Thursday, April 17, 2014

Comics this week

Bad Ass #4- Criminally overlooked, Bad Ass ended the same way it had been all along; with a crazy out-of-this-world issue that makes you wonder about the sanity of writer Herik Hanna. I mean just look at his JL-like superhero group, the AJF. A cartoon-like character named Eddy Looter beside normal superheroes? That idea (and character design by artist Bruno Bessadi) is just zany fun. We probably won’t see a sequel to Bad Ass but we should. Comics stand need more series like this.

Ms. Marvel #3- One thing about superhero comics is that outside having superpowers, the main character is well…heroic. After a successful rescue last issue, that’s the case for Kamala Khan as well. On a high after the rescue, Kamala is now trying to come to grips with her powers while facing down the problems of school, family, and culture. Then disaster strikes as her inexperience tell. I give writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona credit; they successfully showcased the struggle Kamala faced and they do not dumb down or avoid the problems faced by Kamala. There is just something refreshing about that. This is a very promising series with only two caveats; 1) I still say they need a new codename for Kamala outside being called Ms. Marvel and 2) I hope the costume on the cover is not permanent. It’s terrible.

Superman/Wonder Woman #7- This issue is weak. In the aftermath of the nuclear blast last issue, we see both Superman and Wonder Woman severely injured. Both tried desperately to save each other and in the end succeeded. Now I was sure they would succeed in saving each other but any potential tension in the issue was destroy on its opening page where we see a healthy Clark and Diana going on a date. Yes, the entire aftermath of the nuclear blast was told as a flashback! Talk about stupid planning. Writer Charles Soule really drop the ball on this one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Useless FFP Rule

In Europe, the top clubs spent money like water to get the best players in the world. To combat this financial dropping (as stated by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger), the European footballing body UEFA has a Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule.

The basic concept behind FFP is that clubs can't make more than a certain amount of losses over several seasons or UEFA will punish them by not awarding them a license to play in the Champions League or Europa League. The UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body say around 20 clubs may be prosecuted for breach of rules and top of the list are English Premier League title contenders Manchester City and reigning Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain (PSG).

I will say this; I'll believe the rule has bite when UEFA start banning clubs from the Champions League. 

I don't believe they will. I mean just look at Manchester City. They posted losses of  £149 million during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons! What's there to talk about? They are clearly in violation of the FFP rules but so what? They have some of the best players in the world like Yaya Toure, Sergio Ag├╝ero, Samir Nasri, and Vincent Kompany. UEFA is going to stop these players from playing in their cash cow, The Champions League? 

I don't believe it and it's obvious Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan do not either. Until UEFA start banning top clubs from the Champions League, the FFP rule is not worth the paper it is written on. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Eventual Winner?

"This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country."

These words were uttered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who believed that after 3 years, the Syrian civil war is now at a turning point. He is right and it is turning in his favor!

This is an analysis most observers, including Western diplomats who wish to topple al-Assad, agrees with. The reason is simple. The West insistence that moderate Syrian rebels like the Frees Syrian Army (FSA) turn their backs on the extreme rebel group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), have split the Syrian rebels and al-Assad has waste no time in taking advantage of the situation.

Not only that, the Syrian government is steadily taking territory from FSA, using the age-old tactics of trying to wipe out the weaker force first before going after the stronger ISIS. After suffering attacks from their follow rebels, ISIS has been consolidating their presence in eastern Syria, basically abandoning the rest of Syria to the Syrian government and FSA. A straight fight the Syrian government is winning handily.

So after scoring a succession of military victories, President Assad will be forgiven for gloating about the future. The chances of him ultimately winning the Syrian civil war is a very possible possibility. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review of Captain America: Winter Soldier

First off, let me admit one thing; I didn’t like Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s an okay action war movie but it didn’t resonate with me. Honestly, I just have no interest in watching a superhero fighting in WWII.

Captain America: Winter Soldier however is a movie I like.

Sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, the film is also the ninth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and as such, the movie got most of its’ cast back with Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Bucky), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) all back in action.

The story takes place about 2 years after the Battle of New York (as shown in the Avengers movie), and Steve Rogers is now living in Washington, D.C. Working for S.H.I.E.L.D, he and Black Widow are sent on a mission to free hostages aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from pirates led by mercenary Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre). Unknown to Rogers, the Black Widow has another mission of her own and the two conflicting missions allow Batroc to escape. Something Rogers then confront Fury on.

An unapologetic Fury shows Rogers the extent he’s willing to go to eliminate threats to the safety of the world; three next-gen Helicarriers linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively kill enemies from afar. Fury is then ambushed and injured by a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier, but not before warning Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised.

From there, the movie becomes an old-school conspiracy thriller as Captain America and his allies try to uncover who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and what their agenda is.

Just this plot alone makes this a better movie than The First Avenger! Captain America: Winter Soldier is an edgier, more complex movie that embraced the question of the trade-off the world has made post 9/11. Back by a sharp script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directors Anthony and Joe Russo put together a movie that feels almost Bourne-like at times.

