Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Iron Man 3 Rant

Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler – This is meant for people who saw Iron Man 3. If you haven’t and want to read this – you are silly. 

I need to get this out there now, as within a few weeks no one will care about the sort of nitpicking that I like to do. I just saw Iron Man 3 in the IMAX with 3D and I have a lot to say about it. It was not horrible. I can’t say I hated it, there were a lot of innovative and interesting things but, man, there were also a lot of things wrong with it. Truth be told, there is only one film I can compare it to: Spider-man 3. SM3 was a film where the producers went too far and as a result ruined a good franchise. I honestly don’t know what Marvel was thinking but they went a little far down that road and seriously hurt their IM franchise. I will explain. 

Now, there are three areas that need to be looked at for this film and I will do this from the most constructive to the least constructive. First, geek rage aside, just watching it as a film goer; the kind of film goer who, let’s say, just saw Avengers and was curious to see what came next. Second, full geek rage - I have read the better part of the last 7 years of Iron Man comics and I feel that I am in a position to say something about it. Third, which is far less constructive, things that I would have liked in it that weren’t there.

I like movies, as most of my friends know. I can put aside most of my personal biases and see a movie for exactly what it is rather than what I would have wanted it to be. I find it far more enjoyable that way. I can hate a movie as a geek and love it as a film goer (for instance my love hate relationship with Casino Royal – James Bond yet not). As this is the third part of a trilogy, or even fourth if you count the Avengers (which was basically an Iron Man movie “with friends”), the characters should be rather established in the viewers’ minds and little explanation should be needed.
1.       Characters - So little time was spent on character development altogether in this film that, in many ways, they felt two dimensional.
a.       I didn’t so much care for the so-called love story, as in the handful of scenes they were together in, she was usually bitching at him. And, considering how many times her life was at risk BECAUSE of Stark’s foolishness, I’m surprised she’s still with him at all, let alone anywhere within a 5 meter radius.
b.      I didn’t believe in the hate that Tony Stark suddenly had for the Mandarin just because his friend got hurt. He got rather personal rather quickly and it really had nothing to do with him in the first place.
                                                               i.      On a side note - threatening a serious terrorist, telling him your address and then getting into a fight with your girlfriend and not noticing the attack is rather pathetic. If I threatened the Mandarin I would have been sitting in my Ironman armor on the couch and told everyone I cared about to get away from me. And who’s stupid enough to go to the house anyway knowing the terrorist is going to go after they guy? 
c.       Apparently, Tony Stark was having some sort of dilemma about being Ironman and clearly going through some sort of post-traumatic stress but the film tried to avoid this topic throughout. And what was with all those anxiety attacks anyways? It really led to nowhere. I think they were just trying too hard to connect the Avengers with Iron Man 3. All this ultimately lead to the nonsensical ending where he destroys his life’s work. The fact that his life’s work just saved his life and that of the woman he loves doesn’t seem to cross his mind. Not to mention saving the president. Notwithstanding the fact that there may be other threats in the future. SO maybe keeping some reserve suits might be a good idea. Also, the fact that I thought the suits on display WERE the RESERVES, and the fact that he DID have a platoon of reserves in his bat cave, ahem, Ironman cave, makes me suspect that he didn’t actually blow up all his suits. “Operation clean slate?” you’re Tony Stark, and clean slate has the same amount of syllables as “bullshit”. Coincidence? I think not.

2.       Movie Appeal –
a.        It felt rather forced that they were clearly appealing to a younger audience by pitching a preteen boy as Iron Man’s helper. I haven’t seen such a presence of a child in a huge film since Star Wars Episode I, where the character was and still is rather annoying. Even the kids from Jurassic park weren’t played up this bad.  
b.      This film also suffered from the some of the same bad ideas as Spiderman 3. Throughout both films, the main character was very rarely seen in his superhero outfit just so that the producers could show the actor’s face on screen as much as possible. As a result, he kept getting into and out of different armours and forgetting to protect his face, especially when shrapnel was casually flying around him like at the end of the film. He would have been in a lot better shape had he kept his armor on.    
c.       Why was this film in 3D? The movie was upconverted, as the ending credits informed me, and for the most part the 3D was unnecessary. There was so much they could have done with the 3D in this film but it wasn’t really used. The only time the 3D really appealed to me was when we looked inside the brain, or when Tony went all CSI with the projectors in his workplace. When you’re watching 3D, people must feel part of the movie, having particles fly towards them and all that. This is further proof that 3D movies are becoming overrated, and a waste of money.

