The Oscars happened today—that’s “today” for us folks here in Oz. I don’t much care who wins or loses, and in particular I get annoyed at how Australia will draw a very long bow to claim someone or something as “our own”. Mel Gibson is back in our good books, even though he was born in New York. All has been forgiven for Russell Crowe, too. We were quick to remember he was born in New Zealand, when Russ started chucking phones around, but we’ve put all that behind us.
The reason my interest in movies has been piqued is that I was channel-surfing the other night and stumbled across The Ten Commandments. Chuck Heston as Moses was more like Abraham Lincoln in his dressing gown. Only Yul Brynner, playing the Pharoah, Ramesses II, offered more than a passing resemblance to your basic pharaoh—maybe because Yul’s Russian? Plus there was a supporting cast of thousands—none of whom looked particularly Jewish or Egyptian either, but no one worried about that kind of thing back then. All the Egyptian princesses looked like they’d stepped straight out of a Manhattan dress shop.
Which reminded me of a book I read years ago… can’t remember what it was called. I’m not a religious type, but I found this book fascinating. The premise was that Jesus’ body was supposedly found buried in a wall. He secretly survived the crucifixion, lived until he was fifty or so, and was entombed in the wall of a house to avoid any further fuss. But was it the real deal or not? What made the book interesting was the forensic examination of the skeleton and whether or not it even came close to how Jesus may have appeared in life. It was the first time I’d come across the concept that Jesus could never have looked like the rather pale, Anglo-Saxon looking chap you see in almost every stained glass window in every church across Europe. He was probably short, dark-skinned and very Arabic. Sometime during the subsequent centuries He got one hell of a makeover.
By the way, in Australia we have a thing called the Heritage Council. God help you, if you own a heritage-listed house and want to paint it a “modern” colour. It’s a capital offense. At best, they’ll throw you in jail and flush the keys down the toilet. Imagine the red tape and grief you’d get from the local council, if you found Jesus’ body in your kitchen wall? I’d quietly plaster over the hole again and tip-toe away without another word. Or maybe chuck the bones in a skip-bin after wrapping them in plastic and writing “asbestos” on the outside. Nobody’s going to check inside that bag.
Back on the subject, despite the minor flaw of no one in the movie appearing remotely Arabic, or Egyptian, and that Chuck Heston spends most of the movie in his shabbiest dressing gown, The Ten Commandments is considered the seventh most successful film ever, grossing $122 million—in 1956. Not bad.
I reckon it was the special effects—which won the film its only Oscar. Seeing them now, they’re a hoot, but back in 1956 they must have been gob-smacking.
The main story has its plot issues. While everyone is following Moses it’s all piety, good behaviour and tramping endlessly through a really large, crap desert. Lured away to false gods, the Hebrew people are endlessly drinking, partying, dancing and shagging each other stupid. Sure, they had to sacrifice the occasional virgin, but that could have been micro-managed better. Really, why do they always sacrifice gorgeous, young female virgins? If I’d had a say in things in 1200BC I’d be sacrificing fat, ugly, bloke virgins. It makes much more sense.
Anyway, I’m just saying that Moses had a pretty tough sell-job—almost too tough to be believed.
Of course, if someone made a movie from one of my books and I was invited to the Oscars, I’d be there in a flash. I might even buy a new tee-shirt and pair of thongs (flip-flops, to the rest of the world) for the red carpet thing.
My latest mega-production isn’t quite in the same class as The Ten Commandments, but it was pretty epic. I’ve produced and narrated my first audiobook. It’s an adaption of my book, Horror Story Volume One, Death Wish. Below is a link to the book on Amazon, but you can see the Audible link to the audiobook version. If you’ve never tried an audiobook, you can sign up for an Audible trial and try mine for free. It won’t cost you a thing, and Audible won’t either. If you end up not liking audiobooks, just opt out at the end of the trial.
I’m expecting a message from Chuck soon. I reckon after he’s heard Death Wish he’ll want the movie rights. Hollywood, here I come. If you’d like to get an email whenever I release a new book, audiobook or write a new blog, just sign up to my newsletter above.
Finally, some answers.
