Ethereality News & Weblog

November 17, 2010

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit for audio production

SITE NEWS:
New batch of Kitty Cat Diary entries are up:

We always joked over the years that we’d stop posting new Kitty Cat Diary entries when she turns forty because she’d probably be fat and wrinkly by then, but the passage of time has been very kind to her, and she actually looks better now at almost forty than she did when I first met her nine years ago. I guess with some people, their bone structure continues to change as they age, and sometimes the change is actually beneficial to the overall aesthetic shape of their faces (assuming the skin ages well, of course). When I look at older photos I took of her from when we first met (in 2001), I can totally see how much she’s changed and to me she looks even cuter now than she did back then. I guess this means the Kitty Cat Diary will go on for a while longer?

WEBLOG:
After battling with audio dropouts on my main DAW machine for far too long, I finally made the decision to upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit from Window XP Professional 32-bit. I probably didn’t exhaust every trick under the sun available to remedy my DPC (Deferred Procedure Calls) spike problem in XP, although I did troubleshoot extensively using the commonly mentioned methods for DPC problems, such as disabling various drivers in the Device Manager, disabling internet, disabling anti-virus, updating drivers, tweaking things like the buffer for my audio interface driver, setting windows performance for background services, and other popular tricks. I was at my wit’s end and in my moment of despair, it seemed like my only options left were:

1) Give up on my DAW machine and convert it into a powerful main media server/daily task machine, and then order a specialty DAW PC from a reputable audio production workstation vendor that will cost me my liver and a spleen.

2) Finally cave in and make the switch to a Mac, but sacrificing a bunch of apps that are PC-only. Even if the Mac-only alternatives are tempting, there are just far more options available on the PC. And even though I’ve always lamented Logic’s betrayal to Apple and have many times thought about getting a Mac just to run Logic, Sonar has really caught up in recent years and I’d lose more than I’d gain by going with a Mac at this point.

3) Take a steep step off my 8th floor balcony and end it all.

4) Persevere with bull-like tenacity and never give up, like I usually do when something is important enough to me or worth the effort.

Since I needed to install four more gigs of RAM anyway and upgrade to 64-bit, it was the perfect timing to jump ship to a newer/better 64-bit OS. Enter Windows 7 Ultimate, 64-bit.

I was worried that some of my most used apps and hardware peripherals might not be compatible with Windows 7 64-bit, so I checked to make sure they had newest compatible drivers available, or can run as 32-bit apps in 64-bit. Once I determined that I had more to gain than lose, I went for it. It was a pretty painless install process, and I think Microsoft has really improved in this area. I fell in love instantly with Windows 7 due to the very convenient window pane managing features like dragging a window to the top or bottom edge and it immediately expands fully in the opposite direction, or if I drag a window and touch the side border of the desktop, it immediately expands the window to that half of the desktop fully. It was so handy that I soon found myself trying to do the same things on my other computers still running Vista and XP, only to be rudely jolted back the world before Windows 7. In Vista, I turned Aero off as soon as I started using it because I didn’t find any of it useful, but in Windows 7, the new Aero features are so useful that I can’t imagine living without them.

There are two things that really bugged me about Windows 7 though. First of all, why does Aero have to be so damn hard to customize? You can’t even make changes to colors of the individual aspects of the GUI, because some things are locked and you can’t change them. If I want full customization, I’d have to switch to the classic window GUI, but then I’d lose all the Aero features. The other thing that bugs me is the sticky notes. Why can’t I fully customize their color, or the font, or even just move the text around? I understand it’s just a simple sticky note reminder, but does it have to be so limited in function? Because of how limited it is, I end up using the damn Wordpad instead.

After spending what seemed like ages reinstalling all the sample libraries, soft synths, effects, DAW sequencer, audio editor…etc, I was devastated when my initial test runs were met with even worse audio dropouts and clicks & pops. The DPC was constantly in the yellow zone and I couldn’t even play a MP3 smoothly. After some tweaking and restarting, it finally settled down and now it’s pretty rock solid. I don’t even know exactly what I did to fix it–I think sometimes drivers and Windows just takes a few reboots to really click and lock into each other.

