Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates. For everyone else, I hope your day is wonderful.
Christian or not, anytime is a good time to spread the good word of Cthulhu. One day, the Ancient Ones will rise again and we might as well all prepare now. There’s a wonderful playlist of Lovecraftian Carols on YouTube that, sadly, is not embeddable on this most festive of dark, nightmarish days.
Enjoy I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth.
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen has gotten herself into more trouble than she can imagine. Her desperate act to save herself and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark has gotten her on the wrong side of President Snow. Katniss accidentally sewed the seeds of a revolution against the Capital, and it becomes her job to squelch it on the Victory Tour. When her efforts fail, she is forced into the Third Quarter Quell–the 75th Games–under the guise of the founders of Panem wanting to prove that no one, no matter past successes, is above the needs of the country. 24 former victors who believed the games guaranteed peaceful lives are forced to fight again because of Katniss.
Unlike last year’s The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is afraid of changing the text of the story. There is no new clever device to show the inner monologue of the characters (like the addition of color commentary from the TV hosts in the 74th Hunger Games) and, even more surprising, no real character development. The Hunger Games worked because every character who had an impact on Katniss’ life felt important; in Catching Fire, only her family, friends, and fellow victor Peeta are important. That’s a problem.
If you are going to make a film where the majority of the running time is people killing people in blood sport, there has to be some level of empathy. It cannot be a false empathy wrought from bad things happening to normal people. It needs to be earned. The victims in the first film who had relevance to Katniss’ story earned the emotions that followed their fall. Her fellow victors are given nothing to do to earn the same this time around.
“For the first time in forever,” Disney has released an animated musical that feels like it exists just to be a film. Not once did it feel like this was a test for a new stage musical, which wasn’t exactly the case with Tangled and The Princess and the Frog.
Frozen is the story of sister princesses, Anna and Elsa, who have lived under lock and key in the castle since a childhood accident. Elsa, born with ice magic, accidentally hit Anna while they were playing together in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s own creation. Her parents, under the advice of magical trolls living on the outskirts of the kingdom, separated Anna and Elsa and locked up the castle to protect their children. Now old enough to assume the throne, Elsa has no choice but to reopen the castle for her inauguration as Queen. She still cannot control her powers and accidentally freezes the entire kingdom while fleeing from society for everyone’s benefit. Anna is the only one who can convince Elsa to return summer to the kingdom.
Writer/director Jennifer Lee (writer, Wreck-it Ralph) adapts the story she created with co-director Chris Buck and Shane Morris into one of the most enjoyable American animated films to come around in a long time. Frozen is given time to wander between various subplots that create a far more expansive universe than suggested by the Hans Christian Anderson source material. Anna and Elsa’s relationship is the throughline; everything else is world-building.
In 2011, I changed the way I approached online media criticism in an effort to join a pretty big film critics organization. I saw a large amount of new release films in genres I was rarely drawn to just to balance out my enthusiasm for horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Despite my best efforts and a very quick approval through the first round of the application process (believe me, it was more than just logistics and tech requirements to get that far), I received an official rejection from the group a few months ago. I hesitated on requesting the ballots with comments from the voting members who evaluated Sketchy Details. Eventually, I buckled and asked for them.
Guess what? The votes were split evenly on whether or not to let me in. The negative voters unanimously said that I focus too much on horror to be a serious member of the organization. The next biggest complaint was that Sketchy Details is not JUST a film site. Quelle suprise.
If you’re wondering why film reviews suddenly got sparse over the summer, you have your answer. I love film criticism, but I had to come to terms with changing the way I approached new releases for so long just to be slapped with the usual “horror is bad so you’re a bad writier” commentary. I will be reviewing more films in 2014 than I did this year, but it will be on my terms. It will be the films I want to see, not the films I feel obligated to seek out just to please a group that demonstrated how I will never meet their standards.
This is a really good thing.
I explained what the CentUp button is when I first uploaded it to Sketchy Details over the summer. Basically, it’s a way for you, the reader, to support content you like directly. You upload money to your CentUp account and can drop in a few pennies here and there wherever you see participating sites you want to support. Simple as that.
