Ethereality News & Weblog

September 9, 2011

Computer hell + Silverstone Raven RV02-E (Evolution) review

Filed under: Computers & Gadgets,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 8:01 pm

WEBLOG:
I recently decided to upgrade one of my computers to a more current system. This is what the new build looks like:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

The root of this system came from the computer I put together around late 2003 when I was working in Malaysia with Steven Stahlberg. After 8 years, it was definitely showing its age, with obvious issues like unable to playback HD video smoothly, It was also still running Windows XP Professional, which wasn’t necessarily bad, but after having upgraded my other two computers to Window 7 64-bit, XP just felt clunky in comparison.

Currently, I have three computers for different purposes:

Sony VAIO FW390 Laptop – This is my traveling computer, bought in 2009 to replace a broken Toshiba laptop. It’s got an excellent display with 1920×1080 resolution, Core 2 Duo P8600 with 4GB or RAM, so I can do pretty much any work on it, except for really high-end audio production requiring high-end streaming sample libraries. For everything else–from Photoshop, video, to photography, this laptop does it all. When I’m not traveling, I run it as my download/upload/P2P station 24/7. It came installed with Vista, but I replaced it with Windows 7 later.

Desktop DAW – This is my music-production workstation. I built it in 2008, and I still have yet to max out its CPU or RAM while working on a piece of music. It’s a Core 2 Quad Q6600, with 8GB RAM (although recently one of the RAM slots on the motherboard malfunctioned, so it’s down to 6GB now). I’ve got 6 hard drives in it for OS, audio files, and sample libraries. It was the first machine I installed Windows 7 on, and I got hooked right away. No Windows OS has impressed me as much as 7.

Desktop general purpose – This is the one I just upgraded. It was a P4 2.8 GHz with 4 GB of RAM, and 7 hard drives, running Windows XP, but now after upgrading, it’s a Core i5 2500k with 8GB of RAM, running Windows 7.

In order to upgrade the desktop general purpose machine, I bought a new motherboard (MSI Z68A-GD65 (B3), new CPU (Core i5 2500k), and new RAM (8GB of standard Kingston DDR3 RAM). I also bought a new chasis (Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution) since the old one was pretty cramped and too noisy. So essentially, other than the hard drives, everything else is new.

I decided to get the 2500K version of the Core i5 because I wanted the integrated graphics. I no longer play games on the computer these days, having embraced console gaming finally after fighting it for all these years. I really don’t need a dedicated graphics card for daily operations, including creative visual work (besides, my DAW computer has a graphics card, so if I ever want to play PC games again, I can just use that machine). As a general purpose machine, it doesn’t really need to be bleeding-edge.

Whenever I put together computers, it NEVER goes smoothly, starting with my first machine back in 1998. I spent over a year troubleshooting a hardware conflict, and the $500 pro audio sound production system I bought never worked because of it (Turtle Beach Pinnacle System). Since then, I’ve put together about 5 more computers, and they always had some issues I had to troubleshoot to get them to run properly.

This time, when I was putting together the new general purpose desktop, I blew out a power supply. Then, when I was trying to diagnose my DAW machine’s heat problem, one of the RAM slots on the motherboard died, and the damn BIOS beeping code according to Award BIOS guide pointed to something totally different from the actual problem. I had to take the machine to a local repair shop and run all kinds of test to figure out it was that RAM slot. If the stupid Award BIOS reference for beep codes was actually correct, I’d have known it was the RAM and checked each stick individually. I guess I should routinely do that from now to whenever I have inexplicable hardware problems.

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution Review:
Anyway, back to the current upgrades–more specifically, how damn awesome the Raven 2 Evolution computer case is. (The Evolution version is an upgraded version from the normal RV02 version, and has a vertical hard drive cage like the more expensive TF02 chassis from Silverstone.)

I’m not going to write a detailed review of the RV02-E, since there are professional review sites that have done it already (such as this one
from Techspot). I’ll write about stuff that’s more specific to my situation.

I got the limited edition white version with side-window for the general purpose machine, and I was blown away by its performance. The rotated design with the fans on the bottom blowing upwards (because heat rises) really made a difference in cooling efficiency.

