Here are some of my favorite works of entertainment and art. These works from other creative talents have inspired me, brought me pleasure, provided sancturary, and are a part of who I am. Some of them are influences on my own creative works, and some are just things I enjoy.
Comic book creators
Here's a list of personal favorites. Not all are necessarily the best films ever made, but all have a special place in my heart.
Trois Couleurs: Rouge / Three Colors: Red (1994) - My favorite film from Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy (Blue and White didn't do much for me). The film is gorgeous to look at, and the story gives a sense of bittersweet hope and closure.
Un Coeur En Hiver / A Heart In Winter (1993) - A compelling portrayal of a sociopath who is incapable of love and friendship, and how he causes pain to those who are drawn to him. The film doesn't judge him nor make excuses for him--he is who he is.
Waking the Dead (2000) - A heartbreaking and a powerful portrait of a long-lasting love that endures even after death, and how one man's corroding moral compass was restored by that love.
Moon (2009) - One of the best sci-fi films ever made. A cerebral and quiet science-fiction film with a philosophical core like Moon is such a rare gem in today’s world of entertainment, where the audience seems to be getting progressively more shallow and with shortening attention span. This is the kind of genre films that transcends and elevates, and we need more of this instead of more Michael Bay crap.
Lost In Translation (2003) - So wonderfully quirky in a quiet, subtle way, and so touching without being overly sentimental.
Sunrise/A Song of Two Humans - (1927) - This is silent film at its best, with amazing visual effects for its time and a touching story about betrayal and redemption.
Bladerunner (1983) - One of the most influential sci-fi classics, and requires some intelligence and maturity to sit through (I say that because I often hear people say they thought it was boring when they watched it as a teenager, but seeing it again as adults they fall head over heels for the film).
American Beauty (1999) - The perfect suburban satire that manages to be also forgiving and tender.
Emma's Shadow (1988) - A touching Danish film about the story of a runaway little girl who befriends an ex-convict, and how he filled the hole in her heart left by cold and uncaring parents.
Pulp Fiction (1995) - A fine example of dynamic filmmaking. Highly entertaining and oozes with style, but not so overly indulgent like Tarantino's later films.
The Man From Earth (2007) - One of the most intelligent and exciting sci-fi films I've ever seen, and it all takes place in a living room, with just a few friends having a conversation throughout the entire film. While the production value is low and the acting isn't the best, it's the screenplay that really shines.
Aliens (1986) - One of the finest sci-fi action/horror films ever made. Mastery of pacing that keeps a long movie tense from beginning to end. (Yes I know the first film is widely considered better, but I grew up with the second film and it has a special place in my heart. I didn't get to see the first film until I was already an adult.)
Whiplash (2014) - As a musician, this film affected me in such a powerful way -- it was like a punch to the gut. It's both a terrifying nightmare about abuse as well as a profoundly moving story about perseverance and passion.
Ponette (1996) - At age four, Victoire Thivisol was the actress that won the hearts of many with her heartbreaking portrayl of a little girl struggling to cope with the recent death of her mother.
Let the Right One In / Let Me In (American remake) (2008 / 2010) - This moody and emotionally engaging film defies genre categorization, because it isn't really a horror film. It's actually hard to describe the film in a simple sentence, but I'll try anyway--it's a film about how love binds the alienated and lonely, and the meaning of sacrifice. It is by far the best vampire film ever made, and one of the most morbidly beautiful films I've ever seen. (Make sure you do not watch the dubbed version and watch the subtitled version with the original language, because the English dub is horrible and would actually ruin the experience. Also, there are two different versions of English subtitles, with one of them being the much more faithful translation, so make sure you watch the right version.)
The American remake is superior in some ways--being more streamlined, dynamic, more focused on the two main leads, and elaborates on little details here and there that makes more sense than the original. But the original has a certain vibe the remake doesn't quite have--maybe it's because it's in a foreign language and the characters aren't as photogenic--which makes it more believable. It's hard to say for sure which is better--I tend to think of them as one entity instead of separately.
La Cite Des Enfants Perdus / City of Lost Children (1995) - Twisted fairytale at its best. Some moments get a bit campy and silly for my taste, but the heart-warming friendship between Miette and One gets me every time.
Goodfellas (1990) - One of Scorsese's best films, and my favorite gangster film of all time.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - The entire movie is like a tightly choreographed dance of kinetic machine and flesh, perfectly performed, with a stunning creative vision that's so visceral and startling. This is not your run-of-the-mill dumb and loud action movie--it is visual poetry with violence as its syntax, desperation as its cadence, and human being's need for hope and redemption as its diction.
Those who bash this movie and say it's just a dumb car chase movie with endless violence and very little dialogue--they really don't understand the concept of saying so much with so little, or noticed the multiple fully realized character arcs, or have any appreciation for such a unique and complete creative vision.
Think about it--when was the last time overwheldming majority of critics went wild for a really dumb action movie and praised it as an amazing piece of art and entertainment? It just doesn't happen. Mindless action movies with nothing profound to say (most of Michael Bay's movies, for example) just don't get near-universal praise from snobby film critics who love to trash big and loud action movies, yet this movie blew them away. They all noticed the artistic merit and the poetry in its storytelling and visual splendor. So if you "don't get" this movie, then maybe you're currently lacking the facility to understand and appreciate a transcendent piece of work by a master filmmaker.
Heat (1995) - I watch anything Michael Mann directs, even if his batting average isn't the best among his peers. To me, this film is really about men that are so obsessed with what drives them, they become dysfunctional and the women around them suffers. Yet despite all the heartache, these women still love them, and when crucial moments put their loyalty to the test, you see just how deep that love is.
Dawn of the Dead (remake version) (2004) - This film has all the ingredients that make the perfect popcorn flick, while never veering into crassness. Great character development without needing to dwell on developing, but simply propelling them along with the plot and exposing their personalities through situations. Entertaining from the first scene to the very last.
The Breakfast Club (1985) - A rare film that instead of portraying caricatures of teens, really captures the pains of being a teenager. This is probably John Hughes' best film.
Contact (1997) - A profound film of passion and faith. I do wish that Zemickis had toned down a couple of the more melodramatic scenes though.
Ground Hog Day (1993) - It's amazing that many "serious" films fail to convey the meaning of life and how compassion, creativity, self-improvement, and optimism can lead to a fulfilling existence, but a deceptively simple and entertaining comedy managed to do it beautifully.
Sicario (2015) - This excellent film about the war on drugs has one of the most intense scenes I've ever seen (the highway shootout), and the score accompanying the entire sequence was so effective, with its sinister and slow-burn progression that really amped up the dramatic tension.
The Mission (1999) - One of the best ganster films to ever come out of Hong Kong. It is nothing like the typical HK action flick with ridiculous gunfights and clichéd plots. What makes it different is not only the depiction of the characters, but also the mood, pacing, and direction. That uniqueness is like a pact between the filmmaker and the audience--guaranteeing that he'll not underestimate, belittle, or disrespect his audience, and the audience agrees to throw out all preconceived notions of what a Hong Kong ganster film is supposed to be like.
Going Home/Three (2002) - Going Home is a short film from Hong Kong that was released with two other short films (one Korean, one Thai) in a horror anthology titled "Three." Going Home is by far the best one, and really the only one worth watching in the anthology. There's a standalone version of Going Home on DVD with bonus material--get that instead of Three. Going Home is more than just a horror short film--in fact, there really isn't any horror in it--what it is, is a heartbreaking film that transcends genres.
These are the films that I liked very much, but are not on my favorites list because either I haven't seen them more than once so I can't confirm if I'd still like them that much upon multiple viewings, or there's just something that hasn't totally clicked with me yet to become one of my all-time favorites. Some used to be on my list of favorites, but have become a bit dated, or I have out-grown them a bit.
