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Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight beings with an over-the-top sequence where the Knights of the Round Table (what? did I click the wrong movie on the flight?) are in a historical and one-sided battle against barbarians (they are losing), only to be saved at the last minute by Merlin and his (Transformer) dragon. What? #2.

That’s followed quickly and abruptly by a ludicrous storyline about some tough pre-teens who sneak into a Transformers DMZ/refugee zone only to find that there are actual robots who will kill all trespassers. I guess they don’t read the internet (What? #3). But that’s ok! Another pre-teen, who has been living on her own in this bombed out city (lots of food supplies I guess. What? #4) saves them against a couple of highly engineered, precision killing machines. Almost. Because the main star has to makes his grand appearance – Marky Mark. Having picked this movie on a whim, this was off to a terrible start and it was only 10 minutes in.

It doesn’t get any better. This is a stupid movie. The plot is a madlib of events and dialogue. It feels like there are cuts to certain dialogue scenes just to appease certain demographics. Characters do stuff but there’s no logic or reason why they are taking certain actions – and I don’t think it’s because I didn’t see the previous movies.

This movie has allusions to the very first (cartoon) Transformers movie, but even with that, Anthony Hopkins playing with a British accent, robots, or you name it; it still sucks. I didn’t get to see the last act of this movie, and I don’t feel like I missed much. I bet the heroes will win, but I’m not invested or curious in the outcome at all. I can’t understate how badly put together this movie is and given that I have very low expectations of a summer blockbusters, it should be telling that I can resoundly say that this is a one out of five movie.

Julie & Julia

I don’t remember why I got this movie, but it was the only movie that my phone could play on my flight (note to self, download an app like VLC so I can watch encoded video). I flew a lot between September and October and saw everything I wanted to watch from Air Canada’s inflight entertainment system so had a chance to work on my personal backlog (it’s been so long that I don’t remember why they exist).

Julie & Julia is actually two stories in one. There is a story about the famous cook Julia Childs (who I knew nothing about), how she got into cooking and how she ended writing her pivotal book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Then there is the current day story (set in 2002) where a Millennial New Yorker cooks every recipe in said book.

Both stories are kind of interesting. The first story is a time piece that shows off Paris in the 50s. Originally, I thought I would find the movie really annoying because Childs has these mannerisms which are grating. However, I got used to it as the story progressed and realized that Meryl Streep was doing a great job portraying the character and personality. The current day story was also really interesting. It’s set almost 15 years ago but it’s about Millennials hitting their 30s (was the term Millennials even coined back then?), and features this new technology called blogging! It was nostalgic to take a look back at the basic HTML render of Blogger and Salon, and the issues that bloggers faced about being narcissistic. On the other hand, this movie is really dated (people were still using flip phones!). This movie might end up being a complete period piece soon!

This is more of a chick flick but surprisingly I enjoyed it. Three out of five stars.

October 2017

October was a very busy but exciting month. As you might recall, I ended September with a trip to Korea for work. When October started, I flew out again along with the rest of our family to Japan for vacation. This meant that I had a ping pong trip where I was in Asia, back home for two days, then in Asia again (well I didn’t plan it that way, but when we booked vacation I didn’t know I had to goto Korea yet).

Our trip to Japan was our big family vacation for this year. Fortunately we didn’t have to take our vacation in the summer this year, and could choose a more convenient time to go. We decided to go and celebrate Apollo’s birthday abroad in addition to our vacation – and ended up at Disneyland on the actual day (we had planned to go a day earlier, but rain forced us to delay it). We also did lots of Japan-y stuff that you might expect, and introduced all 3 kids to the culture (previously, only Apollo had been there).

After we came back. I had a few more days, and then flew out to San Francisco for a conference. Counting from September, I was basically away from home for 4 weeks. After that trip, I finally had some time at home but it wasn’t very calm because we basically had to catch up and plan for everything that we couldn’t do while we were traveling. Most importantly, Hallowe’en was quickly approaching.

We missed one weekend which had a lot of Hallowe’en stuff, and was only able to do some things on the last weekend of October. We wanted to go to Camp Spooky at Wonderland, but the day we planned to go ended up being rained out, and we went to Brick Or Treat at Legoland instead (wasn’t overly decorated for Hallowe’en). That meant our Wonderland seasons pass expired with a whimper (we didn’t use it past August) but we ended up buying a Legoland pass for the next year. At the end of the month, we had five memberships going on at the same time – that seems like a bit too much!

Incendies

The only reason I watched Incendies is because it was directed by Denis Villeneuve. I enjoyed Arrival and am anticipating Blade Runner 2049 (which is out, but I won’t get to watch until it appears on flights). In truth, this film is a test to see whether I think he is a cut above or just hyped and lucky on previous films.

The film is about a pair of French-speaking twins who live in Canada, who, upon their mother’s death, have to deliver letters to their (long lost) father and (previously unknown) brother. They go on a journey to the Middle East to complete their mission and to learn about their mother’s history. It turns out that her mother lived through and took part in a civil war before coming to Canada.

