Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Chronicles of a DM: Part XII

Looking around, the group find more corridors, but decide to look through the door that was right there. They find cells. Cells that contain a large ooze. A large ooze in a small cell. [I'm not sure how it fit in there! It's four squares big and the cell is one. This is merely a taste of the very bad map scaling.] They back out, but since the ooze is squeezing, it grants all kinds of combat advantage (which it wouldn't do in a proper sized room). Not that hard, rather fun, and even the second ooze was met with amusement.

Deciding that they wanted to take on more rat men, they headed into the large room. [At least, the room is described as large, but the map isn't that big. Basically, the map should have been 10 foot squares, but this isn't indicated anywhere. And some of the descriptions do describe the dimensions as per the map... huh?] Inside they find rat men. Lots of rat men. Sixteen creatures worth of rat creatures. Lots of minions so they shouldn't be a problem... except no-one can hit. People get into bad positions... then people start going down. It takes a long hard fight to get through and exhausted them all. [In fact, the rogue died, but he was being a "companion", like an NPC, instead of a PC, so I was willing to say they happened to find a "Raise Flikki" scroll.]

Backing out, they rested up, then went back in. Some traps had been reset, but otherwise I didn't change much. They found the trap in the boulder room, but decided to finish off the level before heading to the next one... So they went to the one room left. Which was a pantry of decaying corpses. Which dazed some of them. Then the rat swarms attacks. And that is definitely plural rat swarms.

Two rounds later, the fighter was dead. The warlord was dead. The elf was useless and the rogue wasn't much better. Those two ran away, but... half the party was dead. Yeah, they left and weren't coming back.

[This is a very unbalanced adventure... and when the rat swarms killed two of them, bam, that was it. The adventure was over. We discussed how bad it was... but next week, we are back to Scales of War...]


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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Movie etiquette

One aspect of going to the movies: other people. Most of the movies were fairly empty, but often there can be people nearby. And definitely the plural. I know, 'cos they talk. And they know they're not supposed to, because they whisper. The opening blather(*) says 'not to talk' but they must! Are they here to watch a movie, or to get a joined experience they want to discuss while having it? I suspect the latter, and we have to suffer.

Then there are cellphone users. I remember one time, one girl was continually checking hers throughout the movie that even her cellphone using friends beside her told her to leave!

I would yell at them... but I'm too passive-agressive. Surely they should know from the glaring looks they can't see!

A movie is an experience, but there are some experiences whilst there I don't want.

(*) This didn't run during the documentary festival. They just launched into it. It feels weird not to have half an hour of crap to make you forget what you came in to watch.


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Monday, 29 March 2010

Many too many documentaries...

I've seen... just over half of the documentaries (29 out of 56). I made my goal of at least one per day. I've been to Readings and to the City Gallery (I wasn't impressed by it). And I've spent a ton of money.

The one time I tried to save money, I worked out what movies I would definitely commit to, and then brought a bunch of them, covering seven movies over four days... and then I got sick. Really sick. Still recovering. But I had already spent the money! And I was on holiday, dammit! As you can tell, I still went.

No wonder I'm fried. And I am quite exhausted, many buses travelled, many seats sat on (usually the same ones), many dark theatres, and many, many movies. I have to go back to work, but I'm glad Easter is nearby. Can actually have a break!

Was this a wise venture...? Well, I went, and enjoyed them, so that's what really counts. Onto the International Film Festival!


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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Of Steam, Steel and Murder

A slightly shorter game, but one that's packed with victory! We get a new player, with a rough introduction, and we meet up with one of the big players behind the scenes. And slowly we start to make some progress in actually fighting the war as opposed to winning the battles.

But what we really do is solve a bank crime. And we don't just solve one, we solve many. Because I'm smart and know what I'm doing...

However, that's not to say I don't have my own problems. And the best way to sort those out is to share them around and drag others in. Although I only tell them as much as I need to...

Hear SSM Game 10.


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Mount St. Elias

[Now this was a film with problems! The video crapped out during one part, the chapter was put back and we rewatched about 15 minutes, before it started to crap out again... and then they switched to the good copy!]

There comes a time when "Because it's there" is not a good excuse. Deciding to climb Mount St. Elias because "we want to ski down it" doesn't rate highly either. Yet, that's why several people tried it.

And two people died in one attempt, back in 2002, so this 2007 attempt(s) weren't more intelligent. And yet... people do these things. The first doco I saw was someone crossing the Tasman Sea because they had to, and now they climb mountains.

And get very good camera angles. They admit that some parts are recreations, but I think there might be more than we suspect with some very good close up skiing. ANd great long shots, but they are easier to explain with helicopters.

Great movie to see to see the extent of human perserverance.


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Kit and Maynie

New Zealand is home to many things and many people. Two of whom had quite a history, as told in Kit and Maynie. Tea, Scones and Nuclear Disarmament. Despite the weighty issue, this is a light film, and we are told (and shown) about several peace movements they were involved in.

While I have often asked "what good did this do?", and nuclear testing was still going on after their activities, but during this I did wonder "what bad did this stop?" What else might have happened had not these marches/protests went on? I wouldn't say that their Walk to Wellington was the event that made NZ finally go nuclear free, but it certainly helped and may have tipped some people.

As the quote doesn't go "it is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all", and while I'm not sure about the failure part this is a good movie about two women who definitely tried.


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Lesser documentaries

I've been watching a fair few documentaries on the big screen recently... and also some on the small screen. For example, Last Chance to See. While the attention demanded in the latter case is no less, namely the preservation of numerous species that are going extinct as the show was made, is the message less due to it being on the small screen?

Does the fact that we aren't paying for the chance to see TV documentaries mean we care about them less? Are we more likely to go out and donate, or whatever, because we made an effort to go to a theatre to see the film? (This is a form of the Sunk Costs fallacy.) I'm sure Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine would hope that we donate to the conversations of species they discuss, even if we did no more than sit on the couch when we saw them.