3.       Plot
a.       What was the villain’s motivation? 13 years after being stood up by Tony Stark he wanted revenge? Sure, he had some unclear plot about destroying the president but why did he hate Tony? Tony wasn’t in his way. The villain came to him.
b.      You would think that the Reactor in Stark’s chest would power the Iron Man suit as much as he needed. Why were his suits suddenly running out of power in this film? You would think, as I do with my phone everyday, that his main concern would be running out of power. Rather than having 42 suits, I would make a solar-powered cover for my armor or a remote battery to access somewhere or even engineer a better reserve power system so I wouldn’t fall out of the sky spontaneously.
c.       What terrorist organisation updates an enemy’s suit and makes sure to give him access to their secret files? How did Rhodes not notice them? And how did Tony find them so quickly. Were they in a folder called “Secret files do not read this is our plot”?
d.      Was Maya the Botanist good? Bad? She seemed good, then bad, then sort of good again. Then she died. Why did Killian shoot her? Doesn’t he need an expert on his super solder serum? I think she was misunderstood.  And the fact that she just changed her mind and threatened to blow herself up, leading to a one-shot-diva-death was really anticlimactic.
e.      Did Killian secretly love Pepper Potts? At the beginning of the movie, there WAS a hint that Pepper might even be INTO him. It looked like he was hitting on her before he tied her up. Why did he inject her with the same super serum as he had? Did he want her to be his Bridezilla or did he want to blow her up? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just shoot her? And if he really was as smart as we think he was, how did he not realize that injecting the serum into Pepper would make her more of a threat, which ultimately  led to his death of course?
f.        Between Tony leaving after his house is destroyed and him crashing somewhere in the snow, I got bored until he was Ironman again. I came to see an Ironman movie and most of the movie was Tony Stark at times using guns rather than one of his 42 suits. Why did he have to wear specifically the Mach 42? Could he not have installed a remote access login to another suit? To add to that, when did Tony become and MIF agent performing “Mission Impossible/Inspector Gadget” stuff - infiltrating a highly secured mansion and taking out 4-5 (6?) well armed guards?
g.       Don’t you think that Iron Patriot would be coded so only Rhodes can use it? I think he said something about that in Iron Man 2. So how did the random henchman get access to the armour? Isn’t that a major security flaw? And what was with the “Extremis guy grabs your arm and suit malfunctions”? OK, Extremis guys heat up. But if the suit can survive an explosion, it should be able to withstand some localized heat for more than 10 seconds?
4.       End credits
a.       The Final scene after the credits did not tease me with the new films to come or enlighten me with something I didn’t know. I just got more bromance between Tony and Bruce Banner, which I didn’t need, like or want that in any way.
So as a film goer, I generally thought the plot was limited and sort of boring. Robert Downey Jr. was entertaining enough to keep my interest but between the kid, the fan boy reporter, and the empty love story, I didn’t really care much. The action was cool at times.  

The main issue with the film is how they named things. Many of the below issues could have been avoided had given things their proper name instead of calling them something else, which basically screws up the possibility for really cool future stories.
1.       Extremis - Extremis is a rather new concept from 2005 and in no way a time-honored story of Ironman. Rather than talking about what it is – which I will save for part 3 – I will tell you what it’s not. It doesn’t make people explode or turn them into energy weapons. If anything, the Extremis concept from the movie is more like the first story arc of Matt Fraction’s run in 2008 where, in “The Five Nightmares”, Ezekiel Stane, the son of Obadiah, uses a form of Tony’s Iron Man armor to make a weapon. In this story, you had people exploding because their bodies were super charged and stuff. The bottom line is that now you can’t do Extremis properly because you already used the name in this movie. Of course, you could still use the concept, but then you would have to give it a different name, which just makes everything rather confusing.
2.       The Mandarin - why would you make the Mandarin an actor? He is Tony Stark’s main rival in the comic books, like Joker is to Batman. People have been excited for Mandarin since Iron Man 1 and now you basically ruined the character making it impossible to approach him in the future. And for what? What did this Mandarin character bring to the film? A new character would have done the trick.
3.       Iron Patriot – Again, War Machine never gets a paint job to become Iron Patriot. Iron Patriot is an evil Iron Man, per se, and by using him in this film so wrongly you removed the possibility of using him in the future. And again, why? What was wrong with War Machine?
4.       Hulk Buster Armour – You had it in the movie for 45sec when you could have had it fighting the Hulk!!! And then you destroyed it? Why?? This could have been a tantalizing glimpse of something that will be used in future Avengers movies, but now he would have to rebuild it again, once again making things unnecessarily complicated.
5.       Using all the Armours and then destroying them. Between last year’s Avengers and this year, Tony built 35 new Armours. That’s like 3 a month! This scene would have been fantastic at the end of Avengers 2 or something like that. Here you had an army of Iron Men fighting an “army” of 7 thugs with movie Extremis.
6.       AIM is not a rival to Stark Industries and is not correctly portrayed in the film. What we saw in this film looked more like HAMMER industries, which is a rival to Stark Industries. AIM is another of those concepts that could have been used for future films, and maybe also tied in with Avengers.
7.       Aldrich Killian is not a big business man and the head of AIM but a scientist who helped to develop Extremis (the original version, not the movie one).
Overall, I’m not sure what they were trying to do here. Name drop elements from the Marvel U to please geeks? OK, but then quote them properly or geeks will not be happy! It feels like they had the Cliff Notes to all the Iron Man comics that were accidentally shredded and put back together wrong, or that some uninterested exec picked out a couple of words and told the writers to put them in the film without actually explaining what they were about.

