Thursday, January 31, 2008


Over the last few days I’ve been playing a demo version of Hellgate: London, taking the increased processing power and graphics capability of my new computer for a spin. It’s one of those games in which the pleasure comes not from being immersed in a fascinating and intricately constructed world, but just from the simple, visceral thrill of dashing about like an excitable toddler on Christmas morning, only instead of looking for presents under the tree, you’re splattering bad-tempered monsters in a variety of imaginative ways.

It’s 2038, and as you might have expected, the portals to Hell have opened spilling Legions of the Damned into the streets. Oddly enough London in 2038 looks a lot like London in 2008, in terms of things like vehicle design and architecture, and also in the fact that the city is a grey, dysfunctional slagheap full of crumbling buildings and gangs of slurring, stumbling creatures who will attack you as soon as look at you… only in 2038 they’re zombies instead of chavs. At least in 2038 you’re allowed to shoot the bastards.

Snarkiness aside, the graphics are beautifully detailed and convey a real sense of London-ness, with the red phone boxes, the black minicabs and even the omnipresent CCTV cameras. There are also visual suggestions everywhere of the story of the last hours of the city – burnt out police cars and ambulances, hastily erected quarantine barriers, and buildings torn apart by monstrous forces.

The game is a spiritual successor to Diablo II, especially in the fact that there’s no real storyline, and the gameplay basically consists of running about randomly-generated areas killing anything that moves and smashing apart anything that doesn’t, then gathering the resultant loot. Both the demons and the crates scattered around the metropolis are positively lousy with money, weapons, armour items and health power-ups. It seems sort of odd that I found innumerable submachine guns but not a single can of baked beans. Doesn’t future London have a Tesco’s?

However, the real fun started at the point when I realized that if you took away all of a character’s armour, weaponry and shielding, you could strip them right down to their underwear.

The way forward was so obvious I couldn’t deny it. And so, about 90 seconds later, I’d shelved my warrior dude and instead had a buxom blonde bikini model running around the streets of Covent Garden in her scanties, delivering smackdown on the Hordes of Hell with a cricket bat.

Some people think I’m a little weird. I suspect they're right.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


When I think of Sandy Frank (which thankfully isn't often), I imagine a fat loud bald old man with dyed blonde hair fashioned into a combover, wearing a pair of leopardskin speedos, barking into a obsolete brick cellphone whilst floating on an inflatable pool chair in his swimming pool, out the back of a dilapidated Beverley Hills bungalow that was last renovated in the late 70s, and is thus full of peeling orange formica, eye-popping paisley wallpaper and grubby sky blue shag carpeting.

If you've ever seen one of his dreadful, dreadful movies, you'll understand why I picture him this way.

Sandy Frank's ouvre was made by getting cheap source material from Japan, Russia and Italy then doing awful and unnatural things to it. He's responsible for the dull and annoying 80s cartoon series 'Battle of the Planets', several low-budget and cheaply dubbed Godzilla films, and a handful of movies generated by cobbling together random epsiodes of Japanese TV shows intended for children. One of these compilation movies, 'Time of the Apes', was my MST3K offering last night, and words can barely describe how awful it was, at least in English. To truly express it, we'd need a language entirely based on the cries of torture victims. I think I'd call it Arghish.

Much of the blame lies with Sandy himself, but to be honest, nobody could do a lot with the source material. 'Saru no gundan' ('Army of the Apes') was a shameless 1974 rip-off of 'Planet of the Apes', wherein a stupid adult named Catherine, an annoying girl named Caroline and a magnificently despicable little boy named Johnny are frozen in an accident at a cryogenics lab, and wake up thousands of years later in a world ruled by, you guessed it, canaries. No, wait, I mean apes. Dang, I always get those two mixed up.

Admit it. You hate them already.