Here are some photos of the new build:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

I have two hard drives in the 5.25 bay area, since the hard drive cage only holds 5 hard drives. I discovered that if I put the DVD ROM in the second slot from the top (so the vents on top won’t be blocked, as I originally had in the very first photo of this blog entry), and then have the two hard drives placed below, the configuration allows excellent air flow so that the two hard drives are cooled as efficiently as the ones in the hard drive cage. This is one of the advantages of having a large 180mm fan on the bottom and vertical hard drive cage–it allows the air to continue blowing up and cooling the 5.25 bay area ( as long as you don’t seal that whole area off by placing the DVD ROM below the hard drives, which I also experimented with, shown 3 photos up. It definitely doesn’t work as well).

Here’s the empty chassis before the build:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Compare the Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution with the old build from 2003, using an iCute case:
iCute
It’s easy to see how cramped the iCute case was. It also didn’t allow effective cable management since there was no way to route the cables behind the motherboard, and the fans weren’t exactly quiet either.

iCute
It also didn’t have the kind of airflow plan that allowed the 5.25 bays to be cooled if hard drives were installed, so I had to put in 5.25 bay fans, and they were much louder than the bigger fans. This made the noise almost unbearable, even with the acoustic panels.

Of course, this is all very unfair, since that iCute case was from 2003, and I’m sure the overall progress of computer case design had advanced a lot since then. But still, it’s a great feeling to move the system to a more modern, efficient, and roomier case.

In terms of noise, the Raven 2 Evolution with the fans set to low emits a soothing low hum that wouldn’t bother anybody at all. Set to high, it becomes as noisy as any other typical computer, but since the fans can be set separately, I have the front fan set to high to keep the hard drives cooler, while the middle and rear fans are set to low because they don’t need more cooling than that.

Ergonomically, building with it was a pretty smooth and pleasant experience. I would have preferred tool-less for the 5.25 bays, but that’s a minor complaint. There are plenty of holes in the chassis for excellent cable-management, and the case comes with an abundance of accessories and screws. The way the hard drive cage is designed is also very practical, as you can pull each hard drive out easily from the main rack. I also love how the chassis was designed so screwdrivers and fit perfectly–I have never seen this done before until now:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

In terms of cooling performance, while idling with the room temperature at around 26 Celsius, I’m getting around 29~35 in hard drive temperature and 33~35 in CPU temperatures, and that’s the most impressive I’ve ever seen in any of the computers I’ve built to date.

I was so impressed by its performance that I ended up buying a black one too for my DAW machine (since it was having heat problems anyway). So now I have two identical cases with different colors.

The DAW machine was housed in a Thermaltake Armor Jr. case. Here’s the previous build with the Armor Jr.:
Thermaltake Armor Jr.

While the Armor Jr. case was great to work with ergonomically (tool-less design), its cooling kind of sucked. The hard drives were idling around 45~47, while the CPU was idling around the same (both 10 degrees hotter than the Raven 2 Evolution, using the exact same parts and OS install–I only swapped the case and changed nothing else).

There was a fatal design flaw in the Armor Jr.’s hard drive cage that I didn’t notice when I bought it back in 2008 (I wasn’t as concerned about these issues back then). Now that I noticed the problem, it boggles my mind how any company that specializes in computer cooling and cases could have made such a blunder. No amount of visual coolness, fine manufacturing, or ergonomic design will make a damn bit of difference if the cooling capability isn’t up to standard. Take a look at this problem:
Thermaltake Armor Jr.

Thermaltake Armor Jr.

See how the hard drive cage doesn’t have any spaces for the air to actually blow through? This is true from every direction that the front fan could possibly blow from. From the side, there is no space between the hard drives at all, and in the front, where there should have been spaces, there are solid bars filling the gaps between the hard drives (circled in yellow). Even after I cut those offending parts off (circled in orange), the cooling didn’t improve. That’s when I decided to buy another Raven 2 Evolution to replace the Armor Jr..

Comparing to the Thermaltake Armor Jr. to the Silverstone Raven 2 Evolution, it’s a much less dramatic difference than comparing iCute to the Raven 2 Evolution, since the Armor Jr. is a more recent case. The Armor Jr. is definitely built very well, with some nice design features such s tool-less design, but that drive cage is so badly designed that it might as well be a convection oven. Also, the 5.25 bays don’t allow adequate airflow if hard drives are placed up there (though the 5.25 bay is vented from the front with dust filters instead of sealed shut like most cases, but it’s still not enough), so you’d have to install 5.25 bay fans, which only adds to the overall noise level. The Raven 2 Evolution in comparison, can have hard drives installed in the 5.25 bays without needing any extra fans, since the airflow design is so damn good.