An Education - A coming-of-age story that reminds me of the precocious teenage girls with old-souls I was in love with at that age.
Monsters - A unique arthouse film that is really a relationship drama at its core, and there happens to be aliens involved and some elements of thriller/horror. I was taken by the natural chemistry between the two leads, and then later found out they were a real life couple. It's fascinating how this is something we can pick up on--whether the couple is real or it was only acting.
Jeremy - A modest, obscure film that most would probably find boring, but its earnest portrayal of teenage first love moved me.
The American - An unusually quiet and melancholic arthouse thriller that feels far more realistic than the high-octane Hollywood affairs.
Winter's Bone - Harsh, chilling, and full of courage. An amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
The Lives of Others - One of my favorite endings in recent memory.
Last King of Scotland - Highly engrossing, and an amazing performance by Forrest Whitaker.
The Hurt Locker - One of the best recent war films I've seen. I especially loved the ending.
Juno - One of the most endearing films I've seen in a long time. Great characters I really identified with and cared about.
Before Sunset (2004) - I liked the second film more than the first (Before Sunset), since it conveyed just how much they affected each other's lives since they've met, but most people seem to like the first film more.
Children of Men - Has one of the best choreographed scenes in cinematography history.
Muholland Drive- You either love David Lynch, or you hate him. This one for me was just accessible enough but still made you think really, really hard.
Irreversible - This French film is one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen, and brilliantly constructed.
Cube - A very smart film, with the most claustrophobic setting ever.
Battle Royal - A strange, violent, and campy Japanese film, but it's oh so fun to watch.
A Clockwork Orange - One of Kubrick's best. The psychological tension portrayed is absolutely masterful.
Double Vision - Really creepy Chinese horror film from Taiwan.
The Thing - It's pretty much a predecessor to Alien, and an excellent film. Johnn Carpenter's best actually. Hard to believe how Carpenter's become a total hack.
Night of the Living Dead - The classic that kicked off a whole new genre.
Conan the Barbarian (the original, not the remake) - I like how John Milius, Oliver Stone, Basil Poledouris, etc took this film seriously and tried to make an operatic fantasy film instead of the typical campy pop culture fodder that was popular during the 80's.
Dark City - One of the most underrated films ever. The trailer for this film was one of the best edited trailers I've ever seen.
Interview With the Vampire - Lush and gorgeous, for the romantics among us.
Braveheart - A modern classic that inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers, and really set the standard for which all historial epic films are to be judged.
Full Metal Jacket - Another Kubrick masterpiece. One of the best war films ever made.
The Godfather (trilogy) - I don't seperate the three films in my mind. To me, they belong together as a series.
Le Reine Margot / Queen Margot - A visually gorgeous French film, with all the royal court intrigue, backstabbing, passionate love affair, and massacre in the name of God you can handle.
Shawshank Redemption - I have never met anyone who didn't like this film.
Saving Private Ryan - Despite the sappy, melodramatic ending, it's still a really good film.
Clue - Ok, this one's my guilty pleasure. I've loved this campy film ever since I saw it as a kid. I still laugh at all the dumb jokes even now.
Blackhawk Down - Yes, this film has flaws, but I have a slight bias as a special forces enthusiast (I play airsoft), and I really enjoyed this film.
Leon (AKA The Professional) (1994) - This is by far Luc Besson's best film. You have to watch the uncut version to see how good it really is. The American release of the film totally butchered important character development scenes.
The Big Lebowski (1998) - Either you dig The Dude or you don't. I don't think you can sit on the fence with this one.
The Usual Suspects - A brain-twister full of style.
Galaxy Quest (1999) - One of the funniest films I've ever seen, and one of the best casted too. The parody of the Star Trek phenomenon is just comedy gold.
Sabrina (1995) - Superior to the Audrey Hepburn classic in every way. The characters are all much better developed and with a far more believable premise, and Julia Ormond is just a pleasure to watch in this film--her vulnerability, sense of humor, and classy radiance just illuminates this whole film.
Animated feature films:
Good animated films are hard to find, but when you find one, it's just such a wonderful thing.
Grave of the Firefly (1999) - Must see for anyone, regardless if you like animation or not. It's just a beautiful and moving film, period. If you don't cry at the end of this film, you're probably not human. The film is about a Japanese boy and his little sister, trying to survive on their own during the American bombings in the middle of WWII. Intensely moving and heartbreaking. Animated films like this transcend genres and mediums.
The Iron Giant (1999) - One of the best animated feature films in American history. Makes all the Disney films seem contrived and pretentious in comparison. It was unforgivable that the studio did almost nothing to advertise or promote the film--and resulted in its flop at the box office. But, by word of mouth, this film found a permanent place in the animated feature hall of fame. Directed by Brad Bird, who eventually went on to make a name for himself with The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
Toy Story 2 (1999) - One of Pixar's finest, and probably my favorite Pixar film to date. The scene of Jessie's flashback with Sarah McLachlan's "When She Loved Me" gets me every time.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) - My Favorite Hayao Miyazaki film. Absolutely charming and adorable.
Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise (1987) - An arthouse animated feature about mankind's first foray into space, but it takes place in an alternate universe with an exotic culture that feels like a parallel universe. It's a very mature and serious film, with political intrigue, assassination, countries at war, and personal spiritual struggles. The film score is produced and partly composed by Academy Award winning composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and it's one of my favorite film scores. The film was made by amateurs that's only made a fan film prior, but after this film, they've proven themselves to be some of the best and brightest in the anime industry, and they went on to produce many excellent works as Gainax, one of the most respected animation studios in Japan. Among their works are: Gunbuster, Nadia the Secret of Blue Water, Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, Otaku No Video, etc.
Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984) - This animated film was the one that changed my life when I was 13. It is directly responsible for showing me just how powerful and incredible the world of imagination is. After watching it, I decided that I wanted to do something similar for the rest of my life--incorporating all the elements that made the film magical: art, music, story, design, etc.
The Venture Bros. (2003-present) - One of the funniests and most subversive animated shows for adults ever made. Its depiction of neurotic superheroes and supervillains who are incompetent and immature man-children is endlessly entertaining.
Rick and Morty (2013-present) - Another great animated series for adults, from the creator of Community (another show I love). Wildly imaginative and filled to the brim with acerbic humor, but also has a surprising amount of heart.
Bravest Warriors (2009-present) - I just love how wacky and imaginative this show is. This type of surreal storytelling and random humor is a good example of what modern animated shows are like.
Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999) - One of the most critically acclaimed and beloved Japanese animated series ever. It's funny one moment, deadly serious another, and the chemistry between the characters is one of the most interesting among anime series.
Kimagure Orange Road (1987-1988) - This romantic comedy brings out the tween in me--reminding me of a more innocent time in my life. As an adult, this show would seem a bit silly, but it didn't feel that way when I watched it as a school boy. Madoka from the series is also one of my favorite anime characters. The ending to the series was a feature film called "I Want to Return to That Day," and it's very different in tone to the TV series, since it was much more mature and serious, with barely any comedy at all. It wrapped up the love triangle and had a heartbreaking depiction of the harsh realities of unrequited love and ending of long-term friendships.
Golden Boy (1995) - Probably the funniest anime I've ever seen (though I mostly like the first few episodes). I love how the main character, Kintaro, appears like a useless loser pervert on the surface, but as the episodes develop, you see that he's actually an incredibly intellegent, soulful, moral, and compassionate human being. If you want to understand Japanese humor, this is a very good example of what Japanese over-the-top comedy is like. (Stay away from the manga version though--it's mostly pretty stupid and pointless. The anime version takes the best from the manga and leaves out all the pointless crap.)
