Ethereality News & Weblog

November 11, 2011

Deficiencies of mainstream American comic book narrative

Filed under: Comics,Film/TV/Animation,Video Games,Writing — Rob Chang @ 2:01 pm

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I have tried to force myself to read The Walking Dead comic book series twice now, and I just couldn’t get into it (and I’m saying this as a huge fan of the TV series based on it).

I tried reading it once years ago before the TV series was even being planned, and it just didn’t take. As a life-long zombie fiction fan, I didn’t find the vibe all that compelling. Now that I’ve watched the TV series and tried again to read the comic book series, the original just pales when compared to the adaptation. In comparison to the TV series, the comic books lack the depth and nuances I love about the TV series.

This perhaps isn’t a criticism of The Walking Dead comic books specifically–it’s more about how American comic books in general tend to have a specific convention of narrative and visual storytelling that never really appealed to me (yes, there are exceptions, but I’m talking about the average American comic book). The 24-pages per issue paradigm is terrible for building atmosphere, mood, subtlety, emotional depth, or allow the pacing enough breathing room so the entire narrative feels more like a natural organism instead of a bullheaded charge to check off plot points and dialogues before the page count runs out.

In comparison, mangas and European comics are much better in that regard, with far more breathing room for introspective moments and to build up atmosphere and mood, as well as a more sensible distribution of amount of dialogues per panel, accompanied by matching facial expressions, body language, and a variety of camera work.

With American comics, it’s common to have a barrage of dialogues all happening in one panel. It becomes this talking heads situation, where the flow of natural perceived time stops and we’re looking at a static image with tons of dialogues pasted in every empty space the illustration allows, sometimes even overlapping important parts of the illustration just to cram more dialogues in. This keeps happening page after page, and what’s worse, characters will spout off long dialogues even while in the middle of extraneous physical activity–such as punching the crap out of each other or in life or death situations. This kind of insensitivity to nuance, pacing, and context is detrimental to the perception of timing and atmosphere, and clumsy in its lack of subtlety and finesse.

Visually, I’m generally also not a fan of most American comic book artists’ choice of stylization. Many of them have this glaring deficiency when it comes to depicting normal looking characters; they either look like grimacing bodybuilders and pouting sex kittens, or they look like freaky psychopaths and inbred mutants. There’s very little subtlety, elegance, or charm in general. I would say that American comic book artists overall have much less evolved aesthetic sensitivity.

The truth is, I never really liked mainstream American comics all that much, even during the 8 years I worked professionally in that industry. I much preferred the indie stuff like Love and Rockets (the stuff by Jaime Hernandez, not his brothers), or the sophisticated adult stuff by guys like Neil Gaiman and the art school types like Jon J. Muth. As for art, other than the previously mentioned, I also like guys like Adam Hughes, Steve Rude, and a few others who draw in more natural styles that are relatively more elegant and graceful.

The reason I chose a career in comics in the first 8 years of my professional life as an artist and writer was mainly because of influences from mangas like Appleseed, mature comics like Sandman, and indie comics like Love and Rockets. The mainstream superhero stuff and the general storytelling and art style of typical American comics were always a negative aspect for me, and its dominance of the American comic book industry was part of the reason I eventually dropped out and never returned. I was always a part of the indie scene, and after a while, it just got tiring always being on the fringe and being disinterested with the majority of the developments in the industry that I never felt completely a part of. (There were other reasons too–you can read about them in my bio in the About Me section.)

I tried playing Star Wars: Force Unleashed, and I was surprised by how bad some of the animations were. The character animation was unnatural to the point where I wish they had just mocapped it all instead of using the clumsy looking key-framed animations. I think most people tend to think a big-name franchise would have very polished production associated with it, but that’s not really the case. The game feels a bit too simple–almost like a kiddie arcade game. After a couple of hours, I just got bored of it. I’m probably not its target audience in the first place.

I have been enjoying the hell out of Dead Island. Even though it’s got some obvious issues such as weird bugs, or terrible NPC facial animation, not much of a story, and lots of side-quest fillers, it’s the gameplay itself that’s got me hooked. If you only played the resort section, you won’t understand this, but in the city section, the game becomes a lot more intense–especially later on in the city when you are constantly surrounded and overwhelmed.

