Foreign Chops: Czech Republic

Online Streaming for Foreign Chops: Czech Republic

On Thursday, I will be uploading Foreign Chops: Czech Republic to The LAMB. We have a good number of submissions, but could get a lot more pretty easily. I did a little digging around and found a number of Czech films that can be viewed on streaming services for a quick write-up before the deadline tomorrow, 1 May, at midnight.

On Netflix:

  • Alice, dir. Jan Svankmajer: a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland with haunting stop motion animation and puppetry.
  • Kolya, dir. Jan Sverak: 1996′s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film about a cellist in Soviet Czechoslovakia caring for a Russian boy.
  • Howling with the Angels, dir. Jean Bodon: a documentary short about Bodon’s father’s experience in the Czechoslovakian Resistance movement during World War II.
  • Alois Nebel, dir. Tomás Lunák: a black and white rotoscoped film about a train dispatcher near the end of the Cold War.
  • The Country Teacher, dir. Bohdan Sláma: a male teacher, fresh out of a relationship with another man, becomes friends with a widow who is looking for romance.
  • Protektor, dir. Marek Najbrt: a radio host attempts to protect his Jewish wife when the Nazis invade Prague during WWII.
  • Goat Story, dir. Jan Tománek: an animated film about a boy in middle ages who falls in love with a beggar girl, setting his goat friend into a fit of jealousy.

On Hulu Plus:

  • A Report on the Party and Guests, dir. Jan Nemec: picnickers are forced to attend a dinner party thrown by a sadist.
  • Return of the Prodigal Son, dir. Evald Schorm: an architect attempts to recuperate in a psychiatric hospital after a failed and unmotivated suicide attempt.
  • Closely Watched Trains, dir. Jirí Menzel: a dispatcher in occupied Czechoslovakia obsesses over trying to lose his virginity as the war rages on around him.
  • Courage for Every Day, dir. Evald Schorm: a communist questions his beliefs as politics shift and his friends don’t live up to the same beliefs.
  • All My Good Countrymen, dir. Vojtech Jasný: citizens in a small Czech village try to claim freedom for themselves after WWII, but face opposition from the communists.
  • Pearls of the Deep, dir. Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jires, Jirí Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm: an anthology of five short films celebrating the Czech New Wave.
  • Daisies, dir. Vera Chytilová: two young women named Marie try to find their place in the world together in dangerous ways.
  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, dir. Jaromil Jires: a fantasy exploration of love, fear, sex, and religion through the lens of fairy tales and folklore.
  • Capricious Summer, dir. Jirí Menzel: three middle-aged friends become obsessed with a tightrope walker’s assistant one summer.
  • The Ear, dir. Karel Kachyna: a government official discovers his house is bugged after a massive series of layoffs at the office.
  • The Cremator, dir. Juraj Herz: a horror film about a Czech cremator who begins to take advice from an old war buddy about embracing his German heritage.
  • The Junk Shop, dir. Juraj Herz: a short film about a man working in a junk shop.
  • The Joke, dir. Jaromil Jires: a revenge drama about a man taking revenge on the man who got him booted from school and the communist party.

I apologize for getting this post up so late in the Foreign Chops’ cycle. The idea of rounding up possible streaming titles only just occurred to me today. Future posts will be up weeks before the deadline.

If you’re a member of The LAMB, you can submit up to 5 posts about films from the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia. That’s 5 total per site, not 5 per author per site. They can be new or old reviews, features, or retrospectives so long as they focus on Czech films. Send the links to me at [email protected] by Midnight EST on 1 May. Include “Foreign Chops” in the subject line of your e-mail. I will send you a confirmation if I receive your message, so don’t be afraid to message me again if you haven’t heard back from me.

The Dictator

The Dictator Review (Film, 2012)

Holy heck. Do you guys remember when I was the film reviewer for TYCP? One of my reviews never got published when I stopped getting any correspondence from the editor of the site. I have uncovered this long-lost review and present it to you now, unedited, in its original form.

Sacha Baron Cohen returns to the big screen in another fish out of water improv-heavy comedy called The Dictator. Baron Cohen is Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of Wadiya, an oil-rich nation in Africa with no international trade. When Aladeen announces his decision to enrich uranium for nuclear energy, the United Nations gives him a five day window to visit America for negotiations or face international military action.