Band of Brothers - This is one the best TV mini-series ever produced. It even surpasses Saving Private Ryan, the film that birthed this series. Why is it better? Because it's got the realism of Saving Private Ryan, but without Spielberg's habit for heavy-handed, overly saccharine sentimentality.
Mad Men - Probably the one television show that comes closest to what serious literature as a TV show would feel like, with complex, layered characters, and insightful commentary on society in the past and how it contrasts against modern society of the 21st century.
Game of Thrones - Amazing production value, wonderfully cast, intriguing storytelling, and transcends its fantasy genre roots.
Breaking Bad - One of the most innovative and compelling shows on television, with superb casting, direction, writing, and acting.
Better Call Saul - The crew behind Breaking Bad did it again with this spin-off series. It's an amazing character portrait of Saul Goodman, giving him so much more complexity and showing us that he's so much more than just a sleazy lawyer, and in fact is an underdog you want to root for.
The Wire - Gritty realism about the streets and police corruption that pulls no punches.
Firefly - Joss whedon is a creative genius. Sure, he's had some duds, but this one is just impeccable. A great ensemble cast with strong chemistry on and off screen, and a very unique premise that marries unlikely influences.
Boardwalk Empire - It's like Scorsese's Goodfellas but during the 1920's~1930's. Deep characters, intriguing plot, strong themes--what's not to love?
The Americans - It's a show with surprisingly complex character development and portrayal of a pair of married Russian spies living in the U.S. during the cold war era of the 80's, trying to raise their kids and maintain a marriage while doing the biddings of Mother Russia.
Fargo - If you liked the movie (or are a fan of the Cohen brothers in general), you're going to love this series. Fascinating characters, engrossing, storytelling, dark humor, and more heart than you'd expect from Cohen brothers.
Spaced - The TV series that launched Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's on-going buddy adventures. It's off-the-wall hilarious with random humor, but at the same time very relatable.
My So Called Life - For its time, it was one of the best shows on television. Back then TV shows weren't like they are now, and MSCL was one of the first to really dig that deep into characters.
Tokyo Love story - A very touching Japanese drama series about love and friendship. Hard to watch sometimes because of the portrayal of the crushing heartache of unrequited love.
The Walking Dead - Maybe the fact I'm a huge fan of zombie apocalypse fiction has something to do with it, but more importantly, it is simply a quality show with amazing talents behind it. Although the show lost its way and became less compelling after Frank Darabont was fired as the showrunner in season two, the quality picked up again around season four.
Entourage - It's impossible to not be entertained and intrigued by this series if you have an interest in the entertainment industry. Such fun characters and cameos by well-known celebrities. Sure, it's juvenile and shallow compared to the more serious shows, but its portrayal of Hollywood backroom politics is just so much fun.
Black Mirror - A critical look at our society, but seen through the lens of science-fiction. Some episodes are absolutely mind-blowing, while the rest are at least interesting. The episode "Fifteen Million Merits" devastated me emotionally, and it's one of the most powerful, depressing, profound, and heartbreaking piece of social satire I've ever seen.
Modern Family - It can be a bit too precious at times and a bit cringe-worthy, but when the writers really hit the mark, they write comedy that's both heart-warming and profound, while being accessible enough to a wide range of demographic. This is a good example of a quality mainstream modern TV show for the masses.
These are some of the shows I've watched and enjoyed a lot. Some are still going, so only time will tell if they make it to my favorites list.
Homeland - When it's good, it's so intense, but when Carrie Mathison's shenanigans get a bit ridiculous, it kind of ruins things a bit.
Rome - Top notch production value, engrossing storyline, and very entertaining. Too bad it ended so soon, and when I read that originally they were going to continue the storyline all the way to the appearance of Christ, but had to end the series due to how expensive it was to produce, I was very disappointed. If they had continued, that storyline would have been amazing.
Autumn In My Heart (Korean) - A love story about a brother and sister who aren't related by blood, fall in love with each other, and try to be together against all odds. It's a tear-jerker, so watch with a box of tissues ready. It's now considered one of the classics of Korean dramas, and is of much higher quality than most of the mindless crap they produce these days.
Community - I love the character relationships, the meta-humor, and the pop culture references. If almost feels like it was tailor-made for people like me. Season four was a disappointment though--especially how abruptly they got rid of Chevy Chase's character. I hope it recovers from that big stumble.
The Office (US version) - It's amazing that the American version not only found its own voice, but IMO, is much better than the UK version because it's got a lot more heart. After Steve Carell left, the show wasn't as interesting anymore, but managed to chug along and had some good episodes. It never really recovered though, and I think they should have ended the series when Carell left.
Prison Break - Although this show jumped the shark for me at some point, it was very entertaining. Too bad the creators were talked into a third season by the studio when it was originally written to be two seasons only.
The West Wing - We don't get shows with this kind of political idealism anymore. The world has become a much more cynical place.
Battlestar Galactica - Really well constructed character conflicts and drama, but seems too self-indulgent at times with the characters and their inner-demons (excessively emo). The last couple of seasons just got repetitive and annoying, but the first few seasons were really good.
ER - It was one of the first TV shows to take television into the new generation in terms of style and content.
Dexter - The later seasons became a bit predictable and silly, but the first few seasons were really good. Who knew you could do a TV series starring a serial killer?
The Kids In the Hall - It was the funniest skit comedy show on TV at the time. Too bad it had to end.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 - If they ever sit in front of me in a theater, I'll probably decapitate all three of them, but on the TV screen, they are pretty damn funny.
Here are the web comics, web series, and podcasts that I really enjoy and follow.
Penny Arcade - The most successful web comic series about video games and geek culture by a long shot, and has evolved into a full-blown empire that encompasses annual conventions attended by tens of thousands of gaming fans, charity events that raised millions of dollars for children in hospitals, original video games based on the comic, reality shows, and so on. The people behind Penny Arcade is what makes it great. Mike and Jerry are two of the funniest and most likable people in the medium of web comics, because of their subversive sense of humor, the chemistry between them, their sincerity and honesty in how they express themselves, and that underlining idealism which counterbalances the cynicism they tap into to create scathing critiques of gaming industry and culture. It's sort of like they're the likable smart-mouth assholes that's on our side, and they often do things out of the kindness of their hearts that makes you want to hug them. Their TV channel's got some great shows, and my favorites are:
Penny Arcade: The Series - A reality show that even people who hate reality shows would like. It captures what life is like for the people working at Penny Arcade, and paints a picture of the company culture at Penny Arcade. The show is a lot of fun, but the best part is it has a lot of heart. It demonstrates clearly that the reason Penny Arcade is so loved is because of the people behind it; everything they do is a reflection of who they are as people, their love for what they do, and their love for each other.
Strip Search - Another Penny Arcade reality show that has web comic creators compete against each other in a series of challenges that test their creativity, imagination, sense of humor, artistic sensibility, skills, business sense, and PR skills. The positive vibe of the show is what makes is unique. There's no backstabbing and scheming like you see in other reality shows. The contestants all genuinely like each other and bond with one another, and they are all intelligent, creative, humorous, and very good at what they do.
Extra Credits - An intelligent and insightful show that explores game development problems and offers solutions to make them better.
Geek & Sundry - A Youtube channel created by Felicia Day. I don't watch all the shows since there are too many of them and not all interest me. My favorites are:
The Story Board (hosted by Patrick Ruthfuss) - The show gathers well-known sci-fi/fantasy authors and discuss various storytelling topics relevant to storytellers.