Photos of the same system (DAW machine) housed in the black version of the Raven 2 Evolution:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

I have never been as serious about cable management as I had been with the black version’s build. I made sure to route any cable that could be routed back away from case interior. I actually went back and did the same for the white version build too, so now both desktop machines have excellent cable management and maximum efficiency in airflow.

The black & white duo next to each other:
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

It’s obvious how impressed I am with the Raven 2 Evolution. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a highly efficient, cool, quiet, and roomy case. The I/O rotated to the top of the case might not be for everyone, especially if you have the habit of placing stuff on top of your computers like I do, but I think the Raven 2 Evolution is worth breaking that habit for. The only criticism I have is that I wish it had a tool-less design, and the bottom fans’ dust filters can be pulled out without having to remove the side panel (though the fact they can be easily pulled out is not to be taken lightly. Too many computer cases don’t have that feature). But these are minor complaints, and the Raven 2 Evolution is the best computer case I’ve ever worked with since my very first build back in 1998.

This concludes the review for the Silverstone Raven 2 Evolution.

Upgrading the two desktop machines prompted some additional changes to my setup. I originally had the Xbox 360 and PS3 stacked on top of the DAW machine like so (the old Thermaltake Armor Jr. case is shown here with the white Raven 2 Evolution):
Silverstone Raven 2 RV02-E Evolution

Now, I moved the two game consoles to the left, on the floor. The noise reduction acoustic panels are always erected during daily use. I really only remove them when I need to work on the computers or access the DVD ROMs:
Noise Reduction Baffles

This is without the noise reduction acoustic panels (this is an earlier photo when I haven’t swapped the two DVD ROM’s yet. I definitely prefer the more matching look 3 photos up, than the contrasty look):
Noise Reduction Baffles

Here’s how the 4 acoustic panels are used:
Noise Reduction Baffles

Noise Reduction Baffles

Noise Reduction Baffles

Noise Reduction Baffles

Notice that they do not completely seal the two computers within, as that would kill the airflow. I place the acoustic panels only at spots where they do the most good, while still allow plenty of fresh air to be pulled into the computers and the hot air to be blown out. This approach kills plenty of the computer noise, but does not affect the cooling at all.

Part of the original reason to upgrade the general purpose machine was to have a more modern system that’s capable of handing resource intensive tasks, and on that front it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s not that the upgraded CPU and RAM aren’t doing their jobs–it’s just that some software can’t take advantage of the faster processor and additional RAM, so I don’t really notice any difference in performance (typical everyday tasks fall in this category). But when it comes to processing intensive tasks, I definitely notice a huge difference.

For example, I use J River’s Media Center, and it has a feature that allows you to analyze your music files and assign a Replay Gain value to each file so that the plackback volume can be averaged between tracks (this eliminates the need to have to constantly turn up and down the volume depending on which track is playing). The analyzing of each audio track’s maximum and average level of volume is processing intensive, and in the past, analyzing up to two tracks would already max out my CPU, even on file formats that are the least processing intensive to analyze. Now, I can analyze up to 4 files at once and the CPU usage will hover anywhere between 50% and 100%, depending on the kind of files that are being processed. That’s at the very least a doubling of processing power, and more likely a quadruple increase since the 40% is also for 4 files being processed at once.

The only thing that’s bugging me a little currently about this new build is the slow startup time. It is the newest install of Windows 7 among all three of my computers, yet its startup time takes up to 5 minutes to completely settle down (as in, the computer becomes 100% responsive, instead of still trying to load processes into the system RAM). With my DAW machine, it boots up and settles down so fast (about 30 seconds) that it’s almost comical when comparing the two. The Sony VAIO is somewhere in-between and within what I consider tolerable limits. I’ve tried to check off as many applications off the the msconfig startup list as I can, as well as using Startup Delayer (an app that allows you to manage in detail which, how, and in what order startup apps and services boot), and I’ll have to do some more experimenting to see if I can get the general purpose machine’s bootup time down to a more reasonable number.

Quickie Movie & TV revies:

Strike Back (season one) – A bit like a British version of The Unit, except it focuses on one specific operator instead of a whole team. It’s a pretty decent show, but it’s not exactly something I would bother keeping up with considering how many better shows are currently out there.

Super – Take Ellen Page out, and this movie would be absolutely boring, derivative, and irrelevant. The adorably psychotic Boltie is the only reason why this movie is worth watching, and I’m saying this as a big fan fan of Dwight Schrute / The Office. If Hit-Girl was taken out of Kick-Ass, the movie would still be quite entertaining–that is the difference between Super and Kick-Ass.

