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Published: Village Magazine, August 2008

Conservapedia

US History teacher and Harvard graduate Andrew Schlafly was a self-confessed “early Wikipedia enthusiast”, but when a student of his handed up an essay containing the Common Era notation instead of the usual Anno Domini system and explained she got it from Wikipedia, he knew something had to be done. Schlafly’d had enough of Wikipedia’s faux-neutrality and “left-wing, liberal bias” and decided it was time for an online encyclopedia so conservative, there was no choice but to name it Conservapedia.

The Conservapedia site uses free MediaWiki software, so it looks deceptively similar to Wikipedia, but a glance at headlines such as “Deceit at atheistic public schools: California school officials are defending a program that tricked high schoolers into thinking classmates were killed,”  give the distinct impression that you are trapped in the digital equivalent of the Bible belt. Conservapedia is Christian and right-wing and the contributors are not PC about their candid disapproval of whiny atheist Liberals, feminists, homosexuals and claims that the human race is causing global warming.

Schlafly (his mother is conservative politician Phylis Schlafly, who’s best known for her opposition to feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment) bills the website as the “conservative encyclopedia you can trust”. With over 23,000 pages, excluding discussion forums, and “stub” articles, in which contributors criticise any values they associate with liberal ideology, Conservapedia launches full-scale attacks on the Democratic Party, Academia, the liberal media and its arch-nemesis, Wikipedia, which Schlafly claims is “six times more liberal than the American public” – cue gasps and dramatic music.

Bizarre and out-dated are just some terms used to describe Conservapedia’s articles, one of which dismisses the theory of evolution as nonsense, claiming: “The fossil record does not support the theory of evolution and is one of the many flaws in the theory of evolution.” Global warming too is an invention of those crazy, meddling liberals (specifically Al Gore); while liberals have changed the meaning of feminism to represent those “who favoured abortion and identical roles or quotas for women in the military and in society as a whole”. According to this particular article, feminists also hate women who are happy in traditional roles, prefer women to wear pants rather than dresses, and also prefer role reversal like “men baking cookies for women”.  Possibly the worst offense perpetrated by feminists is to “insist that child-rearing activities be shared equally by men and women”. Schlafly’s mom would be proud.

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Published: Village Magazine, April 2008

Techno Threads at the Science Gallery

Welcome to the world of tomorrow”, a bespectacled, goofy scientist declares in his best science fiction voice to Philip J. Fry as he is reanimated after spending a thousand years cryogenically frozen. Visitors to Techno Threads, the latest exhibition at the Science Gallery, should be greeted with a similar refrain.

Entering the exhibition is like stepping into a Spring/Summer 2100 fashion show except the innovations on display are not merely imaginings of how things might be – they are possible now.

Science has always been the driving force behind fashion with creations such as dye and synthetic fabrics allowing designers to experiment with and shape what the world wears. Techno Threads tips its high-tech hat to science’s role in the fashion world, displaying cutting edge work from exciting designers like Walter van Beirendonck, Yoshiki Hishinuma and Hussein Chalayan.

Nano and bio-technologies are combined with traditional craft and Haute Couture skills to create shirts that send hugs from a loved one, spray-on dresses and semi-living clothes made from tissue cultures such as Tissue and Culture’s controversial Victimless Leather miniature coat grown from stem cells or Donna Franklin and Garry Cass’s ‘Wine Dress’. The wine dress is made from a fermented solution of wine, which reacts with sugar creating a skin that then thickens and dries. This skin can be moulded into any desired shape to form a seamless, bio-synthetic garment without a single stitch. Of course if you’re not a wine fan, you can always go for a Guinness garment – created especially for this exhibition.

Divided into three sections, Techno Threads offers an insight into the fashion world of tomorrow, while throwing up some interesting ethical questions about the clothes we wear.

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Published: Village Magazine, April 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

If anybody should be the new poster boy for Age Action Week, it’s Harrison Ford. Reprising perhaps his most famous role as swashbuckling archaeologist, Indiana Jones, in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford proves that at the sprightly age of 65 he can crack whips and solve riddles in dead languages with the best of them. The film opens in 1957 – 19 years on from the Last Crusade – with Indiana Jones and his trustworthy British sidekick Mac (Ray Winestone) being bundled away to a top-secret US military base to locate a mysterious, highly magnetised crate. Their kidnappers? A group of Russians posing as American soldiers under the leadership of rapier-wielding Col. Dr Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). A couple of high speed chases and hilarious stunts later, Indy inevitably escapes with his life and trademark fedora but is unable to prevent Spalko and her crew from escaping with their prize.  The incident results in the Doctor being forced from his university job and into the path of impetuous high school drop out Mutt (Shia LaBoeuf). The two set off to Peru to find the fabled Crystal Skull to help out Indy’s old friend Professor Oxely (John Hurt) and Mutt’s mother, who as it transpires is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s Raiders of the Lost Ark love interest. While the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an enjoyable adventure romp, it was never going to be as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or even the Last Crusade. Spielberg literally throws everything but the kitchen sink into the movie including top secret Alien cover-ups, lost cities of gold, and nuclear explosions. The plot comes in a distant second to stunts and sometimes absurd, albeit exciting, CGI action scenes. Ford never gets to inject a bit of that old Indy charm that endeared audiences to the character in the first place and its all a little over the top. With all that said, despite a few cringe worthy moments and the odd careless scene, Crystal Skull is good fun and will leave you exiting the cinema with a smile on your face.

