Review: The Spacewalker

The Spacewalker (Blu-ray release 2017-10-27) is a Russian movie that tells the story of the mission of the first astronaut who walked in space.  This is as close to a Russian version of Apollo 13 (1995) as one can get.  This is a beautiful movie, and its cold war perspective offers something different that we do not usually see in Hollywood space movies – at one point a general suggests to let the astronauts die to protect the interests of the country.  Although the movie is respectable, it lost money.  It suffers from slow pacing, and does not have as much tension as its American masterpiece counterpart.  I do not know if this is a cultural thing or not, but once again the Russian wives of the astronauts show distinctly less emotion than I expect when they learn bad things happen to their husbands.

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Review: Tau

Tau (Netflix) is yet another one-character against Artificial Intelligence (AI) movie, a little bit like 2036: Origin Unknown.  This time it is a horror movie.  The protagonist is captured by an evil scientist trying to advance the state of the art of AI.  Although both the bad guy and the protagonist make stupid decisions as people generally do in horror movies, and there is not much tension, there is one single idea I like.  How do you seduce an AI?  By giving it information.

Review: Rampage

Rampage (Blu-ray release 2018-7-17) is inspired by a video game about giant animals destroying a city.  In this movie, some animals are accidentally affected by weaponized DNA editing made by an evil corporation.  I think this is an average entertainment for those who like seeing CG monsters, but the previous two King Kong movies (2005, 2017) and the two Godzilla movies (2014, 2016) were distinctly better.  The screenplay feels like an excuse to get to the climax of seeing the city getting destroyed, which is understandable considering the source for the inspiration.  The best scene is the CG Gorilla giving Dwayne Johnson’s character the finger.

Review: Sisterhood (2018)

骨妹 (Sisterhood) (Blu-ray release 2018-6-22) is Macau movie that details the strong friendship between two women via flashbacks.  One of them got pregnant so they even tried to raise the child together for a short time before breaking up.  At the end, the child is given a choice, with his birth mother wanted him to make the right choice.  Having a choice now and not having one in the past also drastically changed the life of the protagonist.  All these happen while contrasting with the huge changes of Macau.  For those who like to watch female relationship movies, this one is very competent, unlike the disappointing 閨蜜2之單挑越南黑幫 (Girls vs Gangsters).

Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

As a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (Blu-ray release 2018-6-19) has a few good ideas late in the movie, and honors the Japanese roots for giant robots and monsters.  However, the characterization is weaker with the conflicts among the team members being a waste of time without achieving much.  We also get a repeat but much weaker version of the lead heroine backstory.  In this movie, the battles occur in daylight and the limitations of the CG are more obvious.  As a giant robot vs kaiju movie, I think the kaiju appears far too late.  Although another sequel seems unlikely given the box office disappointment, I’ll still be interested in the third episode if that becomes a reality.

Watch out for an Easter egg involving a giant robot from a different universe and its associated electronics company, and another Easter egg involving a certain classic monster movie (1979).

Review: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time (Blu-ray release 2018-6-5), an adaptation of a novel, manages to have everything I hate in a kid’s movie: bullying, annoying children, evil children, preachiness and stupidity.  I’m not surprised it bombed at the box office.  Consider this: after arriving at the totally evil planet, in the beach scene the protagonists eat food given by the manifestation of pure evil.  Snow white could be forgiven because she did not know the witch is evil.  Here they knew the planet is evil, so it absolutely does not make sense.  The movie is clearly not meant to be watched by adults.  I cannot think of a weaker and more boring climax about good vs evil in the last two decades.

Review: Celestyal Cruises 4 Day Cruise Iconic Aegean

I came back from from Celestyal Cruises 4 Day Cruise Iconic Aegean.  Here’s a report of my experience, focusing on cost and the arrangement aspects.  Hopefully someone doing research for Greek Island cruises may find it useful.