The reason why I called this less constructive is because saying what I wanted in the movie could range from small things that make sense to having Batman appear in it; because we all know everything becomes better if it has Batman in it.
1.       Extremis – First of all Extremis in the comic was put into TONY not an army of other guys. Extremis affected Tony Stark mentally, allowing him to process information at light speed, on a subconscious level, to help him better cope with the direct technological link he now possessed to his armor. It is because of this that he could directly control his armour with his mind and thus break it up into parts. It seems that at first they were trying to do Extremis properly in the script phase and it got changed to this mess. Prior to this it was, I think, always a suit that he had to put on manually. They used this plotline but avoided his mental upgrade that he got with the Extremis – connecting him to all the technology around him.
2.       Mandarin – The Mandarin had 10 super rings that give him magical powers. What makes him compelling is that he is not technological and, as such, you can always upgrade Iron Man and have the Mandarin be a threat. Magic vs. Technology. Maybe that had no place in this film but then they shouldn’t have used the Mandarin.
3.       AIM is is an organization of brilliant scientists and their hirelings dedicated to the acquisition of power and the overthrow of all government by technological means. It is connected to Hydra, which would have allowed the filmmakers to connect the concept with the wider Marvel U, maybe setting something up for future Avengers films (especially since it created the Cosmic Cube) It is eventually led by a M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing),an artificially mutated human being with an enormous head and a stunted body possessing superhuman intelligence and the ability to generate mental energy bolts and force fields that AIM originally created. It’s a terrorist organisation!
4.       The final scene in the movie after the credits should have had something to do with Thor, as his movie comes out in November. 

In the end, what upsets me is the same thing that upset me with Spider-man 3. They watched themselves make it with the guys who came up with this stuff in the first place and were released it with pride. Yes it will make a lot of money but in time you may get a confession, like the one Sam Raimi made about Spider-man 3, that they could have done better. And they could have. That’s the saddest thing. It’s the ruined potential and the cramming of too much into a short amount of time - badly. 

I’m not too keen with what Disney has done with the Marvel comics (Marvel Now). This is the first movie, I think, where Disney had its control of the pie and I’m not too keen on it either. 

All this makes me very worried about the future of StarWars. 

Thanks for reading and Thank you to my friend Suthai for commenting on and adding to this rant!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ukraine in the EU?

Original article from August 22nd 2011, updated on February 26th 2013

This is a response to an article from New Europe ( about Ukraine entering the EU. It is in the process of signing an Association Agreement which has historically led countries to membership in the union. 

I just finished my thesis on the European Union’s Enlargement history and strategy. I'm fascinated to see how quickly the Ukraine’s development progresses. I hope there are no setbacks. If all goes smoothly, the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine that is currently being drafted will be signed in December 2011, and enter into force one year later in December 2012. Many things ride on the next general election in fall 2012. The next elected government needs to continue to promote EU cooperation. Most likely the presidential elections in March 2015 will be about application for EU membership. The EU has three years and seven months to show the Ukrainian people that membership will be a good thing. Thus, I think the EU should scale down its 'basket cases' in the Balkans, like Albania and Bosnia for the time being and focus on a country that is showing interest and the political will for change and accession.

A successful bid in the parliamentary and presidential elections will most likely lead to an application of membership in mid-2015. By the end of 2016, Ukraine should become an official candidate. At the latest, negotiations would start by the end of 2018 but this may be sooner, perhaps mid-2018. Negotiations can take four to five years and proper accession procedures another two. Thus, the date of 2025 that's been thrown around may be accurate.

Update!!: Due to setbacks made in 2011-2012 in relation to elections and the Tymoshenko events the agreement has yet to be signed and is due to be signed in November 2013. Again it is likely that it will take a year to enter into force and thus the presidential elections in March 2015 will be about continued promotion of EU cooperation. It seems then likely that only in 2020 will talks of EU membership application be on the table for the Ukrainians. The chain of events are then pretty standard. In mid 2021 they become an official candidate and depending on the Association Agreement and what reforms are necessary it may take another 8-10 years to become members. A revised estimate is now 2030. Depending on the enthusiasm of the 2015 president, it could be sooner. 

If the proper judicial reforms are met before the signing in 2013, then perhaps the 2015 elections may be a little more fair and less corrupt.  

