Singapore Garden Festival

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Singapore Garden Festival, originally uploaded by sangsara.

I went with my mom and girlfriend on some complimentary tickets, and on the whole can’t say I’m too sorry I spent a Saturday afternoon looking at indoor “fantasy gardens”, even if they were largely useless vanity projects for rich landscaping companies. Some, like the one above, made for good photos.

Bali

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Altar, originally uploaded by sangsara.
Spent a few days in Bali last week, and it was pretty awesome. I was never a fan of short, un-epic vacations before this, but now I can see myself squirreling some money away for a few more of these getaways. Seminyak was a far more pleasant and quieter place than the popular Kuta, with its gaudy local economy built around serving foreign surfers.

Every meal was pretty great, and almost always half the price of their equivalents in Singapore. I daresay I had the single best pasta dish of my life served in a Belgian bar/restaurant with six fresh prawns for just SGD$12. Anyway this altar here was in a street corner restaurant where we stopped for lunch after 3 hours of walking in the heat after coming off a night without sleeping on a really uncomfortable flight on Indonesia’s Lion Air.

Film Notes: Get Smart (2008)

It’s been settling for two days now, and I think Get Smart was better than Wanted and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but worse than Kung Fu Panda. I liked some of the references to the old series, and I always like looking at Anne Hathaway too, but an unnecessary remake movie’s gotta have more to offer than that! I doubt many people are on the fence about seeing this anyway, so I won’t go into any details. It’s an alright 2 hour movie to see in the middle of a hot afternoon, but don’t make it the high point of your night out.

I laughed a couple of times, so I’d say it was worth 3/5 stars. For the record, Wanted got 2, Zohan got 2.5 (mostly for its opening minutes), and Kung Fu Panda got 3.5.

Film Notes: Kung Fu Panda (2008)

I saw this last night and was rather disappointed with the story. This movie has gotten something like 88% at RottenTomatoes.com, which is in a region previously reserved for Studio Ghibli and Pixar movies (or Disney, if you’re old enough to remember a time when they didn’t suck). So naturally, I had my expectations high enough that anything short of a beautiful, sensitively made film that delivered the old “if you believe, you can do anything” message in new ways was going to feel like a waste of 10 dollars.

Kung Fu Panda, sadly, is not that ‘something new’. And it is very flawed, structurally. I think they were just hoping that the animation and inherent panda cuteness would make up for the fact that the writers never managed to solve the problem of how to have an unfit panda convincingly best the world’s greatest warrior in combat, apart from using his ass/belly as a bouncy surface. As a result, the film looks like this:

2 minutes of Panda being a bad-ass (dream sequence)
is followed by
55 minutes of Panda shown as well-meaning but incompetent as a fighter
followed by
5 minutes of his teacher having an epiphany
followed by
1 minute of training montage
followed by
10 minutes of Panda being a full-fledged kungfu expert
followed by
10 minutes of doubt
followed by
5 minutes of unbelievable, unjustified competence
followed by
THE END.

I know I sound like a picky asshole who can’t just relax and enjoy a summer blockbuster for kids, but the bar has been raised by others that came before, and so Kung Fu Panda has to work a little harder. In ways, it is the perfect example of Dreamworks’ approach to animation, and offers several reasons why they consistently fail to deliver something as timeless as say, oh… any Pixar film? These include: loud, brash characters who don’t change so much as they do unlock their artificially stunted potential that everybody else saw from the beginning. Pop culture jokes (admittedly fewer here). Uneven pacing and plot progression. Disregard for the passage of time – and this is a big one for me.

In order to build believability, you have to let certain events breathe. Compared to something like Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda occurs almost in real-time. It honestly feels like everything happens overnight. The result of such carelessness is a lack of drama and audience emphathy for the characters. How are you supposed to feel that Po (the panda) is really ready for his challenge when you’re given at least 30 times as much evidence of his unreadiness as his 1 minute training montage? Classic heroes were products of sustained hardship. Rocky had the heart, and even Remy from Ratatouille had the nose and talent from the beginning. Po, in contrast, is only shown having a fan’s interest in the history of kungfu. It’s like saying little Johnny Redneck by ringside can throw it down with a pro wrestler after a weekend of training with Hulk Hogan.

Animation is a feature film industry where you have far more time and money to get things right, and so directorial failures are even more disappointing. I imagine the guys at Pixar (and I’ve read a little to this effect) hammer the hell out of every detail for their films in pre-production. They’re not afraid to throw away great scenes in order to find even greater ones. The results haven’t just been the best 3D animated films; they pretty much legitimized the form. Kung Fu Panda has a couple of dead-air scenes that I think John Lasseter wouldn’t even wipe his ass with.

One last thing. I’ve had Pixar movies move me to tears. Those guys know how to write emotionally effective scenes that don’t feel like manipulation. And when the time comes to deliver an inspirational message, they know how to show rather than tell. WALL·E pretty much proves it by having two non-speaking leads. Kung Fu Panda on the other hand relies on lines as false as fortune cookie proverbs.

A burger can only be wide and flat (or medium all around)

I just had to defend wide/flat burgers against tall/thick burgers for 30 mins. I’m finding that this is an argument I get into with too many people. For the record, it’s not about taste. I acknowledge that it is possible (but less technically likely) a tall/thick burger can be evenly cooked and taste great. My issue with them is one of design, construction, and symmetry.

Real burgers need to be large, pleasurable meals (I’m not talking about those goddamned sliders or mini-burgers; when was the last time you ordered a half-pint as your first drink?) and a wide footprint on a burger encourages the eating of it to last longer, while visually implying a satisfying quantity. Width also make them stable against cutting actions, letting you slice in straight lines perpendicular to the plate. If you eat them with your hands, then it’s also less likely that bits are going to be squeezed out.

One solution for my rage is to not think about them as “burgers”. Or to think of them as “Tall Burgers”. Somehow, that makes everything better. It’s like “Chicken Luncheon Meat”, or “Turkey Bacon”. Build an excuse into the name and suddenly all can be forgiven. I’m just very protective over some words and can’t stand to see something wrongly labeled. This could be a problem with my brain, because lately I’ve realized how much I hate some words, because of the way their sounds kinda feel wrong.  Like unexpectedly biting into something crunchy when you were expecting smooth ice-cream. It just ruins your day.

“Terrier” is an example of a perfect word. When you look at a terrier and think of how it came to be named that, you know the guy did a fucking first-class job. It absolutely fits.

Test Drive Unlimited for cheap

I’ve spent some time on driving games recently, although generally I’m quite poor at them and like smashing into stuff more than anything. I’m overcoming that habit now and spending more time on PGR 3 & 4 than Burnout Revenge. Play-Asia is selling Test Drive Unlimited for just $25 SGD, which is very tempting. It’s a Massively Multiplayer racing game that models the entire Hawaiian island of Oahu, and has people from all over driving across it in real time, challenging each other to races and so on. I wonder how many people still play it though, and whether Atari might be discontinuing server support anytime soon. Still, for 25 bucks it’s hard to say no.