Itinerary

It is important to state that all the details of the cruise can change, especially the prices.  This is the 2018 itinerary I had:

Day Port Arrive Depart
Mon Piraeus (Greece) 11.30
Mon Mykonos (Greece) 18.00 23.00
Tue Kusadasi (Turkey) 07.30 13.00
Tue Patmos (Greece) 17.45 21.30
Wed Rhodes (Greece) 07.00 18.00
Thu Heraklion (Greece) 07.00 12.00
Thu Santorini (Greece) 16.30 21.30
Fri Piraeus (Greece) 07.00

In 2018, it included:

  • Breakfast, snack(?), lunch, tea, dinner
  • Unlimited standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks – this is changed from 2017 and I suspect this may change again in the future
  • Excursion at Kusadasi (Turkey)
  • Excursion at Rhodes (Greece)
  • Port and service charges
  • Gratuities

This is an all-inclusive package that covered everything essential (USD1049 at the time of this post).  If one does not join any extra excursion, one does not need to spend another Euro more.

SIM card

On the sea there is no cellular coverage unless it’s near land.  On the cruise there is a paid WiFi service, which required EUR7 for one hour of use.

I bought two different SIM cards for Greece, but made a great mistake.  Both http://www.three.co.uk SIM card and cmlink SIM card for Europe do not cover Turkey.  Someone from my tour group had AIS SIM2Fly SIM card, which did cover both Greece and Turkey.

Mykonos

Cruises give priority to people who paid for the (expensive) excursions.  Not joining the excursion, it took more than 1 hour before we were permitted to disembark via a tender boat.

It took only a short walk from the port to the windmills.  So no excursion is required for seeing the windmills and the town.  It was possible to see the sunset.

Patmos

The key thing to see in Patmos is the St. John’s Monastery and the Cave of Apocalypse.  Remarkably they open beyond the standard opening hours, for the cruise excursion since we arrived in the evening.

Not joining the excursion (which cost more than EUR70), I walked up the hill to the Cave of Apocalypse for roughly 25 minutes and paid EUR2 to see it.  For those who want to go to St. John’s Monastery, it should be possible to take a taxi or bus to Chora (Hora), walk up to the monastery then down to the cave.

Heraklion

The key thing to see in Heraklion is the Palace of Knossos.  I did not join the EUR74 excursion.  Leaving the port there is a taxi station and a bus station.  Four of us took a taxi that cost EUR50 for Port -> Palace of Knossos -> (driver waits for 1 hour – it took some negotiation to slightly extend that without extra payment) -> Archaeological Museum.  The combined ticket of Palace of Knossos and Archaeological Museum is EUR16 (EUR15 for the Palace of Knossos alone).  So the total cost is EUR28.5 for each person only.  Walking from the museum to the port took 20 minutes – and having cellular service for Google Map helped.  Unlike other islands it required queueing up for security check before we are allowed to embark.

I think we stayed at the Palace for about 75 minutes.  I was surprised to find that those who joined the excursion left the Palace of Knossos at the same time we did.  After that they did not go to the museum, but went to the market instead, which I believe was known as 1866 Street.

Santorini

It is important to that know that for excursion and non-excursion passengers from cruise, they disembark at difference ports, and have important consequences.  (For people who leave the cruise and stay overnight at Santorini the cruise has a special arrangement for them and their luggage.)

Paying the EUR74 excursion to Oia village, we boarded the excursion coach at 5:15pm and arrived at Oia village at 6pm.  We were required to leave at 8pm.  So it was impossible to see the sunset at Oia village.  For my wife this is supposed to be the highlight of our tour but it only gave us a short amount of time.  Joining this excursion also means we could not visit Fira.  Note that a friend had his wallet stolen at Oia village.