And yet... there are billions of TV documentaries, indeed whole channels dedicated to telling us how things were made, investigating aspects of history, telling us about interesting people, etc etc. We can't care about all of them, and most of them don't need our attention (I suspect it's a little late now to do something to help out the ships at the Battle of Waterloo, for example).

Big film festivals do help highlight some important documentaries, but there are series to pay attention to as well. But do they get the attention and action they deserve? Would Last Chance to See have had more impact if it was a 90 minute film shown in the theatre?

Or are we too blase about whatever is on TV or at the movies to care about any of it?


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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Milking the Rhino

[One problem there has been with the movies is that the copies aren't perfect, and sometimes the movie skips a half-second or so. You get a little discontinuity, can usually tell what's going on, and otherwise ignore it. Unless it happens often. Like in this movie. Sigh]

BTW, just so you are forewarned, no-one is literally Milking the Rhino. This is, instead, about metaphorically milking the rhino. For the monies.

When your tribe is used to herding cattle and occasionally hunting with spears, what do you do when White Man(tm) comes along, starts shooting things, and the government sides with White Man(tm) and says 'you can't hunt, only they can'? Not a lot, is the short answer.

The longer answer is to try to adapt and take control of your own area, and start considering long term impact, and, most of all, bilk the tourists. I say, good on them. People want to come over and say "oh, look at the majesty of nature", why not make some money off the delusional fools? (There's a great scene concerning taking tourists out and about where we see people sweeping the dunes to erase the tracks so the tourists think no-one else has been out here. Yeah, I'm going with "delusional".)

But life ain't easy, and when the lion is near your cattle, you don't ask questions about the wider eco-system, you protect your investment. But then, there are less lions for the tourists to see... life ain't easy at all. [And I do write that comment with the full appreciation of living in a house in the middle of a city.]

There's a long way to go, and this is a good movie for seeing some aspects of life of African tribes.


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Friday, 26 March 2010

Only When I Dance

Only When I Dance follows two young dancers from Rio, Irlan and Isabela, as they try to dance their way out. One has the money, but needs the grades, the other has the grades but needs the money.

They both are trying for a competition and earning what they need to live out their dreams. Which raises the issue about documentaries that contain competitions: have the makers picked the right people to follow? Undoubtedly they start off with several, but not everyone will make it. Have they picked someone who will make it far enough to be an interesting story, or do they need to change focus halfway? And if one makes it and the other doesn't, how do you present that story without becoming maudlin?

Another thought that occurred to me: when you have a documentary or even a newspaper story about a particular person who needs help, people tend to step forward to offer help... but what about all the others in the same situation who didn't get the focus?

Anyway, while I am no judge, these two are fantastic dancers who certainly get their shot, although it quickly becomes clear who is going to succeed and who isn't. This leads to some balancing issues story-wise.

This movie is decent, but the ending is stretched out too long and could easily have been cut down without losing anything.


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[Interestingly, both movies I watched today had a common point/problem about documentaries, but I'll address it in the next post.]

The Call to Prayer is heard a lot in Muslim cities, in Istanbul in particular for this movie. It is a call that is sung out (and this is an important point) by imams and muezzins. This movie, Muezzin, is about a Call to Prayer competition to find the best of the current crop of callers.

Singing used to be seen as a form of sinning. Or maybe still is. I wasn't quite clear on that point watching this. And a lot of singers find themselves drawn to the singing/calling of the Call to Prayer. And if it wasn't for that, there'd be a lot more singers. At least, a lot more men singers, 'cos, you know, the idea of a woman calling people to prayer... or even singing without the permission of her man... the very idea!

A very mean practical joke occurred to me while watching this: disabling the speakers around the city. I'm not sure who would be upset more, but I also wonder if the extra lie in without being awoken might not give everyone a nice treat.

A lighter movie, certainly, but I think it could have been a better one if it just touched on some darker points...


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Those Misfits of Science

See the recent British show Misfits? Watch it and remember an earlier show with a similar name? Remember... the Misfits of Science?

I do. Great series. Still stands up quite well, have to say (as long as you don't try to analyse these things too deeply). Classic 80s science fiction. Just another series that has failed to come out on DVD...

Although I don't remember the opening too well. Check it out. Jazzman piano intro before we switch into... caterwalling is the only way I can describe it. Any one able to understand her? Something about "misfits" and "science" and "love" and... "class disguss!"


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Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Desert of Forbidden Art

There's this desert, right, where there's this art. Just, you know, scattered around. That dune contains masters, portraits are by that oasis, and statues are buried over there...

Okay, not really, but The Desert of Forbidden Art is a better title than "museum of forbidden art which is in a town that is in a desert".

This movie is about the history of Stalin's Russia, about the artists living at the time and about Igor Savitsky who tried to preserve it. As much as the art could be preserved that was illegal and stored in bad conditions. As much as the artists could make a living in a country where the only allowable images were of Socialist Realism and expressing negative ideas could get you in prison. But perseverance lead to the creation of a museum in Nukus.

What occurred to me while watching this, especially when it comes to how much art can be displayed, is that there is a huge amount of art produced in the world, and more being produced each day... and how are we to preserve it all? (I'm ignoring the question of whether it should be preserved, or what is good art, etc.) Art is to be viewed/experienced, yet even in major museums a lot of the collection is housed because there isn't the space to display it all. And this problem is going to increase. Will we reach the point where these are going to have to be stored electronically (which has its own storage issues) and reproduced on an 'as needed' basis? No idea...

As with a lot of the movies I've seen in this festival, this is another provoking film that raises issues of 'we need to help these people out', but it is getting to the point of 'too many things!'.


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Greenie Zone

This is all about "so whatever happened to those pesky WMDs?" But... did the truth really get revealed more than simply the focus moved to a different cover story?

