Ethereality News & Weblog

September 26, 2009

Canon VIXIA HF11 AVCHD camcorder

Recently when I was making videos about the Zendrum, I realized I really needed a dedicated camcorder instead of using the video recording feature on the Fujifilm F30. We’ve always used our cameras’ video recording feature whenever we needed to record videos, and we’ve always been fine with the inherent limitations. But now that I need to shoot more demanding videos where I need to exercise a lot more control over the shooting process, it was time to bite the bullet and get a camcorder. I did a lot of research and debated about whether to go with standard definition or high-definition, and finally decided that since the entire market is obviously moving towards HD, it would be kind of stubborn to stay in the SD world. I did think about whether I would need to burn DVD’s to share with other people, or the extra space and processing power required to work with HD footage. In the end, I decided that HD would be doable and SD would be taking a step back in technology.

Other than shooting the typical travel and home movies, I will be uploading to Youtube some music-making gear reviews and demonstrations. I might try to shoot some live-action stuff with it too–perhaps a short-film, but it’s unlikely to happen when I’m in China, since I don’t really have an interest in working with local Chinese actors or shooting anything in the Chinese language (unless I happen to write a screenplay that takes place in China).

The HD camcorder I ended up getting was the Canon VIXIA HF11 AVCHD :
Canon HF11

I was surprised by how tiny the thing is. My last memory of consumer camcorders was when they seemed at least two or three times bigger:
tiny Canon HF11

I also got the Canon VL-5 optional light for it:
Canon HF11 with VL-5 optional light

Other accessories I got includes a Sandisk 32GB class 2 and a Toshiba 32GB class 4 SDHC memory cards, a Pisen BP819D battery/charger, and I’ll also be getting a Canon WD-H37C II 37mm Wide Angle Conversion Lens soon, since the wide end of the HF11 is laughably NOT wide.

The VL-5 is 3,000 kelvin degrees halogen light, so it’s warmer than neutral. I think Canon designed it that way because they think the typical ambient lighting used in various places are warm tungsten lights, so the fill light would need to match the ambient light temperature. The small LED light that’s built into the camcorder itself is very cool in temperature, likely deviating from the standard 5,00k even more than the VL-5 (though on the cooler side). The LED light isn’t very bright and casts everything in a cool, bluish hue, so the VL-5 is good purchase if you want a usable fill-light.

After testing it out for a couple of days, I pretty much figured out the optimal settings for most of the shooting situations I’d encounter. The Cine mode gives the best detail in highlights and shadows, but the image is flatter than the other modes. Setting the Image Effects to Vivid will help, but it’s still not as vibrant as I’d like. There also seems to a cap on the ISO when in Cine mode, since the exposure never goes up in Cine mode after reaching a certain threshold, so if a scene is dark, it’ll stay dark instead of automatically going up in exposure or going down in shutter speed. The lack of high-ISO noise like in the other modes also tells me there must be a limit of how high the ISO will go in Cine mode. I have the frame rate set to 50i since the PF25 that’s recommended to use with the Cine mode is way too sluggish.

I’d love to have shelled out the bucks for a professional grade HD camcorder so I can have deeper manual control down to the last detail, but like I said, I have no interest in shooting live-action stuff while I’m in China, so it would’ve been money wasted. For casual use, the HF11 is perfectly fine, if you know how to adapt it to various lighting situations. Luckily I have already accumulated a lot of technical knowledge from photography over the years, and the main foundation knowledge is the same from photography to video. As long as you have a firm grasp of the main concepts behind how aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, white balance…etc work together to contribute to the final output, you already know all the most important technical stuff.

One annoying thing about the HF11 is the ImageMixer 3 SE software that comes with it–it refuses to install because the serial number from the HF11 is rejected. I may have to end up paying for another AVCHD capable video editor, but I’d rather not since I already have Adobe Premiere CS3 (though it can’t import AVCHD, unless you play for a third-party solution).

Although I’m still busy working on the course material for the workshop, I’ll try to find some time to remake the Zendrum video with the HF11 and get it up on Youtube.

Speaking of the workshop, one thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to spend a lot of time creating content that are rarely, if ever, readily available in the instructional books and DVD’s, or even art school classes. I try to not spend too much time on topics that already have tons of readily available free and commercial resources, since that’s not the point of the workshop. The whole point of the workshop is to teach both essential foundations and also critical advanced knowledge and techniques that’s very hard to learn due to lack of resources, or would require many years of experience and gradual evolution as an artist to grasp. My goals is to make those highly difficult aspects easy to understand, so the students can shave off many years from their struggles.

Some of the topics in the workshop that have very little available resources elsewhere are advanced theories like the complexities and principles of stylization–for example, the anatomy of visual vocabulary, and the way they combine to describes different visual styles–from culturally influenced styles (anime, American comic books), house styles of prolific studios and intellectual properties (well known franchises, animation studios), to personal styles. Stylization is something that even pros often don’t get right, and while it’s often a matter of taste, there are very important universal rules that artists must observe in order to create styles that are effective and appropriate for any given intellectual property. A related topic is the matter of aesthetics, and it’s a topic rarely ever taught in detail in art schools or in commercial “How To” books and videos. In the workshop, I try to help students learn to dissect the mysteries of aesthetic concerns, and also look at examples of how an artist might evolve aesthetically, but not always for the better.

