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April 2018

There was a lot of travel this month. It actually started in March with a trip to the west coast. Then, the first week of April, I flew down to Dallas for a few days. After that, we were planning to head over to Rochester for a long weekend (work had a politically correct “Good Friday” holiday in the middle of the month, 2 weeks after the actual thing), but didn’t end up going as the boys had a Chinese art competition that weekend. But the next week, I was off to Korea for a week and then the last week in April, I was in NYC for a couple of days. Essentially this month turned into a rotation of travel and laundry. Plus some activities on the weekend.

A lot happened in the news. The Leafs made the playoffs, went down 3-1, tied it up but lost to Boston in the 7th game. The Raptors made it through their first round series. The Royals had another baby boy, and Toronto had a van attack that made headlines around the world. Although, the impact was much more local since it happened right in our neighborhood. And of this was just in the last week of the month!

In the middle of the month we had an ice storm followed by freezing rain. This caused ice to stay on the ground for a week and caused havoc on the roads (the city didn’t clear it, citing concerns that the melt will overwhelm the storm drains and cause flooding – I guess because it would block the drains). A lot of drivers had already switched out their winter tires so it was a bit hairy. Other than that, the weather has been rainy and warmer.

Man Of Steel

With almost as many remakes and reboots as Batman, and a less interesting catalogue of stories, I wondered if Man Of Steel was going to be good. Even the name is weird, imagine going to see a movie called Web Slinger.

Anyways, the movie focused on some lesser seen aspects of the backstory – an extended sequence of what it was like on Krypton and how the new “fortress of solitude” was discovered. I liked that because we had seen the rest of his childhood many times before. I felt the “superhero discovery moment” (when they discover or use their powers for the first time) was weak. Superman learning to fly is just not as fun to watch as Spider-man’s excitement when web slinging.

The arrival of General Zod and ensuing battles were not that interesting. It was actually unbelievable because, as Zod himself said, a farm boy was fighting a team of trained combat veterans that had the same powers he did. Furthermore, they basically levelled Metropolis (which is a precursor to Batman v Superman), but I think those buildings need to be stronger against human-sized bullets.

I didn’t think it was a terrible movie, which I was afraid of based on how press and reviews shun DC movies. It’s not a movie I’m interested in seeing again though, so that gives it a 3 out of 5.

Cook Up A Storm

Another Chinese movie, but unfortunately not a Cantonese one. Coincidently though, it features 2 of the same supporting actors as the previous Cantonese one I saw. Cook Up A Storm is not a direct sequel, but I guess it is somewhat related to the God of Cookery series. Which meant, a lot of food shots and probably a bad idea to watch when the time zones are messed up and you’re on a plane where they are not serving food yet.

This movie is a little different than the usual God of Cookery series in that instead of focusing on the final competition (there still is one), it’s positioned as multiple battles between different styles. West vs East, gastronomy vs tradition, Michelin vs street, New civilization vs the village, etc. There is also the unique element of having a Korean actor play the antagonist (which is why the movie is in Mandarin). Also, there’s the concept of growing up in the shadow of their father. Man, this film just barfed out themes.

But overall, it’s a fun an entertaining film. There’s no magic and all the cooking is “real”, but boy does thinking and watching this movie make me hungry – although not in a 4 star sense. This movie is just a 3 out of 5 star.

Pocket Queue 79

  • The Improbable Origins of Powerpoint
    Jump back many years and learn how Powerpoint started.

    In April 1987, Forethought introduced its new presentation program to the market very much as it had been conceived, but with a different name. Presenter was now PowerPoint 1.0—there are conflicting accounts of the name change—and it was a proverbial overnight success with Macintosh users. In the first month, Forethought booked $1 million in sales of PowerPoint, at a net profit of $400,000, which was about what the company had spent developing it. And just over three months after PowerPoint’s introduction, Microsoft purchased Forethought outright for $14 million in cash.

  • Don’t worry, self-driving cars are likely to be better at ethics than we are
    This article argues that the philosophical Trolley problem is just a theoretical argument, and that the real life implementation won’t need someone to code a rule about which path to take. Wishful or prescient thinking? Who knows.

    Say you’re standing there, watching the trolley car approach, pondering whether to throw the switch and divert it (and kill someone). Then you notice, peeking out from underneath a nearby pile of junk, an old, discarded flagpole, and realize you could put it on the track to slow or stop the trolley car entirely before it kills anyone. Your perceptiveness has reframed the decision at hand; you’re now answering a different moral question, weighing different options.

    In philosophy class, that kind of thing is ruled out. The trolley problem contains no such details to notice. The situation is transparent; we know exactly what the choices are and what the consequences of our decisions will be.