Vaginal Fantasy (Veronica Belmont, Felicia Day, Kiala Kazebee, and Bonnie Burton) - Four women get together in this book club to discuss books in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal with strong romance/erotica elements. The show's often hilarious as they get into topics that make each other blush. The women on the show are what makes it so much fun, with their sharp wits, silly non sequitur, expressiveness, and chemistry.
Co-Optitude (Felicia Day & Ryon Day) - The siblings play retro video games they never got to play as kids together, and it's hilarious because of the chemistry between the two of them. They are just adorable in how bad they are at these games, and how they react to wacky retro game design logic and constant failures. And of course, being siblings, they endlessly taunt and teasing each other.
React series (Fine Brothers) - This Youtube series is one of my favorite. There's Kids React, Teens React, Elders React, and Youtubers React (I don't really care about that one--it's a bit too self-serving for my taste). Kids React and Teens React are my favorites because other than reacting to the fun stuff, the shows also explore controversial subjects like bullying, teen suicide, racism, politics, etc. It's a delight to see well-behaved and intelligent kids express themselves on various subject matters (although there's obviously a filtering process, where a hateful person wouldn't be featured in the show). Some of the younger kids are so adorable that they almost melt my brain. A few of the teens have impressed me with their maturity and empathy, and gives me a sense of hope that our future generation might just be okay.
Epic Rap Battles of History - Very witty rap battles with full on costumes and makeup that pit historical figures against each other or their modern day counterparts.
Crash Course - A highly entertaining and educational web series that covers a wide range of topics (history, science, literature, etc). You wish your teachers in school were this fun.
The Comedy Button - This podcast evolved from the original Gamespy Debriefing podcast. The Gamespy Debriefings were supposed to be about video games, but because of Scott Bromly and Brian Altano's lively personalities and raunchy sense of humor (often at the chagrin of the more mild-mannered Ryan Scott and Anthony Gallegos), the show often went off-topic in hilarious ways, and that wacky sense of humor is what made it popular. When Gamespy closed, the crew decided to continue the podcast (adding Max Scoville to the mixture), and that's what The Comedy Button is. The show is often offensive, juvenile, and raunchy, and the typical topics are video games, sex, relationships, geek culture, and social observations.
Stuff You Should Know - This informative and fun podcast explores and explains all kinds of topics and makes learning more fun. The family of related podcasts are great too--ones like Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff They Don't Want You to Know, etc.
Welcome to Nightvale - One of the most interesting podcasts out there. It's a community update podcast from a fictional town called Nightvale, where Lovecraftian supernatural occurrences are a normal part of daily life. It's is surreal and entertaining, and its episodic nature makes it easy to follow, since there aren't any important on-going storylines you need to know to enjoy the show.
Writing Excuses - A must-listen podcast for writers--especially writers of speculative/sci-fi/fantasy/horror fiction. The hosts of the show are all successful writers who are knowledgeable and entertaining, and they keep the episodes short and sweet, packing in as much information and insights and witty banter as they can, and then leave you wanting more. Their opening line is: "Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart."
Helping Writers Become Authors - Another great learning resource for writers. The host, K.M.Weiland, does a podcast, Youtube videos, and keeps a blog, and all of them cover different topics on writing. She gives some of the best tips on character development I've seen, and she's also written a couple of good books on writing as well.
Music is my first love--be it making music or just listening to it. In general I've always had fairly eclectic taste. Here are some of the stuff that you'd find in my CD player or mp3 player:
Orchestral music from 19th Century and on - I've very fond of composers like Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Barber, etc. I like some classical too, but in general I find orchestral works in the later centuries more compelling and satisfying.
Film/TV Scores - I love music that tells a story or expresses moods. Some of my favorites are composers like Haneda Kentaro, Sakamoto Ryuichi, Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Kanno Yoko, Hisaishi Joe, John Powell, John Barry, Two Steps From Hell (Thomas Bergersen/Nick Phoenix), etc.
Game Scores - I tend to think more in terms of game titles as opposed to composers. How the music contributed to the way I felt while playing the game is a significant part of whether it makes an impression or not. Some that really stood out for me were Half-Life series, Unreal Tournament series, Hitman: Contracts, Anachronox, Nightmare Creatures, Quake III, Lineage II, Metal Gear Solid series, Silent Hill series, The Longest Journey, System Shock 2, Crysis 2, etc.
Electronic - I grew up loving the piano, then synthesizers, resulting in my first instrument being the Roland D-10 synthesizer (I later fell in love with guitar, drums, then pretty much all kinds of instruments as I became more experience at composing and arranging). Now these days, my favorite form of electronic music is probably the more progressive/intelligent movements. Some of the electronic stuff I'm fond of are Kraftwerk, Yello, Art of Noise, 808 State, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Orbital, Sasha & Digweed, Amin Bhatia, Metropolis Music Engineer, John Tejada, Zircon, LFO (not that boy band with the same name), etc.
Audio Product Demo Music - This is probably a very odd thing for most people that are not musicians, but I love demo music from audio product manufacturers--for example demo music for synthesizers, various sample libraries, software workstations, etc. Not only do they demonstrate the capabilities of the products, but they are often very well composed/arranged as well. Some of my favorite demo clips have come from companies and individuals like Korg, Ugo, Waldorf, Propellerhead, Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Instruments, Line 6, Vir2, Heavylocity, Native Instruments, EastWest/Quantum Leap, XLN Audio, etc.
Other People's Music - This is what I call music in my collection that come from everyday people who aren't necessarily professional composers, famous musical artists, or belong in famous bands. These people are just as passionate about making music as their more successful counterparts (and often are just as talented and musically accomplished), but for various reasons cannot or choose not to make music a career. Some do not wish to mix business with their one true love in life, and some simply haven't had the lucky break to be able to make music a career. Whatever you do, don't call it a hobby to their faces. The word hobby might sound like an insult to them. For many of them, making music is far more than merely a hobby--it is a passion they live for, regardless of what their day jobs might be. I usually find music by them in various musician's forums like KVR, V.I. Control, Studio-Central, or music communities like Soundclick, Myspace Music, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc.
Jazz/Bossa Nova- First of all, Kenny G is not jazz (read what Pat Metheny said about Kenny G to understand why the mere mention of name invites controversy and scorn). The kind of jazz I'm fond of are Miles Davis, Bill Evans, George Gershwin, Masahiko Satoh, Toots Thielemans, Billie Holiday, Blossom Dearie., etc. I also like some of the more contemporary hybrids like fusion (not really the same as smooth jazz. Fusion to me is Herbie Hancock, and bands like T-Square and Casiopea) and acid jazz (Mondo Grosso, Soulstice, etc). Bossa Nova is another jazz-subgenre that I love, some notable artists I like are Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lisa Ekdahl's "Lisa Ekdahl Sings Salvadore Poe," Sonia Rosa, and Sakamoto Ryuichi's collaboration with Morelenbaum 2 on the albums "Casa" and "A Day In New York."
Industrial - I've always been a fan of industrial music since my teenage years (enough so to have played in an industrial band). But the thing with industrial music is that there are far more crap than good stuff (it's like that with electronic music too), and for every ten industrial bands I come across, there might be only one that I like. Some industrial bands I like are: Bigod 20, Raymond Watts/PIG (including side projects like Schaft and Schwein), Front 242, Consolidated, Meat Beat Manifesto, Machines of Loving Grace, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, etc.
Trip-Hop - It's a shame that the trip-hop movement has pretty much died out. I really like some of the trip-hop bands, and my favorites are Massive Attack, Lamb, Hooverphonic, Halou, etc.
Progressive Rock - Some of the stuff I like are King Crimson and various side-projects or solo works from members of these bands, like Liquid Tension Experiment, Trey Gunn, Robert Fripp, etc.