Matt Damon is the one to wonder about where the WMDs are, and asks some questions. Which no-one else ever did during the entire time they were looking for them. At this point Brendan Gleeson becomes the one CIA agent to wonder about them as well. Which no-one else ever did during the entire time they were looking for them. And Greg Kinnear is a shadowy government operative trying to stop people from looking for the truth. Which no-one else ever did during the entire time they were looking for them.

So, in other words, another excellent case of Hollywood history that will no doubt be parlayed into actual history, much like their other war documentaries such as Black Hawk Down, Jarhead and The Hurt Locker. Not that I am cynical or anything (although I am).

Acting-wise, there's nothing amazing to blow you away. Production-wise... this movie is film in shaky cam on grainy film (high quality grainy film, note), so you get a real documentary feeling... and/or nausea. And there were many scenes where I didn't know what was going on, who was shooting who, where anyone was... and it didn't really matter. But I do want to single out Khalid Abdalla as the bests Freddie ever!

While not to be avoided, I wouldn't suggest actively seeking out this movie either.


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Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Very good documentary. By which I mean it agreed with my position on many things.

Defamation is a documentary about anti-Semitism. Which may or may not exist. Which may or may not be the same thing as anti-Zionism. Which may or may not be used a political tool. Which may or may not be using the past as an excuse for any actions taken in the present.

This film covers a range of topics, and does so by letting people speak. And as they speak you hear many, many views. Some of which you may agree with, which may surprise you given who some of the views are spoken by... and some views conversely you may disagree with... but be careful who you say you disagree with or you might be labeled an anti-Semite. [And if anyone labels me as anti-Semite because of this review, you are simply confirming the points of the film. And it'll be weird because this is New Zealand, we got us plenty other anti-isms to deal with before anti-Semitism becomes an issue.]

One part of the film follows Jewish students on a trip to Germany and Auschwitz, and shows the power of... I'm going to use the term... brainwashing. Now they will be able to know the power of anti-Semitism now it's been pointed out to them. The Death Camps were a terrible thing, but how about North Korea where it's still happening? Don't like suffering? then check out Africa where children, families, communities are suffering. Anti-Semitism is a lower priority than other world issues.

One segment in particular shows the main problem: communication, and the lack of it. People think Jews run things, because that's what they think. Jews also think this. It isn't true in either case. (This is a point made by the head of the Anti-Defamation League.) And yet while (differing) emotion is used (on both sides) to drive points home, communication isn't going to be effective.

Definitely a film to check out.


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The Chronicles of a DM: Part XI

[I am back in the GM chair, running Scourge of the Rat-Men (not well reviewed).

This is just a one-shot adventure between Scales of War and Dragonlance and whatever else. We have, in the party, a Dragonborn Warlord, an Elven Seeker, a Halfling Rogue and a Half-Orc Fighter. Human is so passe...]

We start with Standard Opening #3: Ambush While Travelling. [The provided map, which is rather cramped, is even called "Ambush Map". Ooh, what a give away!] Bandits attack our heroes, and after trading banter, the attack is on! It is not as straight forward as you would think, but the outcome was never going to be an issue. After many rounds, the bandits are put down. They trace some of the bandits path back to their most recent campsite, but get bored, and head back towards the town.

The town in question is Edgecomb, which is suffering a refugee problem due to increased banditry. And now other things are going missing. Livestock. Children... The PCs offer to help guard during the night [because they are 'heroes'... so claims the adventure... yeah, um, ever met PCs?], and come up with the good idea of gathering all the children together.

When the Rat Men (for it is they) come for more children [with AMAZING stealth rolls], they are disconcerted by the lack of children, investigate where people are gathered, and are finally spotted! Attack! However, the rat men prove to be an incredibly tough fight [level 6 creatures! I can say that here as I know my players don't read my blog], and I nearly kill the fighter. Unfortunately, he lived, and the rat-men die, but not revealing their entrance via the well.

After a long rest up, the heroes head down the well, find a secret door, then find a trap. By setting it off. Which proves tricky for them to disable (but they do), while some ran away to find more secret doors (which they do).

Launching into the room beyond, they quickly pwn some minions, before beating on the warriors and the champion. [There were ten creatures, and the room was four by three squares. Tight fit! Unfortunately, the champion wasn't able to really get going.] Dailies were used and the fight was won. The heroes now have their first decent foothold in the Lair of the Rat-Men...


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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

El Club

[Taking into account what I can see vs. what I have seen vs. what I want to see, there are some slim pickings...]

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in to see this. The description of The Club was rather vague, and I wasn't entire sure what sort of club it was. Maybe a resort of some kind?

Turns out it is a sports club, reminiscent of an older style social club. People gather, take sport related classes, or otherwise gather around the pool to chat and generally gossip.

We met a young champion in training, some water polo players, a female body builder (also in training), and other people. They have threads that run through the movie... but it's hard to say there's a coherent narrative, or indeed any kind of structure at all. The movie did seem struggling to say more than "here is our club... here it is..."

General vague interest, but nothing that provoking.


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Monday, 22 March 2010

Kiri Wai Inner Skin

Kiri Wai is about mokos. About their history, what they mean to Maori, what they mean to Westerners, have they been denigrated or is this culture preservation? (Not sure that last question is decently answered.)

It's a very casual documentary, lots of general shots of New Zealand and artsy moving around of images on screen that don't really help with the story telling, speaking more to the... "development" of Bruce Gigilo as a director.

Interestingly, although the moko is about whakapapa, geneology, connection with the land and the culture... no-one actually says what it means or how it is derived. Do the swirls have a specific meaning? Or are they just patterns that the artist "feel" are right? (Given that different artists have different results, this is definitely more "art" than "science".) I'd like to see some discussion of what mokos mean in detail, not just the abstract.

This could be tightened up, and, aside from above, covers all the bases you want to know about the moko.


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Sunday, 21 March 2010

When the World Breaks

We are in a depression, so let's how it compares to the Great Depression. When the World Breaks is about just that, more or less.

The bulk of this is people talking about the Great Depression, what happened and how people coped, with black and white footage of the age. There seems to be some contradiction, in that it was, to quote Dickens (as they do) "the best of times [and] the worst of times", with people being depressed and people going out and making their own way.