There are so many other things in the workshop spanning all topics (composition, lighting, color, surface polish, stylization, aesthetics…etc) that I purposely designed so the students can learn things that they would not be able to learn from elsewhere–things that are often overlooked, insufficiently explained, or maybe beyond the understanding or insight of other teachers and authors. I’m not saying that as an artist or teacher I know more than others–what I’m saying is that I just happened to have given a lot more thought to all the vital knowledge that are missing from the instructional materials out there. I’m sure some of the artists and teachers out there also know this stuff, but for some reason it just never occurred to them to teach those complex and difficult topics (maybe the fact they are difficult is the main reason).

Anyway, I’m getting closer to finishing the course material–maybe about a couple more months away, and I can’t wait to pass on all those critical knowledge and techniques to the next generation of aspiring artists.

Although there’s truth to the advice that you should surround yourself with excellent creative works in order to learn from and be influenced by the best, it’s also true that we often need to experience the polar-opposite to really understand why the masters are so great. The reason why is because often the masters are so skilled that you often cannot figure out why something they did worked so beautifully–there is no trace of the string on the puppet, or any evidence of clumsy tempering. It’s like watching master magicians–you try as hard you could but you can never figure out how the magic is done. But if a bad magician tries to perform the same tricks, as soon as he fumbles, we can see exactly where he failed, and we get a glimpse of the secret to the tricks themselves. That is what happens when we try to learn from inferior creative works, and by becoming familiar with the various telltale signs of inferior works, we gain a deeper understanding of how superior creative works differ. This is the main reason why I force myself to sit through films that I already know are horrible–I need to be well-versed in both excellent and egregious examples to be a more well-rounded creative person. Of course, I don’t purposely go and seek out horrible films–I simply sometimes watch them when they happen to fall on my lap (on TV, friends with bad taste, given to me…etc). Sometimes I would not be able to sit through the whole thing–maybe just the first fifteen to twenty minutes before I eject the DVD out of disgust. Sometimes, a film that is mostly well-made but contains some glaring artistic and technical faults would be the most educational, because you get to witness and compare in the same film what worked and what didn’t.

So, for those of you who turn your noses up at what you consider inferior works of art–take a deep breath, and try and see if you can learn a few things from them. You might be surprised at how much you learn just by trying to analyze all the things that are wrong with bad works of art, and how exactly, down to the last tiny detail, you would’ve done things differently. The most valuable lessons you learn from bad works of art is to never repeat those same mistake in your own creative works.

It’s been a while since I got motion-sick from playing a video game, but when I tried to play The Darkness recently, it really messed me up bad. Just seconds into the game and I can already feel it happening. I wish I knew what the exact causes are, and all games would have different settings to help alleviate the problem. Some games allow you to change the Field Of View for that reason, but it’s actually rare that a game has that option available.

I’ve tried a few different games recently but so far none really made me want to continue further, except maybe Assassins Creed, but mostly because it’s got one of the best presentation I’ve seen in a game. Far Cry 2 so far is really disappointing, especially compared to the first game, which is on my list of favorite games of all time. The premise just isn’t very interesting and the storytelling is so unremarkable that you just have no reason to want to go on. Mirror’s Edge was fun at first, but after a while it just feels repetitive, and some of the jumping puzzles are incredibly frustrating. The storytelling also moves forward in a way that’s not very compelling, not to mention the cinematics have some of the worst art direction I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder how they decided on such an idiotic looking style–one that has nothing to do with the awesome visual style of the game itself. I also tried Grand Theft Auto IV, and as much as I wanted to love it, I just don’t think I’m the type to be able to fall in love with a sandbox styled game. There are just some sensibility issues I can’t agree with. While I had a ton of fun with GTA: Vice City years ago, I never finished that game either because there just wasn’t any motivation in terms of the narrative. I think the sandbox genre needs to figure out a more compelling way to propel the storytelling forward–perhaps usage of scripted events sprinkled within the sandbox environment itself. As it is, it feels more often like stupid mindless fun instead of engaging storytelling.

I finished a couple of books recently. Here are some thoughts about them:

Inside Delta Force, by Eric Haney – I’ve heard all the negative opinions about Haney–that he embellished the truth, fabricated events, and made false claims–criticisms that came from his ex-squad mates and commanding officers who read or heard about his book. To make things worse, the TV show he helped co-create and write, The Unit, is a pretty unremarkable show because it contained some ridiculous situations that could never happen in real life (such as the season one finale)–which damages Haney’s reputation even more. So, even before reading the book, I already had some reservations, and I have to say, the book was quite good, with plenty of juicy detail that special forces enthusiasts like myself could chew on–from how they train inside the Kill Houses, how they train to do spy work, to how they take down terrorists in various environments like commercial airlines and trains. In the book, Haney didn’t exhibit any characteristics that you’d associate with the harsh criticism from his ex-squad mates and CO’s. But then again, most intelligent people know how to lie very well and pretend to be someone they’re not. Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I enjoyed Chuck Pfarrer’s Warrior Soul, since it was more detailed in the actual operations and more exciting as well.