I love the feeling of running scared and looking for a car to jump onto when multiple infected are shrieking and running full speed at me from all directions. Very few games can make me panic like that–where I actually fear for my life. Even the loss of money when I die is enjoyable–a form of motivation to try as hard as I can to survive.

I also really enjoy the weapons system–to be able to modify them, and maintain them with repairs, or to upgrade them. With so many weapons available, you have to constantly make decisions on which ones to sell off, drop, upgrade, or keep. Some weapons have much longer reach than others, and I always make sure I have at least one, so when I’m on top of a car, I can still hit the zombies. Shorter weapons cannot reach them at all, but they tend to be more deadly in general. Guns are surprisingly weak compared to melee weapons, but then again, the way the weapons are ranked in the game makes no logical sense whatsoever anyway.

I just made my way into the jungle (finally! Took forever, and it’s very frustrating to not be able to advance a quest due to the “triggering” event happening so much later in the game. This is a glaring design problem), and I think that’s the last third of the game. After I finish it, I’ll likely start Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Quickie TV/movie reivews:

Entourage (series finale) – This show has been a guilty pleasure, and I’m a little disappointed by the way the series wrapped up, since the plot development was a bit abrupt. For example, the entire courtship between Vince and his wife-to-be was completely skipped over, and that could have been an interesting development to see Vince finally growing up and find true love. I really liked the final scene though–where Ari is once again being tempted by ambition and power, after what seemed to be a final wake-up call and enjoying life in the sun. I think he’d go for it, because a leopard can’t change its spots.

Soul Surfer – Although this film may be more mainstream than I had expected, I thought it was well-made and entertaining, and despite not getting into the darker side of the lead character’s emotional turmoil too much, still depicted a moving story. I didn’t really recognize AnnaSophia Robb until I looked her up later and realized I’d seen her in a horror movie with Hilary Swank before when she was younger.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. – This is one of the most enjoyable romantic comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s got more heart, more wit, and better writing than most of the romantic comedies I’ve seen in the last few years. The cast was also very endearing–I loved everyone in it. The scene when Emma Stone was at Ryan Gosling’s house–how can anyone not love that scene? I haven’t seen chemistry between two people portrayed that well since…I can’t even remember. When I think back on how other romantic comedies try to portray chemistry between two leads, they seemed forced and lacking the natural ease and endearing quality of the Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling scene.

Bruno I just couldn’t force myself to sit through this low-brow farce. See, Borat had a certain kind of charm, and the humor had wit, and I mostly enjoyed that movie and like Borat as a character. Bruno was just a complete low-brow, crass, and revolting mess. It had no subtlety, no likable characters, and its stereotyping of gay men was just so offensively over-the-top that the only people who would find it funny are the kind of people who would probably commit hate crimes against gay men. I don’t know what the hell Sacha Baron Cohen was thinking. He should have done an Ali G movie instead (even if he keeps saying that character is too well known already).

Happy Accidents – I watched this because of Marisa Tomei, and it’s an okay romantic comedy with a sci-fi premise as a gimmick. Marisa is a cutie pie as always, and a joy to watch.

The Promotion – This comedy had an odd, subdued tone to it, especially when today’s comedies tend to be in your face. It almost feels like more of an indie flick, but the characters and writing in general aren’t quite quirky enough for an indie effort. I enjoyed seeing the two lead actors playing more normal characters instead of the typical cartoon characters they tend to play.

American Teen I couldn’t get past the first fifteen minutes because it reeked of contrivance. I hated how the editing, the music, and the overall presentation tried to make it look like some teen drama–it’s as if the people being filmed were shoehorned into the roles they’re supposed to play. Maybe I was being too critical and should have sat through it, but as I skipped forward at various intervals, I didn’t see anything worth watching. I already know the kind of drama these kids go through–we’ve seen them everywhere, and we’ve lived them ourselves, and none of these people were spectacularly different from the people I already knew in my life that I’d want to spend any more time with them.

The Simpsons movie – If you like the TV series, you’ll like this. It’s basically the same as some of the more epic episodes of the TV show, but longer and with better production quality.