The DictatorThe rest of the film plays out like you would expect from Sacha Baron Cohen at this point. After a montage of culture-establishing tableaus, the dictator is whisked away to America where he faces a challenge and teams up with a wacky cast of characters to complete his goal. Every problem with The Dictator stems from this framework. He’s used it twice before to better effect. The result is not bad. It’s just nothing new from him besides the title character.

The Dictator succeeds in making the audience laugh. The outlandish stunts and gags might not hit with everyone every time, but everyone will find something to laugh at in this movie. My favorite recurring gag is Wadiyan covers of recognizable songs like “Everybody Hurts” and “Beware of the Boy.” The songs work in the context of the scenes but also poke fun at the intrusion of Top 40 songs in big budget movies just to have the songs on the soundtrack. You can’t help but notice the new lyrics and laugh.

Baron Cohen’s satire is focused on international relations, feminism, and the green movement rather than American culture this time around and it hits hard. Anna Farris as Zoey suffers the brunt of the abuse. She plays an unshaved political activist with a close crop haircut who hires refugees to work in her organic green market with a zero tolerance policy for racism. The audience is tricked into sympathizing with her because of Aladeen’s abuse until she quickly reveals that she is every bit as foolish as he claimed in their first scene together.

A big issue in The Dictator is the Aladeen knows all device. Half of the characters in the film claim he’s a complete idiot. The other half thinks he’s a genius. There is no consistency in his actions other than physicality, voice, and overt racism.

Sacha Baron Cohen, as a writer, waffles on the creation of every character. Character traits shift from scene to scene just to sell a joke. The only part of a character that sticks is the first impression. For example, when you meet a hired southern security guard who says he hates Admiral General Aladeen, you’re not going to get anything more out of the character. There is no depth to any character even when Baron Cohen tries to convince you someone is evolving. No one does.

For all the laughs, The Dictator lacks a real narrative thrust. It plays like a sketch comedy show rather than a film. Side plots are picked up and dropped at will, but they have no impact on the main story. The result is a comedy movie that overstays its welcome despite only being 82 minutes long.

Fans of Borat and Bruno will find enough of that Sacha Baron Cohen style to justify a trip to the movie theater. Everyone else should just wait for the DVD. That way, you can watch it in bits and pieces and skip over any scenes that don’t make you laugh right away.

Rating: 4/10

Quinnicon 2013

Abridged Series Creation: Anything for a Laugh (Quinni-Con 2013)

At Quinni-Con 2013, there was a variety of panels about the process of creating anime. From drawing the art to casting voice actors for the US dub, the traditional aspects of the popular medium were well-covered.

Death Note
Sometimes, the jokes right themselves
Quinni-Con also hosted a lot of events related to a less-explored aspect of the world of anime fan culture: abridged series. Abridged series are online parodies of popular anime properties. The creative team edits down the 22 minute episodes to a shorter length, usually about 5-8 minutes, redubs all the voices, and send-ups the ridiculous aspects of the series. Popular subjects are the melodramatic Death Note (see image), 4Kidz’ complete and total butchering of the much darker than it appeared in the US Yugioh, and the unbelievable adventures of a 10 year old traveling around the world to battle wild animals in Pokemon.

Sadly, very few of these abridged series are ever completed. It’s certainly not for lack of interest. An abridged series is just a huge undertaking. It’s surprisingly hard to get all the details to line-up for a full series run.

The abridged series panels at Quinni-Con 2013 were hosted by collaborators Nowacking and 1KidsEntertainment. The pair work on Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series. They opened up about a lot of details people might overlook when they decide to criticize the release schedule of an abridged series or dive in and create their own.

Pokemon: The 'Bridged Series
Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series
The biggest thing you need to create an abridged series is time. You have to be extremely well-versed in the anime you’re manipulating. Nowacking and 1KidsEntertainment explained that you have to watch each episode enough times to know the material you can work with. Since you’re not creating a series from scratch, you need to work off of the footage available in the episode. You can have a gag about a severely depressed character if she’s grinning the entire episode. The only way around that constriction is to edit the art or splice in footage from other shows, which only adds onto the lengthy production schedule.

