil Dark Knight (Vader). His death will pave the way for our farm boy to join other peasants in a rebellion against the Kingdom.

For that reason, it could be argued that Star Wars is not really Sci-Fi, and that in truth, Lucas' earlier film THX 1138 is a far better example of Science Fiction.

For similar reasons, we say goodbye to The Matrix. While, in my opinion, another example of revolutionary cinema in terms of technique, the movie leaves a lot to be desired in it's plot. A collection of stories pulled predominately from the New Testament, The Matrix offers a wonderful Sci-Fi edge to the story of Christ, but lacks the true brilliance to make it to the final round.

Mysterious Island, is another film from my youth. More adventures of Captain Nemo, as a motely group of Yankies and Confederate do battle with giant Crabs, Bees and Volcanic eruptions.

Brazil and The Andromeda Strain proved the hardest cuts. Brazil is a masterpiece of cinema. Both comic and tragic in equal measure, that it leace you unsure whether to laugh or blow your brains out in the end. It remains one of my favourite movies, but in the end there is just too much competition. As for The Andromeda Strain, here is a movie that illustrates Crichtons brilliance. Long before the CGI glory of Jurassic Park the young man sat down and penned one of the finest Sci-Fi mysteries in cinema history. Sadly, it is let down by an unhealthy dose of ham.

Only 16 left.

Coming soon - Round 3: Filthy Apes and Sentient Computers

Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow

I love B-Movies. So when the first shots of mechanical monsters invading New York appeared on my PC screen, I was already hooked and determined to see this weird Sci-Fi movie from debutante Kerry Conran. As more footage leaked out, my anticipation grew higher. The announcement of Jude Law in the lead, only added to my excitement, so much so that I was able to ignore the potentially devastating news that Gwyneth Paltrow was going to be in it.

In the end I was saved from over-hype by the first of my friends coming into work saying the film was crap. This was followed by another friend saying it was just mediocre and the reviewers in the US saying it sucked.

So to the cinema I went, expectation back to a healthy low. And? I left the cinema in a happy mood.

Sky Captain is no masterpiece. It is exactly what it says on the tin; a movie that draws on the ideas of square-jawed heroes, implausible situations and fiendishly devilish plots about wiping out humanity. It is a throwback to the B-movies of the 1950's and I cannot fault it for that.

The film is set in an alternate 1939 and charts the adventure of the Worlds greatest hero (Jude), and his annoying ex-girlfriend reporter (Gwyney). Not to go into too much detail but the plot is tremendously basic and involves robots, dinosaurs, submersible planes and flying aircraft carriers.

The cinematography (which is entirely CGI) is jaw droppingly stunning and does a fair job at detracting away from the lack of detailed story. While I should be disappointed with the very basic plot I find it hard to criticise because it's not claiming or trying to be anything other than a b-movie. It's a full-on 1950's style action/adventure/Sci-Fi with an implausible plot and characters that are low on back-story. I read somewhere that this is a fan-boys movie and I'd have to agree. Being a lover of b-movies I instantly understood this film and the newbie writer/directors motivation.

The biggest flaw is the acting. While I can accept a lack of back-story I can't stand poor acting and this has it in abundance. Gwyney in particular suffers from the 'Star Wars Syndrome' of not being able to act against a blue-screen. Angelina Jolie appears briefly as a quite random choice for a stiff upper-lipped Brit.

In summary, if you don't like b-movies, you probably won't like or get this film. And to be honest even if you are a b-movie lover you might still find the lack of plot and poor acting a bind. However, for me this delivers. I'm a b-movie fan-boy and mister Conran clearly knew how to push my buttons! There's even a surprise cameo.

Score: 6.5/10

Monday, October 11, 2004

RIP: Christopher Reeve

Just a quick goodbye to Christopher Reeve. He was a true icon. Both for his determination to walk again and his performances as Superman/Clark Kent. He made the role his own.

Hopefully his legacy will live on through the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

Sci Fi Movies Episode 2: Too many movies.

Following my eagerness to slag off an 'expert' panels fave Sci Fi movies, I was left with the realisation that I should at least publish my own top 10.

So, ignoring advice from the ever shrinking intelligent part of my brain, I opened up the can of worms that is the Sci Fi genre... and... got very stuck. After a brief brain dump, I managed to cut my shortlist down to 31 movies. Realising that this was going to take longer than the 10 minutes I had allotted I locked myself in my office turned the Donnia Darko soundtrack up loud and promised myself I wouldn't emerge until finished.