Running Sonar 8.5 64-bit Producer Edition on Windows 7 has been pretty smooth so far–better than when I was running XP 32-bit, and now I have double the RAM to play with, so I don’t have to freeze tracks nearly as much (so far I haven’t needed to freeze at all). I also haven’t maxed out the CPU yet ever since I built this machine back in 2008, and that’s certainly something refreshing. Before I built this quadcore 2.4GHz (Core 2 Duo) machine, I used to max out the CPU easily when I ran power-hungry softsynths and effects. I’d probably still max out the CPU now if I ran multiple instances of CPU-intensive softsynths like Omnisphere, but I haven’t actually used it on any tracks since I got it, so I have no idea how many instances I can run.

In that past year or so, I’ve only been working on simpler projects where there aren’t a lot of tracks going, so I don’t know how a project with heavy track count will behave. I now have all my sample libraries dispersed among four separate 7,200rpm drives, and I have all orchestral libraries that allow separate locations for sections broken up too, so all four sections are on separate drives. I also have often used instruments like guitar, bass, drums…etc all on separate drives. I’m hoping this will help denser tracks stream better, or at least not wear out the drives as quickly. I’ll report back once I have run a track-heavy project, though I have no idea when that’ll be, since none of the tracks I’ve been working on recently are big orchestral pieces.

For now, I think my quadcore 2.4GHz, 8GB RAM, Windows 7 64-bit machine will keep me satisfied for a while.

On a related note, Cakewalk announced the successor to Sonar 8.5 recently, and it’s a totally revamped sequencers now called Sonar X1. It’s basically taking good ideas from competitors and putting them together–a bit of Logic, a bit of Samplitude, a bit of Studio One, and so on. I’m definitely looking forward to it, and I hope my repeated suggestion to Cakewalk of a Photoshop-like spacebar grabber tool for navigating the pianoroll will finally be implemented in X1, because right now navigation in the pianoroll is really clumsy. I have been bitching about the clumsy envelop tool too over the years and someone at Cakewalk said it’s now been fixed in X1. Finally!

I’ve been listening to John Mayer lately, and in a way, he kind of reminds me a little of Jeff Buckley in terms of his sense of melody and guitar arrangements, but his singing, lyrics, and guitar solos are very different. John’s much more of an optimist and playboy, while Jeff is darker and more tortured.

It’s good that he’s apparently done with all the media whoring at this point, because unless he’s in music for all the wrong reasons, he really should concentrate on just being a musician and let his personal life remain personal. The guy’s obviously talented–listen to him play guitar for just a brief moment and it’s obvious how good he is.

I was a bit disappointed by his latest album, Battle studies, since it’s a bit too simple and too mainstream, to the point where the advanced musicianship I expect from a graduate of Berklee College of Music just wasn’t there (and it was definitely there in the first album, Room For Squares). Whether harmonically or melodically, Battle Studies just feels too much like a typical pop record. I hope he does something more challenging next time–maybe a guitar instrumental album? But if he did that, all the ladies won’t like him anymore, and he certainly cares very much what the ladies think.

I fell on my ass hard a while ago when I was doing a high kick on my freestanding punching bag, and since I already messed up my elbow once from slipping in the shower, I just couldn’t risk breaking something else, so I ordered a couple of exercise mats:
exercise mat

They worked like a charm–not only do they make me feel a lot more secure when I do full-strength high kicks (with enough force to knock someone out cold), they also provide much better traction, to the point where I never lost my footing again once I had the mat under my feet.

I thought about joining a dojo so I could spar with others, but I don’t know if I want to risk breaking anything, especially when I’m always recording new music and must rely on my arms and legs to play various instruments.

I finally finished Alan Wake, and it was both fun, yet kind of disappointing. The gameplay was addictive for the most part, even if it’s very simple and you are doing the same things over and over. The overall atmosphere was really intense–it managed to freak me out like a good horror movie would. The story and the writing was the game’s biggest weakness. The writing was pretty silly and not even on par with bad B movies. The ending felt rushed and there was no sense of closure. There also wasn’t any emotional resonance or intellectual intrigue–just this contrived and ridiculous premise and plot that was convoluted and pointless. Overall, I enjoyed the combat and the horror atmosphere, and if the writing had been less contrived, then perhaps it would have been more satisfying. But as simple, visceral fun, I did enjoy Alan Wake quite a bit.