One of the great mysteries of our history – alien abductions – has been partially explained by a new picture from Mars. It’s always been a bit of a head-scratcher just what exactly do aliens do with the human beings they abduct. In an ideal world (an alien world, obviously) the abductees are whisked away and, after a bit of harmless anal probing and some restful, suspended animation in a tank full of alien goop, they live a fantastic life on another planet with lots of really neat gadgets, 3D televisions and cheap, working light-sabres. Not surprising, heaps of lunatics are queuing up. A bit like all the nutters who’d happily volunteer for a manned mission to Mars even though we couldn’t bring them back, there are plenty of people constantly jumping up and down in the middle of the Nevada Desert, waving their arms and hoping to get picked up by a UFO. Or maybe at least get interviewed by Louis Theroux.
These are the same folks who think the tavern scene in the original Star Wars IV must be the best place ever to visit. The bar is full of very bad dudes with guns who’ll kill you for looking at them the wrong way, everyone speaks a weird language, there’s a crap band in the corner and chopping off someone’s arm to settle an argument is okay. I usually say to these idiots that, believe it or not, this can be easily arranged – without ever leaving the planet. We can drop them into a pub in, say, Caracas (Venezuela) or San Salvador and they’ll experience exactly the same thing. Briefly, before being turned into a messy statistic.
But back to alien abductions. It’s revealed by these latest pictures that the aliens, in fact, dump their guests off at a layby on their way out of the solar system. Unfortunately, it’s on Mars where nobody except for Matt Damon can survive more than a few seconds. Stupid bloody aliens. Not so advanced-civilisation after all, apparently.
And identifying this particular abductee is possible through the careful application of scientific, forensic processes.
It’s Wendolyn from Wallace and Gromit’s, A Close Shave.
Compare the two pictures (the one on the left has been artfully created by… someone). Pretty obvious, right?
So next time you’re thinking of attracting a joyride in a UFO consider the chances you’ll be booted out the back door on the way past Mars. Where there’s no oxygen, no internet, no Matt Damon and no potatoes to eat.
There are no aliens in my free novella Twice As Dead, but you’ll find ghosts, gunfights and plenty of women nearly as attractive as Wendolyn.
Go to this page for links to free versions of Twice As Dead and all my other (not quite so free) books, too.
Take away the mustache and…yep, he still looks like a psychopathic, meglomaniac, genocidal dictator. Never mind, worth a try.
I’m going to break all the rules and do a blog about Hitler. In fact, I’m even planning to mention Hitler and Foxtel in the same sentence (ah… actually, I just did already). But not quite how you’d imagine this will work.
We recently signed up for Foxtel’s satellite service—and I’ll be blogging about that next time. Our problem is diminishing television reception. Because we live in the country, and among the picturesque hills and valleys of south west Western Australia—our television reception is utter crap thanks to the increasing number of neighbours and their bloody trees. Nothing short of some clandestine, late-night chain-sawing will fix the issue or a really, really big antennae will cost a fortune without necessarily guaranteeing it will work. Foxtel, on the other hand, at its lowest “bundle” presents a reasonably cheap alternative with limited free-to-air channels included.
So what’s this got to do with Hitler?
At the risk of angering some people, I’m going to suggest Hitler and the Nazi’s tyrannical, murderous, despicable reign of genocidal terror had a couple of positives.
First, Hitler and his whole gang of Nazi followers have provided for the world of fictional action and spy films, and books, the most politically-correct villain ever. Think about it. Most of fiction’s Really Bad Guys risk a backlash of people whinging that you’re marginalising a minority—like serial killers and those Nigerian guys on the phone. And next you’re expected to apologise to somebody about something. But if your Really Bad Guy is a Nazi, everyone’s cool about it. A sort of, “Yeah, fair enough”. No one complains, Nazi villains are always no-risk, politically correct evil dudes. Just look at the helmets worn by storm troopers—sorry, star troopers—in Star Wars. They ain’t baseball caps, folks.
Second, Hitler and the entire Nazi empire have provided endless grist for the documentary film industry. Without Adolf and his jackbooted lads there would be no SBS, let alone a History Channel. Foxtel’s “Documentary” package would collapse. There are documentaries about Hitler’s childhood, his politics, his shoes, his girlfriend, his dogs, his favourite pudding and that he wore his undies inside-out for luck before every invasion… alright, I made that last one up. But Hitler and Nazi documentaries are an industry all of its own, employing thousands of people over the decades. I’ll admit, I’m interested in this stuff. It was, for want of a more compassionate description, a fascinating period in history.
