Phoebe from Cassini

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Saturn’s moon Phoebe as seen from Cassini. More information and photos.

Film review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Harry Potter

You’ve probably heard by now that the new Harry Potter film is the best of the three so far, and you’ve heard right. Alfonso Cuarón was an unusual choice for a director but an inspired one—he brings to the films almost everything Chris Columbus didn’t. For me however (and I can see Potter fans drawing their wands and readying a painful spell as I prepare to write this), it still lacks that certain something that would turn it into classic fantasy.

The first pleasant surprise is how much better Azkaban looks than its predecessors. Chris Columbus has that annoyingly safe way of making his films look like the sets are lit with thousand blub lights so we don’t miss the work of his clever art directors and set designers. Cuarón instead swallows his world in shadow and desaturated colour that perfectly suits the menace of the wraithlike Dementors. It’s most obvious in the Quidditch game, a setpiece that formerly has looked like one of those virtual reality rides at Vegas, and this time is played in the middle of a thunderstorm and makes you feel just how precarious it would be to fly around at 10,000 feet clutching a broomstick. In fact the flying scenes are all excellent—when Harry rides a hippogriff above Hogwarts you share in his fear and exhilaration.

I suppose the films are successfully reflecting the deeper and darker themes of the books as the series continues. But although I did really enjoy this film, I caught myself wishing I was more emotionally involved even as I was watching. Perhaps I’m asking too much of a ‘summer blockbuster’, perhaps it’s due to the forgettable score by John Williams, perhaps the scene when Gandalf and the Rohan charged down the hill to Helm’s Deep has spoilt me forever, but Harry Potter just missed the mark. Here’s hoping the next film delves even deeper into the dark shadows of Harry’s world.

3 and a half marauder’s maps out of 5.

Boardgame Review: Citadels

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CitadelsAt the risk of cementing my geek credentials even further, I have to admit that one thing I enjoy in this life is a good boardgame. For the past decade or so I’d treated this as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, until my new girlfriend encouraged me to vive la difference! and bring my boardgames out onto the bookshelf in plain view. Now I’ve rediscovered the joy of gathering friends around a table of an evening, downing a few bottles of good wine and laughing your head off around a well-designed game.

So I’m adding boardgame reviews to Headless Hollow. In recent years there’s been a rash of excellent, high-quality boardgames published, especially from Germany. My first review is of Citadels (2-7 players, 20-60min playing time), orginally German but now available in English from Fantasy Flight Games.

In Citadels the object is to build a medieval city of eight districts before the other players. The twist is, each round the game changes as players secretly choose who they are for the round—king, architect, merchant, thief, bishop, assassin, etc—and these new roles bestow different powers and income. All the classic ingredients of bluff, last minute reveal, treachery and diplomacy are there in an easy-to-learn and quite short game. The card artwork is beautifully done and has a lot of personality, and the little solid plastic gold pieces are a great touch. Though better with four players than two, the game is a winner and highly recommended for an evening’s entertainment.

4 and a half gold pieces out of 5.

Film review: Touching the Void

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Touching the Void

You know, I don’t get it. What drives people to risk their lives hanging off cliffs by nothing but an ice axe buried in powdery snow, while three thousand feet of empty space yawns under them? After watching Touching the Void from director Kevin MacDonald, I was no closer to an answer, but I was a lot closer to complete bodily exhaustion, and I hadn’t even left my seat for the late dash for a choc-top. This visceral, uncompromising docudrama puts you through the true-life struggles of two English climbers who tackled the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The dramatic visuals—so well done it took me a little while to realise it wasn’t actual footage of the expedition—are strongly counterpointed by a matter-of-fact narration by the actual climbers.

I have a strange fascination with disaster stories—”I’m just going outside and I may be some time” is one of my favourite quotes—and this one doesn’t disappoint. You’ll marvel at the arrogance of two men barely in their twenties setting off up an unclimbed mountain face alpine-style (no back up and only one rope between them) with no one at base camp except a backpacker who didn’t even know their last names. But no one can deny or fail to wonder at the incredible endurance, courage and sheer bloody-mindedness that some human beings are capable of. Without doubt you’ll leave the cinema with that same old question uppermost in your minds: “what would I have done?”

4 back up plans out of 5.