Metal - I listen to all different sub-genres of metal. I prefer metal with a wider range of musical expressions (progressive, experimental, and melodic leanings), as opposed to strictly macho posturing and the mindless pissing contest of how fast and heavy one can sound, or how many odd meter changes is incorporated into a song, or how dark and violent the lyrics and the band's image is (but of course, metal has to be aggressive or else it's no longer metal). I prefer bands where each song actually sounds different with a dynamic range instead of the jackharmmering of the monotonous and homogenized cliches of the genre (neckbreaking speed, endless ear-bleed shredding, monotonous death growl/screams)--that kind of metal to me gets boring really fast and is musically very narrow in range or expressiveness. Devin Townsend's various projects typifies the kind of progressive, melodic, dynamic, and imaginative metal I prefer (including his wild sense of humor), where diverse range of musical influences are hybridized. When metal bands experiment and incorporate other musical influences is when I find them the most interesting, such as when bands like Therion, Samael, Theater of Tragedy, etc experimented and got away from the clichéd metal styles. This isn't to say I don't enjoy the more "pure" mainstays of the genre, because I do like some of them (Slayer being one of them).
I also much prefer the modern metal sound and have little to no interest in classic heavy metal from the 70's or the first half of the 80's, as they sound very dated to me now and lack the visceral power and gravity of the more modern generations of metal.
Darkwave/goth - I like some darker stuff like Cranes, the newer Gary Numan albums (from Exile and on), Bleak, etc.
Modern Rock/Alternative/Indie- In my teenage years I often listened to San Franciso's KITS Live 105 radio station, and they basically played what was called modern rock, although Live 105's playlists encompassed anything from new wave, industrial, goth, grunge, trip-hop, techno, progressive house, synth pop, to the more commercial alternative artists. Over the years the station settled into the commercial side of alternative, and I stopped listening completely, however, what they introduced to me in my teens opened doors for me to explore the more interesting artists and genres of music. And today, that continues in the form of indie bands and musical artists. Some of the artists and bands I really like are Frazier Chorus, Ivy, The Smiths/Morrissey, Jeff Buckley, John Mayer, Lisahall, New Order, Violent Femmes, Curve, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Cure, frente!, The Sundays, Camouflage, Oingo Boingo, Sixpence None the Richer, Primus, U2, Tears For Fears, Secession, Stone Roses, Pet Shop Boys, A Perfect Circle, Rialto, Roisin Murphy, Goldfrapp, Mindless Self Indugence, Cathy Davey, Marit Larsen, The Bird and the Bee, White Shoes & The Couplse Company, Passion Pit, Dirty Loops, etc (I didn't list the electronic, industria/goth, and trip-hop artists since I already mentioned them in previous sections).
Japanese rock/indie - Some of my favorites are Boowy, Psy-S, Barbee Boys, Yellow Magic Orchestra (and all associated artists and side projects), Rebecca, B'z, Buck-Tick, Olivia Lufkin (also her sister, Caroline Lufkin), Southern All Stars, and Anzen Chitai/Tamaki Koji, YUI, Hitomitoi, Sotaisei Riron
Japanese pop - I have a soft spot for 80's Japanese pop--I grew up on it, and being a fan of anime has pretty much sealed that fate. I think J-Pop took a turn for the worse in the early 90's with the flood of soulless Euro-dance wannabe club hits produced by Komuro Tetsuya--where sophisticated melody, arrangement, and poetic lyrics disappeared to make way for mindless trendy tunes with the sole purpose of making people dance. The J-Pop world never fully recovered from that. Some of the J-Pop I like from the 80's and 90's are: Morikawa Miho, Kawai Sonoko (only her more mature albums starting with Rouge et Bleu), Hirose Kohmi, Nakamori Akina, Onuki Taeko, Harada Tomoyo, Yagami Junko, and some I like are limited to specific songs only--for example: Oginome Yoko, Nakayama Miho, Hayami Yu, Matsuda Seiko, Iijima Mari, Wink, Karie Kahimi, Morning Musume, Goto Maki, etc.
Japanese Animation Soundtracks - I grew up a fan of anime/manga, so it's no surprise some of my favorite music are from anime soundtracks. For me, since Japanese composers tend to favor blending different musical styles, my growing up with anime soundtracks was actually quite educational musically. I was more or less introduced to the major musical styles through various anime soundtracks. Some of my favorite anime soundtracks are Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise, Yotoden, Kujaku-Oh (1987 OAV), Bubble Gum Crisis series, Megazone 23 part 1 & 2, Cowboy Bebop, Jin Roh, Kimagure Orange Road, Black Magic M-66, Lupin III, etc.
Korean rock/pop - Japanese pop fizzled out stylistically for me in the early 90's, but the Koreans got right in there and continued the tradition. I'd say the Koreans have some of the best pop composers in the world right now (even if the lyrics are very shallow, just like mainstream pop everywhere else. The hip-hop and R&B obsession the Koreans have isn't really my thing, but in-between those are some real gems, such as the more electropop and classic pop that's more like a more cutting-edge version of 80's J-Pop. Lee Soo Young was one of my early favorites. Not only is she an accomplished singer, she also has a wonderful personality that's full of humor and delicate sensitivity. IU is another one I really like, and she has the same admirable qualities as Lee Soo Young. She's quite accomplished and talented for someone so young, and she's only going to get better with more experience. Lee Hi is another youngster that really impressed me with her mature, expressive voice and strong vocal technique. I'm a big fan of Baek Yerin (of the group 15&), whose solo work is some of the most beautifully soulful R&B I've ever heard (and this is coming from someone who wasn't really a fan of R&B). Akdong Musician (AKMU) is a brother and sister duo that I really like too. The brother is an excellent songwriter and the sister's one of my favorite vocalists in K-Pop. Some of the more indie side of Korean music I enjoy are Fanny Fink, Casker, Nell, Puer Kim, Oohyo, Primary, Risso, Taru, Hummin Urban Stereo, Azin, Seo Taiji, Yukari, Juniel-- all are excellent musical artists/groups with strong songwriting, arranging, or performance chops. For satisfying sugary pop, I really enjoy female idols/groups like Uhm Jung Hwa, S.E.S, Fin.K.L, Baby Vox, Cleo, Girl's Generation, Kara, Sistar, Crayon Pop, Rainbow, AOA, Secret, Stellar, Nine Muses, Oh My Girl, Twice, I.O.I., Loona, Cosmic Girls, Girl's Day, etc. (I don't really listen to male idols/groups because for male musical artists, I prefer the more serious musicians types). Although the mainstream K-Pop can often feel like a guilty pleasure, the composers, arrangers, and producers behind the scenes are actually some of the best pop songwriters and producers in the world--they know how to create very catchy tunes that are both satisfying for a mainstream audience as well as musically impressive for serious music fans.
Chinese rock/pop - Generally speaking, I find the Chinese music scene quite unremarkable compared to Japan and Korea. What's more disappointing is that considering there are three distinct and separate Chinese speaking populations with their own unique cultures (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China), and if you count Singapore and Malaysia, that's five--the range and quality of the music really should be much better. Thing have gotten better over the years, and instead of simply mimicking Japan, Korea, and the U.S., the Chinese music scene now have a small number of excellent musical artists. Among them, some of my favorites are (from Taiwan) Cheer Chen, Dou Dou, Kay Huang, F.I.R., David Huang, Mavis Fan, Sandee Chan, Peggie Hsu, (from Hong Kong) Ivana Wong, Beyond, (from China) Dou Wei, Faye Wong, Isabelle Huang.
