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Friday, June 30, 2006

"Superman Returns"

Superman Returns
Much has been said about "Superman Returns". It has been decades in the making. It returns comics' first superhero to the big screen in full glory. It is a tribute to the old "Superman" movies. It is every fanboy's dream.

As for me, only one word can describe the film: "muted".

You wouldn't know this from the start, especially when the familiar theme is played against the familiar opening credits. Director Bryan Singer kept the swooshing credits, which are themselves a legend from the original "Superman: The Motion Picture". Immediately, one starts to believe that this movie will be as huge and wonderful as those originals.

Alas, it was not to be. So many things went wrong in the movie. The storyline was silly, something that many comic book writers would be villified for if they wrote such a tale. Lex Luthor, played campily by Kevin Spacey, is supposedly the world's greatest criminal genius. And what does he do with his alien technology? Build weapons to terrorise governments? Take over the global financial system? No, he created new land to sell as beachfront property!

So Superman could only watch in horror as his archnemesis used his stolen Kryptonian technology. Which brought another point: in spite of the advanced technology, didn't Kryptonians ever learn to develop a simple intruder detection system? Lex Luthor penetrated Superman's Fortress of Solitude with ease, even managing to activate its intelligent systems. Sorry, even with my suspension of disbelief since this is a work of fiction, I just couldn't buy that.

Neither could I buy the reworked Lois Lane. Where's her fire? Where're her quick wit and bull-headedness? Apparently, motherhood had mellowed this ace reporter. She seemed more frustrated with events around her, instead of changing them to her advantage. Also, the transition of her hate towards Superman to rekindled love was too smooth. There was nothing to make me believe that she could forgive her true love for leaving her. If there was a conflict in her, it wasn't brought out fully by Kate Bosworth.

Brandon Routh, the newcomer who took on the enormous role of Superman, also fared poorly. His lack of experience showed clearly. His face was quite plastic, barely able to express clearly the emotions that he was feeling. It was as if all he had to do was to look good in the red, blue and yellow suit. That was a huge letdown in his scene with Lois Lane. There was clearly a lack of chemistry between them. His Clark Kent, though, was slightly better. He wasn't the star reporter that he is in the comics, but his bumbling nature and "gee whiz" personality gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Finally, there was the revelation that will divide Super-fans. If the twist of Lois Lane being a single mother was astounding, then this plotline was even more outrageous. Superman, who stands for everything that is upright and moral, could not possibly succumb to this. That would be like Batman wearing white sheets. It just should not have been done because it tarnished his purity.

Yes, that is an idealistic view of the Man of Steel. But that is what Superman is: the ideal person. He can have weaknesses, he can have emotional and heroic conflicts. But he cannot be involved in an affair that goes against what society continues to uphold. And that, I think, was a huge letdown in remaking the mythos.

Of course, the movie wasn't all that bad. After all, this is Superman. And I believed that a man not only could fly, but he could do it as naturally as walking and eating. Computer graphics certainly helped in making Superman super, especially the flying scenes. And in a take off the "Smallville" series, Superman's heat vision was shown as heated air, not hokey twin red laser beams.

In the end, this is a feel-good movie and a stepping stone towards revitalising the Superman franchise. But on its own, I felt that it could have been so much more. Everything was downplayed: the story, the cast, the relationships, even the Super-suit. The movie just didn't feel... super.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

What are "friends"? according to Island Thoughts

"Stolen" from my ex-junior college-mate:
Thank God for giving me friends - those whom we can not only have fun with, but those whom we can count on in good times and bad times... friends whom I know will share my joys, laughter, disappointments and grief... friends who truly care, who will pray with you, laugh with you, cry with you, giving you a shoulder to cry on, shares your excitement and care for those who matters to you.

In more practical ways, friends loan kitchen for you to mess up (oops! I mean to cook in), offer car rides from one end of Singapore to the other, put up with the 'homeless', talk over long distances with, gives you a hug when you are down, makes you laugh till you roll on the floor whilst playing taboo (and cha-boo), gives encouragement when you are discouraged, gives assurance when you are uncertain, cleans car for you (better than the petrol attendant at the kiosk), offer to drive when you are really worn out, putting up with your idiosyncrasies and accepts you for who you are... the list is endless.