6 hours later, My glorious Japanese Samurai had conquered the Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs and Germans. With only one superpower left (plus the minnows of England and Zululand), my strangle hold on Civilisation: Conquests was all but complete.

But I digress... rather than jump straight in and just tell you my fave movies, I thought I'd drag this out as long as possible in an effort to get my blog count up. Shameful... but hey, I'm low on inspiration.

So, in the first round I managed to axe 9 movies from my shortlist of 31. They are listed below.

Round One

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Alien (1979)
Dune (1984)
Event Horizon (1997)
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Logans Run (1976)
Pitch Black (2000)
The Terminator (1984)

Possibly the most notable casualty here is Alien. The movie that launched Sigourney Weavers career deserves its place in everyones DVD collection. However, every movie has its genre. And this one belongs more on the Horror shelf than the Science Fiction one. It may be set in the future, but change the backdrop to the modern day and make the alien a monster on a deep sea oil rig and it would still retain it's essence.

The same could be said of, the under-rated, Event Horizon and Pitch Black.

Meanwhile, the likes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage and Forbidden Planet will always be viewed by me with a certain sense of wonder. They where amongst the first to stir my love of Science Fiction. Long before the advent of CGI and $100M budgets, these were films that explored the impossible and the magical, but in the end just cannot justify a place at the top table.

Coming Soon - Round Two: The Curse of the Black Knight.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Blair comes clean

Tonight, Tony Blair finally drove the nail into Gordon Browns coffin. Announcing that he was going into hospital for a routine operation to fix a heart 'flutter', the PM said he planned to serve a full third term, but would not serve a fourth.

This means that we can expect to see the removal vans, sometime around 2009!

This really is Gordon Browns last chance. He cannot afford to wait 5 more years for his shot at Number 10. The 5 year plan gives Tony enough time to train his own protege Alan Milburn to take over from him. If Brown has even the slightest hope of becoming PM he must make a challenge before the next election.

But does he have the guts? I and I know a fair few others, will be hoping he does.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The power of nightmares.

From a friend.

Radiation bombs are a government fantasy

Last week’s BBC drama about a dirty bomb in London has helped keep
everyone terrified about terrorism.

But a forthcoming documentary shows that dirty bombs are actually a fantasy. The
Americans should know: the CIA tried for years to make one, before realising that blowing up radioactive material won't hurt anyone. Radioactive dust disperses so quickly you'd need to be exposed to it for about a year before any real damage occurred.

The documentary, The Power Of Nightmares, shows how politicians are using fake
stories like the dirty bomb to keep people scared, and themselves in power. It also demonstrates that the claim that Al-Qaeda is a global, hidden, terror network is also a myth.

So what channel is this BBC-debunking documentary showing on? Er, BBC2.

The Power Of Nightmares. BBC2, 20th October, 9pm.

propaganda is a powerful thing. Fear keeps people in line.

Accepting the inevitable

In July this year I felt better than I had for a while. I'd just been on holiday; Minnows Greece had shocked the footballing world and won the European Championships; Tony Blair looked set to resign at the Labour party conference in the Autumn; and George W Bush was dropping behind John Kerry in the race for puppet President.

It's amazing what 2 months, 4 hurricanes, 405 spineless Labour MPs, a bad start by Liverpool FC, and some bad press about John Kerry can do.

John Kerry today faces the start of the final battle. It's debate time. Kerry is reeling and it will take more than just a moral victory in the 3 question and answer sessions to convince the American people that removing Bush is a smart idea.

In the end, the problem runs deep within the Democratic party. They resemble the shambolic Labour party of the 1980's. Always 1 step behind the opposition, always slow to respond to spin, lies and public opinion. Kerry looked (albeit briefly) like the dream ticket. A war hero (with three purple hearts) who stood up for Vietnam vets when he realised that Nixon had betrayed them. All it took to destroy him, was an attack against his military service record. A man who based his entire election campaign on one thing should have expected the opposition to try and tear it apart. He didn't, they did and what was left was a bumbling idiot who doesn't know which way to turn.

Of course, I'm being a little unfair. It is still close. Kerry could still win, but with Florida seemingly in Bush's pocket, it's hard to imagine anything other than a Bush win in November. You have to admire the Republicans. They have waged a relentless war against the American people and it's paid off. Most of them don't have a clue what's going on and as a result will be happy to maintain the status quo. Better the devil you know, after all.

