Kevin Costner has the technology to save the Gulf oil spill

Posted by Bel. The time is 3pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Yes, Kevin Field of Dreams Costner. Kevin Dances With Wolves Costner. Kevin - dare I say it - Waterworld Costner. And no, it doesn't involve him having to drink his own filtered urine.

Turns out that him and his scientist brother, Dan Costner, have developed something called Ocean Therapy which cleans oil from saltwater. BP have given permission for it to be put to use in the clean-up of the exploded rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

An artist's impression of Costner activating the technology.

Now, you're thinking to yourself, that's pretty bloody random, but good on 'im - long as he doesn't get all Sean Penn about it.

But the thing is, this isn't just a flash in the pan. Costner has been working collaboratively on environmental technology for 15 or so years now. Apparently a license was first obtained for the machine in 1993 and $US40 million has been sunk into the project over the years.

There are some doubts over how effective this new approach can be, but as the US Government stands aside and the oil threatens the coastlines, it seems that even clutching at straws is better than nothing.

The CEO of Ocean Therapy Solutions says that the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 was their devastating inspiration - and as this stunning infographic shows, the fact that that BP have still not been able to staunch the underwater leak means this disaster surpasses that in terms of havoc wreaked and severity of blame which must be accorded.

Sources: here and here.

Robin Hood: Thief of History

Posted by Lou. The time is 11.30am here in London, UK.

If you were planning on seeing - and enjoying - Robin Hood perhaps don't read this as it contains major spoilers from start to finish... or maybe do, as it will alert you up front about the absurdities contained within.

A lot of the press surrounding Robin Hood has been around the Director Ridley Scott's claims that it is the most historically accurate yet. So you can imagine my reaction to the later part of the film suddenly turning into a laughably ridiculous plot twist in which we discover that Robin's mason father had drafted and led the movement towards creating and actioning the Magna Carta.

The Magna-fucken-Carta!

What arrogance! What audacity! What the fuck! It was also so out-of-left-field as to also entirely confuse the story arc, on top of being perhaps one of the most preposterous re-imaginings of history possible.

Okay now that that's out of my system...

One thing I will say is that the film is that it does have some great art elements - the absolute best being a sequence in which a boat sails into the Tower of London, giving us a beautiful imagining of my local hood might have looked like back in 1199.

The costumes and sets do feel quite dutifully done, and even little things like how they fire arrows feel more authentic than generally portrayed in films from the era. However I found the cinematography quite jarring with the sunlight quite overtly entering several scenes to create clunky "effect" (I don't know the word for it - those visible blurs of light as the sun comes through the trees at the angle to jar on camera), and in other scenes seeming far too stark. To me the way the film was shot did not make the most of the art direction.

Robin and his Men - who feature very little, FYI.
Bet they're sweating waiting to see if a sequel is greenlit...

So the story: overall I felt its biggest failing was a lack of heart. In its obvious comparison film Gladiator we get a strong personal story to anchor the film - Maximus' quest for revenge against Commodus. In this there is no such heart, which is quite a major fault when you are expecting people to sit through 2 hours and 20 minutes of self-important posturing.

For a start I thought they were going to make Maid Marion a strong character that we could get behind - however that was just the inherent authority of Cate Blanchett misleading me, and they have given her a disappointing role with Marion under-utilised and then ridiculously appearing in the final battle sequence (with a bunch of kids on ponies!).

All I could think during this was "Courage Merry, courage for our friends" - a quote of course from Return of the King, where Aowyn is one of the great female soldiers, and is given a hell of a part to play ("I am no man!") - in this Marion joins the battlefield merely to give Robin a glory moment, which seemed to me far from glorious and actually rather patronising with the limp way in which she carries herself. (And also undercut the supposed ending where the soldiers hail him as the victor of the battle ahead of the King - wtf? He just paused during the midst of battle to go save Marion, how does that make him the victor?)

And Robin and Marion together - fuck! It's awful! In the midst of an all-too-serious-and-self-important film we are meant to go along with ridiculous almost Shakespearean-comedy moments between the two that are actually just rather nauseous more than anything. When Robin says "I love you Marion" I wanted to hurl.

As to that self-importance: you're probably thinking I mean ol' Russey - known worldwide for his public persona of bloated self-importance that seems to rub everybody the wrong way. But of course it is actually Scott's bloated self-importance that is the hallmark of this film (he did make Kingdom of Heaven after all).

Put it this way: I like Gladiator. A lot of people think it is bloated and self-important [I do think it's bloated, btw]. Well, I thought this was bloated and self-important, so imagine how much everyone else will think it's bloated and self-important. And I just think it's really ill-advised to make your film in that tone when your leading man is known for embodying those traits himself.