The problem with movie versions of a TV series is that almost always, we’ve seen better stories from the TV series at some point. It’s as if the writers blew their wads on the TV show and the best of their work has already been done. Sure, the production quality is significantly higher due to bigger budget, but the stories themselves are never better than what we’ve already seen on the small screen–and didn’t cost us a dime.

October 29, 2009

Meet Muriel and Prowler

Filed under: Arts & Media,Comics,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 6:30 pm

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Recently there’s been two new additions to our household.

Muriel:
Muriel

Muriel

Muriel

and Prowler:
Prowler

Prowler

Prowler

A friend’s of Elena’s cousin wanted to give away her cats and dog because she just went through a divorce and is about to do some traveling to see her son abroad. She had a male American Shorthair that Elena had met before and took photos of, and she asked if we wanted to take him. But in the last couple of months, there’s been a new female cat in her house that really bonded with him and she didn’t want to tear them apart, so we took both cats. She had given them really generic and dorky Chinese names that had no meaning and reflected nothing about their personalities or appearance, so we renamed them Prowler (because he’s muscular and alert) and Muriel (after the 19th Century ethereal beauty that was the favorite model of Neoclassist painter J.W. Waterhouse, because she’s such a striking beauty). The previous owner told us that Muriel is Persian, but I suspect she doesn’t know much about cats and have never done any research about how to care for cats and the idiosyncrasies of each breed. Muriel looks nothing like a Persian to me because she doesn’t have the flat face of the Persian breed. If anything, I think she’s probably a Turkish Angora, Ragdoll, or Ragamuffin. She is quite docile and very relaxed when you pick her up, so that fits the Ragdoll and Ragamuffin profile, but I think her odd colored eyes is probably more common in Ragamuffins.

As much as I love being around cats and dogs, there’s just one problem–I’m allergic to them. I get really itchy rashes and my nose stuffs up. If I accidentally rub my eyes after petting them, my eyes would itch and water as well. I have lived with six cats and a dog in the same house before (during my first year as a comic book artist, working on Avenue-X and Robotech: Invid Wars), and after a while I got used to it (although the fleas drove me insane). I later also lived with a cat for a while when I was living at my buddy Michael “Ken” Wang’s house and working on the first issue of Enchanted. I got used to the allergy then too, so I’m thinking with some time, I can get used to Prowler and Muriel as well.

The previous owner was right about not tearing them apart, since they really are quite close. They don’t stick together all the time since they often are in different corners of the house, but they always find time to snuggle together and play together:
Muriel & Prowler

Muriel & Prowler

You can see more photos of the kitties here.

There was another cat in the previous owner’s house, and that cat wasn’t very social at all. I wonder what makes cats bond if they are total strangers and not raised together. Is it that the smell of the other cat is very agreeable? Prowler is fixed so it’s not like he wants to mount Muriel. We still have to get Muriel spaded since she’s roughly ten months old (Prowler is 1.5-yrs old). The previous owner said she’s never notice any behavior that could be identified as Muriel being in heat, but since in some breeds the signs can be quite subtle, I think Muriel probably has been in heat already and the previous owner just couldn’t tell, especially since she’s rarely home with the cats anyway. We’re going to give Muriel a couple of weeks to really get comfortable in her new home before we spade her, since we don’t want her to associate physical discomfort with her new home. She’s very vocal and likes to rub herself on things, but she doesn’t roll around on the floor, stick her butt up, or yowl in that typical cat-in-heat manner, so it’s hard to tell if she’s actually in heat. The heat cycle is suppose to wind down around end of October, so that makes it even harder to determine if she’s in heat. Either way, in a couple of weeks it won’t be an issue anymore.

It’s been almost fifteen years since I last had lived with cats, so this is a nice change. Maybe we’ll add a dog to the mix next? I’ve always wanted a Samoyed, Husky, or Malamute, but as adorable as dogs are, they are so much more hassle to take care of compared to cats. We’ll see.

