Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

2018 Audi A3 impressions

Recently my brother traded in his Volkswagen GTI for a 2018 Audi A3, and I got have a brief go in the new-to-him car. Here are some quick thoughts on the entry-level Audi machine, though I’ll caveat my opinions with the fact that my views are incredibly colored by the fact I drive a 911 GT3, the preeminent sports car, so the potential to misjudge a compact luxury sedan with some sporting intentions is quite high. Anyways, here goes.

The first immediate complaint is that the seating position is far too high. My brother’s A3 has the optional sports seat for the driver, and while its comfortable and supportive, it doesn’t go down nearly far enough - the stock seats of the front passenger can go lower, which is just baffling. I’m only 5’10” on a good day, and with the seating position adjusted properly, my hair is brushing the ceiling. I had more headroom in my old Mazda ND MX-5!

The A3’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, ubiquitous within the entire VW group portfolio, offers decent punch and adequate passing power; it makes the car a solid urban runabout with the occasional fun sprinkled in. I was able to zip in and out of traffic with ease. The motor obviously doesn’t make the most entertaining noise, emitting the same dull growl that all other turbo four-poppers make. Coming from the mighty atmospheric GT3, it’s indeed a bit of a let down, and so is the meager redline of barely 7,000 RPM. Gunning through the gears in the A3 for the first time, I almost didn’t upshift in time because I’m so used to having an engine that revs to 9K.

Main reason my brother switched from the GTI to the A3 is for the transmission: at a ripe old age of 21 years, he’s already tired of the manual transmission (someone take his car enthusiast card away, honestly) and wanted out into an automatic. The DSG dual-clutch unit in the A3 proves to be as advertised: the shifts are rapid, and its slow manners are super smooth (it even imitates the off-brake creep forward of a traditional automatic gearbox). It’s definitely engineered towards an economy bent, however: at anything less than full spirit throttle, the DSG will acquiesce to minimizing emissions such as letting the engine rev-hang before snicking over to the next gear, and upshifting to the highest gear as quickly as possible.

Armed with an all-wheel drive system, the A3 never lacks for grip, though the reactive Haldex differential is not an ideal situation. Again, it’s a luxury sedan with some sporting intentions, rather than a pure sports sedan, so the all-wheel drive system is designed towards efficiency, rather than maximizing lap times. Under normal situations ,the A3 feels like a front-wheel drive car because indeed only the front-axle is getting power. It’s not until under certain conditions does the computer activates the Haldex differential and sends power to the rear. I could feel this happening, too: punching the A3 off the line there’s a definite pause because the rear-axle hooks up.

None of this is to say the A3 is a bad car; I can even live with the slightly high seating position. One aspect I cannot excuse, however, is the utter lack of steering feel, a sort of achilles heel of Audi products, even on models as focused as the R8 supercar. The A3’s rack is responsive and direct enough as most modern electric assisted units are, but there’s really no feel at all. I have zero idea what the front tires are doing, and road imperfections gets utterly filtered out. I intentionally ran the car over some cat’s eyes and I couldn’t feel a thing in my hands.

Even though they are built on the same MQB chassis and shares the same engine, I reckon I’d take the GTI over the A3.

Not sponsored by Chanel.

Not sponsored by Chanel.

Avengers Endgame is a masterpiece

Spoilers, I guess? 

Avengers Endgame is everything I ever wanted or needed. The absolute perfect culmination to this particular 22 film saga that makes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fine folks at Marvel Studios deserve all the special Oscars for their singular achievement in turning a franchise of films into a super convincing facsimile of a television season. Endgame is the best season finale one could have wished for.

It’s the MCU’s Return of the King, and it deserves the same accolades and awards the final Lord of the Rings film received.

While you needn’t have watch the prior 21 MCU films to enjoy Endgame, would argue it’s not nearly as fulfilling. In electing to use time-travel as the mechanism to undo the damage done by Thanos in Infinity Wars, Endgame offers an endless amount hark backs to the earlier movies that are not mere fan-service, but integral plot-points. Throughout the lengthy 3-hour runtime (I survived the great bathroom avoidance experiment), audiences are delighted with surprise after surprise, and each hit wouldn’t have as great an impact if you didn’t see some of the films in the series.  