The CentUp team has really been working hard to improve and grow the service. They’re running a promotion right now where you get 100 free credits to use however you want just for signing up. It’s that simple. Just sign up and you have a free dollar you can break up however you want on sites participating in CentUp.
You might not think a couple pennies makes a difference, but it really does. Banner ads, video ads, sales on debut ebooks (ahem), and all the other monetization options available to a website rarely pay more than that on any given day. The difference here is you. Crowdsourcing is here to stay thanks to sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Musicians like Amanda Palmer and Radiohead are continually demonstrating the commercial viability of pay what you want releases of their content. All the CentUp participants are asking for is some spare change if you really enjoy what you’re reading.
It’s the week before Christmas and every online game service has HUGE discounts. Steam is trying to bleed you dry with new flash sales every 8 hours. Green Man Gaming is changing their deals daily, breaking down their sales by publisher.
And my GameFanShop breaks down the deals by genre. I honestly recommend price checking any game you might want to pick up for the computer–as a gift or otherwise–with all three sites. The deals are shifting throughout the day and you never know what site will have the best deal. Right now, for example, Assassin’s Cred IV is the cheapest at GameFanShop, while Steam has the edge on BioShock Infinite and Green Man Gaming has the best deal on Brothers: A Tale of Sons. Tomorrow, any individual shop could take the edge on all those titles.
If you shop at GameFanShop, I get a small percentage of the profits. You get a game ready to download on Steam or, sadly, on Origin or Ubisoft’s Uplay.
Give the gift of amazing games this holiday season. These sales really tend to favor indie titles that often get overlooked the rest of the year. With all of the Game of the Year lists going up, you can find a lot of great titles you might have never heard of before that can be perfect for a friend, relative, or loved one.
I want you to form a picture in your mind. It’s Oscar nomination morning. The world is abuzz with anticipation, wondering who the lucky few are who will join the pantheon of greats recognized for their achievements onscreen.
A smaller site chooses to release their Best Films of 2013 list on the same day. Who will be on top? The critically acclaimed 12 Years a Slave? The auteur stylings of Chan-wook Park in Stoker? The last animated masterpiece directed by Hayao Miyazaki with The Wind Rises?
Nope. It’s probably going to be the amazing indie horror film American Mary. Directed by identical twin writers/actors/stunt performers Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary is the first horror film in a long time to latch onto that bizarro 1980s vibe epitomized in such classics as The Hunger, Santa Sangre, and Videodrome and succeed. It’s also the most empowering, body-positive exploitation-like film I’ve ever seen. It’s body horror with a really beautiful message. It is this strange mix of very unusual elements that are blended to perfection by two filmmakers well-versed in horror.
Check out the full review at my Horror Thursday column for Man, I Love Films.
Peter Jackson returns to J.R.R. Tolkien’s immersive Middle Earth for the second of three films inspired by The Hobbit. In The Desolation of Smaug, Gandalf sends the brave dwarves and the sneaky Bilbo Baggins off on their own again to reach Erebor before the keyhole to the former dwarf castle will be hidden for another year. Bilbo’s team encounters a less than hospitable kingdom of familiar Elves while Gandalf sets out to stop the rise of the Necromancer before the world is overrun by darkness.
Unlike An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug is not afraid of going darker with The Hobbit. It mostly works. The story has already been stretched out and altered so much that the lighter tone in the funnier scenes acts as a nice buffer for the darker visuals and action sequences.
Even though Bilbo is not front and center in the second chapter, it’s still very much Bilbo’s story. At the start of The Desolation of Smaug, he almost shows Gandalf the ring he stole from Gollum in the last film but chooses not to. The sneaky hobbit hired to sneak is now harboring a deep secret. Gandalf clearly knows, but no one else does. And as Bilbo uses the ring more to go about undetected, he starts to become more aggressive. He’s not comfortable with that at all.
The new call for Foreign Chops entries is up. With winter on the mind, I want to go with a cooler country for the January reveal. Germany will do nicely. I was tempted to be a little flippant and say Foreign Chops #18: Snow, but I would have no way of confirming if, in fact, the entries were films featuring snow. Maybe February.