Shame that the American people don't realise how much of a devil Bush really is.

Shame that the Democratic people don't know how to organise a smear campaign in a dirty election.

Come November Bush may already be preparing for his next war. Watch out Syria and Iran. Dubyas comin to smoke you out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Greatest Sci-Fi Robots

OK, so this was on Sky One which is not exactly renowned for being high-class entertainment but it makes for interesting reading. In truth, the scariest thing about the program was that one of the critics on the show who had helped select the robots was my old robotics and neural nets lecturer - Noel Sharkey.
  1. False Maria (Metropolis)
  2. T-800 (The Terminator)
  3. Bender (Futurama)
  4. C3PO/R2-D2 (Star Wars)
  5. Kryten (Red Dwarf)
  6. Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet)
  7. Marvin the Paranoid Android (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
  8. K9 (Doctor Who)
  9. Cylons (Battlestar Galactica)
  10. ED209 (Robocop)

OK, the list isn't too bad. I would certainly argue that a Sci Fi list of robots has to contain Data (Star Trek) and Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still), above the likes of K9 and Ed209, but each to their own I guess.

Bender, Marvin and Kryten are inspired choices, and not altogether expected, while it's wonderful to see False Maria in her rightful place at the top. No robot has ever matched Fritz Langs creation. C3PO's looks were based on her and the inhuman movements have been copied by thousands. She was the first robot and she remains number 1.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Join the 'real' world

For those of you that are into online gaming, you may want to check out some info on Anarchy Online and other MMORPGs over at a mates blog.
  1. Everquest
  2. AO: money
  3. AO: aliens invade

I've not actually played it, although don't take that as a bad thing. My reasons are purely time based. The game is so expansive that it would undoubtedly take control of my life, much like Dreamshares did, so I'm staying out of it ;-)

But if you like MMORPGs then this one's for you.

Iran gets tough

I'm not exactly a fan of nuclear proliferation. It could be argued that the invention of the nuclear bomb was perhaps the worst moment in human history, however I find the continual bullying of smaller nations by the US-led UN over the issue appalling.

Iran, a nation that is slowly marching towards democracy (without the help of a US 'liberation'), has been told to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. Unsurprisingly, Iran has rejected the demand and even gone as far as to threaten non-compliance with the UNs right to make snap inspections of Nuclear sites.

Now, as much as I'd like to live in a world without nuclear weapons, I am a realist. A nation that holds nuclear weapons has a key advantage over one that doesn't. That doesn't just mean a military advantage, but a diplomatic one as well. Is it any wonder that the nations which control the UN are the 5 main nuclear powers? Now that Pakistan have nuclear weapons, there has been a concerted diplomatic effort on all side to be 'friends' with a nation that until recently was regarded in the same league as Iran and Libya.

Developing nuclear weapons guarantees a place at the negotiating table. A place that all nations deserve, but few get the chance of.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A thousand words on life

The other day I was at a birthday gathering and as tends to happen as such events, the conversation got deep and philosophical. Spurred on by the recent news reports of the dangers of Prozac and the way in which doctors seem to give them out like sweets, we found ourselves discussing our generations place in society.

At 26 years old I find myself at an impasse. I often put it down to a tendency I have for getting bored with the status quo. I like change. I enjoy a challenge. My life in many ways has been devoid of such things for some time. I wouldn't call myself depressed. I have a good life, a stable job (famous last words!), which pays well and a girlfriend I wouldn't want to lose or change in any way.

Yet there is a disturbing emptiness in my life that I've had for a long time. As I looked around this group of friends I realised that I wasn't alone. Here was a group of twenty something’s who had all seemingly entered that phase where they ask themselves the question, "Is this all there is?"

I realise that many people go through this. It's that point in which a person rejects the dreams of youth and accepts their lot in life. All but a chosen few have to face it. For some it passes them by without incident, while for others, it's a deeply ritualistic process, not unlike mourning the loss of something intangible.

Then again, if almost every person goes through this, how do we explain the vast amounts of anti-depressants thrown at people from every Doctors surgery in the land? Our parents went through it; and our grandparents; and their grandparents. Didn't they?

As with everything in my life I was brought back to the movies. There's a quote in Fight Club which sums up my argument.
We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no
great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great
depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we'd be
millionaires and movie gods and rock stars -- but we won't. And we're learning
that fact.
Throughout history, there has been a reason for existence. Prior to the advancement of literacy, the majority that made up the working classes were led by the few and were (on the whole) happy to accept that lot.