We get a little of the current day, with more about the Lost Generation in Japan's recent economic depression, and some Americans who got fired but went out and got new jobs, so it is by no means all doom and gloom.

An interesting look at the time before.


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Google Baby

I was initially thinking this movie was about the couple that named their baby via internet poll, but this is about the booming business of getting babies online. But not in a bad way.

Google Baby is about surrogacy, and about out-sourcing such resources to India. We met Doron who sets up a business, in Israel, using egg donation from the US and getting them born in India. We met several of these people and spend some time with them, and it really is a global marketplace and the world is getting smaller... (one woman wanted to have a baby, but needed egg donation... and sperm donation... ever think about adoption?)

What occurred to me is that, for a process that is about the human process of making babies, there didn't seem much humanity involved. Women are treated as a resource, either for egg donation or for surrogacy, and it's all about the money (which, for one woman, is either going into building their house... or buying guns... yes, she is a Texan).

This may be a new market, but I'm thinking there will be a few documentaries on this yet to come.


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The Red Race

[Both 'Red' movies, and all movies listed under 'R' now watched!]

Much like The Red Chapel, this also features kids in school. In the case of The Red Race, this is the focus, in particular of kids around 6 years going through training in gymnastics. A lot of training. Intense training.

I like the movies that speak for themselves, ie without narration to give the director's judgment, and this is one such movie. We get to see the kids getting coached, and some of the home lives of the kids. They are put under pressure, under a lot of pressure. One mother in particular actually tells her kid (remember, these are 6 year olds!) that it's up to him as his two older siblings washed out, and she became stressed because of it... geez, woman!

And yet, the kids want to give it their all. Often while crying. Some discipline is good, but this much... I'm not convinced.

A movie to see to put "I walked ten miles through the snow, uphill both ways" into perspective.


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Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Belgrade Phantom

This is most like an actual film, in that it is a recreation of the event of The Belgrade Phantom, a man who stole a Porsche and ran the streets in flagrant disregard of the police. (Not something done lightly!) This was done in quite the period, and could easily have been an episode of the seventies police shows.

Interspersed are interviews with people who were there, police and witnesses alike. Some of their comments, and the out-text, suggest that not everything was done above board, and "deniability" working just as well back then. Makes me wonder just how easily this film was made, getting people to speak openly (or as openly as they ever will on the topic).

While I wouldn't entirely agree with the Fast and Furious comparison, it is well done, and if the maker Jovan Todorovic enters that action genre, I'd like to see that!


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Gimme a Hug / The End of the Line

A two-fer, short short with longer film, both with a marine focus.

Gimme a Hug is about giving sharks a hug. Or rather, about how they can become rather docile and put into tonic immobility. The point is that sharks, thanks to films, are overemphasized as killers and are in need to protection.

The End of the Line is the end of fishing. The oceans have been overfished, and there's no sign of anyone stopping (EU governed limits... ha!), so...

Parks have been set up, pressure is being put on politicians, but as yet no-one is claiming we need to do the really obvious step: halt commercial fishing. Certainly some areas are acting responsibly, but a wider ban would allow the entire ocean a breather...

But I don't see that happening. What I do see happening is us fishing the oceans to extinction and then lumping it. Seems to be what we do.


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The Unnatural History of the Kakapo

Caught some conservation films today. The first one was The Unnatural History of the Kakapo (no, it does not have the "humping the cameraman" scene from Last Chance).

Gorgeous looking birds that have suffered from being tasty to mammals. Their population is hovering on the edge of extinction, and only human intervention is keeping them alive. Although that does raise the question of dependence, in that will the Kakapo become dependent on the humans and be able to survive by themselves?

But the real question is: where can I get a toy one, particular if this will aid the Kakapo? (Possibly here, but it's not clear if the money goes further than admin costs.)


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Friday, 19 March 2010

The Boys

This is a tale, a Disney tale, of two brothers that grew together, but then grew apart... Moreover, this is a real movie, not some Hollywood ending. The Boys - The Sherman Brothers Story is about, oddly enough, the Sherman Brothers, namely Dick and Bob, who wrote... pretty much all the classic Disney musical movie music that you can mention.

Mary Poppins. The Parent Trap. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Jungle Book. They had songs in all of them.

And yet... in public they got in, and yet in private... The movie explores their history, and sort of their working partnership breakdown. It doesn't go into details, this wasn't the main point of the movie, and yet this problem is in the blurb as something the movie addresses. You sort of get the idea that it's that they just got too exhausted, and were too different... but it's oblique.

Anyway, interesting piece of history, worth checking out a fascinating story.

[See trailer]


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Shattered Island

[Bah, got posted on the wrong day!]

Let's skip to the chase: DAMN. GOOD. MOVIE!

But did you expect any different? This isn't Scorsese's first work by any stretch of the imagination, and it is damn well executed.

Teddy Daniels comes to the island to investigate an escaped convict/prisoner, but things are Not As They Appear(tm). As the investigation continues, question arise who can be trust, which applies to everyone. (When I saw the trailer, I did wonder if there was some paranormal element, but it was simply a dramatic dream sequence.)

Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely the star and turns in an excellent performance from the start right up to the final note. (I really should check out The Departed some time.) Ben Kingsley is a wonderfully creepy Dr. Cawley, and, hey, an appearance by Ted Levine!

The atmosphere is aided by the great cinematography and Scorsese doesn't bother with cheap tension shots, just works on the slowly creeping uneasiness.

...why haven't you seen this yet?


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Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Red Chapel

Under the guise of comedy, using the name The Red Chapel, a Dutch documentary maker and two Dutch-Korean comedians go into North Korea to present a show and see the inside of North Korea for themselves.

This is not a comfortable movie. Everything is a front presented to give a particular vision (including that of the Danish themselves). Their comedy act is changed to fit Korea and the spastic Jacob gets sidelined.