Once you know what you have to work with, you have to sit down and write the new abridged episode. The episode has to match the tone you already established for the abridged series and remain faithful to the footage in the actual anime. You have to realistically consider the talent you have and determine what you absolutely need to tell the story you want to tell.

The only real time-saver on an abridged series is that, since it’s parody, you don’t have to match mouth movements. The dialogue just needs to time out with the footage available, not necessarily look organic or natural.

The syncing is a minor advantage. You still need to record all the voice actors. The levels have to be right or else the audio is unusable. The characters have to be distinct enough so the viewer knows who is who even when it’s voice-over without the characters present. The tone of the voice and speaking style has to be consistent with the animation and character you’re trying to create.

From there, the actual raw footage has to be edited down to match the script. This is where you can insert footage from other series, manipulate the order of the episode, or alter the speed or direction of the footage for comedic effect. It’s a lot of things to consider for such a short medium.

Then, once the abridged series is actually uploaded, you have to make sure it stays on your video server of choice. Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and subsequent legal action, YouTube had to install safeguards to protect copyright holders. Many anime distributors upload episodes of their series in private mode and have Google scan all the available videos on YouTube for possible infringement. If your video is flagged, it’s taken down. That means lost views, lost viewers, and frustration.

Fortunately, the DMCA is a two-way street. The copyright holders get much-needed assistance protecting their properties online and the alleged infringers get to defend themselves. YouTube has a form built into the site that lets you explain why you believe your video should not be taken down. The answer is simple for abridged series: parodies are allowed under US copyright law. No one will view an episode of Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series and think they’re watching the actual anime so there’s no actual damage to the copyright. It’s a pain, but you just plead your case and wait for YouTube to put your video back up.

The next time you’re watching an abridged series and find out that the updates only come every few weeks or months, take a moment to remember how much effort it takes to make an abridged series. These are fans who decided to rewrite a series for everyone’s enjoyment. They’re working other jobs or going to school full time because monetizing an abridged series is just going to get it flagged on a regular basis. Be supportive if you like the show, hold off on mentioning the real name of the actual series (it might impact the scans for automatic take downs), and have fun.

Thoughts on abridged series? Have any favorites? Share them in the comments below.


GameFanShop Deal Round-Up: April 29, 2013

Have you had a chance to check out my GameFanShop partner store yet? Now’s the perfect time to explore. It’s a PC gaming paradise. You get great discounts on PC downloads and get to help support Sketchy Details in the process.

GameFanShop Dead Island Riptide
Buy Dead Island Riptide at GameFanShop
There are a bunch of new deals this week for some high profile releases. Dead Island Riptide, the sequel to the ridiculously fun open world island-set survival horror game, can be had for $33.99, 15% off the regular price. Battlefield 3 with early access to all DLC and a ton of bonus features is $39.99, down from $49.99. Darksiders II can be yours for 60% off the regular price, $19.99.

Perhaps the most intriguing sale is Don’t Starve for $13.49. This is a really ambitious indie simulation game where your goal is to survive. You have to forage for food and supplies to extend your life a few hours longer. Don’t Starve is getting really great reviews from indie-friendly critics and even the bad reviews acknowledge that there’s something really cool happening with the game. Check out the trailer below.

The biggest deal of the week is Need for Speed: The Run for $17.99. This game is normally on sale for $29.99 at GameFanShop, which itself is 40% off the regular price of $49.99. That means you can get a really solid racing game for 65% off the regular price.

GameFanShop Portal
Buy Portal @ GameFanShop
For the throwback pick this week, I have to go with Portal. The devious puzzle game has become embedded in pop culture with its quirky references and plot devices. I mean, you can buy Portal cake mix now. There’s so much more than hype in play here. Portal is sharp and challenging with a brutal wit and mind-bending puzzles. The actual mechanic of creating tunnels in space with a gun instantly became a video game standard that was often imitated but never duplicated. Portal can be yours for $9.99 at GameFanShop.

Those are this week’s deals at GameFanShop. With over 1000 titles to choose from, you’re sure to find something to fit your gaming style and needs. You order the game, register your account, and receive the download code by e-mail for Steam, Origin or whatever proprietary download server the developer uses. You get a great game at a cheap price and I get a small commission that helps keep Sketchy Details up and running. It’s a win/win situation for everyone.