I guess through it all, it spells L-O-V-E. Thank you, my dear friends :)
Link to Island Thoughts

My thoughts on friends.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Collaboration update

Remember that collaboration I mentioned previously? Phase 2 was completed tonight. Phase 1 was completed last week. Phase 3 should begin this weekend, if all goes well.

Quite cryptic, ya? I'm saving up for the grand announcement. But I just had to include some sort of teaser and personal update (for when I re-read my blog when I'm old and grey.)

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Cars"

Cars
Why do I prefer Pixar movies over those from Dreamworks or other computer-graphics animated movies? I'm not biased just because it has the same boss as Apple. The answer is surprisingly simply: its storylines. I've only watched one non-Pixar CD animated movie. While it was likeable, I thought that the creators focussed on the graphics technology rather than the story. What's the point of paying so much to appreciate so little (not that I'm belittling the technology)?

"Cars" is no exception. Its story is tried-and-true: a young hotshot learns humility from country folk. Yes, it sounds prejudiced, and I think it is. What clinched it for me is that I too share the notion of "returning to simplicity". The rat race brings fame and fortune, but like they say, "money can't buy me love".

And, like I said, it's a story that's tried and true. And a story that is tried and true must still be relevant, otherwise it wouldn't be used over and over again.

What I found disappointing was the part when Lightning McQueen turned over a new leaf. For a long time, I thought that he was faking it to get in the others' good books. I kept waiting for the punchline that never came. I suppose I've become too cynical and jaded to believe at face value that a person could change just like that.

Since this is a Pixar movie, there were great visuals too. And wow, digital cinema really makes a difference! Every pixel was crystal clear! The textures, the backgrounds, the crowds, they were all captured perfectly! I don't know if my friend heard me "ooh"-ing and "aah"-ing throughout the movie.

Oh, and I enjoyed the short film "One Man Band"... because the little girl was soooooo cute!

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Out the whole day

It's quite amazing, I think, how what I thought would've been a brief meeting with a friend would turn into a whole day together.

My day had begun at an introductory seminar for Reel Revolution. It's a six-week programme for teams of four to produce a four-minute video essay on a social issue. This two-hour seminar at The Substation consisted of talks by the programme partners and screening of two short films. The first film, "Santa is here", was about the people of a Cambodian "Smokey Mountain" (i.e. rubbish dump) getting "gifts" in the daily trash. The second was part of a series of films about the changing architecture in coastal cities.

After that seminar, I met my friend at Funan Centre. We had lunch, talked a bit about an upcoming collaboration (stay tuned for more!), then walked around. Our walk took us from one shopping centre to anothere, CityLink Mall. We stopped by The Coffee Connoiseur and had drinks and dessert.

From there, we walked on to the newly renovated Marina Square. We wandered around several shops, and browsed at two computer/electronics stores, one of which was the Creative store, and Times the Bookshop. Oh, and a toy store too because I wanted to (it was a letdown).

We had nothing planned for the rest of the day, so my friend broached the idea of watching a movie. It was 3:45pm when we checked the screening times, and found that "Cars" had started 15 minutes ago. Oh well. So we bought tickets for the next show at 6:10pm.

To pass time, we played billiards. I wasn't too keen about it because I hardly ever play it and my technique is all wrong. This was only my fifth or sixth time playing ever, so the prospect of being trashed repeatedly was a foregone conclusion.

It took me a while to get into it. First, there was figuring out the correct method for positioning my fingers to balance the cue stick. Then there was the hitting of the balls. There were only a handful of times when I could really "feel the ball" or "be one with the cue stick", so to speak. The other times, it was entirely luck.

No, I am not a child prodigy for sinking a few balls at oblique angles. But at least now I know how to rack the balls.

Then, it was off to the movie! Review of that will come later. Fortunately, children consisted of about one quarter of the audience, and even they were well behaved throughout. No sudden screaming or crying.

From there, it was off to iShop at Orchard Cineleisure because my friend had decided to buy the new MacBook. It was after 9pm when we arrived there and the store was closing in half an hour. While my friend questioned a salesperson, I attempted to check my email through the store display. Funny thing was, their wireless connection was very erratic. Sometimes things would flow smoothly, sometimes I'd be waiting minutes for a page to appear.