More creepily, we see into the North Korean schools... now that isn't something that's comfortable to see, how the children are so compelled to behave in specified ways, all in the name of the glorious Dear Leader.

If they ever see this movie, or if any of them spoke Dutch... I don't think they'll be invited back, to say the least. (The movie is in Dutch, Korean and English, with the Dutch and English being subtitled, and only English being the common language between the groups.)

Watching this, I wonder what North Korea will be like when Kim Jong-Il dies... it will be "interesting times".

(Note, I'm using another documentary fest's trailer as the one DocNZ used was removed.)


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Alice in JohnnyDeppLand

Have to say that "let's return Alice to Wonderland several years later" isn't the most original idea. There's the computer game, there was last year's Alice, but of all of them Alice in Wonderland has... the biggest budget.

Hey, look, a Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter... and the main star (one would presume) is credited around fourth or fifth in the list! What's the point of this movie again? Is it just another vehicle for those two? Or does Burton have something to say on the Alice genre?

Actually, I think the closest parallel would be the Wizard of Oz, in that several real life meetings right before the heroine is taken away into a fantasy land injects into what the heroine experiences during that adventure. Although in Alice the father figure replacement *cough*johnny*depp*cough* is more obvious.

A lot of money was spent making this look nice, and on mashing together Alice with Jabberwocky, and neither really benefits from it. From a look at the trivia, Burton didn't really get the point of the original book and, well, you can guess the rest of the line.

Like Avatar, this is pretty to look at, does admittedly have a better story (such as it is), but don't expect to be moved by any great excitement.


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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Art & Copy

This is sort of the history of advertising. Sort of.

This is sort of a look at some of the more famous ads of the previous decades. Sort of.

What this isn't is a critical look at adverts, what makes them work, or anything other than advertise creators patting themselves on the back at how well they've done. Which, admittedly, they have done well, sometimes more than they ever thought possible.

Art & Copy isn't self-satisfied, but I did wonder what message it was trying to sell (if I may use that term) during this movie other than 'adverts are powerful, don't you want to be a part of that?'

There were times when I indeed thought that advertising would be an interesting place to be (a really creative job). This movie is a look at the advertisers, but I'm not sure if it is a documentary or if it is an advert...


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New Beijing

"Because they can." That seems to be the obvious answer to the issue. The issue in question is: New Beijing, the destruction of the old to erect the new. In particular the old housings of Beijing are being wiped out in the name of development projects that are aiding...

Anyway, this movie focuses on the work of the "Memory of China" project which is to try to preserve, or at least document the changing face of progress. Which largely does seem to be for progress sake. We also met several architects, and the charge is brought up that western architects are using Beijing, and China, for testing grounds... a challenge which isn't entirely deflected...

We are presented with an interest juxtaposition of old, new and new "old" (fake replicas of the old). One is left with the impression that Beijing is subjected to the impact of "we can do it" rather than "we should do it". And, I have to say, some of those new buildings aren't that nice.

Check it out while there's still an old Beijing to see.


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Contact is about a first contact situation between 'whitefellas' and 'blackfellas', namely the Martu tribe living in Yimiri.

We are told (and shown artistically) about the first attempt at contact and the somewhat more successful (ymmv) second contact. What we don't often get to hear about, and what this film captures, is the culture difference and the initial experiences. I wouldn't say 'culture shock' as such, that would undoubtedly come later, but this contact was driven by needs such as food, and it was more about "get them out of the way of the rocket" than "introduce them to our way of life" (again, that would come later). Just the experience Yuwali relates about first eating and drinking the food and cold drinks shows that they were willing to tolerate but it was not an easy acceptance.

I also found interesting the language difference. Yuwali mainly speaks in her native tongue, but uses english words, mainly when talking about time. "Night and day", "at one o'clock in the morning", there was even a future tense expression I can't remember, all notably in english. That probably says something specific about their culture, I won't second guess the answer about that.

Anyway, fascinating movie about a first contact situation that only happened just over 45 years ago across the ditch.


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Ijjer's Tale, Story Eight

[Yes, that's right, we finally got back to playing Dragonlance!]

There we were, in the middle of a tower, surrounded by draconians, and they went running off to say we were coming for the children. We were, but they made it sound like a bad thing. We followed them to find a room of children, and an old dragon by the name of Flamestrike, who thought the children were hers. Um... Some convincing later, we managed to get the children away from her, while she ate the remaining draconians then settled down another sleep. Right...

After uniting children with mothers, we wanted to go get the men folk, but had to get out of a barred door... this was the sturdiest door made on all the planet! Nothing we tried could shift it! [It was ridiculous just how unable we were to open a simple door.] Clearly, we were not meant to go through that door, and we went over to the other tower.

Inside, we found some more doors, including one that had obviously been used as a barricade. Perhaps the rest of the women were on the other side? We knocked, a hobgoblin answered, and we were fighting. For a while, we were in trouble [our rolls sucked!], but we (mainly me) managed to turn the fight around and clear the way. Once again, another door proved impossible to open, but at least we alerted those inside so they could surprise us when we entered the room through another door. Which lead to another fight, this time with hobgoblin guards being led by a hobgoblin monk. Huh. The last surviving guard surrendered, so we were able to find the other women easily.

With just the menfolk to go, we wanted to set off the gate trap so the incoming army wouldn't be able to get through. This involved us needing to open that barred door, which once again we failed to do. Fortunately we were able to talk Flamestrike into doing it for us. Lukan set the trap off, and we exited to the valley to find guards coming the other way, and the women and children inbetween.

Then the high lord whatisname came out, transformed a humanoid into a dragon, threatened to kill us before Flamestrike took him on (she was still confused over the children), leaving us to get away... it was all very exciting! Whatever will we encounter next?

[And we'll continue with Dragonlance at a later date...]


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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Liquid Stone

Liquid Stone is about the Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, and about how the architect, Antoni Gaudi, didn't provide plans so much as models of the work yet to do, leaving it up to others to work out what he was on about. This film is about working that out.

