29 October, 2012

Starship Troopers

In the distant future, humanity is not alone in the universe but is in an intergalactic conflict with the the increasingly hostile race of large insect-like aliens, called arachnids or “bugs”, which originate from the distant planet Klendathu. In this future, ordinary civilians have no right to stand for political office or even to vote; only someone who has earned citizenship—through such actions as military service—has the right to stand for election, vote and have other privileges.
Buenos Aires high-school football star John “Johnny” Rico (MI), his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Pilot), and best friend Carl Jenkins (Military Intelligence) enroll for a term of active duty, which upon completion would grant them full citizenship, shortly before Buenos Aires is wiped of the map by a deliberately aimed asteroid which prompts the Federation to declare full galactic war against the bugs.
“Starship Troopers”, though based on Robert A. Heinein’s book of the same name, has very little in common with that book. It is as if the director and script-writer merely skimmed the novel, only stopping every twenty-third page to take notes, and even then only the most basic notes—such as taking a few character names, or what one type of enemy is called, and then just filling in the gaps with an unsatisfying story with strange battles that leave you thinking, “How could you do that?” or “Now, come on, that’s just silly.” One of the biggest shortcomings of this film, and a personal letdown for me, was the armour: for some reason it seems to be a real trend in sci-fi movies to have cool looking armour which is completely useless (cf. the Storm Troopers of “Star Wars”); this is a prime example of that because, in the book, a single MI wears a full-body suit, worth millions, able to jump over buildings, armed to the teeth with flamethrowers and talking grenades which tell aliens when it’s ready to explode and, the pièce de résistance, small shoulder-mounted nukes, just in case; instead of getting one of the coolest suits of armour in a book, we get some slight torso-padding and a plastic-looking helmet that couldn’t defend the wearer from a cheap Chinese toy made from cotton gently thrown by a infant.
Many flaws in the movie are unnecessary alterations of features which were clearly explained in the book (e.g., no female MIs, and Johnny Rico is depicted as a white American rather than a Filipino). This film fails as an adaptation of the novel; however, even with its many flaws, this is still a good, iconic movie with all the components for a great sci-fi film.

7 out of 10

17 April, 2012

Cheesecake Taste-Test

On Thursday the 12th, five of us sat down to a blind cheesecake-test of six variants of plain (frozen) cheesecake, from big name brands to the cheap supermarket brands, available from the Coles supermarket in Sandy Bay and the Woolworths supermarket in Hobart.  We each tasted all six cheesecakes and discussed what we liked and disliked about each of them, and awarded points out of thirty for crust, texture and, most importantly, overall taste.  These are the average scores:

Sara Lee Cheesecake French Cream (360g)25.2$6.19
Coles Smart Buy Cheesecake French Style (450g)22.7          $3.26
Banquet Cheesecake French Cream (450g)21.9$4.29
Coles Cheesecake Frozen French Style (410g)20.4$4.99
Woolworths Select French Cream Cheesecake (410g)19.8$4.00
Homebrand Cheesecake French (450g)17.6$3.25

The Sara Lee cheesecake came out on top in the blind taste test—both highest total points and four out of five tasters voted it the best—but it is twice the price as the Coles Smart Buy dessert, which is also a lovely cheesecake and the best value for money out of the six.

(Also posted at Thorfinn’s Review.)

02 April, 2012

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

We meet Harry trying to meet a girl but cannot because Professor Dumbledore suddenly appears and teleports them to see a former teacher of Hogwarts, Horace Slughorn, saying that it is critical that Slughorn should return to Hogwarts.
Later, after exiting Fred’s and George’s shop, our trio see and follow Malfoy to Borgin and Burkes wherein they observe Malfoy meeting Fenrir Greyback which leads Harry to suspect that Malfoy has joined the Death Eaters, though Ron and Hermione are doubtful.
At Hogwarts, Professor Slughorn returns to teach Potions, allowing Professor Snape to take over Defense Against the Dark Arts; Harry and Ron are now able to enter Slughorn’s class.  Harry obtains an annotated copy of the potions textbook which was previously owned by the “Half-Blood Prince”, allowing Harry to shoot to the head of the class and win a small vial of felix felicis (liquid luck). 
Ron also joins the Quidditch team and, with Harry’s help, becomes a Gryffindor hero.
Dumbledore tells Harry about Horcruxes, and how they safeguard a portion of the creator’s soul, granting the wizard immortality for as long as his Horcrux remains intact, and discloses to Harry the true purpose for Slughorn’s return; he asks Harry to discover what Slughorn really told Tom Riddle about creating Horcruxes when Tom—now known as Voldemort—was at Hogwarts.
Despite putting so much effort into the scenes and backgrounds—by using real books and real stone, for example—the picture is so dark that it makes no real difference whether there were real books or a backdrop with books painted thereon.  Despite that, this is a good movie; nonetheless, I still believe the Harry Potter books to be superior to the films, and this one is no exception.