I’ve been researching mixed media narratives lately, and while my idea for my next long-term project is similar to what’s referred to as “visual novels,” “kinetic novels,” “digital graphic novels,” or just plain ol’ animatics, none of the examples I’ve seen seem to really match what I intend to produce. It wouldn’t involve gameplay elements like branching dialogue trees and storylines, so it’s not a visual novel. It’s not exactly a kinetic novel since the standard format is to have a set of standard character poses placed in front of backgrounds, which still feels too much like some kind of game graphics. It’s not really an animatic since there won’t be as much detailed depiction of movement within each shot. It will have music, ambient sound effects, subtitled dialogues and narration, and the visuals will have limited changes within each shot, unless absolutely necessary (such as a physical action and reaction that cannot be conveyed otherwise). I’m still trying to decide if I want to allow the viewer to be able to control the progression with a “next” and “previous” button, or I’ll just edit everything together like a video and the viewer only has to sit back. My only real concern is that some people read very fast and some read very slow, so it’ll be hard for me to gauge the speed at which to move the sequences. But I guess that’s how it was back in the silent film days–where they would leave the dialogue text on screen for whatever amount of time they predict it’ll take the slowest reader to read (within reason, of course, using the average literate person who is fluent in the language as the standard, and then probably extend the time by about 25%).

So the question remains–what would I call such a project? If I’m to do any kind of publicity for it, I must know how to categorize the project. I’m contemplating terms like “multimedia novel” and “mixed-media novel” at the moment, and I suppose “digital graphic novel” could work in a pinch, but what I envision is not very comic book-like at all–there will be no word balloons and no visual sound effects.

If any of you have some ideas, definitely let me know.

Elena and I often have these little philosophical discussions about happiness, and while we agree that material wealth is not the answer, we also believe that it depends on how you utilize the material wealthy you have. The wealthy people who are unhappy would likely be unhappy regardless of their financial status, and the people who believe wealthy will bring them happiness probably won’t be happy when they’re rich, unless they already have found meaning in their lives before they attained wealth. We know plenty of wealthy people in China who are bored out of their minds and fill their empty lives with trivial and meaningless things that only serve one purpose–to demonstrate to others how wealthy they are. We also know plenty of bored poor people who envy the wealthof others but never tried to find meaning in their own lives.

I think the ability to find meaning in one’s life corresponds to one’s ability to enjoy one’s wealth. The bored rich people would see life with very different eyes if they found something that’s meaningful to them that they can dedicate time and energy to. Take the same wealth from those bored folks and give them to people with passions in life, and we’ll immediately see how wealth can be used to increase one’s happiness when you use it the right way. A starving writer with that wealthy could use it to travel around the world and gather material for his novels. An animal lover can use that wealth to build animal shelters and hospitals. A musician/composer with that wealth can build his dream recording studio. A scientist can use that wealth to fund his research. An aspiring writer/director can use that wealth to fund his own film productions. An environmental activist can use that wealthy to create environmental awareness campaigns. But without any passions in life, wealth becomes just a string of numbers and a list of assets.

I finished Gears of War 2 recently. It was much better than the first game, with far better writing (although it sometimes felt tacked on, like that whole thing about Dom’s wife), level designs, and just general pacing and feel. The level inside the giant worm felt hacked together though, since the interior looked way too structured and nothing like the inside of a creature. It should have been way more fleshy and squishy, with organs tightly packed against one another and the entire environment constantly contracting and expanding. I did enjoy myself, but it’s not the kind of game I’d ever play a second time.

Quickie movie reviews:

Hide and Seek – A waste of talented actors on a bad screenplay that should never have made it past the gate keepers at the studio that financed the film.

The International – It was a fairly good action/thriller, but there was one scene of the main characters in the back of a car that was lit so badly that I was actually dumbfounded, because I would never have expected to see such bad lighting on a big Hollywood film. In the scene, the two main characters were lit with perfectly soft, constant lighting, and they were riding in a car driving through busy streets at night. How could any DP or director forget that a car driving through busy streets at night could never, ever, have constant, soft lighting illuminating the interior of the car? There must be a reason why such a ridiculous blunder happened, but I can’t fathom what the circumstances could’ve been to have caused it to happen.

I Love You, Man – A pretty good “bromance” movie, although it sometimes veered into the crass and cringe-worthy realm.