Network – One of those movies I’ve heard so much about over the years and finally gotten around to watch it. Now that I’ve seen it, I think it was ahead of its time in how subversive and black in its humor it was. If this movie was made today, I’m pretty sure the tone would be more obviously humorous–with a wink at the audience instead of being so serious.

I wonder what the people behind the film thinks of today’s media and broadcasting.

Little Manhattan – A somewhat contrived movie about a ten yr-old’s puppy love. It’s not very satisfying since the ending is kind of a disappointment (for the main character and for the audience), and nothing in it feels as emotionally honest or poignant as what I expect for my personal standards in this sort of movie. Also, I can’t stand writers who try to write in the voice of a unrealistically precocious and witty child–it always feels smug and artificial to me. I would recommend classics like Melody or A Little Romance over this movie if you are in the mood for a puppy love story.

Jeremy – A surprisingly good movie about a shy teenager’s first love. It is far better than Little Manhattan because it feels emotionally honest and poignant, and the relationship actually goes somewhere and ends on a note that is emotionally resonant.

I think it’s sad that these types of movies are long extinct. Society and media as a whole has become too jaded, too witty, and too formulaic. If this movie was made today, it would try to do that awkward but hip thing with wry humor that all indie films do these days.

September 5, 2011

Creative fulfillment & fun vs. technical frustrations

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

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How much one enjoys the overall experience of being immersed in a creative endeavor is a fairly complex subject, because there is a lot of hidden technical frustrations that each creative endeavor forces upon you, whether you like it or not. I’ll describe the ones that I deal with all the time below:

Music – In this day and age, you’d be a stubborn Luddite if you didn’t try to take advantage of the immense power and flexibility of modern Digital Audio Workstation and virtual studio software like Pro-Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Live, Digital Performer, FL Studio…etc, as well as advanced sample libraries that allow you to compose and arrange sophisticated orchestral pieces right on your laptop–something that would have seemed like science-fiction not long ago. But with such great power, comes giant headaches too.

When anything goes wrong, you could be troubleshooting your computer for weeks and months trying to hunt down the reason for a DPC (Deferred Procedure Calls) problem that causes your computer’s audio to not stream smoothly and stutter during playback, or a driver compatibility issue that’s causing one of your MIDI controllers to not be recognized by your DAW host sequencer. Update patches can also turn a smooth running system into an unstable one, and this is not just with the OS and driver updates, but even ones from individual music production software you use. Then there’s hard drive malfunctions, reinstalling the OS and all of your software (if you have an extensive virtual studio on your computer, this is extremely daunting because it’ll take you at least a whole week just to do this and optimize all your settings).

And yes, I’ve had to deal with all of the above, and I still deal with them constantly. I’ve just about had enough of all that bullshit. As much as I love music with all of my heart and soul, the constant technical struggles just makes it not fun anymore. While I could just revert back to using very primitive gear such as simple 8-track recorder and non-virtual instruments, they just pale in comparison to the amount of power and flexibility that a modern DAW system has, and I’d be perpetually frustrated at how I couldn’t perform tasks that a DAW could do without even blinking. It’s hard to go back once you’ve been spoiled.

When things go right, it’s really amazing though, because today’s technology allows you to do just about anything by yourself, and it all sounds damn good. The only limits holding you back are your talent and skill.

2D Art– I have mentioned before that I gave away all my traditional art supplies–oil paints, watercolor, acrylics, gouache, brushes, easel, charcoal, inks, pens, pencils, pastels–you name it, they’re all gone.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy traditional painting anymore–it’s just that I simply don’t have room for it in my studio because it’s occupied by musical instruments, and when compared to music, the process of creating visual art isn’t quite as exciting. With drawing and painting, the emotional feedback I get from it is much weaker than what I experience when I’m working on a piece of music or writing fiction.

Fortunately, the amount of technical bullshit one has to deal with in digital visual art is comparatively less, that is, if you aren’t doing 3D. Most computers can run 2D software like Photoshop and Painter just fine, and problems with tablet drivers are few and far between.

There is a certain sense of satisfaction when you conjure up images from scratch–things that don’t exist in our world, or interpret our world through your artistic expression. But what I’ve found throughout the years is that for me personally, I tend to have my artworks server a higher purpose, and that is storytelling (illustration, concept art). And because I’m first and foremost a storyteller, this means my artwork plays second fiddle to my storytelling. As a job though, it has always been more lucrative than everything else I do though.