Quickie TV reviews:

Dollhouse – I watched Dollhouse when it first aired, and after the first few episodes I was extremely disappointed. I don’t particularly like Eliza Dushku as an actress–she doesn’t have a whole lot of range, and she’s not really my type in terms of looks. Seeing her as the lead was the first time where I felt Joss Whedon miscasted a character, whereas I always liked his casting in everything else he’s ever done up to Dollhouse. If it was just the casting of Dushku, I could almost overlook it, but the first few episodes were so uninteresting that I just lost patience.

Now that I have given it another chance and watched the whole series, I realized it was yet again the fucking network (Fox) that made it that way. In the original unaired pilot, the pacing was totally spot on and it was far more intriguing than what the network forced Whedon to do in the first few episodes of the series. Why did they do it? Because the mentally challenged morons they called in for test screening of the pilot episode thought the story was too confusing. Seriously, if the unaired pilot of Dollhouse confuses anyone, that person might as well swallow a bullet because you’ve got to be the densest dumbfuck to not get what happens in that pilot episode. So once again, what could’ve been a great series was ruined by the people that run TV networks.

At about the sixth episode or so, Dollhouse really picked up, and it makes perfect sense because it took that many episodes for Whedon to space out the important things that happened in the original pilot, so that the idiots could follow the plot without their brains hemorrhaging. Once the series got away from the “mission of the week” format and concentrated on the main story arc, it became far more interesting. The characters also became a lot more complex once we got to see just much stake there is for everyone, and how the events have shaped them. Unfortunately, the series didn’t get to end properly since the network canceled it during second season, and although Whedon tried to wrap it up for the DVD collection with two special episodes, it just wasn’t quite right. The ending felt rushed and detached from the rest of the series, with a post-apocalyptic storyline and looking very different visually. There were so many things that could’ve played out and the series could’ve lasted at least another season or two, but oh well.

During the last episode, there was this solo violin playing in the score, and it was kind of jarring because the acoustic space just felt so detached from the dialogues and sound effects. I think it’s a really bad idea to use a prominent solo instrument that’s sitting in a totally different acoustic space than the rest of the audio track. In this case, the violin was very dry and upfront, and it just didn’t work.

I liked Dollhouse, but I didn’t love it. To date, my favorite Joss Whedon creation is still Firefly. Long live the Browncoats!

Jericho – What a waste of a good premise. They took what could’ve been a very exciting story and diluted with a bunch of inconsequential domestic drama crap that slowed the pace down far too much. Sure, we need character development and relationships, but you have to defer them to higher priorities because each show has its main identity, and Jericho’s identity is supposed to be post-apocalyptic and human survival. But instead of focusing on that, what do we get? We get an episode about fighting fire at a school and rescuing some kid, which has absolutely nothing to do with the main storyline and feels like it’s from some after school TV special or some trite family drama. Then there’s the inconsequential relationship between the IRS chick and the farmer and his deaf sister, or the older brother’s affair with the bar owner. None of it has any relevance to the story arc–it’s just filler crap that dilutes the focus of the main premise.

Nikita – I’m not particular interested in Maggie Q as an actress–neither her looks or her acting does anything for me, but I was curious to see what direction they’ll take with this franchise. I was pleasantly surprised, since it kind of grows on you, and Maggie Q was actually pretty good as Nikita–she felt “right” playing that role. I might keep up with it and see where it goes, but it’s certainly not what I’d consider a must-watch show.

Bully Beatdown – I think other than enjoying watching total assholes get a taste of their own medicine, the show really doesn’t have much value otherwise. I have to wonder if all those bullies really stopped tormenting others after being on the show, or the victims really regained their self-confidence and sense of security. After all, the confrontation wasn’t between the bully and the victim. The one hope is that the bullies realize what it feels like to be powerless against someone much stronger, and stop doing it to others out of empathy, but some of these guys are such raging assholes that it’s hard to imagine they have any empathy at all.