Musicians - As a multi-instrumentalist musician, I definitely have my heroes for each of the instruments I play. I admire them for different reasons--whether it's technical skill, expressiveness, stylistic choices, ingenuity, or the sense of joy they convey on their instruments. Among them are:
Guitar: Eric Johnson, Johnny Marr, Hotei Tomoyasu, John Squire, Brian Setzer, Robin Guthrie, Edge, John Mayer, Eddie Van Halen, Devin Townsend, Larry Carlton, Ronny Jordan, Larry Coryell, Alex Hutchings.
Bass: Goto Tsugutoshi, Jaco Pastorious, James Jamerson, Les Claypool, Henrik Linder,
Piano/Keyboard: Satoh Masahiko, Bill Evans, Peter Nordahl, Glen Gould, Sakamoto Ryuichi, Joachim Kuhn, Haneda Kentaro, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Chromatic harmonica: Toots Thielemens
Drums/Percussion: Yaz-Kaz, Jinbo Akira, Tim "Herb" Alexander, Clyde Stubblefield, John "Jabo" Starks, Mel Gaynor, Jojo Mayer
Artist worthy of special mention
Sakamoto Ryuichi - If there is one musical artist that embodied the spirit in which I think is the most admirable in a musician (or a human being), it's Sakamoto Ryuichi. His mastery in a wide range of musical styles--from classical, electronic, jazz, world music, avant-garde, film scores, traditional ethnic, pop, etc is simply astounding and most unique. When he jumps from one genre to another, he does it with a sense of authenticity and authority, and he brings something uniquely his own to the genre. Sakamoto is also very fond of collaborating with other musicians, having worked with artists like David Sylvian, Thomas Dolby, Iggy Pop, David Byne, and too many others to mention.
Outside of music, Sakamoto is a passionate activist and have fought against forces that are hurting the environment and human rights. In fact he's probably the number one enemy of Japanese corporations because he has lead battles against giant corporations that are trying to pass bills that will change the law in their favor, but hurtful to the people and the environment (and won against these corporation). Some of his musical projects have been for the sake of raising awareness for the causes he believes in, such as anti-war efforts. Sakamoto is also an avid early adopter of technology, often jumping head-first into new technology years before anyone else has even heard of them. He was one of the very first people to advocate a new download/streaming system for music via the internet, before the mainstream ever discussed such issues.
It's hard not to respect and admire a man like Sakamoto.
Cinemage - The best of Sakamoto's film scores.
Casa - This bossa nova album is a tribute to the late Antonia Carlos Jobim, made with Jaques Morelenbaum on cello and vocals by Paula Morlenbaum. It was recorded at Jobim's home in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, with Sakamto playing on Jobim's piano.
Beauty - One of his best known solo albums--a tapestry of world music influences.
Yellow Magic Orchestra - Sakamoto, along with Harumi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, were known as Yellow Magic Orchestra, an electronic band that changed the face of music with other famous electronic acts in the 70's and 80's such as Kraftwerk, Yello, Tangerine Dream, Art of Noise, Briano Eno, and various others. YMO was very satirical, political, and subversive, and remains a respected influence in the electronic music scene. Notable albums are BGM, Technodelic, and the 10-year reunion album Technodon.
B-2 Unit - An experimental electronic album that's still relevent today in its approach to electronic composition.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - He acted in this film (playing opposite of David Bowie), and composed the score, which won the British Academy Award. The solo piano version of the main theme is one of Sakamoto's most famous piano pieces. The vocal version sung by long time collaborator and friend David Sylvian (especially the version in the album Cinemage) is just stunning.
Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise - Sakamoto and his peers composed the score for this groundbreaking arthouse epic feature animation, telling the story of mankind's first trip to space in an alternate world, admist political struggle and war. It's one of my favorite scores and very unique and innovative.
The Last Emperor - This film score won him an Academy Award for Best Film Score. He also played a minor role. The cue titled "Rain (I want A Divorce)" is one of my favorite cues ever.
BTTB - His piano solo album. BTTB stands for "Back to the Basics."
旅途 / Journey (雲菁 原著 / By Yun Ching, Chinese only) - A novel of profound emotional depth about the choices we make in life, our aspirations, the things we desire, and the heavy sacrifices we make in order to fulfill them--just to find out we've chosen the wrong path, and what we've lost along the way could never be recovered.
The Road (By Cormac McCarthy) - McCarthy's unique writing style can be hard to get accustomed to for some (he doesn't use conventional punctuations other than the comma and period, and doesn't use dialog tags either), but he's an amazing writer who can draws you into the story with the power of his prose. The Road is a poignant portrayal of a father's selfless love for his child, set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world when civilization has been completely obliterated. It was adapted into a feature film, and the film's a fairly faithful adaptation, except the ending was "Disney-fied" a bit.
Lolita (By Vladimir Nabokov) - Nabokov's use of language is one of the most compelling in literature, and in Humbert, he's created a fascinating character who's simultaneously an erudite and charming man with exceptional wit, a hopeless romantic with a history of mental illness, and a vile monster with insatiable sexual appetite that preys on an under-aged girl. His self-loathing and paranoia clashes against his uncontrollable obsession and lust, and the chess-game of sexual politics between him and Lolita carried out while traveling across America, makes the book a compelling mixture of a portrait study of a deeply damaged man with a reprehensible obession, and a unique road-trip story. Despite his morally-corrupt actions, there's a deep melancholy and tenderness in his love/obsession for Lolita that is quite touching, especially when he finally realizes how much damage he's done and how much he regrets his actions.
The Catcher In the Rye (By J.D. Salinger) - Alienation, angst, distrust of the adult world, and mourning the loss of innocence--this book really resonated with me when I was a teenager.
Ex Libris (By Anne Fadiman) - A collection of essays written by, and for those who love books and words. Anne shares her life-long love affair with books and words in a charming and delightful manner. Reading the book feels like curling up with a good friend in front of a cozy fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, and talking late into the night.
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (by Neal Stephenson) - Neal is one of the fathers of cyberpunk, and while Snowcrash is his most famous book (an insane amount of fun and highly imaginative)--the one that put him on the map as one of the leaders in the cyberpunk movement, I prefer The Diamond Age because it resonated with me more emotionally. I loved the premise and the concept of "ractors" performing as interactive storytellers, and how a carefully designed "illustrated primer" could shape a child's development, railroading her into the role she was designed to play in the socio-political landscape, and in turn, history.
我們正年輕 / We Are Young (李曉蘋 原著 / By Lee Xiaoping, Chinese only) - The debut novel written during the author's middle-school and high school years. It had an extraordinary level of maturity in both storytelling and insight for such a young author, and delves into the emotional and psychological landscape of a group of young people transitioning from high school to college, and then to adulthood. It's sort of like the movie St. Elmo's Fire, but with younger characters living in Taiwan, has more emphasis on friendship than sex and love, and published a couple of years before the movie was made. I first read it when I was still in middle school, and fell in love with the characters and their relationship with each other.
彩雲飛 / Colorful Clouds Fly (瓊瑤 原著 / By Chiung Yao, Chinese only) - I usually don't care much for her maudlin brand of romance, with the main leads always acting like love-crazed modern day Romeo and Juiet. Many of her novels were made into movies and TV series, and collectively, her idealization of love shaped a whole generation's unrealistic expectation of what romance should be like. You couldn't get any more mainstream and melodramatic than her books. This book, while contains similar characteristics as her other books, had specific elements that really resonated with me. There's a protagonist who's a starving young artist that defies the wishes of his parents and struggled in the pursuit of his dream of becoming an artist. There's a terminally frail girl who's innocent and naive, having been sheltered her whole life, but finds in love her inner strength and hope for the future. And there's girl who's a talented singer that makes a meager living singing at a night club to an unappreciative audience that would rather see her shake her assets than pay attention to her soulful voice full of emotions. She swallows that indignation because she has to take care of her alcoholic father who's lost his wife and failed in his music career. These elements really spoke to me, because of my own struggles as a starving artist and musician against the wishes of my parents.