For those who are not paying for the excursion, they have several ways to leave the (different) port and go to Fira:

  • Walk up to (or down from) Fira while avoiding the donkeys, reportedly taking 30 minutes
  • Donkey ride, reportedly taking the same amount of time and it is usually not recommended for several reasons
  • Cable car – note that there would be a very long queue.  The cruise recommended not to buy the round trip ticket because it would not save money and would not save one from queueing up again when one returns.  The cruise recommended queueing for the cable car at 8:15pm when coming down.  From other forum posts it could take well over an hour to queue, so even 8:15pm sounds tight.
  • Water taxi – some forum posts mention a water taxi service.  It takes passengers to another bay for a bus to Oia village.  The risk is that the boat will leave only after it is completely filled with people.  It’s also not clear to me the bus schedule (that I could not find beforehand) would fit the time requirements I had.  Strangely there is no return boat to the port.  So one has to go back to Fira from Oia by taxi or bus, then still has to come down by one of the above means.

With our cruise schedule people not joining the excursion are better off visiting Fira only, instead of spending additional time travelling to/from Oia village.

Room

Our rooms at deck 2 of Celestyal Olympia are small.  It was just enough for opening a 29″ luggage and a small luggage.  I don’t think opening two 29″ luggage would be practical.

The shower was ok for me, but multiple friends, including very slim women (even by Asian standard), think it’s too small for them and the shower curtain had the tendency to stick to their skin.

Near the end of ship it’s so noisy it prevented one of our friends from sleeping.  She thought this was the worst cruise experience for her.

Food

There are breakfast, snack, lunch, tea, and dinner at different times.  I never had the chance to try the snack – which was served between 9:30am and 11:30am.

The buffet quality is pretty standard.  Multiple restaurants serve the same buffet food, but smaller ones may have less variety.  I’m especially disappointed with the croissants during breakfast.  They are similar to those large bags of croissants from supermarket, served without any baking whatsoever.

There is also a la carte service during lunch and dinner.  Based on my observation, the lunch a la carte is actually buffet food (not hot) placed nicely on a plate.  I had a la carte lunch waffle that was clearly left over from the morning buffet, because I already had a waffle in the breakfast and the quality was further degraded.

The tea buffet seems to be the same everyday, but that’s fine.  The panini is actually baked and good, unlike the croissants.  I also love the hazelnut cookie.

One night I had an a la carte dinner that was good.  The other night the cruise was preparing for a Captain’s Party and had to serve double the guests than they’d normally do.  I would like to thank the nice Chinese staff outside the 4/F restaurant who kindly reminded us to be early for the event and gave us other advices.  Attending this event, however, caused an unexpected unhappy incident for us.  My steak turned out to be well done – I did not complain even though this was not expected.  Two friend’s duck a l’orange were too tough they could not eat it.  They exchanged it for a seafood dish.  The shrimp and fish were not fresh.  The shrimp head turned black.  Since one of them actually had the same seafood dish the night before with reasonable quality, the dish this time was below their usual standard.  A guy in a supervisory role named Roy came to see what happened.  Although a simple apology would have been sufficient, he did not apologize for the bad quality for the food, but instead offered to cook Asian food for us the next day, implying that we were unable to appreciate Western food.

Drinks

In the past alcoholic drinks cost extra, but in 2018 it was included.  Standard drinks include soft drinks, standard draught beer, standard red/white wine, several types of hot and cold coffee, wine, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktail, etc.  The bar menu, which has not been updated, lists two columns of prices.  Those standard drinks with a single price is free, but those luxury drinks with two prices cost extra per glass.  Alternatively, one may pay EUR14 for one day of unlimited consumption of those luxury drinks.  We were told we could get the drinks from bars and take them to our rooms if we want.

In the same way that all buffet restaurants serve the same food, all bars serve the same drinks at the same prices (for luxury drinks).  The differences among the bars are their opening times and environments.  The bar at 12/F has the best view of the pool deck and the sea, but it is a little tricky to find the way up there.