Parasomnia – One of the rare cases where the director’s lack of talent was the most obvious weakness. Usually, a film fails in the most obvious ways because of the writing or acting, and the direction would at least be good enough to not bring negative attention to itself, but in Parasomnia, the director really fumbled in some scenes, failing to get the most effective body language and facial expressions out of the actors (and I’m blaming the director because what could’ve been done to improve things weren’t things that would be difficult for any actor–even bad ones). The director also got on my nerves with the way he tried to put two girls who were obviously not musicians into the film and have them playing a cello and a violin–with extensive shots showing them playing along to classical music. Anyone who plays an instrument can tell it was so obviously fake because they girls couldn’t even finger the notes on time or correctly, or even bowed their instruments to the timing of the music. And of course, there’s a whole fucking orchestra playing in the background when there’s only supposed to be a cello and a violin. That kind of crap is one of my big pet peeves–that lack of attention to authenticity and detail, just bullshitting audience and thinking it’s good enough. It’s little things like that that separates a good director from wannabe hacks.

Vacancy – We were about twenty minutes into the movie when Elena wanted to stop. She said she’s had it with these slasher films and refuses to watch any more of them from now on. The funny thing is, she’s a huge fan of horror films, and whenever we come home with a stack of DVD’s to watch, she always wants to watch the horror films first. Her reason is that the slasher genre have become too unbearably tense to sit through–with excessive violence, gore, and cruel torturing of victims that makes her physically very uncomfortable. Her love for horror films actually lies in the paranormal genre, dealing with ghosts, poltergeists, demons, possessions, haunting, black magic…etc. I personally don’t mind slasher films at all, especially ones where the victims are actually intelligent instead of moronic walking bags of blood ready to be stabbed, slashed, chopped, crushed…etc. And I’m happy to say that Vacancy is one of the better slasher films because the characters are not mind-boggling stupid (like the idiots in The Strangers).

During most of the film, Kate Beckinsale’s character was pretty much the stereotypical female who gets hysterical and loses her head as soon as the shit hits the fan, but she finally snaps out of it late in the film–and than God she did, because I really hate seeing weak and sniveling female characters in films. I know women who lose their cool easily do exist in real life (and some men are pretty fragile too), but because I’m married to a woman who stays cool under pressure and would never allow herself to become hysterical during times when common sense is the most precious, I cannot stand it when slasher films depict female victims who do nothing but scream their heads off while the killer is butchering her friends, boyfriend, husband…etc.

Anyway, Vacancy has some interesting ideas and is one of the better slasher films I’ve seen lately.

The Soloist – I was so glad that the film didn’t veer into a corny sentimental mess that many movies of this type are (August Rush comes to mind. I hate that movie with a passion because it is an insult to anyone who is a musician or composer). It’s actually quite restrained and although the ending was anti-climatic, I was glad it was because the potential crass ending it could’ve had under a different writer or director would be far worse.

Fast & Furious – Personally, I have very little interest in car modification and racing, but I liked all the movies in this franchise for their entertainment value and the often cutting-edge hybrid scores. As far as mainstream action films go, the F&F series is one of the better ones.

The Haunting In Connecticut – Average horror film. Not particularly scary or entertaining.

September 11, 2009

Long-term personal projects


NEWS:
A few re-processed black and white versions of previously posted colored photos:

New Kitty Cat Diary entries:

WEBLOG:
Recently, I’ve been pretty active in forum topics about intellectual property development. It’s a topic dear to my heart because I started my career as a comic book creator, and when I worked in the video game and animation industries, I also worked non-stop on developing my own IP’s. At one point I even had a short film ready to go into production, with all the pre-production work already done, just to run into funding problems at the studio I was working at as a writer/director. Now that I’m freelancing, I’m more than ever convinced that if my career is to move on to the next level, it’ll have to be my own IP’s, as I’m just about done with playing with other people’s toys. I’ve done the whole “working for the man” phase of my career, where I worked in studios on other people’s creations and stories, and 90% of the time they were products I’d never have paid money for as a customer. I think I’m particularly unfortunate in that regard, as many of my colleagues have gotten to work on projects they are big fans of. Perhaps if I had gotten to work on projects I was excited about, I’d still be working for other people. Maybe it’s meant to be–that my discontent was meant to fuel my passion for my own projects.