A well-balanced film, there are some powerful scenes in this film not least of which is the confrontation between Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce. Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford (as Pierce) knocked the scene out of the park as they try to convince each other on the righteousness of their cause. I found Robert Redford to be an extremely convincing, compelling villain and hope he’ll return in some form to the role (hint, hint).

Chris Evans also did a fine job here as he grows into the Steve Rogers role. Vastly more comfortable now, Evans play Rogers as the character he is; a man out of time who’s unsure of his role in the modern world but is still going to fight because as the ultimate soldier, that’s the only thing he knows how to do. Evans Rogers’ vulnerability in this film, while still being a kick-ass name-taking super-soldier, is brilliantly portrayed by Evans. 

I also liked the name-dropping of various Marvel characters throughout the movie. You got Stark, Banner, and Doctor Strange and outside them, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver at the very end. As the saying goes, a hero is only as good as his villains and in this movie, the villains were very impressive. Outside Pierce, both Batroc the Leaper and Crossbones were great. Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow (Crossbones) is a bad-ass who pretty much beat up everyone in the movie not named Steve Rogers.

Of course there are some sore points.

I give the film credit for trying but I just can’t buy the link between Steve Rogers and Bucky. If you did not see the first movie, the friendship between the two would make little sense and even if you did, you’ll have a hard time understanding why their friendship is so important to Rogers that he’ll risked the safety of the world for it.  

Also, I felt the performance of Scarlett Johansson stuck up like a sore thumb in this movie. I don’t know if it’s because of the great performances here by other people (Evans, Redford etc) but Scarlett Johansson look bored in this movie. Her Black Widow in Avengers and Iron Man 2 were much, much better.

However this second Captain America installment is without doubt one of the better
film in the MCU and even if you are not into superhero movies, Captain America: Winter Soldier also works as an espionage thriller. In short, Captain America: Winter Soldier isn’t just a good superhero movie; it’s a good movie period!

Friday, April 11, 2014

No Idea What They're Doing

With the search for the missing MH370 narrowed to an area within the Indian Ocean, the question on how the plane went missing has still not been answered. There had been many conspiracy theories on this since the plane vanished on March 8 and it seem one thought is that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is to blame.

A newspaper owned by the ruling Barisan Nasional party, Utusan Malaysia, is alleging that the US intelligence agency was behind the disappearance of MH370. The allegations were printed on Sunday and till now, no government official has come out to deny it.

That is just plain stupidity on the part of the Malaysian government.

The main question on everyone's mind is how the hell did the plane managed to fly across Malaysia without been detected and stopped by the Malaysians. The plane was picked up by the Thai Air Force and it looped around Indonesia to avoid their radar, but it managed to go straight across Malaysia. How it managed to do that? The Malay government has not managed to answer this question thus far and now their newspaper is saying the CIA are the ones to blame?

That's just giving ammunition to their opponents that they have no idea what the hell they're doing. Already the Malaysian opposition is using these allegations to attack the Malaysian government. Taking up time and resources better used to help finding the missing plane...and the Malaysian government has no one to blame but themselves.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Comics this week

Astro City #11- After the Samaritan/Confessor/Winged Victory arc, writer Kurt Busiek gets back to what he does best. A small story about the everyday man living in a city pack with superheroes. Raitha is the overworked personal assistant to an overworked superhero, The Silver Adept, and this issue showcase a day in her life as she tried to juggle her boss's packed schedule. This include something as mundane as doing as doing her email to arranging her travel planes as The Silver Adept goes another the world (and other planes) to preventing a war breaking out between clans of alien magicians on her boss's behalf. Another typical day for the little guy in Astro City, and this is why I love this series.

Bad Ass #3- After a two weeks delay, I finally got my hands on this issue. If you've been reading this series till now, nothing here would surprise you as writer Herik Hanna and artist Bruno Bessadi do more of the same. Of course this is not a bad thing as they are clearly having fun in this Batman homage/satire series. Blacksnake comes with his own Black Copter, Black Boat, Black Motorcycle, BlackMobile, and even a stuffy black butler. It was hilarious! 1 more issue till the end. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Singaporeans will be Singaporeans

Singapore’s top local university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), is currently ranked 22nd in the 2013 World Reputation Rankings published by the Times Higher Education (THE). However, there’ve been reports of unhappiness at NUS due to the disproportionately high number of foreign faculty members over there.

While the main complain seems to be discriminatory hiring (when a foreign recruiter hires people from his homeland), I have a far simpler and better explanation on why there are so few Singaporean academics. Singaporeans don't want to pursue the path of academia.

It's that simple. We Singaporeans just don't care about such things. We care about making money; doing research and writing papers...not so much. Forget about the universities, even in companies, you will see few Singaporeans in their R&D departments. 

Generally speaking, Singaporeans are just not interested in such things. The fact that this happens at a famous university makes no difference. Singaporeans will be Singaporeans.