CatBird

My daughter and I spent a half hour or so together working on a photo manipulation this past Saturday. I did most of the work – not because I had to, but because I’m trying to learn how to make better use of Photoshop.

She wanted to make a Frogator, but we couldn’t find the instructions for that. So we made the CatBird instead.

Catbird

Of course, it didn’t turn out as well as the original, but it was my first try at this sort of thing, and I had a lot of fun. (I wish I’d made the head a little smaller and done less warping, but eh.)

Having so much fun with that, I decided to make a Frogiraptor too. I still didn’t have the instructions, but I sort of reviewed other tutorials and winged it a bit. Turned out okay, I thought.

Frogiraptor

The software is very powerful. You still have to have an artist’s eye for light and shadow, but aside from that, you can get pretty good results pretty simply by just using some standard filtering and layer blending options.

I’ve recently acquired Photoshop CS6, and while it’s newer and shinier, I don’t know what it offers that CS5 didn’t have yet. I guess time will show. And before I figure all that out anyway, CS7 or whatever will be available. So I guess I’ll just knuckle down and try to learn this one thoroughly. Plenty of people are still turning out great product with Photoshop 9 (which goes back to something like 2004).

Anyway, we had fun. I’m still experimenting, but it’s been a lot of fun. And I updated the cover for A Fine Cast of Characters on Amazon, too, trying to look at other covers and see what they did and whether I could imitate it somehow. I like how it turned out, though it still falls short of my vision.

AFCC Cover 3

The addition of the texture helped a lot, but I’m wondering if a stroke (which is an outline) around the the author name would’ve helped. The beveling effect on the title certainly helped, and the addition of the stage curtains was my loving wife’s idea…and darned brilliant, I thought.

So, we’re getting some mileage out of it. The Photoshop learning, I mean. And I’ve had some fun with it along the way.

Now, if I can just get my friend Elizabeth to show me where she gets her wonderful graphics so I can do some of the stuff she does…

-jdt-

Exsanguination Proclamation

Late Wednesday night, my loving wife and I sat down to watch a relatively new movie. We’ve really been enjoying Vudu video service, though not the cost associated with movie rental. Still, we’ve been ‘round the horn on the Netflix offerings and haven’t had our fancy tickled much. There are a few DVD rentals we’re looking forward to, but they’re still a way off yet. And since we’d like to see something more current, we have to look elsewhere once in a while.

We settled on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as our choice for the late show. And what a good choice it turned out to be! My love is not a fan of the horror genre, and we certainly don’t like what’s been happening with vampires of late (you know, vampires being sexy and suave and charming rather than the blood-sucking demons of hell), but we thought we’d give it a try and see what we could see.

It was a fun romp. Abraham Lincoln loses his mother as a boy and his father reneged on a debt he owed his employer. The employer threatens the Lincolns with other ways to extract the debt. And from there, the story is off and running.

I’ve heard the novel upon which the movie is based – the author was also the screen writer, by the way – was slow-developing and required patience to stay with it. Not so the film, however. From the outset there’s a lot of movement and the story kept the audience entertained throughout. There was just enough real history thrown in to make the movie fun, and enough artistic license to bring a smile. And of course, the vampires were evil, scary, and vicious. Abe wasn’t as honest as we might’ve learned in school, and he was a mean man with an axe. Before it was all over with, the steampunk version of Lincoln is a new kind of action figure, and my wife and I both left the movie behind with smiles on our faces and wishes we could somehow get the kids to watch with us.

I recommend AL:VH for pure entertainment value, and while the very nature of the film leaves you with foreknowledge of the ending, it’s still a lot of fun. The effects weren’t bad, the story was pretty good, and so was the acting. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars, and would see it again (when it’s free, of course) given the chance.

Hop over to either Vudu or (I think) Amazon Instant Video service for a peek. It’s more than worth $3.99 (and I think I paid $4.99 for the HD version). I think you’ll like it.

Tonight, I check out Outcast on Netflix. Something of a werewolf offering, if memory of the trailer serves.

If I don’t talk to you beforehand – and I won’t – have a very happy New Year, and God bless you all.

-JDT-

Movie Review: The Innkeepers

Okay, so the last time I did a movie review, I mentioned one called The Innkeepers, and I thought I’d already reviewed it. I did a quick search, though, and don’t see any reference to the movie, so I guess I’ll review it here.

Now, to be fair, it’s been a while since I watched it. Few months, maybe more than a few. So I can’t remember the entire thing beat by beat. But I remember movies well enough I can tell you this one’s a sleeper.

The Innkeepers dates from 2011, and stars a couple of nobody actors who carry the bulk of the thing. It also features an aged and heavier Kelly McGillis, however, and she provided the movie’s “star power” and a touch of misdirection.