Now, you’d expect the first prerequisite for any documentary about Germany and World War Two is that the actor playing The Great Dictator should actually, at least vaguely, fucking resemble Hitler a bit, right?
Nope, apparently not.
It’s not like we don’t know what Adolf looked like. Okay, he doesn’t have a Twitter account (I hope, I’m not going to check) but there are plenty of pictures and movies. It’s not difficult to research what Hitler looked like.
Despite this blatant and easily accessible information, documentary producers insist on casting just any old noddy as Adolf and sticking a silly mustache on them. It’s like the mustache is all it takes.
Last week on Foxtel it was the “Battle of the Bulge” story. Hitler, planning his last great offensive, resembled Mr Spock with a Mars Bar glued to his top lip. Then it was “Nazi Megastructures” and Adolf, unhappy with the price of concrete at the Berlin DIY store, was possibly Meg Ryan—the mustache may have been real. Seriously, it’s like documentary film makers believe that Denzel Washington can do Hitler, as long as they stick a stupid mustache on his face.
How hard can it be to find an actor who at least roughly resembles Adolf? A bit short, a bit lined in the face, a bad comb-over… most of the judges in MasterChef will do the trick. Fucking Yoda is closer than some of these so-called Hitler doppelgangers. It’s ridiculous, annoying, historically inaccurate and just plain lazy on the producer’s part.
There should be some kind of test. Show the producers pictures of Kanye West, Donald Trump and Walt Disney. Ask them which one looks most like Hitler. Anyone who picks Walt Disney should get fired.
By the way, one of my horror books, Footprints in the Snow, is based in World War Two and during the Battle of the Bulge. It’s got your standard, nasty, homicidal Nazi sergeant and a ghostly abbey in the middle of a snowbound forest. But if you want real evil, wait until you meet the Mother Superior and the rest of the nuns.
It’s not free, but give me a break. At US$2.99 it’s only slightly more than the budget allocated for Adolf Hitler lookalikes in Foxtel’s History Channel documentaries.
Follow this link to the right page and scroll down for the book.
A month or so ago my nieces came to visit and we had a movie sci-fi marathon with lots of big fuck-off space ships, laser guns, aliens and exploding planets—just good, wholesome family fun. At the end of it all, Marlee said, “You should watch Ex Machina , you’ll enjoy it”.
Who am I to argue? She can speak Japanese and along with her sister Paige they can recite, word-for-word, the entire script of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Impressive shit.
So the next time my Better Half was out of the house (she doesn’t watch anything that hasn’t got John Cusack in it—although the Hemsworth brothers are making inroads) I rented Ex Machina, got a six-pack of ales, a block of chocolate, a packet of chips, put on my Star Trek onesy and settled in for some serious one-on-one sci-fi.
With, I should add, absolutely no idea what the movie is about.
Here’s a rough idea (yes, this may spoil any future viewing for you).
A nerdy, IT-savvy gaming dude called Caleb wins a contest with a first prize of spending a weekend at the secret, secluded retreat of Nathan Bateman, who’s a genius, computer-programming guru. Under any other circumstances all sorts of predatory, paedophile warning bells would go off, but this is sci-fi, so don’t panic. Caleb arrives by private helicopter in the middle of the countryside somewhere and enters this ultra-secure, hidden luxury villa.
At this point I’d begun to notice—so far— a distinct lack of big fuck-off spaceships and laser canons, but Marlee promised, so I cracked another beer and kept watching…
It turns out that Caleb’s been sucked into being a guinea pig for a Turing test. Put simply (very simply) a Turing Test is supposed to determine whether a computer can think and behave like a human being. In a kind of reverse, double-whammy, Nathan is also testing Caleb to see if he can withstand the wiles and seductive attractions of the computer.