I'll admit that this film wasn't as engaging as I hoped. I was wanting more explanation of how what exactly the "secrets" were, and instead we were treated to architectural ideas and lots of shots of the church itself (one would expect the latter). Good to see Kiwis involved, but... not the focus I was hoping for.

And I do have to wonder... Gaudi designed this, and people continued building it after his death, and it probably won't be complete until 2026. Would there still be this dedication if it wasn't a monument to religion?


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I Abide the Law!!!

[Since I'm at Readings, may as well catch up with mainstream movies.]

From the trailer I wasn't expecting a heart warming journey of a man against the odds coming to acknowledge his true self and growing as a person... which was just as well as this movie was one death after another!

After one man looses his family and doesn't see justice, he goes insane and decides to teach some lessons to those involved. Although he takes a while to do so. Oh, and just so happens to be the one man with the facilities to do so, so that's usefully convenient. The 'hero' of the picture is the guy who denied the justice in the first case, but...

There is a large element of grey in this movie. Is Gerald Butler good turned evil? Is Jamie Foxx evil turned good? For certain aspects, the audience is on the side of Gerald, but eventually we are supposed to root for Jamie to stop him. I guess. As I indicate, there is no real 'good', so 'hero' doesn't really apply to any of them. [Once again, we have that the person with the family is the one we want to see live. Frankly, I think it could have been a powerful movie if the hero gave his life to save the family, but this wasn't set up to allow that.]

This movie relies heavily on "master tactician"ing to get from one motivational moment to the next. That said... don't go in expecting a plot, and, it has to be said, expecting a brilliant ending either. Entertaining otherwise.


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Monday, 15 March 2010

International Shorts

This was a three-pack of movies, too short to show on their own, so packed together for your convenience!

First up is Notes on the Other, about Ernest Hemingway's trip to Pamplona during the running of the bulls, and about how there are many, many imitators of him... but, to be honest, I didn't quite get it. It had its moments, but... I missed something.

Second is Smile Pinki, a movie that could so easily be depressing, and yet... a hospital in Banaras offers free operations to all children who have cleft lips and similar problems. The reason cited by parents for the cause: an eclipse happened during the pregnancy. ... Such a simple operation that changed the life of all the children involved. Amazing.

Third is The Solitary Life of Cranes (this was the main one I wanted to see). One doesn't often think of the crane-operators, up above it all. An interesting perspective on the city of London, and a fascinating look into the life of a driver. (This can be viewed online if you are ip-approved, or you can check out the associated City of Cranes.)


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Hear them, hear them!

While the Documentary Film Festival is going on, we also have the New Zealand Arts Festival happening as well. Some big names have come down here and had some talkings going on.

I only found out about some of them after they were sold out... heh. Two big names I want to mention:

Richard Dawkins. Big name biologist and evolutionist and atheist. Now, I've heard him talk before due to recorded conversations, so I'm not that upset as having missed him. In fact, he happens to be down these parts as part of an Australian Atheist Conference happening over in Melbourne. But he also spoke on radio, and you can hear that on Radio New Zealand (and this isn't the only interview with him in the archive).

Neil Gaiman. I remember him being down here for a New Zealand Science Fiction Conference back in... 1997? 1998? Good talk, very amusing speaker. And a good writer too, oddly enough ;). He was down here for two talks (that I am aware of), both of which I failed to attend. He also spoke on Radio New Zealand.


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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Of Steam, Steel and Murder

Another Sunday, another SSM. This time saw us gain ourselves a robot receptionist and investigate a farm we left to the authorities to deal with. Which they did, badly. So we had to go in and clean up their mess.

And then Bishop got himself kidnapped. Of course he did. Still, at least Gavin got the girl...

Check out game nine.


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The Yes Men Fix the World

These are two people who have clearly learnt from Michael Moore... and yet they go so much further and do things Mike wishes he could. I saw The Yes Men a while ago, so was definitely wanting to see The Yes Men Fix the World, and I am so glad I did.

Their style is to go to big conferences, pretending to speak on behalf of major organisations. Or, as in the first part of the movie, to speak live to 300 million people about Dow giving reparations over Bhopal.

The stones on these guys must be enourmous.

Admittedly, it's hard to say they are having a real impact, it's not clear that anything they tried really shook up the way people think [indeed Poe's Law applies just as easily here as to religion], but they are out there trying their best.

And this is definitely comedy. There were moments when the entire audience laughed. And applauded at the end! I hope they continue their antics.

Definitely check this movie out.


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Er... yes...

I've been wearing my Ghostbusters t-shirt, and people have been recognising it. I can tell this, because they shout out "Ghostbusters!" when they see it. To which, I reply... "Yeah!"

Not exactly a great come back, but what am I supposed to say? "Ain't afraid of no ghost!" is a possibility, but it's a bit long and the moment is gone before I would even get to the end.

And it isn't helped when the people are in a car and driving past.

Anyone got a snappy, quick and, most importantly, short come back?


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Saturday, 13 March 2010


This was a move that changed before the makers' eyes. Stolen is about a family reunion in Western Sahara. During which time they uncover that slavery is still rife and present now as it was then. And not just under the government there.

Certainly not an easy movie, and you can see why the governments involved want to decry the movie as fraudulent. I have to say I'm on the side of the documentary makers, and am not surprised by the site name

This does raise the question of... what do I do with this? I could give some money to the organisations set up to oppose this slavery, but even the major organisation, ie the United Nations, aren't really able to do anything. It's too far away removed from me for me to get involved, although I can feel the injustice about it, but... what can I do? A definitely thought provoking movie.


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He Wawata Whaea

This is the movie of the life of Mirimiri Penfold. She dedicated her life to the Maori language, teaching it and upholding its use. (She even translated some of Shakespeare's sonnets into Maori.) [The bulk of this movie is in Maori, with subtitles. Fortunately my anime history helps with being use to dealing with watching with subtitles easily.]