Catherine, Caroline and Johnny are as dumb as a bag of hammers and as easily spooked as panicky deer, and frankly wouldn't last five minutes in a shopping mall car park, let alone a month on the run from a bunch of angry monkeys. The only reason they're still alive after more than one encounter with their simian overlords is thanks to ponderous editing and innumerable reaction shots. It's easy to escape peril when you know you have at least fifteen minutes of reaction shots from every single member of the cast, any passing fauna and the odd particularly charismatic tree.

And it's not just interesting things that deserve a reaction shot, like the appearance of an enemy. A door, a rock, a cloud shaped like a bunny... all are interminable grist to the reaction shot mill. They do so much gasping it's a wonder they don't hyperventilate, which frankly would be a lot more interesting and believable than their acting.

I'd like to tell you more about the plot, but there wasn't one. It was 80 minutes of irritating Japanese youths shrieking and running away from tedious actors in unconvincing gorilla suits. Our protogonists did eventually get back to their own time, but although they tried their best none of them could explain how to the audience. In the end I think they just expected us to mark it up to generic Mysterious Forces and let it go. Or perhaps they simply suspected, quite rightly, that everyone would be asleep by then. I know I was so stulified that I nearly fell asleep at the wheel of my car on the way home.

You violated Ape Law; namely, no throwing anyone's feces but your own.

If only someone had tried to kill someone else with a forklift, I could have been a little more engaged.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Back in mid-October 2007, the Perth City Council unveiled Eliza, a bronze statue of a female diver poised a few metres offshore in the Swan River. She commemorates the long-lost Crawley Baths, and reflects a lauadable commitment to public art from the Council.

Eliza with unveiling models, who have since either died of starvation and fallen off or gone home.

As I drove past her every day on my way to work, I thought it'd be cool to swim out there and give her a bikini to wear. Public art is often more fun when the public make their own contributions to it.

But other minds, inside brains attached to bodies that owned boats and a bit of spare cash, were thinking along the same lines. She lasted barely a fortnight before she'd been dolled up in a party frock, a hat and a glass of champagne for the Melbourne Cup on 6 November.

All dressed up and nowhere to go, thanks to being made of bronze and welded to a plinth.

After Cup Day her attire was removed, either by the perpetrators or by the authorities. But as December rolled around she was festooned with tinsel and baubles for the Christmas Season... then a skimpy pink number for the New Years Celebration... and now a green and gold bikini, an Australian flag cape and a big inflatable Aussie flag novelty glove in preparation for Australia Day on 26 January. Frankly she seems to have a more active social calendar than many humans.

I think it's great that she's been embraced so quickly by the locals, and that the authorities are allowing her to be embraced. She's well on her way to becoming an institution - not bad for a girl who's only been there three months.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Knowing that the new monster movie ‘Cloverfield’ was produced by JJ Abrams was enough to make me interested in seeing it. He has many faults – a lack of narrative discipline, for one, and a tendency to overestimate the goodwill of an audience – but his projects always have intriguing scenarios, and I figured that if he was confined to the format of a single movie he wouldn’t have the time or the space to go off the rails.

Apparently I was right. ‘Cloverfield’ is absolutely awesome.

The thing about ‘Cloverfield’ is that although it’s a movie about a giant monster attacking New York City, it’s not actually about a giant monster attacking New York City. It’s about a group of hip but normal modern twentysomethings suddenly thrown into a horrifying nightmare, and how they attempt to deal with it. Their initial priority to understand quickly gives way to the simpler priority of survival, but the desire to know what is going on never leaves. And we as the audience never know any more than the characters do – we learn things only as they do, and only as much as they do. We are never given the relief of a wider picture: the entire movie is nothing more than the content of their camcorder SD card, played without introduction, editing, narration or epilogue.

The amazing thing about the whole handheld camcorder perspective is not just that it works, but that it works brilliantly. It isn’t a gimmick – it’s an integral part of telling this story. The fact that it’s a handycam means that it feels like a home movie, and therefore real, even as we see impossible monsters hurling cars or iconic skyscrapers collapsing.