The central characters are Sara Paxton as Claire and Pat (male) Healy as Luke, a pair of the last employees of a the venerable The Yankee Pedlar [sic] Inn, closing its doors forever after becoming a legend among the paranormal believer set as a haunted location. Fortunately, Luke and Claire are ghost hunters with the will to capture the ghosts before the Inn is forever shuttered, and have the place to themselves when the only other staff member calls in “sick”.

But an aging actress turned psychic (McGinnis), attending a local psychic fair, checks into the hotel. Luke and Claire, trying to capture their video and EVPs, work around her while the otherwise empty hotel creaks and groans.

It quickly becomes evident something happened in the hotel, and neither Luke nor Claire has the full story.

The movie builds at a snail’s pace. There seems to be a movement among independent movie companies to produce movies which build gradually before unleashing a runaway freight train ending. This movie does that. The build-up seems so slow, and while it can be entertaining, it’s also pretty boring in places. Some of the scenes intended to show tedium were a bit too effective, if you know what I mean, and the humor sort of fell on its face in a few other places. But when the creepy set in, it really got going and the crescendo came down like an avalanche.

In a way, the end twisted too. It wasn’t altogether unpredictable, but it sort of caught me unaware. I thought the twist was good, and well-placed.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. You do need to be patient with it while it grows, however, so if you choose to watch it, be warned of that. The last part of the movie moves fast and furious and pays off a lot of the set up from earlier on. It’s a good ghost story if you’re looking for one that isn’t gory, filled with loud noises, or presented as “found footage” from a shaky camera first-person perspective.

I gave it four stars. If you decide to see it, or already have, let me know what you think.

-jdt-

Prometheus Review

So, I finally saw Prometheus this weekend. I’ve wanted to see it for a long time, but it hasn’t made it to NetFlix. Then I found it on VuDu and got the HDX version with my new fancy Internet connection. What with the broadbanding and the high-deffing and all.

If you’re not familiar with it, Prometheus is Ridley Scott’s return to the Sci-Fi genre after his amazing gift called Alien. This movie is supposedly something of a prequel, but he didn’t like that term during production and pre-release. In some ways, I understand why.

Alien is one of my all-time favorite movies. It established a standard for science-fiction/horror which I feel is unmatched visually and emotionally since. Nothing comes close to its claustrophobic and xenophobic horrors. Then along came James Cameron, who was given permission (somehow) to start mucking with the franchise’s canon and feel. It went downhill from there.

So, Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction, to rescue the franchise he established, was much anticipated.

In the end, the movie wasn’t very much like I imagined. At all. I suppose sometimes a movie leaves more questions than it answers in the minds of viewers, but honestly, there’s a point at which you defeat the purpose. I could write mysteries with no resolution too, but they won’t be very popular. Audiences like answers; at least some.

I’m not saying it wasn’t a good movie. It entertained me the whole time. But it also had its share of pointless scenes which could’ve been cut without hurting anything. And I’d have liked the universe to be more consistent with the one established in the original movie. The more they address this, the farther from canon they seem to get, and honestly, when that happens, I drop out. I’m not interested in that sort of wavering.

“Creative License” issues aside, the effects were top-rate, the acting was pretty decent, and the story was… interesting. I don’t buy the initial premise to start with, so I’m rolling my eyes from the outset. But, if you give it a little leeway…

I guess the question I always have seems to be, is it really that hard to keep to original canon? Really? All I’ve ever had to do is watch the original movies and maybe some of the bonus materials included on the DVDs, and I could probably do as good or better at keeping the worlds these people create intact and the rules of their universe in line.

On the other hand, this was a Ridley Scott movie, and if he wants to muck with his own story lines and universe/world-building, who am I to say he can’t? He’s rich and I’m not, and I guess he who has the gold makes the rules.

The movie does leave open the possibility of future sequels, but it did a really, really crappy job of tying back into the original franchise, in my estimation. And that’s too bad. It was a chance for Scott to really put something out there to close the circle. Instead, it felt like he wanted to take off in a new direction. It didn’t work. Not to me, at least.

But then, I’m only one viewer.

A Perfect Spiral

Well, another fantastic movie came my way this weekend.

Mason’s got a mental problem. Ever since childhood, Mason’s been a little twitchy. He has an inhaler, is socially awkward and estranged, and doesn’t always function well. He’s possibly even a little delusional. Or a lot delusional. On the upside, however, he’s a great artist.

But Mason’s calling his one and only friend, someone he’s known since he was a normal kid, in the middle of the night and asking for help. And it turns out Mason’s got a dark and very scary side. He’s a study in contrasts.

So when he meets Amber, a pretty, outgoing and gregarious girl who takes an almost instant shine to Mason, things seem to be looking up. Or do they? And when Amber agrees to sit for Mason as his newest model, the real Mason starts to come out for the first time. For better or worse. Continue reading