Anyway, we got our things done there, then walked to Shaw Centre's McDonald's for a late dinner. (BTW we also ate at McDonald's at Funan Centre for lunch.) It was there that we met my ex-colleague and I forgot his name! But I think I managed to escape an embarrassing moment by letting him introduce himself, ha.

Then it was around 11pm, time to go home.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Sigg is live!

Sigg is live!

What is Sigg?
Sigg is a Digg-like service. The difference is that its primary content is Singapore-related news and information. However, since the Internet is an open system, Sigg also accepts contributions about anything that may be of interest to its audience. Sigg is based on Pligg, which was influenced by Digg.
Why did I do it?
  1. Because I like the concept.
  2. Because I have an under-utilised web hosting account.
  3. Because I can.
Why the name "Sigg"?
Because I suck at names.

How does this affect Tomorrow.sg? Or vice versa?
I have no problems with Tomorrow.sg. I don't think Tomorrow.sg has any problems with me. We coexist, we live, we die, the world goes on spinning.

Sigg's design sucks.
I know. It's the default style that came with Pligg. But that's no excuse. See how lah!

How did I find out about Pligg?
Thanks to the new Netscape.com, I saw a link that gave a tutorial for setting up a Digg-like website. So I jumped on it. And yes, I'm plugging Netscape. I think its Digg-like revamp is cool.

Start reading and contributing articles at Sigg!

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

ECO retreat

Here's a little story: Once upon a time, I was feeling like my free time wasn't being put to productive use. So I volunteered as a web developer with Environmental Challenge Organisation (Singapore). The Web team consisted of one other person, who was the team's head. Along the way, we got one other person in the Web team, but I was the go-to guy because of my relatively improved technical prowess (fwah!). And after a seemingly innocent turn as a stand-in at an Exco meeting, I magically became the deputy head of the Web team (fwah! fwah!), with all of the privileges and responsibilities that come with it.

One of those privileges was attending the Exco retreat this weekend. It was at East Coast Chalet. I was actually surprised that it hadn't been redeveloped already. This was only my second time at that particular chalet, and third time at any chalet. My previous experience had been a bad one (a choked toilet shared by 10 people makes for a really, really bad memory!), so I was actually quite worried about attending.

Aside: Staying at chalets is the "in" thing for Singaporean youths to do. My lack of experience at chalets shows just how "out of it" I was.

This was also my first time meeting most of the Exco over an extended period of time. The Exco meeting I had attended was two hours and it was all work. This time, it would be work and play. I wondered how welcoming they would be.

Fortunately, that particular worry was laid to rest. They are all sociable folks who made me feel like we'd known each other for a long time. It helped that we were about the same age, so I didn't feel like a child or a parent.

The retreat had started the night before, but I joined them on Saturday morning. It was to be a productive day. There was a recap of the previous year's goals and accomplishments. Then we went on to redefining the organisations vision, mission and goals. It took us two hours to figure out the difference between "vision" and "mission". In the end, we used two metaphors:
  1. ECO is a painter. Its vision is the picture it wants to paint. Its mission is how it wants to present that picture, e.g. pastel, water-colour, etc.
  2. ECO is like a woman. The vision is how you describe her attributes, e.g. beautiful, of a certain age, etc. The mission is how you describe her actions, e.g. teaches, organises events, etc.
Once we got the vision, the mission came almost easily, and the goals even easier. And then, it was dinner! It was meant to be a barbeque dinner for all of the volunteers, but due to low response, the plan had been scrapped. However, the food had already been ordered, which meant that the nine of us had to eat 25 persons' worth of food.

We had fried rice, fried bee hoon, 30-40 chicken wings, almost as many chicken fillets, sausages, many sticks of satay (chicken and mutton), and two cartons of drinks (Coca-Cola and green tea).

In the end, we finished half the chicken wings, all of the fillets (though some fell on the ground accidentally), and some sausages. We gave away half of the satay to a neighbour, and had half a carton of drinks left over. And threw away three-quarters of the fried rice and bee hoon, sob.

As the night wound down, we shared about our thoughts of the organisation and the other Exco members. Then I was slightly surprised when I learned that half of them would be leaving. I thought that everyone would be staying overnight in a chalet meant for four. I had already planned to stay over, so I did.