Either the script is brilliant or the actors are masters of improvisation. The dialogue often struck me as exactly what I would say in the same situation. There is no distance between these characters on screen and the ordinary people we meet every day. There are no clever quips, stirring monologues or sassy one-liners, except those which people like you or me would come up with if we were there.

This film was marketed by the most modern means, through viral videos on the internet, fake websites, carefully manipulated leaks and firing up the imaginations of fanboys with too much time on their hands. It’ll no doubt be dissected frame by frame by those same fanboys as they watch it over and over again (and eventually shell out millions for the inevitable special edition DVD sets). But for once, this is a movie that may possibly deserve such obsession.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Earlier this week I went to the latest Deckchair Theatre performance of Shakespeare in the Park; a production of 'As You Like It'. Studious readers will recall my somewhat negative comments the last time I saw one of these Deckchair Theatre productions, and wonder why I voluntarily attended again. In response, I can only quote Shakespeare himself: "Pray now, forget and forgive," (King Lear, Act IV). Who am I to argue with the Bard?

I'm reasonably happy I did go. It was still smutty, but it was less smutty, and it was still heavy-handed, but it was less heavy-handed. So they're moving in the right direction.

The look and mood of the performance were a lot of fun. The production design had been dunked in a big barrel of liquid 1968, with snatches of period songs incorporated into the narrative and groovy period influences in the over-the-top costumes. The court of the corrupt Duke, who has assumed the duchy after exiling his brother, were dressed as The Establishment, in plastic minidresses, acid-coloured flares and body shirts. The usurped brother and his people, who had been exiled to the Forest of Arden, were dressed as The Counter Culture, gadding about in kaftans and afros as they communed with nature. It was a rather clever style to drape over the original script.

However some of my original problems with these productions persisted. While I appreciate the idea of Shakespeare in the Park, the actual practice of it is not beholden to any idealised notions of what it should be like. Most parks, being full of air and foliage, have terrible accoustics, which tends to mean that the actors need to cast off any subtlties of delivery and just holler out their lines as best they can. The lack of decent lighting also limits the opportunities to focus attention on one part of the stage, which encourages overacting.

Shakespeare in the Park is also vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. In this particular case what began as a calm and pleasant summer evening gradually evolved into a wild and windy one. Given that the later parts of the play are set in a forest, the leaves that fluttered onto the stage were appropriate and rather evocative. However as the wind rose and larger nuts and twigs started raining down on the actors, one had to start worrying for their safety.

And then there was the far more important consideration of my safety. My party was sitting under a large gum tree, and for the entire second act I was horribly aware that there was a large, dead branch right above me, bending and creaking in the wind. When one the tree's nuts fell off and hit me in the head, as happened on at least three occasions, it stung like hell. A whole branch would be quite possibly deadly. It sort of marred my appeciation of the play... the prospect of horrible and imminent injuries will do that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


My own choice of caption was "Democratic Hopeful Menaced By Terrifying Headwear", but nobody at the Press Club ever listens to me.


I've been amusing myself lately by building the Official Blandwagon Hierarchy of Offense. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I find it telling that people tend to say "I find that offensive" these days, rather than "I am offended"... as if they've sat down with a calculator, crunched the numbers, and empirically determined the offense level without a scrap of emotion. Offense is an emotion, and yet the term is more often used in modern discourse as a label, with no more emotional resonance than the warning sticker on a laser pointer.

It began when I noticed that in public life Racism trumps Sexism every time. A man can get away with making a sexist comment by playing the race card against his accuser, but a woman can't use the gender card to get away with making a racist comment. Therefore Racism trumps Sexism. Then I wondered where other possible causes of offense fit into the hierarchy. Is age discrimination worse than gender discrimination? Is it safer to tell a nasty joke about fat people or about Catholics? After a good deal of thought, I've determined the hierarchy to be as follows:


is trumped by


is trumped by


is trumped by


is trumped by


Religion is at the bottom of the pile, probably because, unless you're a hyper-Calvinist, religion is a choice. Islam is sometimes an exception, because its image is deeply connected with race, but under ordinary circumstances "You just hate me because I'm Presbyterian" won't cut it with anybody.