In the next few years, there will definitely be some big developments on my end when it comes to large scale personal projects. For the longest time (since after I left the comic book industry in the late 90’s), I’ve only done a lot of pre-production work on my own projects, but never something that could meet the public in its finished form (other than short-term projects like paintings and music), since the full-time jobs and freelance work takes up most of my time and energy. This is going to change. I’m still working on the CG Workshop course I’ll be teaching, but as soon as that’s done, I’ll need to get started on (or continue) a long-term project. Since I’ve quit my job as studio art director last year, I’ve been busy with the designing and construction of my new home and recording studio, and then the CG Workshop (which has turned into a monster workshop that’s many times the scale and complexity of what it should be, which means the students will be getting one heck of an education for a price that’s a total steal). I’m hoping by the end of the year, I’d be able to devote most of my time to a long-term personal project–be it a graphic novel, a screenplay, a new body of musical compositions, or a novel. Whatever it’ll be it’ll have to be something I can do by myself. Logistically it’s just too troublesome to seek the help or collaboration of others at this point in my life–everyone else seems to all have their own personal projects or jobs anyway. I’ve always enjoyed doing things on my own, so doing it lone wolf style is really the norm for me. It’s always been that way, and will remain that way until specific projects that require me to interface with a team or collaborators.

The hardest part would be to actually pick a project to concentrate on, since I have so many I’ve developed over the years. High on the list would be Promise (the short film project I created and was working on a few years ago, but had to stop due to funding problems. It was originally envisioned to be a graphic novel) and continuing Enchanted (the comic book series I created/wrote/illustrated back in the 90’s). If I do any kind of visual storytelling right now, it’ll most likely be some kind of multimedia presentation that involves prose, illustrations, music, and maybe some simple animation. I would prefer to avoid animation simply because I would much rather get the most bang for the buck in terms of ROI (Return On Investment). For the amount of time and energy I spend on an animated scene, I could have written and illustrated far more story content, so it’s not really worth it from the point of view of a storyteller. I personally prefer to deal with animation and live-action only when there’s some semblance of a decent budget and manpower–they are not things I have an interest in tackling alone. When in lone wolf mode, I think the format of graphic novel, novel, screenplay, or multimedia hybrid of prose, images, and music are much more realistic and practical.

If I do continue Enchanted, I would have to think about if I want to do an re-imagining of the previously published issues and then continue where I originally left off, or simply post scans of the original issues so new readers can catch up on what’s already happened and then just pick up where I left off. Much of the old art don’t hold up anymore, and that would be the main reason for doing a re-imagining. The storytelling also gets a bit clunky in some spots since back then I was just a young pup and didn’t know nearly as much as I do now about writing and storytelling techniques. Maybe I’ll simply redo the whole thing but interweave the previously published storyline with the new material so that they work seamless together instead of being in sequence. I kind of like that idea since the whole thing will receive a fresh take on the premise and with much better art, while looking and reading cohesively instead of having this disjointed “before and after” vibe. I might do Promise first since that’s a one-shot, and I could do it as a proof of concept to get the process down, then apply the tested process to Enchanted, which would be a long-term project.

I don’t know if I’d still call it Enchanted though. Ever since that Disney movie came out it’s been bugging me. I would definitely need a new title.

Elena’s been pretty busy lately, as her company’s doing some major expansion and it’s been a mess in terms of management, administration, quality control…etc. She is in many ways the spiritual and morale backbone of the company as she’s the only person at the top that the employees dare to spill their guts to, which is no surprise since she’s personable, fair, nurturing, and even tempered. She’s in many ways the good cop in the partnership, which also generates more headaches for her since everyone will come to her to bellyache.

These are a few of the latest expansions of the franchise and individual restaurants they’ve been adding (and they were lucky enough to actually rent all three spaces next to each other, so the three different restaurants are all under the same ownership:
restaurant
The restaurant on the left with red lanterns is a claypot restaurant. The one on the right is also a claypot restaurant, but a different name and not part of the the franchise.

restaurant

restaurant
The one with the yellow and red sign is a Hong Kong-styled business lunch type of restaurant.

restaurant

The hardest thing about running a business in China is personnel. The way China’s modern culture has developed has resulted in a largely irresponsible and immoral generation. Trying to manage employees with those undesirable qualities would try the patience of a saint. You know those books on management written by industry experts? They’re useless here because those books typically deal with the kind of employees and managers that are raised on western values in developed countries, and do not match the kind of corruption and selfishness of modern Chinese culture. I don’t envy Elena’s job one bit.