Headless Hollow Font

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GulliverA reader asked me what font I used for the Headless Hollow masthead and the section titles. Inspired by an old edition of Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (George G. Harrap & Company, 1922) I found in a second hand bookstore in Sydney, I scanned in a hand-drawn title page from the book, then made up the titles in Photoshop from the letters, purposely keeping the size differences. So unfortunately it’s not available as a font … it’s a one-off! The book is also beautifully illustrated in a somewhat Aubrey Beardsley-esque style. The red fabric texture also comes from this book, though the parchment background is from another.

Ebay addiction

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A friend and I are both currently in the grip of eBay addiction. There was a time not so long ago when I scoffed at his watch lists and sniper bidding and coming in to work at odd hours to check upcoming auctions … and then I caught the bug. Isn’t there an eBay Anonymous or something? My only solace is that I’m hooked on one type of purchase (old games from my teens/early 20s years I’d sold back then and am now getting back for the nostalgia/collecting factor) and there’s a finite number of things to buy.

Something Fred said in an episode of ‘Angel’ the other night made me realise there were many others out there like me. She’s asked to check eBay to find something and replies in a panic: “No eBay! After the commorative plate incident I’m living clean.” So there’s hope you can kick the habit. Now excuse me, but I have to go check my watch list.

Film review: The Day After Tomorrow


Don’t expect any surprises and you’ll probably enjoy this film. The Day After Tomorrow delivers all the expected ingredients of its genre – the father searching for his son (and redemption as a father), the young love story, the child with leukemia, the divorced parents rediscovering their love, the faithful friends who stick with the star through thick and thin – you’ve seen em, you know ‘em. Add some pretty mind-boggling special effects and a dash of science, serve (very) cold and enjoy with popcorn. The only spice in the stew (OK, OK, enough with the recipe metaphor) is a surprisingly humble epilogue instead of the usual gung-ho American patriotic fervour. This, and the scene of Americans fleeing south of the border into Mexico, could possibly herald a reduction in the amount of flag-waving in American blockbusters. Until the next Arnie film anyway.

3 tidal waves out of 5.

Film review: Troy


I walked out of the cinema somewhat ambivalent toward this Hollywood ancient history epic—my girlfriend thought it was laughable, but I must admit I was expecting worse and there were some sequences, such as the one-on-one battle between Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana), that I really enjoyed.

For once the computer effects don’t completely overwhelm the story, but Brad Pitt might be computer-generated for all the depth he brings to the role of Achilles. There’s never anything going on behind that confused expression and perpetually troubled pout, and his weakness is not helped by a director who can’t resist zooming in on his star at every opportunity. A great shame, as complexity could have been brought to the conflicted Achilles by a better actor. Seeing an old man like Peter O’Toole (King Priam) blow all the newbies away in every scene in which he appears makes you despair for the future of the film industry. Is this all we have to take up the mantle when the oldies have gone— Brad Pitt and Eric Bana? Ye gods!

The city of Troy is spectacularly realised—how many thousands of beautiful ancient cities have burnt to the ground or crumbled to ruins over the ages, I wonder— and the battle scenes visceral and real enough to make you go “oof” in your seat. And I thought they condensed a complex story to film length quite well. But a mix of lame script and beefcake acting drags the film down from the Olympian heights to which aspires.

2 and a half breastplates out of 5.

Fame at Last!

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This morning Headless Hollow has been mentioned on Todd Dominey’s What Do I Know site. Since he designed the original Blogger template for this site and I have a great deal of respect for his work, this is exciting news. Thanks Todd!

In the coming weeks I’ll be adding some new sections to this site, including free downloads eg. a nicely designed Filemaker database system for databasing your CDs, books, software and hardware which overly organised people like me should enjoy. (Sad? Well yeah, a bit, but then you’ll have the last laugh when the house burns down and the insurance people try to question your claim!). If you like what you see and read, bookmark Headless Hollow and come back now and again. I’ll endeavour to give you something interesting with which to pass the time while enjoying your coffee.

Joke of the day …

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A guy drives into a service station with two penguins in the back of his car. The service station attendant says to the guy “what are you doing with those two penguins in the back of your car?” The guy answers “I don’t know what to do with them.” The attendant says “well, why don’t you take them to the zoo?” The guy says “that’s a good idea, I’ll do that.”

Next week the guy drives back into the service station with the two penguins still in the back of his car. The attendant says “didn’t you take those two penguins to the zoo?” The guy answers “yeah, they really enjoyed themselves. Today we’re going to the beach.”


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