As for age, to use an example from the presidental nominations in the US, if Fred Thompson said of Mitt Romney, "You can't trust Mormons because they're all crackpots" while Romney said of Thompson, "You can't trust old people because they're all senile", Thompson would come out of it a little better than Romney. Perhaps this is because we as a society feel more protective towards the elderly than we do towards the religious.

Fatism trumps Ageism, I think - in a job interview most bosses would be more comfortable dismissing an applicant for being too old than being too fat - but Sexism trumps Fatism. Fat is a feminist issue, after all, not the other way around.

However Racism trumps Sexism by a significant margin - black rappers can refer to women as hos and bitches without much comment, but a woman who speaks dismissively of "coloured people" is regarded as some kind of monster. Keeping with the presidential nominations, if Barak Obama said of Hillary Clinton, "I don't want that whore to be President", while she said of him, "I don't want that nigger to be President", we all know whose reputation would be damaged more.

Although it does work both ways. If Obama said, "Hillary would make a bad president because she's a chick", the censure, while huge, would be less than if he said, "Hillary would make a bad president because she's a cracker."

I'm still trying to work out where homophobia (or more accurately homo-ism) fits into the hierarchy. In the official sphere it would probably slot between Sexism and Racism, largely because gay lobby groups have worked the "victim" angle like pros over the last couple of decades. However the deference people publicly give "gay rights" and what they feel about it deep down inside are by no means the same thing, and in everyday circumstances sexism may just edge it out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I'm doing a little relief work at Fremantle Hospital at the moment, and I can recommend the site to any student of 20th century architectural history. This place is better than a textbook.

There are a few tin cottages from the 1920s or red brick buildings from the 1940s, but they've been engulfed in walkways and additions linking the major buildings, which date from either around 1960 or 1980.

The two dominant periods don't blend too easily. Around the operating theatres and major wards, it's all terrazzo stairs with steel bannisters topped with gold-coloured vinyl, feeding out into corridors with turqouise vinyl flooring with stainless steel columns. It looks like how an architect in 1959 might imagine the Hospital of the Future.

But a second later, if you take a wrong turn, the exotic stainless steel and terrazzo gives way to beige formica edged with jarrah strips, carpet in bold primary colours, and that institutional Brutalism seen in 30 year old university campuses and government offices across the western world. The building I'm in at the moment is a veritable monument to 1980, from the glossy red pipe bannisters in the stairwell to the textured white tiles and blue counters in the bathroom - the whole place could have been made out of old-school Lego.

Frankly, I can't wait to get to get back to my usual office. Here I feel as if Darth Vader, Alf and Magnum PI could come striding around the corner at any minute.


I have nothing to declare but this comic's genius.

Monday, January 07, 2008


I haven't written anything for my blog in two weeks. It wasn't intentional, but it seems appropriate, since I had the Most Ineffective Christmas Holidays Ever. Two weeks of drifting, ambling, wandering, ruminating and slacking. I attacked no projects and conceived no grand plans. Each day melted into the next until I had absolutely no idea which day I was in.

Many were the times I said to myself, "Either you can go and vacuum your bedroom, or you can sprawl here on the couch watching bad TV and eating mini Midori cheesecakes," and few were the times that I actually decided to do the former.

If I were a better writer, I could probably craft engaging stories recounting the minutae of my lazy slackitude. But I'm not, so let's just say that I was a fat slovenly bum and leave it at that. Onward into 2008, with the reassuring structure of normal life reimposed. I'm back at work (idling does not pay the mortgage), back on a diet (mini Midori cheesecakes are not featured in the healthy food pyramid, sadly) and back to blogging about the important things in life: MST3K, internet japery and whatever bright, sparkling things momentarily grab my limited attention.