Do not watch Cloverfield

on Monday, 28 January 2008
I repeat. Do not watch Cloverfield. Go ahead, click that link and watch the trailer there. Feeling nauseated yet? For those who cannot stand FPS games or are prone to "digicam-motion sickness", do not watch this movie. Keep the contents of your wallet in your wallet, and you'll keep the contents of your stomach in your stomach.

I made another mistake of trusting the advertisement as shown on TV - never ever trust those on movies you don't really hear about much, at least not in Malaysia. According to this reviewer, a lot of hype has been generated by this movie, produced by J. J. "Lost" Abrams.

Too bad. The concept of a huge alien attacking New York (as usual, it's in the US - Malaysia is very safe) is nothing new but can certainly have a lot of potential if carried out right. Unfortunately, it sucks big time. It's a really obvious attempt to ape the Blair Witch Project (I didn't like that one too) but falls flat in terms of execution. First off, the Blair Witch Project is a known budget movie, so the less-than-stellar work is understandable. Cloverfield (the name is apparently a government code name) on the other hand, has a much bigger budget.

It's one thing to use the "digicam style" for effect. It's extremely unwise to use it throughout the whole movie, especially when the whole movie is more about monster effect than suspense (except that one tunnel scene where it was actually decent). What's worse? It took a whole 20 minutes or so for even a hint of a monster. What's in the first 20 minutes? A whole lot of silly and rather poorly executed "character development", which coupled with the dizzying effect, made me totally unable to empathize with the characters. The gist of it? A bunch of friends decides to tromp right into monster avenue to rescue another friend whom one of them had slept with... once apparently. Yes, it sounds silly. The dialogue doesn't even make it seem like it's a true love lost thing - felt much more like infatuation or fling rather.

And the monster? Yea, it's pretty interesting, and the monster kinda looked cool - the few glimpses I've had of it. Where did it come from? Apparently, nobody knows. Yep, I looked around for reviews to see what I missed but apparently, the monster is just an arbitrary monster who decided arbitrarily to stop at New York and arbitrarily start destroying things arbitrarily... even the Statue of Liberty headshot felt really weak - an effect for the sake of making an effect. It seems not to make sense for a monster to surface next to the Statue of Liberty, give it a thwack on the head, and then get back into the water and continue swimming towards the city proper... And oh, the monster likes to chase fleeing unarmed civilians even though soldiers nearby are emptying their ammunition and rockets into its body. *shrugs*

Perhaps refreshingly, unlike Transformers and the previous Americanised Godzilla, the US military portrayed in this movie appears to be quite useless, using rather "mundane" weaponry compared to all the high-tech equipment we've been seeing in many other recent movies.

Anyway, I've drubbed it enough. Enough ranting from me. Just read other reviews if you need more convincing that this is a "sucky" movie. Tolerable when not considering the digicam style; plainly sucks when taken together.

I'll end with one last kick: (SPOILER WARNING - for what it's worth) If I was a dull-witted man who isn't really familiar with a digicam in the first place, I wouldn't be holding it up and trying to film every single second of running around while scared silly. I most especially would not bother to when I'm walking along a very dark tunnel, or when trying to run from creepy crawly spider things, or when the woman I love is in danger, or when climbing tall crumbly buildings, or when the helicopter I'm in is about to drop out of the sky.

Java Swing Layout made extremely easy

on Monday, 14 January 2008
If you're a Java developer working on desktop applications that require you to code the interfaces (especially the really complex ones), you'll love what I found.

First, take a look at this page. See that complex looking list? It's made with a custom ListCellRenderer which was created using GroupLayout. Really nice-looking doesn't it? (see the layout tutorial here)

GroupLayout was specifically designed for use with Project Matisse, the GUI builder for the Netbeans IDE, which by the way, is extremely impressive.

Unfortunately, GroupLayout is complex to use and difficult to read if you do not have access to Netbeans and do not wish to use/learn Netbeans solely for the purpose of designing the GUIs. Or maybe you're just old school and prefer to build GUIs by hand (I know, some of the generated code can be icky). What do you do?

You go and download MigLayout of course! Why? Well, go back and look at that fancy list above again and try to estimate how many nested panels you might need should you use the standard layouts, or how many lines of code and the calculations you need for GridBagLayout. Finished? Guess how many lines it takes for MigLayout... seven. Yes, you read it right, just seven simple lines:
cell.setLayout(new MigLayout("nogrid, fillx"));
cell.add(pic,   "dock west");
cell.add(title, "growx");
cell.add(count, "wrap");
cell.add(line1, "growx, wrap");
cell.add(line2, "growx");

Impressive, no? Check out the website for guides and Java Web Start demos.