November 6, 2010

Songwriting, age, and personalities

Filed under: Audio & Music,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 10:02 pm

WEBLOG:
In the recent years I’ve been thinking a lot about how personalities and life experiences dictate the kind of songs people write, and the style they do it in, as well the kind of music they listen to. Some musical genres are almost entirely dedicated to aggressive or negative emotions and thoughts, while some are by default a lot more mellow, positive or wide-ranging. People are often drawn to musical genres that are angst-ridden in their youth, but as they get older, they start to realize that wallowing in these negative emotions is really counterproductive for a happy and fulfilling life. As some people age, they start to diversify their musical interests and start listening to genres that have more positive attitudes. But what happens to musicians who have built up the entire foundations of their musical careers in an angst-driven genre, but have gotten older and mellower with age? Do they transition to more mellow music, or do they continue down that path, trying to remain as aggressive as they were in their youth, like Iggy Pop, or the older metal and industrial bands that are still around? Some do find ways to sing about more uplifting topics while still keeping the aggressive sound, but there are so many other emotions that cannot be conveyed with aggression, and if you spend your whole life writing music that is based on aggression, isn’t that pretty limiting?

If a musical artist sang about the same things in his 50’s as he did in his 20’s, wouldn’t it seem like he hasn’t evolved much as a human being? Or is it just that he was already wise beyond his age when he was young and was very insightful and mature? Maybe there are different ways to approach the same subjects–for example, a young songwriter full of angst would write about injustice with a very extreme and violent point of view, while in his old age, the subject of injustice might still be very important to him, but he’s taken on a different perspective and writes about subject in a more pragmatic and realistic manner, as well as offering solutions and support as opposed to merely condemning and venting anger. Often, older musical artists turn to instrumentals and simple songs about positivity, knowing that no amount of angry ranting they did changed anything and it was all just venting and preaching to the choir, so as they got older, they simply wanted music to be a positive and healing force in their lives. I remember how the industrial rap band Consolidated eventually mellowed out with age, singing about positivity and changing the world through peaceful means, whereas their earlier albums were often filled with rage and condemnation.

While age and life experiences would have an influence on the kind of music one makes, it is perhaps personality that is the biggest contributor. The same emotion would be expressed very differently by different musical genres. Take for example the emotion of heartbreak due to betrayal. The way that emotion is expressed would be wildly different between a country song and a heavy metal song, or a R&B song and an industrial/goth song. What’s very interesting to me is that some musical genres are very narrow in its scope, and are completely unsuitable to express certain range of emotions and thoughts. For example, industrial, goth, and heavy metal music would have a very hard time conveying a gentle and soothing kind of joy without losing the musical genre’s identity, while jazz, folk, and new age would have a difficult time conveying shocking violence and seething hatred. Some musical genres seem to be naturally encompassing though, allowing a wider range of emotions and ideas without sounding out of place. I think this is probably one of the reasons that rock/pop and closely related genres are more popular than any other genre of music. Rock and pop seems to combine the elements that attract the widest range of listeners, due to the chameleon-like nature where it can borrow from other musical genres but still remain firmly rock and pop, while other genres lose their identity if they veer too far off the path.

If you produced music in such an all-encompassing genre, you can pretty much express anything you want and nothing will feel out of place, but if you focused on more esoteric genres, your range of expressions become a lot more limited. While some musical artists do jump around between musical genres, it’s not always accepted by the fans because for some odd reason, the average music fan tend to be focused on only the genres he cares about, and have this strange sense of loyalty to them. When a musical artist work outside of those genres or hybridize multiple genres, the fan feels betrayed, or thinks less of the artist for having violated his “street creds.” It’s all very silly but it does happen. If only we all just embraced all musical genres, then it would be a lot easier for musical artists to express themselves in a wider range of musical styles and attitudes without being concerned they’d alienate their audience. Of course, the courageous musical artists just don’t care and forge ahead, even if it means they leave many fans behind.

I’ve been working on some new songs lately, and it’s actually been many years since I did anything in the song format. The last ten years or so I’ve been composing mostly scores for film and games or instrumentals, and it’s actually kind of exciting to write in the song formats again. It’s certainly a very different process compared to scoring or instrumentals since dealing with lyrics adds a whole different dimension, and having to actually sing again after all these years also makes it a different challenge. I’m going to have to see if I could get my voice back in shape, since it’s been so long since I sang seriously. I wish I had a female vocalist partner since some songs just sound better when sung by the prettier gender. I’ve been trying to convince Elena to sing for me, and she swears that she can’t carry a tune to save her life, but I’m pretty sure I could train her.