The computer, no surprise, is nothing like an airport check-in terminal or anything you might be reading this blog on. Instead, it’s a feminine android called Ava that looks like a cross between Oscar Pistorius and Angelina Jolie—with a light bulb on the back of her head. Myself, being firmly in the Jennifer Anniston camp, I couldn’t find Ava remotely attractive, but don’t forget Caleb is a nerd whose idea of online porn is the Christmas edition of PC Magazine, so he falls for Ava in all kinds of twisted, this is wrong on so many levels ways. It doesn’t help when Nathan explains that Ava has “pleasure circuits” in all the appropriate places and Caleb is quite welcome to give these a try… close to a Eewww moment really. The next time I see C3PO say, “I need lubricating, Master Luke” it’s going to push all the wrong buttons now. Let’s be real—all the technology in the world doesn’t alter the fact that Ava is just a few lithium batteries away from being one of Nathan’s blow-up dolls. Even if this is some sort of nerdy, blokey, weekend away, you have to draw boundaries about exactly what you share.
Definitely not the sort of “warped” I was hoping for. I wanted big, fuck-off spaceships warping into light speed – with laser canons.
Anyway, before long, the film has lots of underlying, mind-bending themes about the ethics and practicalities of artificial intelligence, just what is human anyway, and the growing question of exactly who is testing who? Ava is plainly smarter than your average food blender.
Interesting, fascinating, thought-provoking… but without a single, big fuck-off spaceship or laser canon in sight. Not even a proper droid on three wheels that bleeps shit all the time. I’ve been robbed of my sci-fi DVD rental money. Would it have hurt the film’s producers to chuck in a wookie or two? Maybe a cameo by Doctor Spock?
The film builds to a creepy kind of climax—when I say “climax” I’ll let you find out for yourself, if those weird-arse “pleasure circuits” are involved—and here’s the really interesting thing about Ex Machina.
The end of the movie has spawned a whole bunch of furious debates about how the film should really… well, end. There are blogs about whether Ex Machina is “three minutes too long” or not. If there are hidden agendas or meanings. Even if the film itself has become a victim of a manipulative, artificial intelligence to sow the seed of the coming android revolution and we’re all going to be killed by our washing machines. Eventually, Ava will be added to the list of people suspected of shooting JFK and abducting Elvis. It’s become that kind of conspiracy.
None of which was ever intended by the movie’s writers. They just thought, Hey, let’s do this for the ending, because we’ve already paid a fucking fortune for the helicopter and we want to get our money’s worth. Or something.
As a writer, it’s intriguing to see people read all kinds of strange, non-existent messages behind your stories. In a way, it’s what you want—a bonus of frenzied, online paranoia and free promotion (ah… like this blog, I suppose). So I have to hand it to the writers and producers of Ex Machina and say, “Well done. You’ve inadvertently created a cult classic”. Bastards. When’s that going to happen to one of my books?
All right, I’ll admit that Ex Machina is worth watching. But if you find Ava even slightly attractive I strongly suggest you take out a restraining order against your refrigerator and microwave oven. You have problems.
My free horror book, Bedtime Story, actually does have a backwards satanic message in it. Okay—it’s not exactly backwards, but it is sort of satanic. In a ghostly, demonic, possessed kind of way. However, I should point out it definitely hasn’t got any big fuck-off spaceships, laser canons or exploding planets—but I never said it did, right? (yes, I’m looking at you, Marlee and Paige). Did you notice the FREE thing? Click the link below and scroll down for a download.
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Get Bedtime Story for free by going to THIS PAGE and clicking on the links.
Jason Bourne shoots people while listening to “Better Gardening” podcasts. How cool is that?
I don’t know about the rest of the world—it’s probably the same—but here in Oz, whenever a new franchise movie is due to hit the cinemas, the local TV stations do a run of the previous releases.
With Jason Bourne recently hitting the screens (that’s the name of the movie—Jason Bourne—they really put their creative heads together for that one) the entire Bourne series got a run, but I only caught the last two movies, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy.
No surprise, there’s a common theme through all the Bourne movies. Jason is an ex-CIA (or something) operative who’s more than a bit pissed off with having been tortured, shot at, abandoned, betrayed, ignored and never getting his own parking space at Langley with “Dangerous Dude” painted on the ground—and he wants some kind of retribution or score settled. It has this “you’re forcing me to kill everyone, so it’s not my fault” vibe happening, too. So despite JB being a psychopathic, highly-trained government assassin who’s gone off the rails, he’s one of the good guys.