I stayed up to talk a bit about possible ways of promoting the organisation. After being shushed for keeping the others awake (ha!), I went to bed and didn't wake up till after 9:30am. Yup, last one up. We watched TV, talked about revising ECO's constitution, cleared up, then left for home.

And yes, whenever I used the toilet, I was afraid that it wouldn't flush. Once, I thought it really stopped working after someone had used it. Fortunately, it was due to the tank not being filled up after the last person had used it.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Feedback session: "Sense of Belonging"

I attended my first Feedback Unit discussion this evening. This was actually my second opportunity at this. The first time, something came up at the last minute and I couldn't attend it.

And to give a further background, yes, I've been a member of the so-called "People's Forum" (sounds very hammer-and-sickle, no?) for about a year. No, I'm not a government spy.

I had mistakenly thought that it was for youths and about what they want in Singapore. It was really a focus group to find out Singaporeans' sense of belonging and identity.

But first, let me state for the record: the government knows how to serve food! The invite said refreshments. It turned out to be a buffet with eight dishes (one was fruits, another was cream puffs). Of course, I had expected this, especially since the session was held on a weekday evening. I remember attending another government-sponsored event (for the life of me, I can't remember what it was!) and the food was top notch! Haha, tax dollars at work!

Back to the discussion...

There were 13 participants, one moderator (it sounds like civil servants get picked randomly to moderate such sessions), and three note-takers from the Feedback Unit. Of the 13 participants,
  • three were female,
  • the oldest was in his 50s, the youngest in his 20s, and about half were above 30,
  • slightly less than half were civil servants,
  • only two had never stayed out of Singapore for an extended period of time, e.g. for work or studies, and
  • there were no Malays -- apparently, they have their own focus group due to earlier research that showed that their ideas were significantly different from those of other racial groups.
To guide the discussion, we were given five questions:
  1. Are you proud to be a Singaporean?
  2. What makes you feel a sense of belonging to Singapore?
  3. What changes do you hope to see in Singapore that would make you feel more attached to the country?
  4. Are you confident that Singapore will have a bright future?
  5. Are you confident that your personal aspirations can be fulfilled in Singapore?
We spent almost an hour on the first question. As usual, there was a lot of digression, and there were a few people who elaborated so widely that the moderator had to cut them off.

Essentially, the feeling I got was that there was a failure to distinguish between "Are you proud to be a Singaporean?" and "Are you proud of Singapore?" Most people said they're proud because of Singapore's achievements, its global status, the respect and recognition we get from other countries, etc.

But a few of us kept driving back the point that those were about Singapore and not about our identity. We emphasised that their pride was based on the good that we have. I gave this example: if a person's family came to ruin, would he still be proud to be part of that family? I elaborated by saying that though Timorese face difficulties, I doubt many of them would want to return to Indonesia. (I also thought of Israelis and Kurds, but Timores leapt to mind first.)

Unfortunately, I felt that the point didn't sink in. Or maybe it's because there is no distinction between "proud of country" and "proud to be a member of the country"?

I liked this anecdote by a participant. She had two citizenships because of where she was born. When she turned 21, the Singapore government made her pick one (dual citizenship is not allowed in Singapore). After much thinking, she kept her Singaporean citizenship, even though she could have had a better life in the other country.

She put it succintly: Singapore gives her grief, but she loves the country. In anything, there is almost always a love-hate relationship. She didn't feel that she must be 100% happy with Singapore to love it. Instead, she works hard to improve Singapore.

Unfortunately, hers was not a view shared by others, especially the older ones. I've heard it said that the older you get, the less idealistic you become. In this focus group, I found that to be true. Those below 30 expressed hope and optimism, but those above 30 talked about the realities of life and a "give up" attitude.

This distinction came out strongly when we were asked for our personal opinions about the fourth question. The younger ones felt that Singapore would continue to do well (barring unforeseen circumstances), while the older ones expressed bitterness. Of course, this is just a generalisation.

Interestingly, there was little difference between the age groups when it came to the last question. Almost everyone didn't feel confident. Or we really, truly wanted to be confident, but our ideals were already crushed by harsh reality.

And that's how we wrapped up the session. Later, each of us was given a "goodie bag". It was a standard government envelope containing a notebook, a refrigerator magnet with sticky notes, a pencil, and a small "to do" white board.