Recently, I’ve been listening to a few indie pop musical artists worth mentioning.

Cathy Davey – She’s Irish, writes very clever songs, and sings them in this uniquely expressive voice. I especially like the album The Nameless, and there are two songs I like the most on that album. Army of Tears is a very creative songs about how her bitter tears will form an army and destroy the world. Happy Slapping is a cute and romantic song about how she totally worries about her other half in numerous ways when she’s away and he’s alone without her. For those that like clever and creative indie pop, this is for you.

Live performance of Army of Tears:

Here’s Happy Slapping:

Marit LarsenIf A Song Could Get Me You is one of the most well-crafted pop songs I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s a sad song begging for another chance with someone she once broke the heart of, but it’s written with such a uplifting spirit that it creates this very compelling mood–it’s that difference between asking for another chance while crying your eyes out and snot is dripping out of your nose, or doing it with a hopeful and sincere smile while the puppy eyes are just about to water. Marit’s voice is so pure and sincere that it’s hard not to be pulled into her world. Other songs like Ten Steps and Only A Fool are also quite lovely, and she tends to sing about sad subjects through uplifting and pretty melodies, and it’s a very effective contrast and definitely part of her charm as a songwriter.

Some of you might remember that when she was a teenager, she was half of the Norwegian pop duo M2M along with Marion Raven. Both were singer/songwriters, and they wrote/performed all their material even at such a young age. Eventually Marion abandoned Marit when she got a million-dollar record contract to go solo and pursue her favored rock genre. Marit always lived in Marion’s shadow back then since Marion was considered to be the raven-haired hot babe with acrobatic vocal abilities and an attitude, while Marit was the low-key girl-next-door that strummed the guitar and sang with a soft girly voice.

Fast-forward some years, what do we see? Marion taking off her clothes and getting naked for her music video, writing trite, unremarkable and predictable commercial rock songs about hatred, revenge, bitterness, and basically just being another bad girl rock chick that don’t have any special qualities that sets her apart from the rest just like her. And what happened to Marit? She blossomed into this beautiful woman with a radiant smile and a lovely personality. She writes clever and heartfelt indie pop songs that are unlike the countless other female singer/songwriters that no one will remember after an album or two. She is confident but humble, and she has this infectious positivity that just about makes her glow. Oh how the table has turned on these two girls.

Here are a couple of live performances of If A Song Could Get Me You. Look at how full of joy and sincerity she is–that lovely radiance:

And an interview:

Fanny Fink – A South Korean indie pop duo–one male, one female. They both write the music and she’s responsible for the lead vocals. The style is a very romantic and soothing sound, with bossa nova influences–the kind of music that’s perfect for a cozy little cafe somewhere. This type of romantic indie pop seems to be quite popular in South Korea currently, and their label, Pastel Music, has a whole roster of artists that works in a similar style.

Here’s my favorite song off of their Mr. Romance album:

Here’s a behind the scenes where they are writing/recording a song in their apartment:

I tried Borderlands not long ago and I hated it. I just can’t seem to get into games where the pacing and the motivations are not carefully crafted and compelling. To date, I could never really get into open-area sandbox type of games because there is just so little to care about in the narrative to justify the time and effort. Give me scripted single player games any day of the week because they actually have pacing that grabs a hold of you and is far more entertaining and immersive. It also doesn’t help that the animation was pretty bad. I mean, the eyes on the characters don’t even blink–not even during cut-scenes. How did that happen? I mean, the animators and the art director all of a sudden just forget that most creatures blink?

I started playing Bioshock 2 and F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin recently. They both felt enough like the previous games that there weren’t any rude surprises or let downs. I enjoyed the first games from both series a lot, and if the sequels remain as fun as they have been so far, I’m sure I’ll enjoy both sequels too.