  • Worst Roommate Ever
    It is probably hyperbole but this story about a horrible & manipulative roommate is just that, an interesting story.

    Often, the first signs of trouble were easy to downplay: In many cases, roommates came home to find a chandelier removed, a bookshelf filled with unfamiliar books, a couch or potted plant shifted slightly this way or that. These incursions, almost imperceptible, seemed calculated to unsettle. Suspecting Bachman was entering her room while she was at work, Acevedo once placed an empty wine bottle behind her bedroom door, so anyone going in would knock it over; when she returned, she opened the door without thinking and then braced herself, but the bottle did not fall, having been moved several inches away.

  • Welcome to Powder Mountain – a utopian club for the millennial elite
    Not sure if this is a nouveau cult, elitist clique, scam or a real movement. Some of it reads as if it came out from the Onion though.

    He tells me he’s open to the suggestion that his community is elitist – “these criticisms, there’s a truth to them” – and insists that he strives to make authentic connections with people from all walks of life. For example, he says, earlier in the day he met a worker at the ski resort who was taking guests on a tour. “I literally could have said, ‘All right, have an awesome tour,’ and instead I was like, ‘So, you’re here all year?’ And he goes, ‘No, I’m actually from New Orleans.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’” Bisnow says he behaves the same way with servers in restaurants. “[When] you start to engage with these people you realise the humanity in everyone and how unbelievable they are.” Then he explains how he always sits in the front seat of Uber taxis, talking to dozens of drivers a week, hearing “the most remarkable stories”. He ends up hanging out “with a significant number” of his drivers. I ask how many Uber drivers he’s invited to Summit. He doesn’t say, but instead tells me an anecdote about a chef he invited to Summit after meeting him “at this dilapidated castle in England”.

  • Why Arsenal Star Per Mertesacker Is Happy to Leave Football
    A look at the emotional toil of a professional sports star. This is stuff that they never show as part of the “player story”.

    Then there’s the diarrhea he gets on the mornings of matches — looking back, he says it happened on more than 500 days of his life. Mertesacker looks down at his long fingers as he goes through the list. “I have to go to the bathroom right after getting up, right after breakfast, again after lunch and again at the stadium.” Everything he eats just passes right on through.

    For a while, all his body could handle was noodles with a bit of olive oil. He couldn’t eat any later than four hours before a game to ensure that his stomach was guaranteed to be totally empty when the nausea started. “As if everything that then happened, symbolically speaking, just made me want to puke.”

77 Heartbreaks

Taking an international flight is my chance to catch up on Cantonese or HK movies that I otherwise don’t have an opportunity to watch. The first one I saw was 77 Heartbreaks, which is about a female divorce lawyer who endures 77 lies/wrongs by her BF before she finally decides to break up with him. The breakup happens early on in the film, and the rest of the time is spent on a choice selection of vignettes of those 77 moments of heartbreaks.

This is a cultural-focused millennial film. The boyfriend is clearly someone trying to “find their path”. He graduated with a law degree but has floated around and is now a kickboxing teacher. Parts of the story are told using Facebook, with the through-the-Facebook-screen filter technique. And of course, being a romantic drama, there are the clichés – including the grandiose gesture by the BF near the end of the film.

This type of movie is not what I am used to watching, but it was interesting to see how HK millennials live their life. The movie wasn’t bad and was enjoyable to watch so it gets a 3 out of 5 from me.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I watched Mad Max because I remembered that Charlize Theron was supposed to play a villainess in this film. However, after watching the movie, I think I might have gotten a little confused between her movies. She is bad in the sense that she is a rebel against the established leader but she is actually one of the protagonists of the movie.

Her goal is to try and free a couple of “breeders” (woman slaves) from the grasp of the same evil leader. He is joined, by who I assume is Mad Max. I’ve never consumed any other media about Mad Max so I’m not sure of any of his (or the universe’s) backstory. However, it all seems crazy and non-sensical. Like, how do the people survive if there is no or so little water? What do they eat? How are they so impulsive and carefree about death (especially the leaders)? I suppose the universe is a caricature but this feels off now that there have been so many comic book movies that are grounded in reality.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy my introduction to the Mad Max universe, I didn’t get it and it just wasn’t an interesting universe to watch. Sure if you like car crashes, explosions, and scantily-clad woman in the desert/mud, there might be some appeal, but for me this is a 2 out of 5 star movie.