An interesting film that shows how she has been involved in some key moments in New Zealand's history, culminating in, what is in her view the moment that cements the preservation of the Maori language, the creation of the Te Reo TV channel.

A fascinating film about an amazing figure in New Zealand Maori-dom.


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This is a somewhat... maybe depressing isn't exactly the word, but certainly somber movie to start with. Solo is about Andrew McAuley who came so tantalizingly close to be the first person to cross the Tasman Sea in a kayak.

It's a good documentary, it covers him leaving, his journey (from what limited footage was recovered), through to the looming denouement. The emotion is well conveyed but there is an overwhelming sense of fatalism...

At one point, I did wonder if it would be possible for the makers to pull a fast one and reveal at the end that Andrew was rescued... but this is a documentary. It's about reality, not Hollywood fantasies. What happened is a matter of history, and no delusional ideas about "he really will make it" is going to change.

As I said, it's a harsh opening, but a movie I'm glad I saw.\

[While I was hoping these documentaries wouldn't be packed out in the theater, I wasn't expecting just how unpacked it was. I do wonder if Reading is going to change its mind about hosting these festivals...]


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My Mission, should I choose to accept it

There's a Documentary Film Festival happening here over the next fortnight. I intend to go to it. In fact, I intend to go to a lot of it. In fact, in fact, I intend to go to at least one movie every day it's on!

Which is a lot of money, but I like me some good documentaries.

And you'll know all about it, as I live blog the movies as I watch them!

Okay, no I won't. But I will blog each movie, 'cos that's what I do. Instead of early morning posts, I'll just be blogging when I get back after seeing them (or next time I'm able to).

Will I be able to keep this up? Will I fail tomorrow due to being too busy? If the weather is as terrible as it was yesterday dinner time, will that prevent me?

All will be revealed!


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Friday, 12 March 2010

Doing an impossibility

I'd just like to take a moment to talk about a particular problem: Could god create a rock so large he couldn't lift it? Aside from the problem with the existence of god, this is about the limit to god's powers, namely could he do something logically impossible? The answer is 'yes', and this isn't a logical impossibility, although it is semantic gymnastics.

First, though, I'd like to say that this is Martin Phipps' great idea, not mine. I like it and would like to see it realised wider.

The first step is to create a massive rock. And 'mass' is definitely the point. Size, not so much (*), but mass. The order of mass we are talking about will basically destroy the universe, but the idea is that the rock becomes the centre of the universe.

So that, second, no matter where it is moved, it is always the centre, no matter how centre is measured. This is the semantic game, as 'lift' needs relative movement in order to detect a change that can be termed 'lifting'.

Thus, god has created a rock that cannot be lifted, but any definition of that word, doing what is logically impossible. (Actually... no. Most people would say that the 'rock' is the impossible part, it's really the 'lift' part. But consider this post as demonstrating that it is possible to think your way around what people usually understand and show them a new way of thinking about things. If nothing else, that's a good start.)

(*) Shorter way: create universe with only the rock in it. Again, lift cannot happen.


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Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Internet Does Know Everything!

I've heard the expression "nom nom nom", and, sure, we all have. It means "I've eating this." But one thing I wondered was... where did it originate? (Yes, the answer now is rather obvious, but, well...) So I turned to the great and powerful uber-tubes to find out, by simply googling "nom nom nom origin". And, hey, the very first result:

More about it being a meme here. Yes, "cute cats" are involved.

So, basically, "kids show" plus "all devouring internet that consumes any culture anywhere near it in a desperate attempt for attention, especially if it can involve animals and/or photoshopping (preferably both)" = "invasive culture phenomena".

Strange how often that formula applies...


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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

War on Scales 7

Inside the Vents we find out that it's a horrendously complicated machine that has the exciting feature of filling with boiling hot water that can stop people using it to get through the mountains. We have to open the valves, then activate the controls... and there is an escape hatch to let us out after doing this.

We enter the boiler room to find some orcs already there, along with some bugs that are indiscriminate as to who they attack. Not really a huge problem, except... there was a goblin or gnome or something from the Shadowfell that seemed to be a mini-assassin, and our assassin took a shine to it. For some reason, he insisted on dragging him along on a leash everywhere we go. Hmmm... if I wasn't unaligned, I might have a problem with that.

Beyond we come across a chapel to Morridon that is currently infested with orcs, and a cave troll. The cave troll is something of a problem, but we manage to take the grenades off the bombardiers, so are able to sort it out properly once we put everyone down. This also appeases Morridon. Bah, he's no Melora. There's also an old storeroom that's already had orcs traipse through it, yuck.

We hit the final Nexus, with a catwalk going up the outside to the control at the top of a steel pillar thing. We head on up, and then an orc party starts arriving! We are running, but the dwarf is split from us. Fortunately, as a ranger, he gets a better idea of climbing up the walls to reach the top, getting away from the orcs around him. We manage to run up the catwalk enough to just get there in time to help him up, but then we are fighting a rear-guard action as we try to activate the controls, and very nearly destroy it before we finally manage to pull the right levers, and unleash the boiling water... which just left us trying to get out while there were orcs everywhere! We barely get up there, just the dwarf to go, and I reach through at the last moment, haul him inside, them slam the hatch closed and locked! Woo! (Death by scalding water quickly follows... neutral alignment!)

We return to town to much acclaim, with booty to sort out, and other minor threads to wrap up. [Not entirely sure what we'll be doing next week. Possibly minor wrap up with broaching the next adventure, with me as GM... we'll see.]


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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

So wrong, yet so right

So have you been reading Cyanide and Happiness? I keep forgetting to regularly go there, and I only started reading relatively recently so there's a huge backlog to get through. It's so funny... but it's oh so wrong. You can get a taste in the video below (yes they even have animated shorts, but not many). Be prepared to lose a lot of time just hitting random comics...


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Monday, 8 March 2010

Batman: Leob/Sale style

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have made quite a name for themselves crafting Batman stories. Typically, they focus on early Batman, and do tell quite the good tale.