I’m trying to finish Alan Wake currently, and I’m into the fifth episode at the moment. The game itself is fun enough for me to want to finish it, but the writing is pretty laughably bad–about as bad as some of the more ridiculous B-movie. The character of Alan Wake really wasn’t all that likable to begin with–he was kind of a jerk right off the bad. For example, he couldn’t stand a big fan of his simply because she was enthusiastic and called her an airhead behind her back. Why? All she ever did up to that point in the story was being very friendly and helpful towards him. The combat is simple but enjoyable, although it get monotonous because all you do is the same things over and over again–no variety whatsoever, and not much strategy either. Even though the writing is pretty laughable, I have this sick need to find out just how ridiculous the ending could be–I’m sure it’ll be a real doozy.

Quickie movie/TV reviews:

Party Down – I found out about this show from a video that mememolly (this ridiculously cute Brit girl who hosts Boom Rocket) made on youtube–she was lamenting the cancellation of the show. I decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did. It’s basically about a catering company where the employees are struggling actors, comedian, writer, model, extras…etc. It’s a pretty funny show, and there was one particular episode where the characters hung out at Steve Guttenberg’s house that I particularly loved. It should be required watching for any novice screenwriters because the scenes where they were doing the reading of the script and then the revised version–it demonstrated so beautifully the difference between bad and good screenwriting that any novice could understand.

True Blood (season two and three) – I wasn’t too impressed with season one, since it felt just a bit too campy for my threshold, and also I just didn’t care for any of the characters or their relationships–some even irritated me. But I keep seeing people raving about it, so I decided to give season two a shot. I’m glad I did because season two was a lot better, with more interesting characters, storyline, relationships, and the campy elements actually worked better, striking a better balance of drama and comedy. The storyline involving Godric was particularly poignant–my favorite part of season two. The characters I wasn’t impressed with or was irritated by also got more interesting or less irritating in season two as well. I’m glad I gave it another chance. Season continues to be interesting with the werewolf storyline.

The Man From Earth – This is one of the best low-budget indie sci-fi films I have ever seen. It’s so low budget that it’s just some people inside a house, sitting around talking in the living room–that’s the entire movie, yet it’s incredibly engaging and far more thrilling than any big budget special effect blockbuster I’ve seen in a long time. I wish there are more movies like this being made. The acting was a little awkward here and there but for the most part it didn’t intrude on the story too much. There’s one scene where the main character plays some music on a tiny portable player that annoyed me though–they simply inserted the piece of music into the audio track, instead of making it sound like it’s playing from that tiny portable player in a living room. I have no idea how such a mistake could be made in a feature film, but it’s incredibly unprofessional.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed – A clever British thriller about a kidnap with only three characters and a few simple locations. The plot twists are surprising and the level of suspense remains high until the last third of the film, when it starts to become predictable after the film already said all it need to say.

Glengarry Glen Ross – I’m not particularly fond of David Mamet’s films because they always feel like he’s trying too hard, but I watch them because they’re at least intelligent. This one has been described as “Death of the Fucking Salesman,” and it’s a fitting description. Alec Baldwin’s only scene was such a good one that it felt like he carried the weight of the whole film.

The Social Network – It seems to me most films in this genre are very similar–everything starts out simple and there was friendship, then as the business gets bigger and more serious, people start to turn on each other, and there’s always some kind of falling out and betrayal. Perhaps it’s only stories like it are exciting enough to tell, and the ones where people simply worked hard and remained friends in the face of hardship isn’t as interesting to make into a movie?

How to Train Your Dragon – One of the best animated films I’ve seen in a long time, and I think is so far the best animated film to ever come out of Dreamworks. It has a lot of heart, interesting relationships, and some breathtaking action scenes. It avoids the clichéd pop-culture references and even though it is predictable (all films aimed at children or family entertain almost always are), it is still very enjoyable. I also really enjoyed the main character’s voice acting and overall personality, as well as the witty dialogues.

Exam – My brother Michael recommended this to me, and it’s a pretty clever little thriller, all taking place in just one single room. It’s not hard to see where it’s going–the kind of things that are likely to play out in a psychological thriller, but the pace is kept up well and it’s fairly entertaining.