3D Art – As soon as you touch 3D, you’re in a world of pain. The constant technical troubleshooting, the complex rendering algorithms and the babysitting of rendering batches, having to re-render entire shots because you forgot to turn something on or off in your scene, the strange anomalies that you can’t figure out unless you post on forums and solicit the advice of experts–they can drive you to madness. Overall, the amount and the severity of technical bullshit is much worse than modern music production.

3D is so labor-intensive that the number of hours spent to just create the assets necessary for a scene, then animate and render a few seconds of footage, is staggering. It’s probably the least productive in terms of ROI (Return On Investment) of time and energy spent, and the frustrations vs. the reward can be lopsided. This is why any type of serious production is normally carried out by a team or a studio.

There are those who are crazy enough to do entire productions by themselves, but just about every single one of them I’ve ever known about has stated after the fact that while they don’t regret the experience, they’ll never do it again because it was just too much work. Just about all of these one-man production guys are now happy to just be an employee working at a studio instead of dealing with all that daunting work alone.

If you have no need to animate anything complex or only need to deal with still images, and at the same time you are a good artist, then you can pretty much get across the same visual information by drawing and painting and skip all the technical frustrations of 3D. This is why I never focused on 3D for my personal works.

Photography – I would say this is probably the least frustrating among visual art because unless your gear is malfunctioning, photography is largely WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), and if you can operate your gear, understand composition and lighting and color theory, it’s really a breeze–assuming you don’t mind the physical act of having to constantly move lights, fiddle with lighting accessories, arrange and decorate the set, traveling to various location shoots, deal with the weather…etc.

Once you upload your images to the computer, the amount of technical bullshit is pretty much identical to 2D art. Artistically, it’s a lot easier than drawing and painting, since you don’t have to learn anatomy, figure, perspective, line quality, brushwork, nor do you need to train your eye-to-hand coordination in the same way that drawing and painting requires. If you do extensive digital retouching, that’s a different story though–you’ll have to be a bit more skilled in that department, but still nowhere to the level of a good artist who draw and paint with ease.

Photography can be a lot of fun, especially when working with people or traveling to locations, and because it can also be an intimate part of your life (if you’re one of those people who takes a camera wherever you go), it also tends to be more immediate and personal–if you allow it to be.

Writing – Writing is perhaps the least frustrating technically because it’s much more low-tech compared to everything else. Even a old typewriter or paper pad and pencil can get the job done. It is also the one creative endeavor where modern technology doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact on as with other creative endeavors.

The real challenge of writing is all on the inside of the person, and this is exactly why it can be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. When I write, I laugh when my characters laugh, I cry when my characters cry, and I live in the moment that I’m writing about. On a more abstract level, I have my values as a human being, thoughts on socio-political issues, and insights regarding the complex web of human behavior, and I can express all of them while writing. It is the most direct way to creatively express oneself possible, because your emotions and ideas and thoughts don’t need to be translated through another creative language like with music and visual art.

But when you fail, it’s a harder blow than failing at any other creative endeavor because it feels much more personal. When you fail in other creative endeavors, you tend to think that you haven’t learned enough knowledge regarding the craft or the theories, or practiced hard enough on your technical skills, but when you fail at writing, there are a lot less excuses because once you have a firm grasp of grammar and functional vocabulary, the rest is just all about you, the person on the inside. It is as if you, the individual, is defective or inadequate. You end up questioning your intellect, your imagination, your insight into the human condition, your creative voice and depth as a human being, and that kind of self-doubt can be very debilitating.

When you hit the mark though, there’ no feeling like it. You feel elated, cathartic, moved, intellectually and emotionally fulfilled, and overall deeply in-tune with not only yourself, but the entire world and all the souls that inhabit it.

I finally trudged my way through Dragon Age 2, and I was quite disappointed just like many others out there. I read some interviews where the writers defended their choices, and while I don’t have a problem with them trying a different approach to storytelling, I do think their execution wasn’t very good. There really wasn’t much emotional immediacy to the whole storyline, and it felt like you were playing a bunch of separate little games instead of one epic storyline with a compelling sense of gravity. DA2, in a way, felt like episodic television, where each episode had its own focus and standalone storyline. I suppose some people like that, but I never did. I have always far preferred continual storytelling where each episode ends on a cliffhanger.