Unlike the free food, the free drinks are tracked precisely.  Every drink that is ordered, even if they are free, will show up in the bill.  I guess this sort of statistics will affect future availability of the free drinks.

It is worthwhile to mention that bottled water in the room is not free.  However, one can get free bottled water from bars or restaurants, then take them to excursions if necessary.

Summary

With the exception of the unhappy restaurant incident and the disappointingly short time we had at Oia village, I enjoyed the time I had on the cruise with help from unlimited alcohol.  I loved drinking cocktail while watching the beautiful blue Aegean sea more than I ever imagined.

Review: 2036: Origin Unknown

2036: Origin Unknown is a somewhat interesting low-budget sci-fi movie.  Practically the whole movie occurs in one room, where we see the protagonist running a mission to investigate things on Mars.  Her companion is ARTI – an artificial intelligence – similar to the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  Right from the beginning it is clear the AI is central to the plot of movie.  Enough dramatic things happen at regular intervals to keep it from becoming boring.  The final twist is what makes it interesting.

SPOILER

2036: Origin Unknown Explained

As the sister said early, the protagonist lives in the world of AI.  AI outlives human and explores space.  So the whole movie before the twist is a simulation of the protagonist (i.e. she is not a “real” human any more) run by ARTI – similar to Matrix (1999).  She (the simulation) is briefed by her actual human self on video just before dying – so the human asked ARTI to recreate her inside the AI and make her as human as possible.  It is a turing test, not for ARTI, but to test whether the protagonist has become human enough and has consciousness to continue with the mission.  Since the movie said it takes as many times as required, the simulation in the movie is likely not the first simulation, again similar to Matrix.

Review: Air Doll

Air Doll (2009) (Blu-ray release 2018-5-25) features a sex doll who gains a heart and consciousness.  She goes out of her home, imitates other people, learns how to be human, and gets a job at a video rental store.  In spite of the sex doll and some necessary nudity, this movie is not really erotic.

Through the life of the protagonist and the lonely people around her, this poignant movie examines what it means to be human.  Unfortunately, as an old man points out, many people are empty inside, i.e. not so different from the doll.  Upon learning the sex doll gaining consciousness, her owner no longer wants her around because human relationship is too troublesome.  A middle aged woman’s job role is diminished as she is replaced by a young woman, just as an old doll can be replaced by a new doll, and is ultimately disposed.

Review: Westworld (1973) / Futureworld (1976)

With the success of the HBO Westworld series, I decided to watch the original Westworld (1973) (Blu-ray release 2013-3-5) and its sequel Futureworld (1976) (Blu-ray release 2013-3-26).

Westworld is one of the three areas inside an amusement park for the rich guys to play cowboy, have sex with the robots and/or shoot them.  The malfunction rates of the robots go up as they somehow get a “disease”, which is now usually called a computer virus.  Even though they were programmed not to kill the human visitors, you can expect what happens in a movie that is a precursor to the Jurassic Park novel.

The 1973 movie was ground breaking with digital imagery, and influenced later movies such as Terminator (1984).  It even got good reviews and was a financial success.  However, I am not especially thrilled with it.  In particular, I think a simple “disease” explanation is not enough to account for the robot behaviors.  The movie also established that human visitors are safe because the guns cannot be fired if it is pointed at something with a body temperature.  After establishing this rule, the movie neglects to explain how this rule is broken.  Unlike the 2016 TV series, in the 1973 movie the robots do not get memory wipes after they are shot by visitors.  This leads to the climactic sequence of a killer robot chasing the protagonist.  However, this setup does not make sense to me.  If every robot remembers who shoot them and harass the visitors everyday, this must be very annoying even if they cannot hurt the visitors.

The Futureworld (1976) sequel reopens the park but leaves Westworld area closed.  Two reporters uncover a conspiracy.  The problem is that the movie reveal enough things early so there is no mystery any more.  There is not much tension in the movie either.  So it is just a dull park visit, and is a flop.