Read more:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cheap Flight Skills

I would like to provide assistance in helping you find the cheapest flight possible.  
As most of you do not travel that often, perhaps you do not know the sort of tricks and ideas that I can provide on buying flights. In no way are these official rules or are they 100% correct, but they will offer some ideas into the cost that you are seeing. 

First of all, I honestly believe that if you were to search for a ticket in January for July, the price would be astronomical and, more importantly, it won’t change for at least the next few weeks. The reason that the prices are so high is that it is much too early to buy plane tickets. Airline tickets only become available to be purchased eight months before the date. The people who need to buy tickets that early in advance are either a) business types that need a specific flight for a specific meeting b) rich people or c) people who don’t know the industry and are worried that the tickets will sell out or get more expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

One has to consider when most people buy their tickets to travel and the answer is usually a few months before (like three). As you get closer to your traveling date, you will see the price begin to fluctuate as promotions and ticket sales begin. Now I’m not saying that you have to wait for three more months, but I want you to understand that the price fluctuates constantly to meet the demand. Right now there is no demand, so the price will not fluctuate much. 

To get the best price for nearly anything, you need to understand how much it is worth. To do that will require a lot of time but if you are determined you can buy a $1500 ticket for $650. 

The first guidance I can suggest is: Do not buy tickets on evenings and weekends. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and maybe Thursday during the day between 11:30-2pm is the best time to buy tickets. The reason is that when the airline offices are open the price will fluctuate in relation to demand. However, during lunch hours demand will be low and as a result the prices drop to attract attention. In the evenings and weekends the demand is up but as the offices are closed they do not put on any specials, so super sales will be rare. 

The 11:30-2pm zone is dependent not on where you live but on where the headquarters of the airline is. If you check during these times in east Canada/US then you are likely to get the best prices for Canadian and American flights. If you check at 7:00am (12:00pm UK time) then you may get some deals with UK companies or maybe French, Dutch or Spanish ones. 

The websites I check are Jetcost, Skyscanner and airtransat (Airtransat is mainly for people flying from Canada). There are others of course – please let me know if you find any other good websites.
To understand how much the ticket is worth, you have to see what the general price is and how it changes. Yes, I do this in a rather compulsive manner, but I find it the most useful in the long run. Take a piece of paper and fold it in two. On the top of the page, write the website you are going to use (i.e. Jetcost) and the date and time of day. This will keep track of when you did your homework. On one side of the page, write the most convenient airport to you, and on the other the airport(s) that you could go to. For instance: Ottawa and Montreal. Montreal is available for Ottawa people as the bus there is not that expensive. In fact, this may save you a lot of money as it is a much large hub than Ottawa.
In the first column, write the days you wish to travel (for instance July 14th to July 24th). Under this, make a matrix that looks something like this:
12 -21 = _______     13 -21=______         14 -21=_______      15  21=_________
      -22 = _______          22=______                22=_______           22=_________
      -23 = _______           23=______                23=_______            23=_________
      -24 =  _______          24=______                24=_______            24=_________
      -25 = _______           25=______                25=_______             25=_________
       -26 = _______          26=______                26=_______             26=_________

This will give you an idea of how much the price changes from day to day depending on the day you leave and come back. And I guarantee you will see a huge variation. If you don’t, then either you are buying a ticket too early (no demand) or at a time when the offices are closed (standard price). On the other side of the page, do the same search for the other airport. I sometimes check Jetcost and Skyscanner at the same time and make one sheet but you can make two if it helps you keep track of what you saw where. Airtransat is the only company that I know of that flies from Ottawa to London Gatwick directly.

If you do this on Monday at 11:30, then do it again the following Monday at 11:30 and you will see which flights are in more demand and which are less in demand, which flights are getting cheaper and which are getting more expensive. Do this at different times of the week over the course of a few months and you will soon see which flight is the cheapest, and on which day, and have an idea of when the best time to buy that particular flight will be.

The other advantage of doing this is that if you see a crazy sale you can jump at it.

Where are you flying to?

One would assume that if you want to fly to London, you would search for London. Not necessarily. There are a few hubs in Europe that have large airports and thus more possibilities: London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Paris. All of these are great hubs and giant airports.

Once you are in Europe, the duty on flights drops dramatically. There are low-cost airlines that can take you all around Europe for very little. In this circumstance, it is usually better to buy tickets earlier as the demand is higher because the tickets are so much cheaper. Money Saving Expert flight checker searches Monarch, Flybe, Easyjet and Ryanair, all the low-cost airlines, so you can get a flight from Paris to London for $50 or even less. So in the above system- you can make multiple sheets for different destinations. Do bear in mind that they charge extra for luggage, so you need to take that into account when looking at prices. Also, Ryanair will charge you an admin fee and payment fee no matter which method you use. Most of the others will charge a fee if you pay with a credit card, although it is free to pay by credit card.