Wizard's First Rule (By Terry Goodkind) - Engrossing epic fantasy novel full of vivid characters, colorful details of a fantastic world, and entertaining from the first page to the last. It's morally simplistic and not what you'd call sophisticated literature, but it's fun in all the ways entertaining genre fiction can be.
Arsen Lupin series (By Maurice LeBlanc) - This series was my first love as a child. I started reading the translated (in Chinese) Arsen Lupin series when I was around six or seven years old, and the vivid imagery and mood from the series are still lush and alive in my mind to this day. Written in 1905 and on by french author Maurice LeBlanc, Arsen Lupin is the ultimate gentleman master criminal turned detective. He is Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond, with the heart of Robin Hood. He has gone up against Sherlock Holmes in a couple of the books, and always defeated him. Lupin is an extrodinary character, one that I'm surprised is almost completely obscure in the U.S.. He is passionate, intelligent, noble, moral, romantic, creative, and athletic. His mastery of disguise is unchallenged, and his courage is unmatched.
I was a fan of mainly PC games, but slowly I warmed up to the console. My all-time favorites games are:
The Last of Us - This is as close as a game has ever gotten to what I consider a "true work of art" in terms of storytelling in video games. It is a profound exploration of human nature, and considering it's AAA budget and mainstream target audience, it's almost a miracle that the game exists. But because Neal Druckmann (creative director) was able to deliver a game that was entertaining enough as a mainstream AAA title, while still maintain the integrity of the story, Naughty Dog pulled off something that is unprecedented. This game raised the bar so high that I haven't been able to enjoy any other games since, because they all seemed meaningless and a waste of time in comparison.
Half-Life - This is the game that turned me into a true gamer. Prior to playing Half-Life, I was just a casual gamer, but this game stunned me with its brilliant design, captivating and immersive story, intense atmosphere, awesome implementation of sound and music, and very smart AI enemies. A true classic, and a masterpiece.
Half-Life 2 - Everything the first game was, but amped up several notches. It's to date the greatest accomplishment in game history.
System Shock 2 - The most atmospheric, immersive, and horrifying game, with excellent design of hybridizing genres in gameplay and UI. The use of recorded logs to tell the story was brilliant (and have been emulated by many games since), and the horror element is very intense. The first time I was being chased by the zombies, I literally had to take a break because I thought my heart was going to explode.
Portal - A complete surprise and one of the most original, entertaining, humorous, yet simple games ever made.
Counter-Strike - I was addicted to CS for a good few years, starting with beta 5.0, and never really got tired of it. I have converted many people into hardcore CS players, and at one point, I got the entire studio I worked at addicted to it--everyone jumping into the daily office-wide bloodbath as soon as the clock hit 6pm. It was the thinking man's FPS, and it made Rougue Spear look very boring, and Quake 3 very unsophisticated.
Team Fortress Classic/Team Fortress 2 - Love the different classes--so much variety. Also love how this game promotes team work. I really miss the grenades from the classic version of the game though.
Unreal Tournament/UT 2003/2004/UT3 - Another great FPS. Raised the watermark for multi-player FPS with its variety of weapons and gameplay. As soon as it was released, I stopped caring about anything to do with Quake 3 .
The Longest Journey - It is rare that a game can completely transport me to another world, and make me care about its inhabitants with such affection. This excellent adventure game's got it all: beautiful visuals, gorgeous music, intriguing story, interesting characters, and most of all, a lovable heroine. I wish there would be more games like this. (Unfortunately, the sequel, Dreamfall, didn't quite live up to expectations.)
Alien VS Predator 2 - The Marine campaign of this game was one of the most terrifying gaming experiences I've ever had, but the other two campaigns weren't as impressive. The multiplayer of this game was awesome as well, allowing you to play as all three species. Being the alien really rocked, as you could climb walls and ceilings, and also move with such speed and grace.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - I'm not even a Star Wars fan, but this game was just so well written, with such interesting characters, and with very intuitive and fun gameplay that was more strategic than I could have imagined for a RPG.
Mass Effect series - One of Bioware's best, and perhaps their very best work alongside (Knights of the Old Republic). They did such a good job with the lore and the vivid cast of characters, relationships. moral dilemmas, etc. The second one is my favorite, but the other two were excellent as well.
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne - Tons of fun and better than the first game. Nice story, polished presentation, and just the right level of difficulty.
Far Cry - One of the best FPS ever made, with an engaging story, insane amount of fun, and technological breakthrough in graphics in terms of open terrain. The one silly thing that bugged me was the fact that the main character didn't have the common sense to get out of his red and white hawaiian shirt and slip into a camouflage or green shirt instead. The game was engaging before the sci-fi element kicked in, but once the sci-fi element crept into the game, it became amazing.
Dead Space - I was surprised by how much I liked this game. I thought it would be a derivative mess--another EA disaster, but it turned out to be one of the most polished games i've played in a long time, and strangely enough, the first game I've ever actually finished on a console (prior to this game, I have never actually played any console games all the way to the end). Dead Space is definitely derivative, but in a good way--it takes the best qualities of past similar games like System Shock 2, Half-Life 2, Doom 3, Resident Evil 4, etc and combined them, and then also added a few innovative touches of its own, such as the way the UI intergrates into the game world seamlessly and completely, and the emphasis on shooting off the limps as opposed to going for the head or center mass. There were some genuinely terrifying moments in the game, and the difficulty is just about right for me (on medium level).
Here are my favorite artists, ranging from fine art painters, commercial illustrators, concept artists, animators, to comic book artists:
Richard Schmid - This man possesses impeccable mastery of alla prima painting, and a generous heart that shares all of his knowledge with us. His books and DVD's are a must for any serious artist. For me, he strikes the perfect balance between spontaneity and precision, with expressive brushwork that never seem sloppy as we so often see in alla prima painters.
John Singer Sargent - Amazing impressionism-influenced realist. Most know him as a master of the portrait, but he was far more than that--his landscapes, impressionistic experiments, watercolors, and figure sketches are all first rate.
Anders Zorn - Often called "The Swedish Sargent," which is in some ways, a very fitting way to describe Zorn, but at the same time, it's a little bit unfair. Why not call Sargent "The American Zorn?" I like Zorn's watercolors more than I do Sargent's.
Joaquin Sorolla - Another artist often compared to Sargent, and like Zorn, is often described as "The Spanish Sargent." Needless to say, I find that also somewhat unfair. I do feel that most of his portraits aren't as good as Sargent's, but I love the sun-drenched scenes he painted.
William Waterhouse - Of all the Victorian era painters that loved to focus on feminine beauty, he's the best of the bunch. He is often categorized as a Pre-Raphaelite, but he was really a Neoclassicist.
Pino - Pino was mostly known for his romance novel covers, but later on pursued his fine art career. Amazing painter with a lot of spontaneity and a colorful palette. How he conducted the business/commercial side of his career is a bit distasteful to me (some of his practices reeked of mass-production and doing things only for the sake of money).
Jeremy Lipking - He started out like a younger Richard Schmid, but eventually found his own voice.
Daniel Gerhartz - Another artist influenced by Richard Schmid. Colorful palette and endearing subject matters.
Scott Burdick/Susan Lyon - Husband and wife, and very similar styles (you can't always tell them apart). Beautiful colors and spontaneous brushwork.
Zhaoming Wu - Among all the oil painters that left China and came to the west, he's probably my favorite. There's always a strong sense of visual design in his work.
Gil Elvgren - No one paints pin-ups with more imagination and fun.