On a related note, when Michael recommends movies and TV shows, he often can’t remember the titles at all, or who directed them, or who the actors were. So basically I have to search google use combination of possible words that describe the premise of the film or TV show in order to find out what they are called and then hunt them down. So far I’ve been able to find every single one of his recommendations.

The Killing Room – Another psychological thriller Michael recommended that’s also a “one-room thriller.” It was perhaps overall a better film than Exam, but it’s not as entertaining. The actors are more famous, the directing is probably better, and the story is more serious, but somehow the slightly more campy Exam is just more fun.

Inception – An ambitious film that’s original and gripping, much like Nolan’s earlier film, Memento. I had heard a lot of people saying how it’s hard to understand and they had to watch it multiple times to figure out what was going on, and I don’t know why they think that. The story’s actually very straightforward and there’s nothing that complex going on, and you don’t exactly have to be an extra observant viewer to figure out the ending. In some ways I was disappointed, since the dream sequences in the film are really tame compared to the kind of dreams I have. I mean, in my dreams I can fly, I can jump over buildings, I can heal my wounds, there are demons, supernatural forces, people morph and change identities or form hybrid identities (such as an ex-girlfriend might combine with my wife and be a hybrid of both), motivations and threats fade into unrelated events that take on a whole different direction without explanation, unexplained obstacles or glitches like the neck of a guitar going soft like heated rubber and I’m unable to play it, and so on. I didn’t see anything like that in the film, and in fact the dream sequences are far too much like reality. I think Nolan could have taken it even further and made it more fantastic, but maybe he deliberately kept it low-key so that the dream sequences don’t get too silly. But even the whole idea of not being able to tell reality from dreams is not nearly pushed far enough in the film, and it lacks that extra touch of madness that leaves the audience gasping and wondering what really happened.

***Slight Spoiler***
The whole plot about the wife was also a bit reaching, since there are just too many ways for a person to be sure that they’re not in a dream, and the only way someone would persistently think she’s in a dream is if she was mentally ill, and she wasn’t. Why didn’t she just spin the top in reality to be sure? Why didn’t he try to prove it to her that way? Why was she ignoring the fact that the so-called “reality” she wanted to get back to had impossible architecture that defied the laws of physics and couldn’t possibly be real, while actual reality didn’t contain anything that’s logic-defying? How could anyone not understand that? Why didn’t he try hard to make her understand? It felt like Nolan needed that one plot point to make the whole film work, but couldn’t find a way to make that plot point make sense and just said “fuck it, the rest of the film is interesting enough” and just ignored it.
***Spoiler Ends***

Predators – Entertaining during most of it, and definitely better than the AvP films. I was surprised to see Adrien Brody as the lead since I still can’t get used to seeing him in popcorn flicks and tend to think of him as more of a “serious” actor. The Laurence Fishburn character didn’t feel right to me since he was totally out of breath in one scene when he’s just sitting around and talking, and there’s no way in hell someone like that could have survived for as long as he did out there in the game preserves.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – I think to enjoy this animated film, you have to watch it in the context that it’s a shoujo manga type of story, otherwise it’ll feel a little fluffy and insubstantial. It’s the kind of story that thirteen-year old girls would be enamored with, but for a time travel theme, it’s not quite poignant enough.

Iron Man 2 – It was about as fun as the first film, and further proves that movies based on comic books can be good. I think the curse has been broken for long enough now. There has been a string of really good comic book movies in the last decade or so that no one automatically assumes comic book movies will be bad anymore. I just wish the same thing could happen for video game movies, because we haven’t had a single worthy video game movie yet.

Good Hair – I never would’ve known all this crazy stuff about black women and their hair if I didn’t watch this documentary. I can totally relate to the men’s frustration that they are not allowed to touch their woman’s hair–it’s just ridiculous.

Whip It – Drew Barrymore’s direction was a bit awkward and unskilled in some scenes, but the movie felt sincere and had its heart in the right place.

Live Free or Die Hard – There wasn’t a single idea in this movie that wasn’t derivative. The high-tech villain who used to be a good guy but now has something to prove, the hot chick right-hand to the villain who’s a martial arts expert, the mysterious hacker elite who’s a big geek with an eccentric personality living in mom’s basement, the free-running bad guy, and a bunch of other tired action flick clichés. If this is what it takes to sell a screenplay in Hollywood, I’m surprised there aren’t more wannabe screenwriters out there making bank.