Until 1960, when conscription in Britain was abolished, every generation had faced some kind of conflict. Throughout history our ancestors had a war to fight. It was fought either on the battlefields or at home by working to support the vast military this country sent around the world. Even when there was no war, society tended to be plagued by various diseases and famines.

Aside from the battles against other nations and ravishing depressions people maintained their other primary role in society; procreation. All of this was bound together by a deeply spiritual order led by the people’s devotion to their faith.

These three things, conflict, procreation and religion are the essence of what drove British society throughout history. I say British society, because it would be far too pretentious of me to try to speak about the driving factors in other cultures... although I have a sneaking suspicion that the factors were the same for many, if not all.

The point here, is that on the whole people were happy with their lot because they truly believed in what they were doing. Most in the military believed in fighting for their flag or King. For every deserter there were dozens willing to die for the cause, even if the cause would only truly benefit their rich leaders. The fact that their leaders were acting with the blessing of their church galvanised their belief in the cause.

Of course, the 20th century saw the empowering of the common man (and woman!). Literacy spread like wild fire and with it, the freedom to choose. The result is that Christianity is no longer the driving force in Britain. People have chosen to desert God. Women, offered the choice, have chosen to reject motherhood. While our advancements in diplomacy, global relations, healthcare and trade have removed the fear of disease and conflict from Britain. Our wars are minor, and in far off (almost mythical) lands with names like Iraq, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Our diseases are controlled enough to allow society to function in an orderly manner.

As far as I see, it is this freedom to choose that has led to the emptiness I and others feel. With no great war to fight and no great religion to believe in, we are left asking the question "Is this all their is?". The end of the cold war marked the end of the pretence, although many people had already begun to see life for what it was long before then.

Every generation in this country (and many others in the advanced democracies of the world) are left with the reality of existence. A world in which our role is to maintain the status quo until we die. I don't want a war, nor do I want to welcome God into my heart. And, surprisingly enough, I feel no desire to father a dozen children just so I can 'live on' in them. This choice, brought on by our society’s advancement is the source of the emptiness and for many, the source of their depression.

We are the disenfranchised masses. We want to belong to something, but we don't like any of the clubs on offer. We are too educated to just accept our lot in life and too comfortable to do anything about it.

This blog isn't meant to go anywhere. It isn't striving to make the world a better place. It's looking for answers. I don't have answers. But I do know that I am not willing to just accept the status quo quite yet. After all, I might have another 5 or 6 decades ahead of me to just accept my lot in life!

Still going strong

Another bomb goes off in Baghdad, driving yet another nail into the coffin that is, a liberated Iraq.

47 dead, 117 injured. This a day after US gunships killed 13 after firing into an unarmed crowd.

That the men and women who ordered this phony war are still in power staggers me. In a democratic society our leaders are not above the law. Nixon was ousted for what was essentially nothing more than a cover up into a break in. Clinton faced impeachment because the world cared more about the exact meaning of the term 'sexual relations' than the actual policies of his government.

However, when we look at Bush we see a man looking ahead to four more years. This is a man who has promised to 'finish the job' in the middle east, should he get re-elected. What does finish the job mean? Take out Iran? Syria? North Korea?

And what of his greatest ally? The immovable Tony Blair. Today we are treated to the flurry of front page stories about how he nearly quit because of 'family problems'. How any man, especially one who claims to be a believer in social justice can fail to be moved by the daily reports of massacres in Iraq disturbs me greatly.

Of course, I'm being slightly unfair. For all the criticism of Tony Blair, no one has actually pressured him to quit. He may be considered a lost cause by the voters, a joke amongst world leaders and a liability by many in his own party, but if no one pushes him why should he go? Our democracy is failing us. We turn to our leaders, in particular the 400+ Labour MPs who can force Tony Blair out.

Our Prime Minister may have failed us, but it's the rest of the Labour party who are to blame for him still being in power.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

999, 1000, 1001, 1002...

"We remember, honour and mourn the loss of all those that made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom..."

The last 24 hours has seen the US military in Iraq achieve another grand milestone. Over 1000 US service personnel have lost their lives since the start of "official" combat operations in March 2003.