Haddon Sundblom - He's Elvgren's mentor, and you can see his influence clearly in Elvgren's work. Sundblom's subject matters are much wider though, as he didn't concentrate on the pinup genre.
Justin Sweet - He's got a very distinct style that's all his own. I like the restraint he displays when using colors, yet his paintings are never dull. There's a painterly quality to his work that you don't see often in fantasy/sci-fi illustrations.
Robh Ruppel - One of my favorite fantasy painters. Great classical technique with modern sensibilities.
Michael Whelan - His dedication and meticulous work ethic influenced me greatly as a teenager. He reads every book he illustrates, and gives 100% of himself in each piece, doing dozens of sketches, color studies, etc to explore the various ways to capture the essence of a book or main character before finalizing the composition. The efforts he put into those studies and explorations are sometimes more fascinating than the finished work. Whelan paints in a highly finished and detailed style that can sometimes kill the life of the piece. I personally prefer a more painterly style, but he'll always be one of the most important inspirations early on in my life.
Craig Mullins - It is widely agreed that he's the first master of digital illustration/concept art. The man is not only extremely hard-working and talented, but also very wise, friendly, nurturing, and classy. The years he was active in the Sijun Forums influenced me greatly, not just as an artist, but also as a person.
Xiaoye "Wassup" Chen - His style and subjects are very similar to Craig Mullins, but with idiosycrasies of his own.
Jaime Jones - Another artist whose style is from the same school of impressionistic realism as Mullins.
Jason Chan - His work combines his anime/manga influence with western classical art training, and the result is an interesting blend. He also has a strong sensitivity for visual storytelling, which gives his work a stronger emotional resonance than the works of his peers.
Jon J Muth - The best fine artsy comic book artist I've seen. I especially love the romanticism and mystery in his work.
Dave McKean - An artist's artist that is so rare. He's not only immensely skilled, but also very cerebral and experimental, using mixed mediums in a way that has become a style that others mimic.
Chen Shu-Fen & Common - I love the idealized beauty of their work.
Adam Hughes - One of the best comic book artists of his generation. Fun, sexy, expressive.
UmetsuYasuomi - I've been into his work since "Megazone 23 partII." Too bad he doesn't do much work outside of animation. In the early days, I was drawn to the more realistic character designs, and at that time(mid 80's to early 90's), Umetsu and Ohnda were the two guys that designed in that style. I paid more attention to their work than other character designers at the time.
Ohnda Naoyuki - His character designs for the "Ma ryu senki" and "Sol Bianca" series influenced me quite a bit when I was younger. I loved his idealized realism style.
Ronnie Del Carmen - Love his cartoony style. He's got a strong grasp on the human figure and expressions, and the way he simplifies things is just pure eye-candy.
Iain McCaig - I was fascinated by Fighting Fantasy books while growing up, and Iain's illustrations were absolutely the best out of the entire series. Now, he's better known as the guy that designed Darth Maul and Queen Amidila's Dress.
Mike Mignola - Mike's got a very distinct, graphical style that combines simplicity and elegance with a strong visual impact. I really enjoyed the first few years of Hellboy before it blew up into this big franchise.
Ashley Wood - Unique style and lots of energy. When I was working on my Enchanted series in the 90's, Ashley was supposed to color the first three issues of it, but then Sirius Entertainment (my publisher at the time) decided that we would do the first three issues in black and white, so it never happened. When the series did go full-color, I ended up painting it myself.
James Jean - If I had to name one artist whose work I think has the most stunnng display of natural-born talent (both technique and creativity), it would probably be James Jean. All the artists I love are immensely talented and worked hard to get to where they are, but James is special even among the greats. He's the kind of artist that makes other great artists want to hang up their gloves, because his work just drips and explodes with raw talent and an incredibly interesting sense of style. He's probably the most talented artist of his generation, regardless of style or medium, and likely the most consistently amazing, with nary any known pieces of published work that is substandard.
Glen Keane - Amazing animator. I have some sketches of his from Rapunzel Unbraided that's never been published that are just stunning in their simplicity and expressiveness.
Takada Akemi - In my younger days, I loved her "Kimagure Orange Road" illustrations. Madoka Ayukawa is one of my favorite anime characters.
Yamashita Ikuto - He started out doing a cyberpunk comicbook titled "Dark Whisper," and then became the mechanical designer of the hit anime series "Neo Genesis Evangelion." This guy's flair for design and style rivals that of the legendary Syd Mead.
Syd Mead - One of the most influential concept designers of all time. A true visionary.
Mikimoto Haruhiko - He's one of my earliest influences when I was a teenager, and his character design work in the 80's--particularly on the Macross series and feature film (and his comic book series Marionette Generation) was something I admired for many years. Later on in his career his style evolved into something less appealing, taking stylization to more extremes than I like.
Comic book creators:
On top of being excellent artists, these talented folks are also excellent writers:
Jaime Hernandez - One of the brothers that created the underground masterpiece Love and Rockets. I learned a lot about simplicity and spoting black from this guy. I also love the endearing characters in his stories about love, loss, and finding your way in life, one stumble at a time.
Shirow Masamune - If it wasn't for his Appleseed manga series, which was a revelation to me at age fourteen, I probably wouldn't have gotten into the comicbook industry. It's kind of disappointing that Shirow's turning into a parody of himself these past years; ridiculously gratuitous sex and skimpy clothes in everything he does, including serious works like Ghost In the Shell 2 manga just cheapens his work a bit.
Nishi Keiko - I love the ethereal, bittersweet stories she tells, and as an artist, her charming style is one of the most unique I've seen among the shoujo artists.
Kitagawa Sho - One of the few male manga creators that can pull off sensitive drama. I especially love his pen & ink work in Complex.
David Mack - His intimate style of visual storytelling combines the introspection and emotional resonance of a diary with the excitement and mysteries of shadow conspiracies and secret assassins.
Bill Waterson - How can you not love this guy? A wonderful storyteller, artist, and a man of admirable integrity (he refused to sell out and never allowed any of his characters to appear in stationaries, TV commercials, or anything else that had nothing to do with the comic strips). Long live Calvin and Hobbes!
Jeanloup Sieff - A compelling blend of artistic and fashionable, sensitive and edgy. When you look through the body of work by a lot of photographers, you might see an inconsistency in quality, and only a small percentage of the work really grabs you, but flipping through a giant monograph on Sieff, almost every single photo is compelling.
James White - There's a certain quality in his photographs of celebrities that makes it stand out more than the other photographers. His vision is deliberate, without being overly contrived like many of his peers.
There are other photographers by the same name who are not nearly as good, so it gets confusing when you do a search for him. The James White I'm talking about is represented by these links:
Nonami Hiroshi - A rare photographer that combines fairytale fantasy and fashion--using traditional photography techniques. Elegant and dreamy.
Wing Shya - Moody and sensual, and probably one of the best photographers shooting Chinese celebrities. His work is head and shoulders above those of his Chinese peers.
Japanese glamour/fashion photography (also known as "gravure"- I'm a big fan of the Japanese style. They favor a certain look that I describe as "cozy and warm, filled with light and elegance." It is a very unique look that I love.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini - One of the most talented sculptor/architect of the Baroque, or any period.
Michelangelo Buonarroti - One of the most famous artist in human history, and rightly so. The Pieta is one of the most stunning achievements in art history.
Nirasawa Yasushi - This guy is the God of techno goth freak fest. One of the most imaginative sculptor/designer I've ever seen.
Chieri - Take one look at his "Belldandy with Hollybell" and your jaw will be on the floor. I've never seen angel wings sculpted so beautifully.
Antonio Gaudi - My favorite architect of the art nouveau, or any period. Highly imaginative and original designs.