Dazed and Confused – It’s remarkable how high school kids pretty much are the same no matter what era. It’s a trip seeing some of the famous actors today so young in this movie. The story has no structure whatsoever–it’s more like a brief portrait of a random group of high school kids in a day. It’s not particularly interesting as a film, but it’s a unique approach to filmmaking.

Hitch – There were a few nice moments here and there, and in general was enjoyable, although it was also predictable in the same way that all Hollywood romantic comedies are.

Salt – A slightly convoluted spy thriller where the characters are a bit too clever to be believable. Also, for a movie where everything rides on the love that Salt has for her husband, that relationship really isn’t very well developed. The entire idea is kind of idiotic to begin with though, and felt very forced. It was never even explained how and why Salt would have joined the Russians as a young girl.

Alice In Wonderland– Entertaining and has an interesting art direction, but not much emotional resonance. I’m probably one of the few people who prefers when Johnny Depp isn’t playing some cartoonish freak and plays a real human being instead.

The Karate Kid (remake) – Jaden Smith isn’t much of an actor–especially when he’s doing just everyday conversation scenes, but when he’s doing more emotionally charged scenes, he becomes more believable and natural. I have to say, the movie itself was a lot better than I had predicted, and the fight choreography was particularly good–they were really brutal considering the combatants were more or less just kids. Despite being so young, all of the kids were fantastic martial artists, and Jaden held his own during all the fight scenes. Compared to the original film, Jaden is a far more convincing fighting than Ralph Macchio ever was, since Jaden actually is a practitioner of martial arts in his personal life. Jackie Chan’s performance in the film is much better than the typical slapstick comedy he does, and I much prefer him when he’s being more serious, or going for understated humor instead of the low-brow stuff. While the girl they chose to play Jaden’s puppy love interest is not ugly by any stretch of the imagination, she’s also not quite what most would consider a looker either, and usually I think there’s something a bit off when the male lead is actually prettier than the female lead. Overall, I think this remake stands firmly on its own and is a remake worthy of respect, even if it is missing the kind of charm we love about the original. There was just something so endearing about Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi and the dorkiness of Ralph Macchio, and they chemistry between them on the screen was really something special.

Ed Wood – I finally got around to watching this movie. I’m not sure if shooting it to mimic the tone of movies from that period was a good idea. While it’s clever, it also makes the film feel unnecessarily dated, which may or may not be a good thing, depending if you are a fan of films from that time period.

Splice – The premise of the film was interesting, but the execution was clumsy and the directing as well as the acting felt like everyone was just going through the motions. The same film directed by a master would’ve felt very different. I used to be really into Sarah Polley, but now I’m starting to lose interest because I don’t see her growing as an actress.

Nightmare On Elm Street (remake) – This remake started out pretty hectic and didn’t have any compelling character or plot development, not did it pace itself to build up the mystery and the scares, but half-way into the film it really starts to come into its own and got a lot more fun to watch. Overall the original was still better, especially the final confrontation at the end.

Descent 2 – Not as good as the first film, but still enjoyable. I knew the plot twist and what the ending would be like as soon as saw that old man wink at the very beginning of the film. I really hate that, and sometimes I wish I wasn’t a writer so that I wouldn’t see all these obvious foreshadowing that most people often miss, and get to enjoy the surprises like everyone else.

The Fourth Kind – What a waste of manpower and resources. I can’t believe this crap actually got greenlit. Who even believes in that hypnosis and suppressed memory pop psychology bullshit anymore in this day and age? The scenes involving the aliens are also some of the worst ever in terms of creative vision and execution. The fake documentary footages were also laughably bad–they were so fake that they might as well not have bothered with that entire gimmicky opening explaining the film’s context. I feel sorry for actors that get suckered into playing in shitty films like this–they couldn’t have known it would be so bad before they saw the final cut.

[REC] 2 – A bit more messy and chaotic than the previous film, and the scares are now kind of tired and predictable. Also, once the demonic possession is portrayed with more detail, it gets a bit silly, whereas it was far scarier to simply imply it in the first film.

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