And that’s why the MCU is indeed like the biggest television series ever made, in terms of scale and monetary expense (take that, Game of Thrones). Endgame does superbly well to provide closure to the many plot-lines that’s been simmering for the past decade. There’s heavy emotional weight to the entire proceedings because of the backlog of stories that preceded it, where otherwise in a vacuum, Endgame wouldn’t have made any sense at all. Everything felt precisely earned, and as an audience you cannot help but laugh, cheer, and cry during the moments because the satisfaction hits you right at the heart.  

One example: not once in the over ten years of MCU has Captain America uttered the iconic phrase “Avengers, assemble”, so when he finally did so just before the climactic battle in Endgame, my emotions came rushing out just as the Avengers went charging towards Thanos’ army.

Is that the best moment of the film? Difficult to say right now; there’s so many to choose from, and I’ve still got to see Endgame many, many more times. Cap’ wielding Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s ultimate sacrifice, Hawkeye and Black Widow on Vormir, Tony saying goodbye to his father, Professor Hulk; there’s brilliance littered over the entire movie, and I’ve only peeled off the first layer of the onion.

The Russo brothers have created a masterpiece in Avengers Endgame, a marvelous bookend to consolidate the interweaving MCU storylines into the most gratifying last chapter. It’s a resounding closure for all of us that have followed from the very first episode: 2008’s Iron Man.

Historic.

On 10 months with the iPhone X

Today is Apple’s annual new iPhone announcement event, and mere hours from me typing these words right now, I will find out how spectacular of a phone I shall be getting really soon. Before all that happiness however I’d like to talk about the iPhone X, a phone I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for almost a year.

It’s an interesting reflection of human nature that we’ve grown accustomed to iPhone X’s eye-watering price. Starting at a hair under a thousand dollars - which itself is shocking enough, I of course simply had to get the SKU with additional storage (Apple, as ever, was clever to provide the “base” model with only 64 gigabytes), so the final suggested purchase price of my 256GB unit is $1,149.

It’s been said that smartphones are essentially computers that fit in our pockets; well, now they cost the same as one too. The price shock quickly wore off, though: nowadays when I see smartphones costing in $700 dollars range, I think of them as inexpensive. Hashtag crazy rich Asians.

I have to say the iPhone X is absolutely worth its significant purchase price. It’s easily the most transformative iPhone since iPhone 4. A return to glass on the back, along with the stainless-steel band, makes iPhone X feel tremendous to the hand. It’s solid and exquisite to the touch, so much so that I decided from the outset to not put a case on it. 10 months later and aside from a few nicks on the band from the two times I dropped it on solid ground, my iPhone X have held up excellently.

Operationally, the iPhone X, to quote the late Steve Jobs, is a screamer. Everything is incredibly fast and fluid, and it makes using lesser phones and tablets (my Microsoft Surface Pro 4) a frustrating experience. Why can’t all touch devices be this responsive? Lag is nonexistent, and apps closes and switches with nary a hiccup; I don’t think I’ve ever had to perform a hard-reset. The fact that I can edit 42 megapixel photos from my Sony A7R2 camera right on my iPhone X and it’s all super smooth is a testament to Apple’s ingenuity with its A series silicon.

Suffice it to say the camera on the iPhone X is sublime. I’ve said it before: we are ever close to having photos from smartphones be indistinguishable from those out of traditional DSLRs.

What about the new features? The transition from nine years of having a home button to Face ID feels incredibly natural. It’s amazing what Apple has done with the feature in its first generation (Touch ID was a logistical mess when it first debuted): Face ID simply works, and its miss-rate is no worse than the fingerprint sensor of previous phones. As for the edge-to-edge OLED screen and the much maligned “notch”, let’s just say there is a reason all the other Android phone manufacturers are copying it, and not doing a very good job either. What’s the point of the notch if you’ve still got a chin bezel at the bottom?

While I am excited about the next iteration of iPhone, I’d be completely okay if I were to keep my iPhone X for another year (I won’t be, just saying). It’s still superbly quick and chews through everything I throw at it, and the camera module is still amongst the class leaders. Apple have engineered the iPhone X so magnificently that aside from the obvious screen size increase I’m honestly stumped as to how they will improve the other parts.

We shall see in a few hours.

That time when I was the only passenger on the train and it wasn’t late at night.

That time when I was the only passenger on the train and it wasn’t late at night.

Quick thoughts on 'Crazy Rich Asians'

Last evening I finally saw Crazy Rich Asians, and it's everything I thought I didn’t need but my god is it ever so beautifully there. I've stated before that the whole Asian-American representation thing wasn't as big a deal for me as it is for others, but Crazy Rich Asians proved me utterly foolish: it was so awesome to see an English language film full of normal characters I can identify with on a cultural level. 