I’m pretty excited about The Secret World, the new MMORPG that Ragnar Tornquist is working on. I’m a huge fan of The Longest Journey (although Dreamfall fell a bit short of expectations), and the theme of dark magic and demons are right up my alley (my comic book series Enchanted had the same theme). I almost never care about MMO’s because I simply don’t play them–I find single player storytelling so much more satisfying. I almost wish that TSW wouldn’t be fun so that I don’t have to finally become addicted to a MMO after having been immune to its allure in all the years I’ve been a gamer. The trailers do look awesome though, even if they are pre-rendered cinematics.

Quickie movie reviews

Appaloosa – Is it just me or does it seem like in the recent years, there’s been a string of really good westerns? In fact, I almost can’t remember the last bad western I has seen–they were all very good, this one included. The three main male leads are some of my favorite actors, so it was such a treat to see them all in the same film. I’m becoming a bigger Viggo Mortesen fan the more I see of him–there’s just something about the characters he plays that makes you empathize with them immediately.

Melody – I had heard about this film before but never seen it, and I’m glad I finally found it as a Japanese import DVD. Although the film is dated (from 1971), the subject matter really works for that time period. The same film probably couldn’t be made today, as the world has become so much more complicated and jaded. I think it’s hard for anyone to watch it and not be taken back to the time when we first had our puppy love at age ten. I distinctly remember in my late teens, I had already begun to lament the loss of innocence and I longed for the purity and the uncomplicated way I used to feel about love.

Burn After Reading – Brat Pitt was hilarious in this film, and in fact, it’s probably the only role where I actually found him to be very endearing and likable. If you like the Coen Brothers, then there won’t be any rude surprises–it’s got the same vibe as their other films.

Eden Log – Although I respect the unconventional approach to the film, I found it to be a bit convoluted and vague at times, and ultimately, it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. One critic said it had the same kind of appeal as other first time directorial debuts like Pi or THX1138, and in some ways, I agree, except Eden Log is not as good as those films IMO.

2Fast 2Furious – These types of films are always entertaining, and I watch them when I’m in the mood for some fun. I didn’t know Jin was in the film, and that was a nice surprise. It’s a shame his rap career never really took off.

In Bruges – A strange mixture of comedy and drama. The characters were interesting, but surprisingly, it was Ralph Fiennes, who had the least screen time, that stole the show for me. I wish they would make a film with him as the main character.

The Mutant Chronicles – These type of B movies for some reason tend to have writings that are about as unremarkable as their visual effects. Why is that? Is it because the screenplays for these types of films are mediocre so no one wants to invest too much money into them? Or is it because the expensive films get the best and most expensive writers to rewrite them? Either way, I think I’ll try and stay away from these types of B movies from now on because most of them just aren’t worth the time.

The Fall – Interesting premise of mixing fantasy with reality. Although I enjoyed it for the most part (the little girl was awesome–very natural and expressive), I wished the stakes in reality could’ve been higher–something more dramatic and thrilling, and the ties to the fantasy story more profound and devastating.

27 Dresses – Hollywood romantic comedies can be really annoying and predictable, and while this one was predictable like the rest, it had enough charm and the main leads were likable enough that I enjoyed it.

Eastern Promises– David Cronenberg is one of the most interesting directors working today, and I think I’ve liked all of his films I’ve seen to date. Viggo Mortensen was really good in it–he really pulled off the Russian mob vibe. The knife fight in the public bath had me on the edge of my seat. I have this phobia of blades since I’m very accident prone, and watching that scene just put my heart in my throat.

Reality Bites – Took me all these years to finally watch this film. I never liked Ben Stiller and I think this is the one film of his I actually think is pretty ok.

Evil Remains – A pretty predictable horror film with really bad digital grading. I’ve become very annoyed by the way filmmakers abuse digital grading, because some of them just look horrible and contrived. In Evil Remains, they really jacked up the mid to black points to give the film a “horror look,” but they overdid it and many of the normal day light scenes just look stupidly contrived, and the readability of some scenes were degraded significantly by the horrible grading. In some ways, I wish people would lay off that shit because most of the time it just doesn’t look very good. I think digital grading looks best when it’s done judiciously–to enhance instead of trying to completely change the dynamics of the original. If your original photography has so few merits that you need to actually molest the footage to the point of making the audience choke on the digital grading, then you need to just fire your DP and find someone who actually knows how to create compelling images in-camera.

