Wednesday, February 27

Film: Happy Death Day 2U Click for more info

Happy Death Day was a sleeper hit back in 2017 and managed to bridge the gap between a nerdy premise, horror and lots of fun. A sequel would have had its work to do - making something even just as good without just doing the same thing again isn't a trivial task.

And yet here we are. As in the first film, the real joy comes with not knowing what lies ahead so I can't speak too much about the plot except to say it's just as accessible as before, if a little wonky as it tries to add more stuff. Ultimately though the film manages to be just as fun as the first, possibly at the cost of the horror aspect - don't expect many screams here.

If you were a fan of the first then you'll enjoy this. And so as I was a fan of the first I have no qualms in recommending its sequel.

Wednesday, February 20

Film: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Click for more info

In my view the real genius in The Lego Movie was the many layers of meta it managed to lay on itself and the audience. Not only was the film full of superfluous in-jokes, the plot itself was intrinsically based on the fact that The Lego Movie was a story being told. And so the hardest part about The Lego Movie 2 is how to top that - since really once you do meta meta, it's always going to be turtles all the way down.

And yet The Second Part does manage to solve the problem... by not trying. The first two acts of the movie are thus just regular animation antics and storytelling, which although fun, was definitely no Lego Movie. In fact I would go as far as saying that I wasn't too impressed by what I seen by that point - that is until the third act came along and saved not only the movie as a whole but also my own rash judgement in thinking the makers didn't know what they were doing.

Of course any muddled reviewing is a result of my trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum, so I'll just cut to the chase: The Lego Movie 2 is a worthy sequel to The Lego Movie and if you enjoyed and appreciated the first then you'll almost certainly do both for the second - just make sure you reserve judgement till the end.

Tuesday, February 19

Film: Alita: Battle Angel Click for more info

In many ways Alita doesn't really surprise. It's a coming of age movie, a sports film, a thriller and a revenge flick. It has great action but also a decent plot and progression. In fact I take it back - the real surprise is how Alita manages to be so many normal things in one single movie.

I guess "solid" is the word I'd use to most describe Alita. It rarely does anything wrong, and although it could be accused of being boring for playing it so safe... it's anything but boring. If there was one criticism I could make it's that it all felt a little too compressed - I wouldn't go as far as calling it too generous but it does feel strange to not only not have to complain about how much filler there is in a movie but how it might not have enough.

Overall though Alita was a great ride and a definite poster child for the movies coming in 2019. Recommended.

Monday, February 18

Travelling Sucks

Here's an interesting fact: since September of last year I have used planes more than I have any kind of public transport in London. I state this not with amusement or even pride, but with a little bit of shame and incredulity. As I return from Karachi, I'm even left hoping that I manage to spend at least a month in the UK before leaving the country again. Before you scoff at my ingratitude, in my defense the relationship I have with travel had begun to deteriorate well before the spate of trips these last few months.

Just like I would never describe myself as a foodie, neither would I ever consider travel to be a passion of mine. This is in spite of hitting 69 on the Travelers’ Century Club's list (here). It would be easy to conclude that the reason why I don't enjoy it as much as my peers is because I've done my fair share, but I think the reasons run deeper than that. I guess I just don't fundamentally buy into the idea that travel is a necessity in life, or the only (or even a good) way to grow. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the current global obsession to travel is a bit of a fad.

My best and most memorable trips have always been social. So to see native friends in Hong Kong or Singapore, or family in Canada or Pakistan, or to attend weddings in Australia or Mauritius. Some trips have even been a combination of all three. These are the trips that remain with me years after, and the trips I feel really lucky to have been on.

But most of my trips will have none of that, and I find that I have to "epicify" it to make it really worth it - clearly in compensation for my lack of enthusiasm. And so I cross multiple borders, create long road trips, veer as much off the beaten path as I can. My trips therefore tend to be quite dense, an idea that is usually anathema to those who, unlike me, list travel as a passion.

It's interesting to note that the non-family/friend/wedding trips have all usually been instigated by others who would have had the generosity to invite me along. For me travel will always be a luxury rather than a human right. It is something that comes to me rather than me to it, and if I ever lost the opportunity to travel (for example if a future partner doesn't enjoy it, or I no longer have the financial means to do so) I'll be okay with leaving it all behind. Given the world we live in I do see this as being unlikely, although maybe the frequency will reduce.

The thing is that I don't think I'm alone in this. Although travel seems as accessible and popular as ever now, I do often wonder just exactly how popular it would be if Instagram (or whatever) didn't exist. Would people be as enthusiastic about it if they weren't able to tell others where they had been? It's not surprising then how correlated travel is with social media - after fashion and beauty and food it appears to have the most visible number of "influencers" and posts desperate for likes.