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Published: Village Magazine, March 2008

Persepolis

Equal parts coming-of-age story, history lesson and animated adventure, Persepolis is a poignant tale of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. A streamlined version of Marjane Satrapi’s four-volume series of graphic novels, the film charts Marjane’s life from the age of eight until womanhood. The narrative, told in flashback mode and interwoven with Marjane’s voice-overs, begins in 1978 continuing to the 1990s – a time span encompassing a period of immense change, not only for Marjane growing up, but for her native Iran. At the outset of the film the days of the Shah‘s oppressive regime are numbered and the revolution is taking hold, much to the joy of her progressive, left wing family. Marjane’s grandfather and uncle were imprisoned by the Shah’s regime and the family expectantly await the implementation of democratic rule and the release of political prisoners. However, the revolution takes a fundamentalist turn and the feisty girl watches her once secular existence give way to a strict theocratic regime. The outspoken Marjane, inspired by her uncle and stories of the family’s communist associations, spars with her teachers about the realities of the new regime and the falsehoods it is perpetrating. Marjane’s penchant for illegal dances parties and punk music – at one point she scours Teheran for a head- banging Iron Maiden bootleg – also causes trouble, but with some slick talking Marjane manages to get out of most sticky situations. Fearing for the safety of their spirited daughter, Marjane parents send her to Vienna, where she faces discrimination, ignorance, and occasional bouts of kindness, before returning home only to realise she doesn’t belong there either. A sort of stylised realism characterises the stark, spare animation style, which perfectly translates the horrors of war and an oppressive regime, taking on a dark fairytale-like feel at times, while also portraying normal family life with warmth and realism. The universality of Persepolis is perhaps its most obvious triumph. Just as the characters portrayed in the film, we all know love, loss, desperation, depression, and puberty. Challenging Western conceptions of those living in Islamic countries, Persepolis leaves the audience questioning the validity of its own attitudes towards the Middle East.

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Published: Village Magazine, February 2008

There Will Be Blood

It’s difficult sitting through the 158 minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated fifth film There Will be Blood. Leaving length aside (there are many films that should end a lot sooner then they do, this not being one of them), the blistering intensity and relentless brutality with which it is filmed is enough to make anybody squirm with discomfort. A major departure from Anderson’s previous efforts including Boogie Nights and Magnolia, There Will be Blood is being compared to epics such as Citizen Kane – unsurprising considering the awesome scope of this uncompromising character study. Based on a portion of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, There Will be Blood (and there is) spans 30 years in the life of ruthless oil magnate Daniel Planview (Daniel Day-Lewis). The opening shots pan across a bleak mountainous landscape. There is no human presence save for Planview mining for silver to a discordant, Brechtonian string section. Day-Lewis’s performance is staggering– he looms large and intense in practically every scene, depicting an emotionally crippled, wildly ambitious and isolated man. His ambition becomes apparent in the first few minutes of the film when not even a broken leg can prevent him from getting his prize. As the story unfolds that prize becomes oil and Planview lusts after the black gold ocean sitting under the Californian plains. Paralleling John Foster Kane, the protagonist’s emotional isolation grows with his success. His only connection to the society and the humanity he loathes is his son H.W. played by the astounding Dillion Freasier, whom he adopts after the boy’s father dies in a well accident. The relationship between father and son is never in doubt – H.W looks up to Planview, but what the father feels for him never comes close to love. Using feigned family values and his son’s angelic face the magnate closes land deals but ships his son off as soon as he becomes a liability. Much of the film concerns the power play between Planview and self-styled spiritual healer Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who meet when Planview buys up the Sunday family farm. Dano gives an enrapturing performance as the baby-faced bogus evangelist. Planview despises his antagonist’s cunning and barefaced ambition, perhaps because it reflects his own. Coming to a gut-wrenching and ferocious climax, the masterfully shot and perfectly scored (thanks to Robert Elswit, designer Jack Fisk and composer Jonny Greenwood) There Will be Blood is most certainly not for the faint-hearted.