Morality tells us that we shouldn't rejoice at news like this. To the Bush administration, these figures stand out as evidence that with great change comes great sacrifice. I couldn't agree with them more. Change is often violent and tragic. Of course it's the nature of the change that causes the disagreement.

To the Bush regime, the change is spun as the great march of freedom and democracy. To me, the change is the slow and systematic metamorphosis of America from great liberator and leader of the free world, into the petulant aggressor.

As the election moves into it's final phases (the tremendous boredom of the debates), I'm left feeling that the result doesn't actually matter in the long term.

The problem is with Americas place in the world. It needs other nations to need it, or else it's place as the sole superpower is irrelevant. With no Communism, there is no need for Americas presence as our great protector.

1000 US troops will seem like a small figure when the final tally is made. So much sacrifice, all to keep America in it's place.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Sci Fi Movies Episode 1: The Populist Choice

So, an expert panel of top scientists have decided on the top 10 sci-fi movies of all time. In the end, their 'definitive' list is little more than a parade of the populist choices.

1. Blade Runner
2. 2001
3. Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back
4. Alien
5. Solaris
6. Terminator/T2
7. The Day The Earth Stood Still
8. War of the Worlds
9. The Matrix
10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Ok, so the list isn't that bad. The likes of Blade Runner and 2001 are clear Sci Fi greats, but does the overly pretentious solaris (original version) really deserve a mention. Similarly, the court (of my head) is still out on The Matrix. Fantastic movie it may be, but it really didn't tell us anything new. It was more a mish-mash of common themes repackaged in an ultracool setting.

Also, why are movies packaged together, as in the case of Star Wars and Empire or T1 and T2? Are these movies incapable of standing the test alone? Viewed separately, Star Wars and Empire are distinctly different movies. The first is a fairytale about rescuing a princess, the second an illustration of the oppression of an evil empire upon it's rebellious subjects. I am of course simplifying, both of these movies have a lot more to them than that, but they are different movies. If you are going to lump them together, then where is the bubbly teddy bear finale (Return of the Jedi)? Where is T3?

Of course we can debate what makes a good sci fi till the apocalypse, and we still won't agree, but I think this may well have spurred me on to write a list of my own. Which of course leaves me with the problem of trying to write a sequel to this blog that tops my high-minded criticisms of the above list. Doh!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A change of direction.

I've never really been a supporter of a major mainstream party. Despite being most closely linked with the Liberal Democrats I've voted for all 3 major parties at least once. A fact I'm not entirely proud of. I buried my conscience in the safe knowledge that I my vote was tactical.

People say that a persons time at University are their most formative. I'd say that's a crock of shit. The last few years have seen my disillusionment with our government and the non-opposition frustrate beyond belief. I have watched as the nation I am proud of marched into war after war like an aging boxer eager to prove it can still cut it with the young guns. Each war was fought on the premise of improving human rights. Very few can claim to have achieved that aim.

I've watched as our Universities have grown to such sizes that we are left with the prospect of an entire generation of people over qualified for the jobs available.

I've watched as my own MP (RT Hon David Blunkett) has pushed through anti-terror plans which invade personal privacy and destroy the few chances we have in this country to congregate and protest.

But most depressingly, I've watched as a party with a stunning commons majority has forced through policy upon policy by threatening it's own members to "toe the party line". It was the same under Thatchers govt. With a large enough majority you can push anything through, and if your backbenchers try to rebel? Threaten them, intimidate them, demote or promote them. Do whatever you can to make sure they vote with you or at the very least... Abstain. This isn't democratic politics. It's a dictatorship.

So in a decision to no longer sit on the sidelines, I've joined those pesky Liberal Democrats, thorn in the side of New Labour and soon to be destroyer of Michael Howard.

Some might argue that joining a political party will not solve anything. That party (whichever it is) will also follow the familiar patterns of the others. Well, the way I look at it, at least as a member of a party I can work to help change things. Not only the things that are wrong with this country, but the things that are wrong with the party itself. A good friend of mine once threatened to tear up his Labour party membership card. He had become so disillusioned with Tony Blair that he felt it was the only way. In the end he was convinced not to. Why? Because at least as a member he has a voice in his party. He can help to change things.

So bring on Hartlepool (assuming Mandelson jets off to Europe) and bring on the General Election.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

George W. Bush [to Michael Moore]: Behave yourself, will you? Go find real work.