It's often claimed that travel is supposed to be about self discovery, but that was a reason that didn't seem to matter as much to us before the Internet. I suppose we don't get to see the people who don't post about their trips so it could just be a visible minority who see "holiday publishing" as the primary point of travel. The danger of course is that the importance of travel itself may have been inflated way past its true value - there are many who, like me, believe that travel isn't entirely for modest people due to its inefficiency, lack of sustainability and polluting aspects. Travel itself isn't alone in this - take for example the food industry and how that's been transformed by social media and the Internet. Whole topics and industries have been subject to "blog eyes".

But whatever the detail, as time goes on travel does feel like a bit of a hassle to me personally, and sometimes it almost feels like I'm labouring the point just by going. This jadedness means that I'm not as impressed with the otherwise unique and amazing things that I get to see. This might just be the curse of the blessed, so perhaps I've just simply been desensitised. Then again maybe I'm just lucky? I've often claimed that the top ten most memorable moments I've had in my life have all happened within 10 miles of where I lived, so perhaps I just don't see the point of travelling for life experiences that will never really make the cut.

Sunday, February 17

A Failed Plan

Well, it was always going to be a long shot.

The ticket sold to us allowed an hour transit in Dubai on the way home. Although the question was raised if it was even possible to change planes in that much time, the fact that we've done shorter transits and that they wouldn't have sold the ticket in the first place convinced us we'd be okay.

Of course we didn't consider Karachi itself but even after waiting almost an hour for a missing passenger we still thought that we would make our connecting flight. And to be fair the pilot made good time with us only really landing 15 minutes late. However on exiting the plane we were welcomed by a service representative who explained that we had been de-boarded mid-flight and had been placed on the same flight the next day (as there was only the one per day to Stansted). Of course, our destination being London did mean we were able to easily take the next Heathrow flight, but by that point we'd may as well have taken the PIA.

A first world problem for sure, but still annoying (but maybe because we have to submit to PIA's whims again). Interestingly the experience has also made me realise that Karachi International is probably second to Heathrow when counting which airports I've used the most. It's a thought that leads me to many more, but that's something for a further post.

Saturday, February 16

Karachi 2019

This might be the coldest I've ever been during a visit to Karachi. I mean sure, it's in the shade, but still. I'm wearing socks and everything.

Otherwise it's business as usual: crap Internet, a daily routine largely consisting of frequenting the mosque and visiting relatives, and the meeting of new members of family while the missing of those who are no longer with us.

I love it for the two weeks (max!) that I stay here.

Sunday, February 10

Book: Death's End, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu Click for more info

If The Dark Forest was The Three-Body Problem squared, then Death's End continues on that exponential curve. The stage is much grander, the ideas of a much grander scale, and the science the best I've experienced in fiction for a long, long time. This was more like a tachyon Star Trek TNG episode than a BSG soap opera, and the unabashed (if a little out there) science-first approach was a welcome change from the more gizmo futures we've been offered in contemporary sci-fi.

Cheng Xin, the new protagonist for this volume, is, quite frankly, an idiot and quite possibly the most frustrating anti-hero I've had the pleasure of reading. Expect that her character and her decisions are essential to the unfolding plot and even the lessons being taught. By the end of the book I realised the real idiocy lay on the opposite side of the fourth wall.

But the real genius of the book (and thinking about it now the series as a whole) is how it almost manages to undo itself, and the author is nothing less than brave for the approach. The slight downside is that, similar to The Dark Forest, in this vacuum of world building the ending feels almost rushed. I've decided to accept this as the book's character though.

Overall the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (to use its formal name) is like a breath of fresh air. No, actually, it's like a reset on the genre of science fiction, throwing back to the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov in scale and approach. This approach isn't popular or even one that necessarily prioritises accessibility, but by avoiding the dumbing down of concepts we end with something much purer and better for it.

Friday, February 1

A Quick Stop

Perhaps as expected, flying to Karachi tends to be logistically a mixed bag. On the one hand, despite the lack of options the PIA direct flight from Heathrow used to actually be rather convenient as it flew during a Friday night. The only real issue is that it was a PIA flight - between the lack of any visible standard and the danger of flights being late (or not flying at all) it's never the most convenient of carriers. The other option is to fly indirect, usually via the Middle East, but that adds both cost and time to a flight that would otherwise be a breezy seven hours.

However with Emirates now flying from Stansted, the idea of taking those indirect flights does become more attractive. The only downside in this case was the transit time - a minimum of four hours at Dubai airport wasn't ideal, and so we decided to make a day of it and take an even later flight to Karachi, giving us the day to check out Dubai.

And so it was that I ended up with a lazy brunch, a Jummah in the Sustainable City, and even a BBQ in a park with friends I hadn't seen for years. So far so good, and Stansted-via-Dubai might even end up being the plan going forward.