The people trying to kill Jason are the good guys, too—temporarily turned bad, because Jason’s being so anal and annoying about the whole getting tortured, no car park space thing—and they have this bewildering level of access to every camera, traffic light and satellite ever launched, tracking Jason’s every step to a ridiculous degree. You’d think they probably have a camera inside the toilet in the Big Brother House. Unthinkable, I know, but…
I get that Bourne movies border on super-hero status and you’re not supposed to question the more fantastic aspects, but you can’t help being a bit “WTF?” about the silly amount of electronic surveillance. Despite this, Jason does the usual tricks of wearing an alfoil hat to avoid detection and being attractive to female operatives who should probably shoot him to get a Christmas bonus—but don’t—and he escapes to live unhappily ever after, or until the next film.
Which is The Bourne Legacy and well confusing, because Jason Bourne’s not bloody in it. Matt Damon once said he’d quit doing Bourne films, so I spent the first half-hour or so trying to decide if our new hero, Jeremy Renner, was actually supposed to be Jason Bourne or not (James Bond movies have been switching lead actors for years, so…), but it turns out that Renner is another nameless, super-secret, invincible government spy, but the good guys have gone feral again and want to kill him, too (they’re not keen on think-tanking different options, it seems) before Jason Bourne puts out a blog about the fucked-up CIA mission statement debacle and spoils everything. I found myself muttering dark, naughty words at the same absurd depiction of electronic surveillance that can see and hear absolutely anything. Then again, I really want one of those special microphones, so I can hear my wife talking to me when she’s got her head inside a cupboard, or the fridge, or she’s at the other end of the house and gets pissed off when I inexplicably don’t hear her… (blokes in a relationship know what I mean). But anyway, The Bourne Legacy also has Rachel Weisz dressed in a blue singlet, so anything else can be overlooked. And the way the bad guy gets killed in the end is cool.
Then I tried watching Eye In The Sky, a movie with the starring role owned by a total electronic surveillance concept, supported by a grumpy Helen Mirren as a British Army colonel who wants to use a drone strike to blow up a house in the slums of Nairobi, a place filled with suicide bombers and Public Enemy Number One type villains. Problem is, a ten-year-old girl sells bread outside the house, and the moral debate rages about possibly killing the girl for the greater good of wiping out the evil fuckers inside. As the increasing surveillance reveals the level of the threat rising, the tension and arguments go up as well. There’s another subtle theme—that the UK and US will responsibly target terrorists and wait until the bastards go to the toilet, so the air force can pop a cruise missile through the dunny window, whereas anyone else (meaning the Russians) waits until the terrorists go to the shithouse—and carpet-bomb the whole town. But that’s by the way.
When an African operative sat outside the house in question (in the ‘burbs of low-rent Nairobi, remember—hardly an internet hotspot) and used his smart phone to operate a remote-controlled, miniature drone disguised as a flying beetle—and beams the vision in real-time to Mirren in London, who subsequently uses facial-recognition software to instantly identify the bad dudes… well, that hit my for fuck’s sake threshold and I gave up. Nail-biting stories and moral dilemmas aside, that sort of uber-technology shit just annoys me. Lisa sat through the rest of it and reckons the film wasn’t all that bad—pretty amazing for her, considering John Cusack wasn’t in the cast, so it can’t have been all bad.
Okay, maybe the powers-that-be can do this stuff. Maybe the CIA can watch Jason Bourne scratch his arse anytime it wants and Helen Mirren can virtually buzz around the house rafters in deepest, darkest Africa and not bump into the ceiling fan, but it’s kind of hard to believe. Mind you, I suppose it doesn’t do any harm for the Bad People of the world to think it can be done.
It’s no wonder we’re all a bit paranoid. The other day I inadvertently went In through the Out door of our local chicken takeaway—and panicked for the rest of the day expecting the Chicken Shop Police to take me away… scary shit.
Maybe the movie industry needs to go back to the good ol’ days? When surveillance meant a decent pair of binoculars and bugging the next room needed a wine glass held against the wall. It could collectively lower our expectations of all those super-secret spy organisations. People won’t be so quick to blame the government when shit happens.
And I can go back to buy chicken with chips and gravy again.
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If you want to read a free spy thriller… ah, without a spy, but lots of guns and car chases, try Twice As Dead. Links below.