As for Russell - I like him as a movie star when he does big films. I love when Maximus does his big "father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife" speech, and I love Master & Commander, and though I think this is a bit of wtf casting I was curious to see how he would pull it off. I don't think he's bad (he's certainly not laughable), but I think the lack of a strong core motivation for his character takes away the opportunity to do what he does best, which is make grand, over-the-top declarations backed-up by a whole film's worth of build.

In this film it take more than 90 minutes for a battle in which he might have any emotional investment (and it is very quickly passed over), and the "big speech" moment is utterly ridiculous as it related to the whole weird Magna Carta thing that comes out of nowhere.

Okay so I've already rambled enough, but I guess something needs to be said about the villain and the story I keep alluding to the deficiencies of: this isn't a story about Robin stealing from the poor and giving to the rich (it seems to be a set-up for a possible sequel for that). Which is of course the silly thing about the "historical accuracy" claims - Robin Hood's (mythical) role in folklore is as stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. That is it.

Anyway, so this story has Robin heading back with Richard Lionheart's army when shit happens and he ends up with Robert of Loxley's sword and has a moment of conscience in returning it to Sir Loxley, who asks him to pretend to be his son so as to keep their land in Marion (Robert of Loxley's wife)'s hands. Meanwhile John has become King, but his closest advisor Godfrey is a double-crosser, plotting with the King of France to divide John's people so that France can invade England and take it with ease. (Remember that from History books? Yeah, me neither. They were still fighting over Normandy at this stage, I do believe.)

But Godfrey thinks Robin knows too much so goes after him (Robin doesn't know anything and it's rather precarious of a story thread to try and have us think that Godfrey would bother going after him). It's actually really weak and contains not much to believe in or care about (except that those dirty French are so evil! Gasp! ... Oh wait, it's 2010, people have grown up a bit since the England vs France days). But Mark Strong is quite good as a villain. Shame he didn't have a stronger personal connection to Robin in order to build some tension.

Yeah so Robin Hood sucks, really.

Step back from that ledge my friend*

Posted by Bel. The time is 3.15pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Antony Gormley is the UK artist who was behind the One And Other installation at the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalger Square, and amazing sculptures such as the Angel of the North.

His latest work sees New Yorkers straining their necks, reexamining their iconic skyline and their own situation on the ground. Iron casts of the artist himself have been perched atop of the city's buildings, in a piece of public art entitled Event Horizon.

More photos can been seen on unurth (a site I recommend highly if you are interested in street art of any kind). These images are breath-taking enough secondhand - I can't imagine what the impact is in person.

*10 internet points to the first person to Name That Band.

When cars become paintbrushes

Posted by Bel. The time is 10.30am here in Wellington, NZ.

Cyclists dumped 50 litres of non-toxic, water-based paint in one of Berlin's main intersections, creating colourful chaos as the traffic drove through.

This guerilla public art took place in seconds - with the paint emptied out as the cars waited for the lights to change.

Click through to art magazine Abitare to watch a video of the 'painting' in action! Also great photos on flickr.

Full length Ken Loach films on youtube

Posted by Bel. The time is 12.12pm here in Wellington, NZ.

The revolution will not be televised. We will all be watching it on youtube, assuming that we haven't already capped out our broadband that month.

Ken Loach's career as a successful and contraversial filmmaker has been established thanks to decades of directing films with a focus on social politics in a realist or documentary style. His recent hit, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, I know is a favourite of Lou's, although I found it too gruelling to watch in entirety.

Loach is now releasing his back catalogue, seven films at present, to be watched for free on youtube:

You can also check out Ken Loach on IMDb.

General Election EPIC FAIL, aka WHAT THE FUCK

Posted by Lou. The time is 10.53am here in London, UK.

It is 10.53am on the day after the election and my constituency still hasn't declared, and I am listening to a 39-year-old British man having to have his own election system explained to him. This seems the right sort of moment to take a look back on the last 24 hours have been for me - a New Zealander losing their British General Election Virginity - a great big load of WHAT THE FUCK.

WTF#1 - The Role of the Newspapers
I was shocked to wake up on election day and discover that the majority of the newspapers (ie all the shit ones (ie the Murdoch ones)) had front pages telling people who to vote for. With the exception of the Mirror it was pro-Tory scaremongering; but even with Mirror being anti-Tory they still put the focus on to them (rather than carrying a favourable item for Labour) by showing David Cameron in his Oxford boys' club finery. The mildly Lib-Dem papers (Guardian and The Independent) carried more neutral news type items about the election, reflecting the difference in editorial integrity and news focus with their trashy counterparts. I find this quite staggering - TV is governed by rules of editorial neutrality, but why (in a country where the printed news still carries wide readership and influence) not the papers? Or at least, why not on election day? Which leads me to...