I’m not really a fan of the Sin City/300 approach either, although I can tolerate those more since the visual style has been pushed so far that it’s beyond digital grading and into the realm of VFX.

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Harmless family fun. When I first noticed Brandon Fraser in his earliest films, I thought he would one day become a great dramatic actor, and it’s a little bit disappointing to see him in these family adventure films, as they really don’t stretch his acting chops. Strangely enough, he’s done dramatic films between his comedies and family adventures, but I really haven’t had a chance to see any except one or two.

Disturbia – I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The script was clever, and the characters were likable. I never really warmed up to Shia LaBeouf in all the previous films I’ve seen him in, but in this film, I finally saw the charm that made him popular. This film also reminded me that when I was a teenager, in the house behind ours, lived a girl that went to the same high school I did. Her bedroom window faced my bedroom window. Yeah, you can imagine the rest.

Starship Troopers 3: Mauraders – I enjoyed the first film for its campy fun and the great visuals, and I hoped that the sequels would at least have interesting stories and good direction if not the same level of visual effects. The first sequel was actually ok, but this one was just horrible. It’s horrible in so many ways that I don’t even have the interest to type them out.

Defiance – It was better than my expectations, and I highly recommend it. Daniel Craig’s fake Russian accent was just unbearable though–in some scenes the accent was barely even hanging by a string. Viggo Mortesen’s performance in Eastern Promises wiped the floor with his ass in that department.

Casshern – I don’t know why I bother with these bad Japanese live-action sci-fi crap. None of them are ever any good, yet I keep hoping that one would come along and change my mind. Ridiculous premise, bad writing, bad acting, and always style over substance.

Death Race – Mindless fun. The car chase fights get a bit numb after a while since you have to really concentrate to understand who’s doing what to whom, and with all the fast editing and crazy action, it gets a bit fatiguing after a while.

Beaufort – I liked this film more than I thought I would. It’s unique in that we never see the enemy–just mortars and missiles terrorizing the protagonists. It’s really a psychological drama about the minds of the soldiers holding a fort they’re about to abandon in the final days of occupation. Another film to add to the list of excellent unconventional war films (such as Jarhead, The Hurt Locker…etc).

The Wackness – I thought the usage of slang and the way the writer/director tried to evoke the feel of the mid-90’s was kind of laughable. It didn’t feel natural, and had all the awkwardness of someone trying too hard and making it too obvious. Other than that, the drama itself was ok, but nothing worth noting.

Blow – As much as I enjoy seeing Johnny Depp play eccentric characters, I always relish the opportunities to see him play relatively normal characters, because I find I relate to him better in those roles. I has said in the past that I generally don’t like biopics, but I quite liked this one. I liked that the film didn’t try to judge the character, and even though it didn’t denounce his crimes, it made very obvious the price he paid for his criminal lifestyle. After watching the film I looked up the real George Jung, and he’s got his own official website! I was glad to find out that a year after the film came out, his daughter finally visited him in jail and said she felt bad for not visiting sooner.

Unearthed – If there’s one genre that I think thrives in the B movie market, it’s horror films. Most other B movies tend to be pretty bad, but horror films seem to fit the B movie market perfectly, and plenty or really good horror films have come out of the B movie market. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. I actually fell asleep in the last part of the film (and I very rarely ever do that. I can count on one hand how many times that’s happened in my life thus far), and it’s supposed to be the most exciting part of the film. The acting was substandard, and considering I’m usually very tolerant of mediocre acting and find most critics to be too picky about it, the acting would have to be pretty damn bad for me to actually complain about it. The directing was also lacking as well, with no grasp on how to actually work the camera to induce anxiety and fear. Even the score was annoying. I hate it when the composer and the director try to underscore perfectly normal scenes just to force the horror stamp on them, even if nothing scary happens at all. It could be just a shot of a character walking out of a restaurant and to the car in the parking lot in bright day light, and there would be this evil and menacing sounding underscore drone accompanying the shot. WHY? It’s about one of the stupidest creative decisions a director or a composer can make. Please people, stop the nonsense.

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