What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?

The true story of an impressive act of trolling to teach game pirates that pirating games costs developers money and possibly their business. Greenheart Games released a game about developing video games. They put a cracked version on torrent sites with a built in glitch: hit the Internet age and you start hemorrhaging money because of piracy.

What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?

Read: Letters to an Absent Father

Read: Letters to an Absent Father

Cryogonal Rare Candy Treatment
Rare Candy Treatment deals in absurdity.
There are a lot of Pokemon webcomics out there. Rare Candy Treatment examines the odd quirks of the Pokemon universe. Super Effective is a slapstick reimagining of the manga, complete with black and white tones. Nuzlocke’s Hard Mode brings an alternate rule set–namely when a Pokemon faints, it’s actually dead and you must release it from your collection–to life with a lot of unexpected feelings. Everything from Cyanide and Happiness to Penny Arcade has done at least a one-off Pokemon comic.

Yet one short form webcomic still stands above the rest in concept and execution. Originally released in 2011, Letters to an Absent Father reimagines Ash’s journey from Pallet Town to Pokemon Champion as a series of letters to his father. Ash’s father is only ever referenced once in the manga and anime as a trainer who went on his own journey. Ash does not get to benefit from his years of experience as other 10 year old trainers do on their first journeys.

If you recognize these characters, you’re ready to read Letters to an Absent Father
Artist Maré Odomo employs a simplistic art style for the comic. She relies on the reader recognizing basic attributes of major Pokemon characters–Ash has spiky hair and a red cap, Misty has a bright orange pony tail, Pikachu is a yellow and black mouse, etc.–to establish the context of the series. Then she flips the script and turns it into a brand new experience.

Ash’s only desire in the Pokemon series is to become the Pokemon Champion. He has to collect all the different species for the Professor’s research and evolve his team to beat gym leaders, but everything is done for the singular goal of being the best. His inner desires are left unspoken as he will sacrifice anything to achieve his lifelong goal.

Letters to an Absent Father 1
Letters to an Absent Father 1 (click for full) Read More
Odomo wisely starts Letters to an Absent Father with the first emotional chapter in Pokemon history. The first wild Pokemon ash catches is a Caterpie. He raises his Caterpie from a small insecure little bug into a beautiful and powerful Butterfree. While traveling by the coast, his Butterfree falls in love with a wild female Butterfree. All the Butterfrees are partnering up and Ash knows the best thing for his Butterfree is freedom. Ash gives up the first Pokemon he ever caught so that it can be happier than it ever imagined. Odomo stacks that emotional story with a knock-out final line in the first comic, “Do you ever miss Mom? Love, Ash.”

From there, Letters to an Absent Father covers everything from first love to loneliness to self-actualization. It’s a whirlwind of emotional comics that never betrays the basic concept of Pokemon. Ash is expressing his feelings in private as they relate to his very public life as a Pokemon trainer. It’s a beautiful meditation on a popular series and an excellent piece of art.

The only slight downside is the need to know the basics of Pokemon to understand all the references. Even removed from that, it would still be a strong project. The story is universal enough that the fantastic elements you don’t recognize do not overshadow the heart and goal of the project.

You can read the complete Letters to an Absent Father at Maré Odomo’s website.

Thoughts on Letters to an Absent Father? Share them below.

On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan-Fabricated Console Wars

On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan-Fabricated Console Wars

Geek & Sundry has a new series from some of the Robot Chicken creators called FetchQuest. Each week, they release a short animated video looking at various aspects of the video game industry. It’s sharp and committed to the theme of the episode no matter how many people it may alienate in a given week. It’s not my fault that some people don’t understand Journey, so I can’t be too mad when their indie game episode boiled down to “indie games have no point other than to make you feel stupid.”

The newest episode, “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” actually hits on a rather raw subject in the gaming community. Watch the catchy and provocative music video then continue on down the page.

I knew what would happen when the video was released on Wednesday and I was right. The fanboys in the YouTube comments (I know, never read the comments, but I find them so inspiring) are flaming each other non-stop. There are a lot people who believe “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” is some official declaration of Nintendo being a bad company because casuals, lol. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s a joke about an issue that’s actually fought over at this point.