Becoming A Synthesizer Wizard, by Simon Cann – I regret getting this book, and it’s not because it’s a bad book, but because I already own two similar books (How to Make a Noise and Cakewalk Synthesizers: From Presets to Power User) by the same author, and this one more or less feels redundant. I even contacted the author and asked him if I should get this book, considering I have his other books, and although he ultimately advised against it, the reasons he gave were never really about redundancy. I suppose from his perspective, the book contains enough unique information, but from my perspective, if you already have books that covers all the different synthesis techniques and how to operate some of the most prolific softsynths on the market, it’s pretty much pointless to get a book that focuses on software modular synthesizers, because you already know enough to be able to figure out any modular synth.

The book itself is good, and if you don’t already own books on synthesis, this would be a good book to get. But when push comes to shove, I would recommend Simon’s other book, How to Make a Noise, over this one, since it’s more in-depth on the stuff that really matter.

Quickie movie reviews:

Clean, Shaven – A very poignant and moving film, without ever being sentimental or contrived. It’s an unflinching look at a schizophrenic man trying to find his daughter, and what happens when he finds her. Elena couldn’t watch the film with me because the Chinese subtitles were horribly wrong (sometimes I would translate an entire film for her, dialog by dialog as we watch, but not on that day), so I watched it by myself. I later described the story to her and just listening to me describing the ending brought tears to her eyes.

The Reader – I liked the film, and I enjoyed the multi-layered complexities dealing with personal and cultural guilt. Kate Winslet was excellent in the film–probably her best performance to date.

An American Haunting – The idea behind the story itself isn’t bad (repressed memory shown as supernatural events), but the execution was ineffective. I’ve seen horror films with similar ideas that were much better executed. Avoid this film unless you have nothing else to watch.

Aftershock: Earthquake In New York – This was a made-for-TV film, and it wasn’t great, but pretty good for what it is. If you like Jennifer Garner, then you might watch it just for her.

Traitor – A strong film that’s executed very well, but I wished some of the character relationship developments could’ve been more in-depth, so we get a deeper insight into the inner conflicts of the terrorists-in-training. That would’ve been a different film though, since this one at its core is still an action thriller.

The Strangers – Perfect example of technique over substance. If the screenplay didn’t depict such moronic main characters, the film would’ve been amazing, but since most of the audience has better common sense than both of the main characters, the film falls flat on its face. Instead of being scared, the audience laughs at (or gets angry at) the main characters they’re supposed to identify and empathize with. This is what happens when filmmakers underestimate the audience.

I believe that the audience in general wants to see intelligent, resourceful, and courageous protagonists, instead of idiotic, chicken-shit, fumbling morons. Watching fools get offed because they are too stupid to know any better is not all that entertaining, but watching smart and resourceful protagonists battling it out with the antagonists is very satisfying, and even educational if the protagonists devised solutions and strategies that are plausible and realistic.

Blood Rayne – I couldn’t force myself to watch more than the first twenty minutes before I had to eject the DVD. I often force myself to watch movies that I know are really bad just so I can remind myself what bad films are like, and also to see if I can gain some new insights into all the little and big things that bad filmmakers don’t do right, in order to remind myself to never commit those same mistakes. But sometimes when a film is so bad you just can’t make it all the way through.

The level crassness really has to be seen and heard to be believed–horrible dialog that completely mixed syntax and cadence without any knowledge of how modern and period dialogs differ, ridiculous and laughably dorky costume designs (Michelle Rodriguez’s costume made me laugh hysterically–it was the worst unintentionally bad costume design I’ve ever seen in my life), cringe-worthy acting and directing (it’s Uwe Boll after all), and to top it off, seeing Ben Kingsley embarrass himself by being in that film.

Pride and Glory – A pretty good film about police corruption. Some of the character motivations seem a bit forced, but it’s technically and artistically well-executed, and I thought the ending was satisfying.

The Apocalypse – Avoid this abomination by the Christian production and distribution company called Faith Films. It’s so bad that even the Christian community wants to disown it. I couldn’t finish this one either–it was just too painful.

Flood – A pretty entertaining disaster film overall, but it’s not as gripping as some of the other well-known films in the disaster genre.

Man On Wire – I thought this documentary was overrated. Most of the critics loved it, but I found it to be a bit too stylized for a documentary. Also, the progression of the film was too slow, without enough intrigue to make you want to keep on watching. The film’s climax was also disappointing–no video footage, only a few still photos with narrations. They probably should’ve just had him plan a whole new project and then filmed that instead, so they’d at least be able to film the actual climax.

White Noise: The Light– It’s a little heartbreaking to see Captain Tight Pants (you know who he is if you’re a Browncoat) in this film. He really tried his best, but the writing, directing, and editing were just such clich├ęd drivel that I wished more than ever that Firefly didn’t get canceled. At least he’d still have some dignity left as an intergalactic petty thief.

September 11, 2009

Long-term personal projects

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

New Kitty Cat Diary entries:

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:
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.


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