Haunted Knight kicks things off with three tales, all set at (different) Halloweens. Halloween is a key time for them. The first two are quite good, but the third... they're better than that. (Not sure how this version is different, aside from a few pounds dearer.)

Long Halloween is the big epic they are known for. It's a long spanning story that covers a year, and retells the Harvey Dent story as well as bringing in many a known villain. Many people would say this is an essential collection to get, and I agree. (The set I link to comes with two really fantastic figures of Joker and Batman. However, the book itself was a bit of a let down, in that it was missing something vital, namely glue. The cover pulled away at the spine, and the first set of pages separated.)

Dark Victory is the follow-up to that, which brings in Robin as well as continues the story. To be honest, I liked this story better than Long Halloween, with the developing story line and the more interesting villain.

In more recent continuity, Jeph Loeb penned Hush, which was illustrated by Jim Lee, not Tim Sale. It still references the early years of Batman, although fails to be set at Halloween. Still has plenty of twists to the tale. (Here's another version.) There is a 'Return' story as well, but haven't read that, and it isn't written by Loeb.

(The site I linked to, Book Depository, is a great site. Although overseas, it generally has cheaper prices than anything local, and even from other sites, eg. Amazon. Especially when you take shipping into account. As in... it doesn't have any! Even if the straight book price isn't cheaper than Amazon, Amazon+shipping is usually higher.)


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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Thanks for the info, Microsoft!

Microsoft aren't known for producing the best applications ever, but they at least usually have some indication of how they are going.

I'm trying to defragment my drive, and all I see is:

Fine, it is a 280 Gb drive, but... it's been running for five hours so far! "It make take a few hours" indeed, but I have no idea if it is defragging my drive, if it is five minutes away from completion, or another ten hours... or even if it's just sitting contemplating its own naval while thinking about maybe considering looking at the drive and then perhaps actually doing anything at all!

Not even a progress bar? Or a percentage count? Or even a badly judged time to go? Just another brilliant aid of Microsoft products...

Update: At least the command line version gives an analysis report to say how fragged your drive is!


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Thursday, 4 March 2010

This would be a "Hard Combo" in Rock Band

Where do you go from treadmills? Into a full scale Rube Goldberg machine!

One minor criticism: I can't understand a word they are singing. Anyway, check out the makings of as well!


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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

War on Scales 6

We entered the final cavern under the monastery, and it was definitely the last room as the passageway out, that previously let in the orcs, was collapsed. This clearly annoyed the orcs that were present, and they were taking it out on the dwarf they had captured.

There was a brief talk amongst us of trying to do something other than just charge in, but charging in won out. Shame really. The assassin failed to kill a particularly irritating opponent early on... and we couldn't stand up to the force before us. Out next plan: "Leg it!" We hid out, let them pass us, then moved back in. The dwarf had been knocked out, so we were able to rescue him slightly more than before, then we all moved out to find the orcs heading out before us to become a random encounter for some other adventurers. Not our finest moment all up.

We filled Kalad (the dwarf) in on what had transpired, and we determined the next course of action was to head to the Vents, which was likely more guarded than suspected. Going in ourselves, we found the caves to be a series of mazes that taxed us (and some more than others). Getting through those, we found an advance force of orcs (yes, more orcs) that we managed to kick the ass of more easily that our previous encounter. However, the bombardier set off the trap before he died.

The assassin was able to point out the activating plates, so we could avoid them, but he did activate the iron dogs and arcane ballister that was waiting further down. Made a nice change from orcs.

The key point about 'advance force' is that there is a 'main force' not that far behind. We think it's just beyond that door...


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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A kind of fun...

BidFun is a site where you can bid on goods. Wow. That's different.

Actually, it is. Instead of bidding an amount, you simply up the current price by $0.02 and add twenty seconds to the time to expire. All for the price of a credit.

But what sort of thing does one bid on? How about... a Nintendo DSi Console? That's, what, $260, yeah? Would you believe someone got it for $15? How about a Western Digital 320gb drive worth $170? Picked up for just under $10. $500 Wii Console for under $5. iPod Touch 32gb worth $450... gone for just over $50.

How can they do this? Consider the last item. At 2c per bid, that's over 2,500 bids! Credits cost different depending on how many you get at a time, but between $1 per to 80c, so that's between $2000 to $2500 spent on that auction alone. Yeah, I can see how they can cover that.

On the other say, from the person's point of view, worse case is they pay $1 per bid and if they were every other bid... you can see how while it seems cheap, it isn't. This is what occurred to me when I started getting in there and thinking "I might need some more credits... wait a minute!"
Not that you'd have one person being every other bid, it gets too crazy when the auction nears the end for that, it can extend hours waiting for that last minute to tick by...

That said, that Wii Console, $5 means 250 bids, so at worst someone paid $130 for the console... now that's a steal!

That's a neat site I want some items from... but go in with eyes open... and get a hell of a bargain!


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Monday, 1 March 2010


That's right, I'm up to date me, and have finally seen that movie that creamed everyone's panties back in 2006. In short... really?

Let's get the obvious out of the way: there is no plot. There's an extended fight scene, which goes on and on, at various speeds. Has anyone worked out how quick the movie would be if it was all at proper speed? I'm guessing 30 minutes less at least.

And considering continual gore fest didn't inspire me, that didn't leave a lot of movie left. I'm not worried about the historical inaccuracy, we are talking Hollywood after all, but I am surprised they didn't have the Spartans kill everyone, including Xerxes, in one go! Certainly they hardly had any issues to begin with, and were even so well trained they had good dental and manicure and pedicure work!

Gerald Butler plays a fine Brian Blessed, and Rodrigo Santoro is enjoyable as a person twice the height of Leonidas and only half the width. As for the rest of them, they were all too heavily CGId to really tell who was whom.

It's too late for me to comment on going to see this, but I can offer one piece of advice. See it this way. That's how I got through it...


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