Hearthstone Request

In terms of TCG/CCGs, I’m a Johnny-type. So I play Hearthstone for two reasons:

  1. To finish quests, get gold, and collect the cards
  2. Johnny-mode – to win in weird circumstances

That’s why for me, I like playing the Heroic mode and the Dungeon mode. However, one thing that is holding me back is that it takes a long time to play Heroic (lots of deck tweaking).

It would be great if the Hearthstone single player modes can be played offline. I’m happy to spend my time on a plane clicking and playing by myself. But it’s too bad that it still requires a network connection to play (I understand why they would want a network connection…)

Hearthstone Solo: Kobolds and Catacombs

I’m about four months too late (The Witchwood is about to be released), but I’m nearing the completion of the “single player mode” for Kobolds and Catacombs. Unlike past adventures and expansions, you don’t have to play any heroic bosses, but rather there is a unique single player mode in KnC. In this mode, you have a rogue-like experience where you start with a few cards in your deck, then build up your deck as you beat the bosses. You also get special treasures until finally you face off on boss #8. The goal is to beat the (random) bosses with all 9 classes.

I’m not there yet, but I only have 2 more classes left (Druid & Priest, although not tackling them in any specific order). I enjoy this mode and actually played a lot of it when this expansion came out. It took awhile before I mastered the mechanic and started clearing the classes, and there is still no perfect/repeatable solution (hence no blogs on each individual class). There’s a lot of RNG involved in getting the right treasures to build a deck that has OP combos – and then some more RNG to pull it off against the final boss.

Overall though, I find it much more fun than fighting heroic bosses. One reason is because the challenge is in piloting the deck, not in creating the deck. There’s a lot of back and forth that you have to do to tweak a deck to fight the heroic bosses and that takes away from gameplay. With this dungeon mode, you just keep making choices and playing!

Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi seemed to pick up immediately where The Force Awakens ends, although my memory is a bit hazy since Rogue One happened in the middle of the two movies. David is still running from the Goliath and Luke Skywalker has some part to play in the whole thing. While I felt a need to watch this movie, I guess I wasn’t excited about knowing more about the universe. Thinking back, this was probably my feeling when I watched the prequel movies (guess who’s not a Star Wars nut).

The one thing I was interested in seeing resolved in this movie was how they would write Carrie Fisher out, or what parts did they use CG to film/post-process after she died. I never found out the answer to that question. What I did realize though, was that these Star Wars movie are the opposite of Pixar movies – I felt like an adult watching a kid movie. There were so many scenes where I felt I was being bludgeoned by plot explanations (Dameron learned his lesson). I can only explain it as being a movie being targeted towards young adults, as I thought the movie industry was moving to plots that required the audience to make inferences.

The one thing that I liked about this movie is that it seemed to move away from the light vs dark cliche, and the formulaic good vs bad story arch that seemed to govern the entire series. The loose ends weren’t tied up when the movie finished (there is still one more movie of course), but I do wonder if it’s going to return to light vs dark or end up a different way.

The Last Jedi had all the visual cues of a Star Wars movie (weird aliens and worlds), but it just wasn’t inspiring. It wasn’t bad though so I can’t give it less than a 3 out of 5 stars.

Blade Runner 2049

The sequel to Blade Runner is my most anticipated movie in the last few years. I even gave up the chance to watch it on several flights because I wouldn’t finish it in one sitting (it’s almost 3 hours long). I was looking forward to this sequel because of oh so many reasons: 1) I enjoyed the original book by Philip K. Dick, 2) The original movie evoked a technological future and imagery that was appealing, 3) Denis Villeneuve was directing and his work on The Arrival was top notch, and 4) The teaser trailer was tingling and portended good things for the full film.

So with those high expectations, I watched the movie and I think it rated 4 out of 5. However, I don’t think it lived up to my hype. I gave it a 4 because my general criteria is that if the movie is interesting enough to be thought provoking, it deserves a 4. BL2049 is one of those movies that I can imagine English class dissecting in the future. The idea of ‘What is life/sentience?’ is a theme throughout. We already know about the human and replicant divide, but now there are also holograms/AI.

However, it was also disappointing because the mood was too overwhelming. I think the story could be told in 2 hours, except Villeneuve went a little overboard in establishing the tone of the world with minimal dialogue. The story itself is moderately interesting with a little twist but the pacing is too slow.

Finally, watching this movie ended up being depressing. Instead of evoking and inspiring a technological future, it suggested that the future is bleak and dystopian, even in LA proper (I guess all the good stuff is in the outer colonies). Las Vegas is completely bombed out as well. Maybe that was the goal but if so, it just doesn’t leave a good feeling – and in fact the future world of Ghost in the Shell felt more interesting (even if the movie sucked). So an unhappy 4 out of 5 here.