The story was compelling to me because I didn’t have a lot of background on middle east countries and the fighting that happened in the last half of the 20th century. The film is rated R so the events that occur are graphic and abrupt. The mystery of the father and brother is also interesting and the ending that wraps up the mother’s will is unexpected.

The problem is that I think the source material of the film is very good. The film is based off a theatre play, but on further research, Villeneuve rewrote all of the dialog. So it’s difficult for me to determine whether how much the film making makes the story better. I guess I’ll have to watch more films by Villeneuve to find out. The rating for this movie is also a bit borderline. The topic is new to me, which makes the film better, but I don’t think it’s something I would want to watch multiple times. However, I’ll be generous and give it a four out of five stars.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Oh great, yet another Spider-man movie. Even though this is based off his cameo in Captain America: Civil War, I am a bit weary of this. I never liked the character but he is just so popular that you can’t avoid his books and stories. And another reboot in his movie series, isn’t this the third time?

So this movie didn’t start off well for me. It got worse when the plot followed a teenager’s life. I’m just not interested in watching teen struggles anymore. And his wisecracking is too much. The story isn’t much better as we get to see some B-list Spider-Man villains (Vulture and Shocker). The best part are the cameos but it feels like a crutch for both Spider-Man and the movie.

I don’t think this movie advances the Marvel Universe storyline so it can easily be skipped. Two out of five stars.

The FitBit Company

When I started using a FitBit, I thought it was indispensable and really cool. Even though it only tracked steps and sometimes flights, I could have raw data on how I was moving! I didn’t have any real use for this information, but it appealed to the compulsive data nerd in me. I tried a bunch of alternatives to Fitbit but navigated back to the FitBit brand. Ostensibly, it was because the web and app interface was superior, but I think it was a whole bunch of little things that just made it easier to use.

This is a FitBit is good and FitBit is bad post. As with most things, the newness of the service wore off. I’ve been wearing a FitBit on my wrist for probably five years now. The data tracking is still there but I don’t really care for it anymore. The most useful feature is the slim profile that lets me see the time on my wrist. That’s not underselling it though, that feature really is useful.

I’ve gone through many FitBits. Started with the Force and then returned that for full credit as part of a product recall. Then I bought a first generation Flex and used it for awhile. The battery died (couldn’t hold a charge) and their support team replaced it with another Flex. Then the battery on that died the same way. Recently I bought a Charge for cheap on eBay (was new) and after three months, the band broke. Support replaced it once again, but because the product was so old, I received an Alta instead.

Their support is great but I wonder if there are just quality and design issues in their product line. When I owned the Flex, I probably bought and went through 20 different bands. They would just break after a few months of use. Luckily I bought them for cheap from China ($2-3 a pop) instead of the full retail price ($20+??). I can’t imagine the cost of ownership would be worth it otherwise. I also spent a bunch on chargers because different models had different connections.

The Alta I just received is the new hotness but I’m not sure I get enough benefit from it to deal with the accessories, charging (only 5 days of battery life) and the slow but eventual death of the hardware. Maybe I should just get a nice watch instead.

Pocket Queue 77

  • What Came Before the Big Bang?
    The two things that I’m always curious about space/time is whether we live in a simulation, and what happened before the Big Bang. Here are 3 ideas on the latter.

    A second major hypothesis is that the universe, and time, did not exist before the Big Bang. The universe materialized literally out of nothing, at a tiny but finite size, and expanded thereafter. There were no moments before the moment of smallest size because there was no “before.” Likewise, there was no “creation” of the universe, since that concept implies action in time. Even to say that the universe “materialized” is somewhat misleading. As Hawking describes it, the universe “would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just BE.” Such notions as existence and being in the absence of time are not fathomable within our limited human experience. We don’t even have language to describe them. Nearly every sentence we utter has some notion of “before” and “after.”

  • How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food
    Junk food is not all bad. If it wasn’t for junk food, a lot of people in Brazil would be starving as they would not be able to buy enough food to sustain themselves. Yet is surviving on junk food any better?

    Ms. de Vasconcellos has diabetes and high blood pressure. Her 17-year-old daughter, who weighs more than 250 pounds, has hypertension and polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder strongly linked to obesity. Many other relatives have one or more ailments often associated with poor diets: her mother and two sisters (diabetes and hypertension), and her husband (hypertension.) Her father died three years ago after losing his feet to gangrene, a complication of diabetes.

    “Every time I go to the public health clinic, the line for diabetics is out the door,” she said. “You’d be hard pressed to find a family here that doesn’t have it.”

  • The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination
    The real life assassination of a North Korean leader is almost unbelievable (as with many things North Korea), but someone has done a lot of leg work to try and get a detailed story of what happened.

    The liquid that Siti rubbed on Jong-nam’s face was likely not true VX. Experts have suggested that a modified version of normal VX—VX2—was employed instead. As Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT who holds two degrees in chemical engineering, explained to me, “VX2 is made by dividing VX into two nonreactive compounds. What the women were likely doing was creating active VX on Jong-nam’s face by each delivering their ingredient.”