See? Even Darth Vader gets a hangover – and seriously needs a dentist.
The opening few minutes of the original Star Wars back in 1977 blew our science fiction socks off. That imagery of a big fuck-off battlecruiser sweeping from somewhere above the cinema to fill the entire screen was like every novel by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and let’s throw Philip K Dick in, too—all encapsulated into sixty seconds of our wildest, science fiction imaginations. The point is we didn’t have to imagine anything anymore. We could watch it. Blue screen technology had arrived with light sabres, laser guns, androids and Princess Leia dressed in a bed sheet (she made up for that later).
Smash-cut to the 21st Century and we’re still happily gobsmacked by the latest CGI, animation and blue-screen shit. We just love a good spaceship. It doesn’t need much else to keep us happy.
Which possibly explains why the Star Wars script writers are getting away with rehashing the same old plot and characters. We’re like an infant in its crib with a mobile of Tie Fighters dangling above. Chuck in a Millenium Falcon and everything is just awesome. We’ll poo ourselves with excitement.
But the latest Star Wars instalment only just gets over the line. Sure, I loved watching it—and no doubt I’ll watch it again and again, because that imagery is just brilliant—but the story? It’s like J.J. Abrams told his scriptwriters, “Go watch the first movie. Then make Luke Skywalker a girl and change the colour of the bleepy android. The rest can stay pretty much as-is”. Lazy-arse writing at its worst.
Recently I watched Star Trek, Into Darkness, and again the stuff happening on screen is just stunning. You can forgive Simon Pegg’s appalling Scots accent and ignore the concept that a young Captain Kirk is nothing better than a womanising, sports car-hooning, drunken bar fly—but they still let him drive the quadzillion-dollar interstellar Enterprise for fuck’s sake. And Spock snogging Uhura? What were they thinking? Spock doesn’t do sex. He just doesn’t. Story-wise, it’s okay as long as you don’t try to relate anything with the many movies released over the last few decades. The connections are there, but… why bother? And the idea of Benedict Cumberbatch being a villain is unthinkable. That’s like having Winnie The Pooh maul a Girl Guide to death. Just wrong.
But the science fiction day has been saved by Deadpool. Okay, it’s not space opera, but for something completely out of the box I thought it was really clever with plenty of stuff to offend just about anyone—you can’t ask for more than that—with lots of violence, sick humour and cool ideas. Talking of boxes, I stumbled across The Boxtrolls the other night. You either get it, or you don’t—and I got it. It’s like Charles Dickens meets Pixar with a splash of Roald Dahl. Don’t watch it straight or sober. It won’t make a scrap of sense.
Next up, demanded by my nieces, is apparently Ex Machina. I’m told the ending is highly confusing, controversial and can really piss you off—or not. Sounds like just my kind of thing. I’ll let you know.
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TWICE AS DEAD is still free, if you want to try my books. Go to this page to find all the links.
My donkeys can fart more intelligence than anyone working for the NBN possesses in their brains. Dealing with the NBN Co. is like bashing your head against a brick wall – except a brick wall has a slightly higher IQ than NBN employees.
We’re in a Fixed Wireless NBN area, right? Only that “The Map”, the holy bible of NBN ideology that predetermines all things this fucking useless organisation does, says that we’re in a “shadow” and can’t be connected.
Here’s the thing… a few months back Telstra had to replace our phone line, which needed a new trench dug for about 200 metres. The Telstra guy came out and he was keen to avoid the cost. So he stood on our front decking and waved a few things around in the air and was ecstatic to tell me, “Hey, you can get the NBN here.” It could cheaply replace the landline.
Because the decking is five metres off the ground, right? The NBN bloody “Map To End All Maps” is based on ground-level topology.
Two weeks later a ditch-witch arrived and dug the 200 metre trench anyway. Odd, but go figure. That’s Telstra for you (apparently). We’re now firmly connected to the ageing, failing copper-in-the-ground internet which has never been properly maintained, because we were told with every break-down, “Don’t worry, the NBN is coming”. Our download speeds improve slightly if you stick a fucking postage stamp on the computer screen. And turn off the refrigerator.