WTF#2 - Election Day Campaigning
Coming from a land where all advertising and campaigning materials must disappear at midnight (with the exception of coloured ribbons) I actually thought I'd walked into illegal electioneering when I found myself being accosted by campaigners as I walked into the polling station, with some actually telling people who (and what) to vote for. Whilst normally you could think people already know who they want to vote for, with high turn-out and a closely fought election race this was one where actually quite a lot of people probably hadn't. And anyway, it just feels wrong to be harassed on your way in to do something as sacred and private as vote.

WTF#3 - The Exit Poll
Starting the night off with a hugely unpredicted and surprising exit poll that had the Tories taking a clear majority of the votes (though not a majority of the House) and the Lib-Dems actually losing seats was a sickening moment.

WTF#4 - Voters Being Unable To Vote
Then the news began to emerge that hundreds - thousands! - of people were unable to vote. This is a democracy. The key element of a democracy is the freedom to vote. This is barely comprehensible to me. This is the biggest WHAT THE FUCK imaginable. There is a key thing I need to explain here: in Britain you MUST vote at a specific polling station unless you have applied to vote by post at least a week in advance (or are a student). So for example, I went to my polling station to be told that no actually I needed to go to a different polling station a block further down the street (?!) (oh, and please note here that there was a queue of 15-20 people and it took about 20-30 mins for me to get to the front). So people who work cannot pop out at lunchtime to vote, they must return home and vote at their specified station. So you'll be thinking what I'm thinking - obviously a lot of people are going to go and vote in the evening after work. You'd think the polling stations themselves could figure this out. But it seems that:
  • people were turned away from polling stations as the 10pm deadline hit and huge queues of people were left without a vote. This isn't people turning up at 9.55pm then complaining that they couldn't get in. Massive queues formed from late afternoon/ early evening with reports of, for example, Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg visiting a local Sheffield polling station at 7pm and discovering that people had been queueing there for 3 hours already. Individuals are reporting that they went back and forth to their polling station but there were always such long queues they just didn't get an opportunity to get in and vote. The videos of the queues that were waiting at this point in the night are shocking - masses of people swarming to get in the doors; queues extending down entire blocks. Knowing how long it took me to queue at a quiet polling station, I can well imagine people having been waiting for hours to no avail. But remember - I said that people are given very specific polling stations at which they have to vote. So why the fuck were those polling stations not set up to handle the number of voters allotted to them? This is an absolute undemocratic disgrace. To the Hackney voters who staged a sit-in, to the Sheffield voters who blocked the ballot papers from being able to leave: I salute you. Stand up (or sit-in) for your rights and loudly fight this for as long and as high as it takes to have this righted. Not to mention...
  • some polling stations ran out of ballot papers. Despite having a fixed number of voters allotted to their polling stations. Apparently photocopying is so extravagantly expensive/ difficult these days that they couldn't even fucking get enough ballot papers handed out. In fact they had so few they had run out by 6pm, a full four hours before the close of voting. I just can't even comprehend this.
  • postal ballot papers went missing. So even when people had registered to vote elsewhere than their specific allotted polling station, they were unable to do that when ballot papers didn't arrive. In areas where there are very close seats. Which is especially what the fuck for me having - with ease - cast my New Zealand general election vote from the UK (let alone from down the street and round the corner) by downloading my papers from the NZ election hub and faxing them (which in itself seemed antiquated at the time). This system is so very backward and very dysfunctional. *Update: Problems with Overseas ballot papers also not turning up
  • "non-resident" students were being de-prioritised. This link contains student accounts of being put into different lines as "non-residents", as if it was their fault that the voting mechanism is so antiquated and inadequate. They were also blamed by the Electoral Commission during last night's BBC broadcast.

WTF #5 - Oh God the Exit Polls are Right
How could the advance polling have been so wrong? Lib-Dems were showing an unprecedented and magnificent surge with polling putting them on a par with/ ahead of/ just behind at various times both the Tories and Labour, and by polling day about even with Labour. And now here they are with - at 11.32am - only 52 seats to Tories' 291 and Labour's 251. But...

WTF #6 - FPP is so Backward!
...Lib-Dem have 22.9% of the vote, but only 8.4% of the seats. This is fundamentally wrong. Which leads me perfectly into my conclusion from all this what the fuckness...

Britain needs - desperately - widespread electoral reform. Of how the voting works both in terms of how seats are decided (bring in proportional representation!), and how votes are made and counted (for the love of god, modernise!). And for fuck's sake - keep that bastard Murdoch in check with rules to govern election day campaigning by the fucking newspapers!