    This complicated method of poisoning Jong-nam would have had several advantages. First, the toxin would have been safe until activated. Even then, VX2 is not very volatile compared with other chemical weapons, meaning it was less likely to affect bystanders or first responders. If VX2 was employed, it’s unlikely Siti would have been affected, as striking first she never would have been exposed to the second reactant.

  • Valve is not your friend, and Steam is not healthy for gaming
    I never liked Steam as a store or a service. The software just seemed clunky and unnecessary and I’m not even a gamer so I can imagine what people who use it every day would think. This story is biased as the author has a big beef with it, but it also lists out a bunch of things wrong with the service

    Valve themselves eagerly trumpeted that they had paid more than $57 million to Steam Workshop creators over four years — an enormously impressive figure until you realize that it’s only 25 percent of the sale price, which means Valve just made $171 million profit from … setting up an online form where you can submit finished 3D models.

  • Where are all the aliens?
    This article talks about the Fermi paradox (if there are so many stars, why can’t we find other intelligent species?) and lists a bunch of reasons why it may exist. It’s a primer article on the paradox and I felt I’ve read it somewhere else before, but it’s still interesting.

    Possibility 5) There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. This would suck. The way it might work is that it’s an inefficient use of resources to exterminate all emerging intelligences, maybe because most die out on their own. But past a certain point, the super beings make their move—because to them, an emerging intelligent species becomes like a virus as it starts to grow and spread. This theory suggests that whoever was the first in the galaxy to reach intelligence won, and now no one else has a chance. This would explain the lack of activity out there because it would keep the number of super-intelligent civilizations to just one.

Wonder Woman

On my flight back home, I was surprised to find new movies in the inflight entertainment system! The movie I was most excited about was Wonder Woman. Ever since her introduction in Batman vs Superman, I’ve been waiting for her feature movie to come out. I’m not even a big fan of the character, I had tried reading some of her comics in the past but always ended up dropping them because the stories were boring (Amazonian stuff), or the supporting characters were lame, or the issues she had to deal with (e.g., her weaknesses) were not compelling. So I only saw her in Justice League adventures, or when there is a universe-level crisis.

But her appearance in BvS was amazing. This is a career-defining role for Gal Gadot and I don’t think I can ever envision her as any other character. I’m not sure what it is, but she is both what I imagined Wonder Woman to look like, yet also not what she looks like. What I mean is that when she is in costume, there is no one else that I can imagine as being Wonder Woman but her face is not at all what Wonder Woman would look like in my mind (I guess due to her heritage). This is more apparent when she is in plain clothes, and she doesn’t look at all like how I imagine Diana Prince would be.

Anyways, so how was the movie? I didn’t think it was as good as people said it would be. It’s nowhere near Ghost In The Shell bad, but it’s still polarizing. The story is clunky and I hate the origin story where they kept stressing her naivete and social awkwardness. The romance is unbelievable, but not as bad as sailing to London in one night (even if they got a lift). Also the motley crew of supporting characters adds nothing to the story (I only recognize Etta, are the others even from the comic?)

But once the fighting starts, it is glorious. Wonder Woman is magnificent in battle, especially the close quarters fighting (on the beach and before Act 2). Some people hate Zach Snyder slowing down the camera for certain scenes, but I like it and think it was effective. Act 2 was expected and cliché but I still thought it was a great twist. Honestly this whole movie can just be Wonder Woman jumping and fighting and it would still be three out of five stars.

La La Land

The best comparison to La La Land would be Moulin Rouge – both are oscar-calibre musicals. However, I much preferred La La Land over Moulin Rouge. My problem with Moulin Rouge is that the concept is too much of a fantasy and the music just isn’t that great, but La La Land deals with real life (Millennial) issues and has a better soundtrack (mostly original music).

It often felt like a showcase of theatre and the arts. It featured instrument playing, tap dancing, plays, singing, etc. I also noticed the extensive use of theatre stage lighting (thanks to the recent Apple keynote which highlighted this). The ensemble pieces were great and the two leads performed well too (even though they probably didn’t have those specific skills of piano, singing, tapping etc). I can see how this movie could easily transition to Broadway.

As the story progressed, I got a little disappointed that there were fewer ensemble dance numbers, but I guess those were expensive to produce (I saw that Mandy Moore choreographed it?). The story was decent and believable and the ending leaves you with a decision to consider. This is a solid four out of five stars from me!

In The Mood For Love

This is a giant in HK cinema which I had never watched, even though I watched the referential 2046 many years ago. I’ve heard it mentioned over and over with regards to its cinematography and after watching it, I think it lives up to its billing.

I think a comparable to this movie is The Godfather. The pacing is slow but not boring, and there are so many music and scenery shots. I can’t imagine them making a movie that can convey mood in the same way nowadays. Not only that, the dialogue is smart and complements the camera. Not everything is mentioned but the careful watcher can see the subtle hints in the story.

I also enjoyed the look at 60s Hong Kong which is near my parents’ era. Watching the film now, it doesn’t feel dated but more like a period piece.

I came with high expectations, and have probably seen Wong Kar-Wai’s influence in countless movies but was still impressed by In The Mood For Love. This deserves four out of five stars.