6 out of 10

18 March, 2012

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“The Order of the Phoenix”, a secret organization founded by Dumbledore to combat the Death-Eaters, informs Harry on the Ministry of Magic’s actions and how it is refusing to recognise Voldemort’s return and has used its influence on The Daily Prophet to vilify Harry and Dumbledore.  Upon arriving at Hogwarts, our trio learns that the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, has appointed Hogwarts a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge—a loyal follower of the minister; supposedly a sweet lady, she has some rather unorthodox punishment methods and refuses to teach practical magic because of her belief that Dumbledore is trying to overthrow the minister.  She also recruits some Slytherin students as part of an Inquisitorial Squad—punishment force—to keep an eye on students.  With Umbridge’s not teaching the students how to protect themselves, they turn to Harry to teach them because he is the one person who has practical experience in fighting dark arts.  Thus “Dumbledore’s Army” is formed, a new organization wherein a number of students learn from Harry how to protect themselves.
This is very important book and movie in the series because it seems that JK Rowling was becoming bored with the series and continued writing them only because of a sense of obligation or from just wanting more money or whatever.  From this book on, the series gets more dark and hard to follow as she begins to kill off characters aimlessly and screw what was turning out more or less to be a good series.  Now, this may be what she really did plan but, in my opinion, she just rushes these last books too much and sacrifices too much—especially in books six and seven.
Considering how good the first three movies were it is a real shame how this one turned out.

4 out of 10

09 March, 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” begins with Harry’s having yet another bad dream wherein Voldemort is talking to some of his followers and then kills an investigating groundskeeper; the Quiddich World Cup helps Harry take his his mind of his nightmares, until Voldemort’s followers—known as Death Eaters—attack and burn the spectators’ camp-site after the Cup.
Soon after Harry returns to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Professor Dumbledore announces that Hogwarts will be holding the Tri-Wizard Tournament wherein three schools compete—each with a single champion.  The other combatants are from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the Durmstrang Institute.  After the three champions are chosen by the Goblet of Fire, it chooses an unprecedented fourth name—Harry Potter—thus putting his life in danger once again.

Though there are doubts about allowing him to participate Harry is eventually granted permission and he only slowly starts to gain support of his friends and his house.
Since the film is so short, though the book is quite long, we miss a lot of important scenes:  e.g., after the Yule Ball there is a scene wherein Ron and Hermione are arguing as Harry returns from some place; a deleted scene (available on the DVD) helps to explain some things later on, and takes only a minute, so there is no good reason for it to be removed when it is fairly short.  I would have preferred if Voldemort were resurrected by using a snake in the cauldron and giving Voldemort a serpent’s head, as in the book; I understand why the producers didn’t, and that they did give him a sort of snake-like nose withal, but I wish that they had gone the whole hog.
As a mere movie it’s a good with plenty of replay value; but, as a Harry Potter movie, in my opinion, it doesn’t match the other films in the series and especially departs too much from the book. 

4 out of 10

24 February, 2012

Climate Commission “Conversation”

On Wednesday, 22 February, a “conversation” on climate change was held in Hobart to discuss the associated impacts and opportunities for Tasmania.  Instead, a high school lecture was given on how we are corrupting the planet and how we need a magical tax on “carbon” to save us (even though without carbon dioxide we wouldn’t breathe) and that the planet would thank us therefor.
The four main speakers who were spouting this pseudo-scientific bullshit were Prof. Tim Flannery, Prof. Will Steffen, Prof. Lesley Hughes and some slow, boring economist, Mr. Roger Beale.
After the presenter, Kim Millar, had finished licking everyone’s arse clean, Tim Flannery started by pointing out that they were completely independent and were not under any political influence.  He then went on to say just how bad it would be if the temperature rose half a degree over the next decade.
When Flannery had had his fill he introduced Will Steffen, who continued the scare story, saying that the polar caps will melt and cause the sea-level around Tasmania to rise 3mm each year; he seemed to think that the rise would continue at a rate of 3mm a year, for a century, with no fluctuation at all.
After Steffen, the egg-looking man, Beale, presented a school-level power-point display which, like the other offerings, depicted nasty buildings letting out steam from their chimneys, and went on to claim—incorrectly—that CO2 is the leading, most important greenhouse gas, and that “the planet knows how to release heat” and that it has been doing it since the beginning and seems to know what it is doing.
The last contribution of the introductory speeches was given by Lesley Hughes who said that, as the temperature increases, we will have less salmon; as she said this, she referred to the movie “Finding Nemo”, and claimed that the salmon would be unable to live in 1% warmer water.  She then displayed another, cute card, saying that the broad-toothed mouse (a species which survived previous warm periods and the last Ice Age, and is still around today) would be unable to cope with another 0.5% increase in temperature, and die out.  She added that more extreme weather would occur, and that people wouldn’t be able to survive a 45ºC maximum temperature nearly every day; in effect, she was saying that cities of Arabia are already uninhabitable.
The presenter then announced question time and joked about killing people by way of ejector seats if they did not comply with the rules that questions be brief and non-political; nonetheless, every question, except two, were either long, about politics, or just complete Dorothy Dixers about how Greens are such great people, that we must save the planet, and that we would all be happy to pay a high “carbon” tax.
The presented failed to call on me to ask a question, though I raised my arm for over half a weary hour, but I managed to approach Prof. Flannery after the forum had concluded.  I asked, “What if you’re wrong about AGW?”
Flannery responded, “What’s AGW?”

I said, “Anthropogenic global warming; you know, man-made.”

He replied, “Oh, yeah.  If we’re wrong, at the very least, we’ll have cleaner air because carbon dioxide and burning coal is bad, and we’ll have better energy.  If we’re right we’ll have all the other benefits.”

I asked when Brisbane would run out of water and Flannery stated, “Within the next couple of years.”

A conversation (coming from the Latin for “back and forth”), refers to an exchange of ideas, but the Climate Commission’s “conversation” consisted of our listening to lectures and lengthy, unnecessary answers and grandstanding questions from pious believers.
On Wednesday, 22 February, I survived an hour and a half of complete pseudo-scientific bullshit with only a few decent biscuits at the end as a slight compensation.

1 out of 10