Okay, before I begin let me say one thing. Michael Moore is NOT the world's greatest documentary film-maker. His work is often populist and his 'facts' are at times poorly sourced. He often asks loaded questions and coaches information out of his prey. He is biased and clearly uses his fame to influence others.

With that out of the way let me now say, I really don't care. Michael Moore is a sound piece for the political left. He's a radical and he's controversial. It's that controversy that makes him famous. It's that willingness to move out of the restraints of traditional documentary film-making that gives him a voice. We can argue for hours about how he shouldn't be allowed to do this, and I can counter with arguments about TV news presenters saying they are biased on national television. I could talk of movies commissioned by the government as propaganda for the masses. In the end it's meaningless. The left will never agree with the right (and vice versa), so I ain't gonna get in too deep!

With Fahrenheit 9/11 Michael Moore has realised that the only way to get into the minds of the American voters is to do the things that the media-supported right does. He has gone for shock value.

NEIL CAVUTO [Fox news presenter, live on national Television]: Am I slanted and biased? You're damned well bet I am.

And in the end Moore didn't have to work hard to shock the American public when the main focus of the film is George W Bush. Just as Bush proved that you don't need hard facts to gain support for a war, Moore now proves that you don't need hard facts of Presidential wrongdoing to make the President look guilty.

We are told the Bush family has had business dealings with the Bin Ladens (FACT). This doesn't prove that Dubya is up to no good, but the association makes you question his trustworthiness. Throw in associations with Enron, Halliburton, and key companies involved in rebuilding Iraq and your President looks dodgier than Richard Nixon.

Is it right that Moore should paint this picture? Well I ask you, what has he done wrong? The conclusions you draw from this film are your own. If you come away from this feeling that Bush is a liar who is cheating the American public then that's your conclusion. Moore may have planted the seeds, he may have coached you towards a conclusion, but it's your choice to believe in it.

Is this as bad as American news organisations openly deceiving their viewers? Moore doesn't lie, he presents a version of history. Just as our politicians do. Just as our media does.

The important thing with this film is not to view it as a documentary. It isn't. You can choose to view it as political propaganda if you wish, but I prefer to describe it as a fact-based political satire. Under that title it delivers on every level for me. It is both funny and gut-wrenching (as real life often is).

You cannot fail to be angry at the end of it. Whether the anger is with Bush or Moore is your choice, but even the most hardened anti-Moore people out there will find it difficult not to be moved by the lasting image of a bereaved mother - who's son died fighting for Bush. Staring at the White House from far away, this is 9/11s Charlton Heston moment. Here is a supporter of the war staring into the White House - through the gates, the security and the walls - straight into the heart of George Bush and asking him one simple question.


Michael Moore [quoting George Orwell]: It's not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society intact.

Summary: A political satire that explodes like an incendiary device onto the screen. This film will rock the very foundations of the Bush Administration. A superb piece of work by the second most hated man on Earth (after Bush). Yes I am biased. Deal with it!

9 out of 10.

Friday, July 09, 2004

My return to Blighty.

After a long break in the sun it's time to get back to reality. So it's summary time...

The Greeks won Euro 2004 - and deservedly so - in the biggest shock in international football history. They played old style italian tactics of defend in numbers and counter quickly. Unfortunately England and Italy, both tried the same and failed miserably, while the overpaid, overhyped players of Real Madrid et al managed to fall over lots and make many excuses.

Tony Blair admitted that the WMDs in Iraq may never be found and might have been destroyed. This after saying that the idea Saddam had destroyed them was absurd. Still no apology though from the most arrogant man in Britain. Fingers are still crossed for a resignation at the party conference.

Saddam Hussein stood before a preliminary hearing in the new and improved 'free and liberated' Iraq. Despite the nation now being free... he still hasn't had access to a lawyer or been given the basic rights of a prisoner. The sitting judge was a man who himself worked for Saddams regime and has switched sides, while news coverage was censored so we couldn't hear everything that was said. GOD BLESS DEMOCRACY!

A referee in Euro 2004 went into hiding after two newspapers chose to print his phone number, email address and plant an England flag on his house. All this, because he made the CORRECT DECISION in a football match when he failed to award a goal to Engerland. The man has received death threats and had his personal life invaded. Unfortunately, the xenophobic press has not been properly reprimanded for this and the editors of the newspapers have not been forced to resign. I wonder what would happen if they did the same thing to a politician, or printed some fake photos of Iraqi abuse.

Tim Henman failed at Wimbledon again. Yawn. It rained lots in Britain.