Console Rage
I don’t think FetchQuest realized how accurate they were
For me, the entire point of video games is to have fun with interactive media. There’s no room for excluding any gamer from the community. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all target every demographic from young children to the self-declared hardcore gamer. There’s room for everyone on every console. Excluding people from the discussion because they don’t play x, y, or z is not doing anything to elevate gaming beyond children’s toys in the greater cultural discussion.

The idea that Nintendo is the only console that targets children is a laughable one. Every console targets children with colorful games, recognizable mascots, and huge advertisements in TV shows and ad circulars. Why? They’re the largest market. So long as gaming, as a whole, is viewed as something for children to do, the entire gaming market is going to target children on whatever consoles are available.

Each console gets the same shovelware–fast and poorly produced video games designed to turn a profit on a small amount of sales because they were developed for so little money–yet Nintendo is the company stigmatized for it. The motion control for the Wii made it so that a bunch of generic shooting, sports, and point and click games could be developed for home consoles instead of arcades. They wound up on the PS3 and Xbox 360 anyway with d-stick or even Kinect control schemes.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
No, but seriously, we need a sequel to Eternal Darkness.
Furthermore, each Nintendo console generation since the SNES has been accused of being just for kids when it was released. It took years for people to acknowledge that the N64 had great games beyond Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, and Super Smash Bros.. The same cycle happened with GameCube (Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros. Melee) and is, unsurprisingly, starting up with the Wii already. If everyone who now claims to have played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, an M-rated horror exclusive, when it was released on the GameCube actually played it, we would be swimming in sequels by now. Hindsight is 20/20 and people get lost in hype, positive or negative, when dealing with any kind of technology.

The bigger accusation against Nintendo is that the company only targets children. It’s simply not true. The common argument is that since Nintendo has cute games, they’re for children. I remember being pretty shocked the first time all my Pikmin were swallowed whole by enemies in Pikmin for the GameCube where my older brother just thought it was funny. A game like Animal Crossing, all about free exploration and interaction with NPCs and fellow players alike, could probably hold a child’s interests for a few hours but will keep an adult coming back to build, customize, and collect all the items for months.

There’s a distinct difference between producing a game for children–an educational title featuring Dora the Explorer or a point and click adventure game featuring Mickey Mouse–and producing games that can be enjoyed by anyone–the entire Mario series, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda series, Pokemon, etc.. The latter are probably only going to be mastered by more mature gamers.

Nintendo’s goal is not to appeal only to children but to create games that can be enjoyed on different levels by different gamers. Let’s take Pokemon as an example. My OCD self will spend hours grinding up a small roster of Pokemon to equal standing before developing different team combinations to use against real world and NPC challengers. My younger OCD self would level up the starter Pokemon so high that it could beat any gym leader by itself; I would also only choose the water starter because it was blue and I liked blue. And other people memorize rankings, stats, and develop game-breaking training techniques to max out the perfect team from the start.

Pokemon EV Training
EV training is a real thing. (click for full) from
As the series grows, new features are added to appeal to even more gamers. You can go all The Sims on Pokemon Black/White by building a shopping mall from the ground up or training Pokemon to star in movies and beauty pageants. You can buy stationary to send notes to your friends or spend hours mastering the Pokemon battle subways in multiple battle formats. The ability of a child to play the same game as an adult does not mean that the game is being explored or appreciated in the same way.

Most major triple A titles get ports or specifically designed releases on Nintendo’s consoles, including the Resident Evil series, Call of Duty and even Mass Effect. The Wii U already has a ridiculously hard M-rated exclusive, Zombie U‘s one life and you’re done mechanic is certainly not aimed at children, and will have another this summer with Bayonetta 2. Nintendo doesn’t typically design M-rated exclusives themselves, but neither do Sony or Microsoft.

Keep Reading

Obscenity Case Files: United States v. One Book Called Ulysses

Check out this really well-written account of how Ulysses by James Joyce was labeled obscene and then allowed to be published in the United States from the CBLDF. Ulysses is one of my all time favorite novels and the arguments against its publication weren’t even related to the really dark, absurd, or shocking elements of the story. How could they be? The book was blocked after Episode 13 was published in a little NYC magazine. You can’t blame Molly Bloom on this one.

Obscenity Case Files: United States v. One Book Called Ulysses