I never thought the jubilation I got from watching Better Luck Tomorrow the first time could be found again, yet here I am, profoundly moved by Crazy Rich Asians.  

What a wonderful adaption of the novel by director Jon M. Chu and company. Speaking as someone who have read the book, the movie excellently cherry-picked the major components of the story, presenting it with a simplistic fluidity that's equally satisfying for those who haven't read the source material. The minute details on how particular plot-points came to be are all in the novel, should audiences choose to dive deeper. 

I especially loved how even when the film deviates from the book - like the final arc,  little homages are sprinkled in as a nod to those that have read it. It's brilliantly done. 

There were two moments in the film where someone in the theatre was for sure chopping onions: when Kina Grannis (as herself) started singing Can’t Help Falling In Love during the wedding sequence, and in the ending scenes where a cover of Coldplay's Yellow is sung in the background.  

I really dig how Crazy Rich Asians is unabashedly, well, Asian: the themes and motifs are just as they are, pure and unexplained. Particularly, the crucial mahjong scene is sheer genius in it’s absence of how the game is played and what the individual tiles stood for. The creators didn't care you don't know mahjong: it's simply there, unreservedly. The intertwining of Chinese culture within Crazy Rich Asians is deeply heartfelt because it's such catharsis to see it presented without patronization. 

The sequel cannot come soon enough.  

 

For the culture. 

For the culture. 

Thoughts on Star Wars The Last Jedi

Spoilers, obviously.

So I took a few days to digest precisely everything I saw in The Last Jedi. My immediate emotions coming out of the theatre was one of frustration and oddly, anger, but I didn't know why then. The next day I digested all manners of spoiler reviews and discussion, and the picture in my head became clear. 

I was conflicted because Episode 8 disregards every question that was left to be answered in Episode 7. Luke seeing his old lightsaber after 40 years? He tosses it into the ocean after 5 seconds of contemplation. Who are Rey's parents? Simply nobodies. Who is Snoke and how he came to be so powerful? Never explained. The Resistance base planet? Destroyed in the opening act. Maz Kanata's "a good story for another time" - how she came to possess Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber? Nothing. 

I'd go as far as to say Rian Johnson had contempt for What JJ Abrams started in The Force Awakens. 

Heading into The Last Jedi I knew about the massive deficit between the critics score and the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I was full of excitement and anticipation because I'd thought it was major plot points and twists that are causing divide, and I'm all for a non-cookie cutter Star Wars story. Turns out I got to be disappointed at that, too. The Last Jedi is largely what I thought it would be: Rey gets trained by Luke, the First Order retaliates against the Resistance, Kylo tries to turn Rey to the dark side but get rejected, and Luke returns at the end to save the day. 

All that in it of itself makes for a good and entertaining movie - if you disregard the severed connections with Episode 7. I guess a sizable amount of fans cannot do that, which explains the low Rotten Tomatoes audience score. I can't say they are wrong: one expects a proper saga film to answer questions laid out by the one preceding it. However, I think fan's heighten expectations after two years of rampant (and fun) speculation were so on an edge that by not paying off any of it in The Last Jedi, they felt absolutely cheated.

Looking back, that was exactly my thoughts after watching the movie, and some of those sentiments stuck even after reading Rian's multiple explanations on his decisions. People suggests that upon additional viewings the film improves dramatically because all the pent up expectations were already crushed by the first watch (quite the caveat, wouldn't you say?). I'll have to see for myself when I do watch it again. 

JJ is back on Episode 9, and I wonder if he alters anything in the plans to alleviate the fan backlash. 

To balance out the negativity, here are some things I really liked in The Last Jedi. The fight scene in the throne room is easily the second best lightsaber sequence behind the duel of fates in Episode 1. Force ghost Yoda showing up (in original puppet form!) was a pleasant surprise and a memorable scene with Luke. Snoke's death at the hands of Kylo happened one film earlier than expected but I like how quickly Kylo has claimed agency over himself and the entire First Order. The opening battle of X-wings taking down a First Order 'Dreadnaught' ship, and the ending battle on the salt planet is visually spectacular. Lastly, I quite enjoy the additional levity and humor sprinkled throughout. 

So here's my current verdict: The Last Jedi is a good Star Wars saga movie if you can ignore what was left behind in The Force Awakens.