Announcing Foreign Chops #18: Germany
Sarah Polley uses a deeply personal story–the rumors surrounding her own lineage and conception–to explore how people choose to frame the narratives of their lives. Stories We Tell looks at different layers of connection to the parenthood rumors. It starts with Polley, the child at the center of the story. Then it jumps to her immediate family–father, brothers, and sister. Then it extends to her mother’s coworkers, friends, and acquaintances at the time of Sarah’s birth. The film quickly shifts focus spinning on individual discoveries, leading to a new round of questions for the people who shift in and out of the inner circle of the real history of Sarah’s birth.
Stories We Tell is a documentary, albeit a very experimental one. For all of the traditional tools used (interviews, reenactments, voice overs, etc.), the structure is pure thriller. We’re dragged down the ever shifting sands of memory until Polley herself starts to lose track of the narrative. It evolves in such an organic (well, as organic as a thriller filled with misdirection and hidden secrets can be) way that the final moments are all the more revelatory. It doesn’t even matter that the mystery is solved by the halfway point; the initial search for truth was never the real point of the documentary.
It is unsettling to watch this story unfold. Everyone is so sure of their position, so positive that they know exactly what happened, that you begin to doubt everything you’ve been told. Polley constantly sets you up for surprises and failures. The biggest trick is declaring that this film’s real focus is on the identity of her father.
What happens when CBS decides they can produce an adult-targeted after school special about pedophiles and male gaze? A laugh a minute horror film that’s meant to be shocking and disturbing.
Are You Alone in the House?
Beautiful [click for full]
Imagine Dear Esther
with even less of a defined narrative. We’re talking about a beautiful game that’s all about exploring your environment and putting the story together for yourself. There’s a deeper emotional narrative driven by guided interaction through open level design. You have clear marks to hit, but you’re free to explore the world as long as you want.
9.03m from indie developers Space Budgie is that game. Inspired by the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, 9.03m has you exploring the San Francisco coast for items and memories that have washed up in the wake of the disaster. You follow a string of guiding lights to a silhouette of a person enjoying the beach. That person transforms into an object–a toy, a locket, a wedding band–when you approach. You pick up the item and gently rotate it to find the hidden butterfly that reveals a simple memory–a name, an important date, an inscription–revealing the everyday lives cut short by the tsunami.
To say that game is emotional is an understatement. I was fighting back tears the first time a person transformed into their lost object. You become so used to the routine so quickly that the silhouettes themselves begin to tell a story. I started to slow down so I could give those people a little more time on Earth.
A new episode of Sketchy Details @Home featuring handmade holiday decorations, the new intro graphic, and the new outro design. Tis the season to lovingly pay tribute to classic holiday specials, like Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. My grandmother and I make a great production team. She draws out the image, then I cut it out and paint in all the details. If there’s forced perspective illusions, it’s all me.
Watch, like, comment, share, and subscribe to Sketchy Details @YouTube for more great pop culture video content.
Good things, people, not bad things.
The seven day a week posting schedule was an interesting experiment. I cannot sustain it and continue with all of the conventions, media projects, and actual real world work. I’ll be going back to a five day schedule starting today. What it also means is that I can post more content each day and have time to set up the larger projects and video/media content over the weekend.
I’m working on an overhaul of the YouTube page. I just redid all the thumbnails with new templates and put in some orders for intro animations for Sketchy Details @Home, Slipstream, and The Haunting Ground. Slipstream’s is done: simple but effective. I’m working on new graphics and setting up show templates, so to speak, to add more consistency to the programming.
Take Out & Other Stories is available at Smashwords, as well as in the Kindle and Nook stores.
The Preston Files will return in January. I actually do need to build up a buffer just because my schedule can be so inconsistent. Those won’t necessarily be the comics that go up each week, but they will be there if I need them.
There are more things in the works that I’m not ready to reveal yet. I am ready to draw your attention to the brand new Christmas Evil banner, inspired by the most heartwarming Christmas horror film ever created. It’s a holiday classic for the ages.