Some of the gameplay changes were terrible too, such as not allowing you to customize the party members’ armor when you can customize everything else. The designers of the game said they wanted to force iconic looking costume designs, and I’m all for that, but they should have at least given far more upgrade options. Throughout the entire game, all the party members had their armor rating at around two stars, and that just pissed me off. Why couldn’t I have upgraded them to five-star ratings?

The repeated levels was perhaps the most glaring problem. It felt like a slap against the face because it just reeked of greed and laziness. In the interviews, the people in charge said they had to choose between making more content or more unique levels, and my question is, why they hell couldn’t they do both? Why was the development cycle set so damn short to the point that they pushed out a lazy product? Did EA and Bioware need the revenue that DA2 would generate so badly that they had to cut corners like that? No, what happened was greed–plain and simple. They could have developed the game for longer and made it better, but they cut corners to push it out so they can make money, because they knew people will buy DA2 no matter what. You don’t see them cutting corners on the Mass Effect franchise. Why? Because it is considered a more premium product, so they wouldn’t dare to cut corners on it.

DA2 is the first time I’ve ever been so disappointed by Bioware. I have to wonder if this would have happened if they weren’t bought by EA.

I’ve been researching into Antisocial Personality Disorder lately for the book I’m writing, and I came across this very interesting paper on
sociopaths in the military. It essentially instructs leaders in the military on how best to manage and utilize the sociopaths under their command, so they could do the most good while causing the least harm.

Quickie Film/TV reviews:

Taiyou No Uta / タイヨウのうた (Midnight Sun) – I watched both the movie version with YUI, and the TV series version with Sawajiri Kaoru, and I much prefer the TV series. YUI is a terrible actress, and the kind of bad acting she got away with could only happen in certain countries like Japan, where as long as an idol is attractive, they are banked on to sell tickets. As much as I like YUI as a songwriter/singer/musician, I do not automatically support her in her acting. Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way, as she’s only acted once, and never again. Sawajiri Kaoru, on the other hand, is a far better actress. The version she played is a very different character–one with a much stronger personality and a lot more confident as well. I also think she’s a lot more attractive, but that’s not to say YUI isn’t cute in her own way. I’d say one is more glamorous and one is more subtle and natural.

In terms of storytelling, they’re quite different as well, and I think the TV version has much better developed characters. But in general, both are firmly in the camp of “fake and awkward situations” and “unrealistic dialogs” like many other Japanese dramas. I swear, there’s this strange deficiency in Japanese screenwriters nationwide when it comes to teen idol dramas–they have no idea how to write believable characters and situations, and there’s this exaggerated artificiality to their sensibilities. There are certainly exceptions, but the exceptions are few and far between.

The Return – Elena recommended this film to me, and after I watched it, I knew why it resonated with her. It’s Russian film imbued with symbolism and rich with allegory, and it’s the kind of film that is only as rewarding as you are willing to think hard about exactly what the director meant to convey. To me, the film is really about a father’s first and last chance to teach his sons valuable lessons about life, and regardless of his questionable methods and the sons’ defiance, those would be lessons the boys will never forget for the rest of their lives.

Ichi the Killer / 殺し屋1 – I’ve seen the anime version years ago, and always wondered about the live-action film. I liked the anime version better because the philosophical aspects were more clearly presented, while the live-action version obsesses more with the over-the-top ultra-violence. I’ve seen only a few other films by Takeshi Miike, and they’re certainly interesting. I haven’t seen any of his more accessible mainstream films though, and I probably should just for comparison’s sake, but I kind of don’t see the point, since if his mainstream “normal” movies are no different from any other mainstream movies, why bother watching them (unless the film itself is very good, I suppose). I guess it’s a bit like how you wouldn’t really want to see a typical mainstream film by David Lynch either.

Adventureland – A fairly entertaining indie movie about working at an amusement park as a summer job, and the various characters that work there. There’s some romance, and it’s nice seeing Kirsten Stewart not as Bella.

Caddyshack – I avoided this film for all these years because I have a strong dislike for pointless, crass, low-brow humor, but I keep hearing people raving about it as if it’s some kind of worthy classic. Well, I made myself watch it recently, and I was right all these years; to me, it’s just a crass, low-brow comedy without anything special. I honestly don’t know why people like this film. In comparison, I love Ground Hog Day (same director) and that’s the kind of comedy I prefer–something with meaning and worth beyond just cheap laughs. I have heard arguments that Caddyshack has hidden meaning, but I really didn’t notice anything worth commenting on that I felt was profound or meaningful, and more importantly, because the execution was so crass, even if it had meaning, it becomes irrelevant because the delivery is cheap and shallow.

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