Then, a little while later, the guy who fixes TV antennae and (read this bit slowly) is one of the local, NBN contractors for installing the NBN, was standing on our roof and fixing the antennae (so we can watch the Dockers lose every game of the fucking football season). We discussed Foxtel and satellite dishes in general, then he says, “But hey, you can get the NBN here”. He’d detected a strong enough signal.
Because on the roof he was about eight metres above the ground, okay? Later, he suggested I call the NBN and request a proper signal test, because he can’t do anything more without the required paperwork.
You can guess what’s happened. I’ve been swapping countless emails with the NBN’s customer service/complaints Noddys – otherwise known as The Zoo of Dumbfucks. Do you think they can understand a simple concept? That their own contractor tells me I can connect to the NBN, because of the elevation of the house.
“No way,” NBN says. “Computer says No”. More importantly, the fucking Map of NBN Religious Internet Dogma says we’re outside the “boundary”. It probably shows the location of the Holy Grail, Noah’s Ark and the dude who really shot JFK. Reliable shit like that.
Some cockless, amoeba-brained simpleton in Brisbane, sitting on a fitness ball (no doubt) and dreaming of working for Google, is adamant that their computer-based information is more accurate than someone actually standing on our roof (or our decking) and measuring the signal.
This federal government is all about “innovation”. No one explained that included employing a bunch of stunted, half-wit Rhesus monkeys as Customer Service personnel at NBN. You would expect that anyone with enough intelligence to reply to an email might, God forbid, apply some commonsense to our situation and think, “That’s worth checking out”. Instead, even though my latest emails have asked – not for a connection test – but simply for the contact details of whoever needs their arse kicked until it shits the 1000Gb data limit I can’t possibly use, the stock answer is, “Thanks for your feedback. The case is closed”.
“Skymuster?” I hear you say. But I’m signed up for a broadband plan with Telstra that it can’t deliver. Why should I pay for a third-party satellite service before all Telstra options are ruled out – and that means a straightforward NBN signal test as recommended by their own contractor? That’s all I’m asking for – a signal test.
At the moment it would be hard for me to imagine anything more incompetent, inflexible, mindlessly stubborn and just plain fucking stupid than NBN right now – and I’ve been calling Centrelink lately about my mum’s pension. Centrelink needs a Suicide Prevention hotline of its own just to deal with people trying to get Centrelink to answer the fucking phone.
Obviously, even Telstra couldn’t convince NBN to run a test (instead of digging the cable trench). What hope have I got?
Oh, I haven’t even started yet.
The planet Mars is host to some of the greatest mysteries that baffle our space scientist’s minds. Did it ever support life? Did it ever have water? Why did it appear red for so many centuries? And most incomprehensible of all – how the fuck did The Martian win a Golden Globe for Best Movie, Comedy or Musical?
This ain’t a comedy – apart from maybe two or three quirky one-liners about our hero starving to death in a space suit. And the guy in question, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) never breaks into any rousing chorus song before dancing the can-can around a nearby crater. So go figure about that Golden Globe…
However, it is a good movie worth an award. It’s a fairly predictable “Robinson Crusoe Goes To Mars” story with, obviously, a unique setting and sci-fi type obstacles to Watney surviving, rather than head-hunting cannibals who want to scoop his brains out with a wooden spoon. The poor bastard gets left behind when everyone else abandons the Mars exploration camp because of a violent storm – a storm which trashes Watney’s Life Support “I’m not dead” electronic thingy and they assume he’s been toasted, too. Useless bastards could have looked out the window before hitting the blast-off button…
So Watney has to figure out a way to survive another few years on his own until, as he already knows, the next Mars mission is due to arrive. Then he can somehow travel across to the new landing zone and knock on the door for help – no doubt scaring the absolute fuck out of the astronauts inside who think they’re the only living things within a zillion miles or so. Fortunately, Watney is a Botanist and plans to grow a bunch of vacuum-packed potatoes to eat. To help things along, sharp-eyed NASA observers on Earth notice that the Mars Exploration toilet seat is being left up suggesting that some bloke – take a wild guess, it’s Watney – is still alive and needs saving.
But this is kind of “present day” science fiction and no one can simply turn the spaceship around and go pick him up. It’s all about impossible distances, years of mind-numbing space travel and insurmountable logistics – a bit like driving the Forrest Highway really. No surprise, there’s the prerequisite nerdy kid who’s spent his entire life wanking alone over pictures of Sigourney Weaver half-naked in Alien – who figures out a “better” way to save Watney when the freeze-dried shit hits the oxygen-regeneration unit.