My personal reflection: I actually am looking forward to participating in another feedback session. The general feeling is that the government doesn't care about feedback (true or not, I won't debate it here). However, I feel that this is a better forum to voice my concerns where there is a better-than-remote chance of being heard. This is compared to coffeeshops or at work or in a blog. Also, when listening to other people whom I wouldn't normally meet, I can reassess my preconceived notions. Which I think can only be a good thing.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

"X-Men 3: The Last Stand"

X-Men 3: The Last Stand
Sigh, so this is what happens when a superhero movie franchise is given to someone who's never read a comic book until called upon to direct it. The only word I can use to describe "X-Men 3: The Last Stand" is "unsatisfying", or for the grammar Nazis, "unsatisfactory". I went into the show with an open mind, hoping that it would be a good Saturday afternoon flick. Alas...

But first, I should note that spoilers abound in this post, so read on at your own peril.

Overall, the movie was good eye candy. There were lots of special effects, some nice sets, pretty good angles, etc. Storywise, I learned what it means when a movie lacks story. And also what happens when good characters are underused.

Oh, the characters. So many of them were just plot devices:
  • Mystique -- to provide information to move the movie forward
  • Cyclops -- to show that Jean Grey has changed
  • Colossus -- for the "fastball special"
  • Rogue -- to personify good mutants who want to be "normal"
  • Angel -- to make the father look noble
  • Callisto -- to find characters who will move the movie forward
  • Arclight -- to clap hands and look evil
  • Spike -- for special effects
  • Multiple Man -- also for special effects
  • Juggernaut -- because Tyler "Sabertooth" Mane couldn't renegotiate his contract
Another reason the movie left a bitter taste was because it seemed to be wiping the X-universe clean, like what was happening in "Infinite Crisis" and "Decimation":
  • Cyclops -- dead
  • Professor Charles Xavier -- dead (or not)
  • Jean Grey -- dead
  • Rogue -- depowered
  • Magneto -- depowered (or not)
  • Mystique -- depowered
Notice that they're all main characters, particularly from the first movie? So many good characters, so much waste. Seriously, who's left? Even during the final fight scene. C'mon, six of them only??? In part two, Professor Xavier had a whole army of X-Men confront the President in the White House!

I felt especially sad for these three:
  1. Cyclops -- overshadowed by Wolverine in part 1, written off in part 2, tossed in the gutter in part 3
  2. Rogue -- though she was a pivotal character in part 1, she had already been written off in part 2. I guess there's only so much angst that can be written into a girl who can't touch people. I half-expected her to show up in the nick of time in the final fight. Still, I felt sad for her when she revealed that she was now powerless.
  3. Magneto -- I was awed by how he could move the Golden Gate Bridge. This guy has power! So it hit me deep when he was struck with the "cure" that removed his mutation. Yes, I felt sad for the villain. His was probably the only well-developed character in the entire franchise. And they depowered him, those bastards!
So what did I like? This is going to sound cheesy, but I really enjoyed the final fight. From when Magneto moved the Bridge to Jean Grey's death. I thought that it was a lot of fun. And seeing the X-Men enter the scene, haha, it totally made the comic book geek in me feel good!

Before watching the show, I had already been spoiled by readiing the novelisation. I had read the spoilers about the deaths of Cyclops and Professor Xavier. I had an inkling of Professor Xavier's return in the final scene after the credits. So in reading the book, I merely wanted to see how the deaths would occur. I also read the ending, and found discrepancies between the movie and its adaptation. In the novel, Hank McCoy joins the institute as a teacher and Wolverine conducts a class with some new students, including Gambit (!). Alas, those two events never happened.

Finally, I would've liked an end scene where Colossus and Kitty hooked up, like they would in the comics. Even a sideways glance or wink-and-a-smile would've been sufficient. But given Colossus' non-role, I guess this would've been too much of a stretch.

Oh, and I'm mad at myself for not seeing ahead that Professor Xavier would inhabit the comatose patient's mind. I had gone in with the preconceived notion that he would exist in the astral plane, affecting everyone psychically. Yes, I knew Dr Moira MacTaggert would play a part in his return, yet I totally missed it. Grr.

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