That’s enough spoilers. It’s a cool, entertaining movie with plenty of special sci-fi effects for Trekky and Star Wars fans. About the only fly in the plot ointment is believing that anyone could survive so long just eating spuds – but I suppose it worked okay for the Irish in the 19th Century.
Check it out with a big bag of popcorn and a carton of beer – or a mountain of potato chips if you want to get into The Martian zone.
400 DAYS: FILM REVIEW
Okay, I’ll do the right thing and warn you that some of this review might be regarded as spoilers. Which has nothing to do with how the script, the cast, the plot and production values do a great job of spoiling the entire film anyway, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
400 Days steals its concept from the very real HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation) experiment where pseudo astronauts are simulating space travel and imitating living on Mars to determine if any adverse psychological effects might happen during the real thing. Like, if you might suffer any urges to axe-murder your fellow crew, because they didn’t replace the used toilet roll. Bastards.
In 400 Days it’s a private organisation, not NASA, and four wannabe astronauts are entombed in an underground, mock-spaceship facility in the middle of the desert to pretend they’ve embarked on a long mission to another planet (no prizes for guessing how long). They’re warned that all kinds of bad, simulated space shit will happen and they have to cope. If successful, at the end of the four hundred days maybe NASA will give them a job… or something.
The first fly in the film’s ointment appears when we meet our intrepid crew. Even in a privatised venture you’d expect that any participants would have met some extremely stringent entry qualifications. Obviously, NASA will never send just any fucking idiot into space. However, the company behind the 400 Days project apparently believes that NASA will send not only one, but four fucking idiots to Mars and beyond — the crew in this movie.
The captain of the “ship” rolls up on Day One with a crippling hangover, because his girlfriend dumped him. This makes perfect sense. Neil Armstrong was probably on the piss for weeks before landing on the moon. Our second crewman can’t take anything seriously — great criterion for taking part in any in-depth simulation. Crewman Three is a weedy, psychotic wreck before he even goes down the ladder. The fourth member of the team is, of course, a cute attractive girl who doubles as the crew’s doctor and psychologist.
Awesome idea, let’s lock three fucked-up, horny fools underground with a stunning girl who’s going to be giving them regular prostate examinations. What could possibly go wrong? In fact, what she does give them is scheduled injections of stuff they didn’t agree to — and, lo and behold, all kinds of hallucinogenic, scary shit starts to happen (I use the term scary under advisement) including unseen monsters banging on the hull and knocking on the door. The team also loses all contact with so-called Mission Control, but nobody’s willing to pop the hatch and check if Occupation Health and Safety has closed the whole thing down, because that would rate a fail if they’re wrong, get it? No job at NASA for you, arsehole.
So the big question is — are the hallucinations, the terrifying noises, the lack of contact and truly appalling fucking plot all part of the simulation… or has something real gone wrong?
There is one spectacular crash — but sorry, we’re not talking special effects here. It’s in the credibility of the script. Otherwise 400 Days is just a lazy, low-budget piece of sci-fi fodder with most of the film shot, I suspect, in the director’s own kitchen. The self-serve checkouts at Woolworths look more futuristic than 400 Days’ set design. Even when they finally pop the hatch and emerge, it’s night-time and pitch black. The obligatory tumbleweed rolls past. And although they know it’s still Earth and they’ve only been underground, the crew still put on their pretend space suits and helmets — for fuck’s sake (sigh).
Honestly, the most impressive bit of sci-fi, space imagery used for the film is the picture on the front of the DVD cover (yes, that’s it above). It probably took the entire CGI budget. I could say, “What a crock of shit” — but it tricked me into watching this rubbish, so you gotta hand it to them.
Maybe I’m being too harsh and the film was unfortunately released at roughly the same time as the latest Star Wars, where the budget for Harrison Ford’s food blender was larger than 400 Days’ complete production — comparisons aren’t going to help. So, by all means have a look for yourselves, but I recommend you wait until it slips onto the “Weekly” DVD shelves.
I should mention the ending. You’ll blink twice and say loudly, “What the fuck?”
Does that give you a hint?