December 13, 2012

Let’s You and Him Fight

Earlier I discussed the perhaps not immediately evident fact that your favorite creators aren’t looking, in any social situation, for unsolicited notes on their work.

Here’s another peek into the writerly mind—an online corollary, if you will. Unless you have been specifically asked to act as someone’s bad PR clipping service, they also don’t want you to point them to negative reviews of their stuff. We all know the general odor in which bearers of bad news are held, right?

Creators all follow their own strategies for dealing with poor or contentious notices. Some thrive on them, deriving creative energy from the mental dissonance. Others use them to self-destructively feed the furnaces of self-doubt. Another school of thought treats a certain degree of blissful ignorance as integral to the thick skin creators must shroud themselves in to move forward. A rare few creators might, with lofty detachment, sift bad reviews for useful insights. Whatever their strategies, however they harness, repurpose or ignore the brickbats that come their way, creators have them well in place. Whenever they develop a yen for bad reviews, they can find them with ease, on their timetables and on their terms.

Social networking gives you more tools than ever to commit this unwitting faux pas. Don’t be the “let’s you and him fight” guy. Not by email, on a wall, or in a forum message. Likewise, you don’t need to use the @ function on Facebook or Twitter or the + in Google+ to summon us into discussions where we are being slagged. Like Hastur, we respond to unsought summoning rituals with something other than equanimity.

This goes triple if you’re prompting the creator to rebut the review. This is always a hideously poor choice. When an author does this, the only question is how big a fool he’ll make of himself. Poking a bear with a stick is bad enough. Handing a bear a stick and urging him to poke someone else with it rises to the level of spiritual negligence.

Critics have every right to consider creative work fairly, or to tendentiously haul it to the pillory. They write not for creators, but for the public, and themselves. But a third party taking that bundle of emotional static and slipping it in an envelope under the writer’s office door has, shall we say, missed an elementary point of etiquette.

December 10, 2012

An Early Wave of Hillfolk Series Pitches Rolls In

Although the stellar roster of writers and designers drafted to create Series Pitches for Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow have until the end of January to get their drafts in, an early bird brigade has already begun to submit their pieces. I’m happy to report that they all live up to the promise of their loglines—the only frustration being that, perhaps like me, you’ll want to play them all.

Jason Morningstar does the brilliant job you would expect from him with “Hollywoodland”, infusing his saga of Tinseltown’s silent-cinema infancy with glitz, corruption, and a battle between money old and new.

Cédric Ferrand splendidly evokes 1866 New York in “Grave New World,” finding a fresh angle on vampire intrigue by making it a metaphor for the immigrant experience.

Andrew Peregrine’s “Vice and Virtue” gives Jane Austen fans all they need to launch a whirlwind of lunches, balls, and passion within the tightest of social constraints.

With expertise honed in the creation of actual TV series, John Rogers zeroes in on the many clashing societies and factions of “Shanghai 1930.” This is one of history’s richest settings, and John shows you how to cut to the meat of it.

James L. Sutter’s “The Throne” draws on Milton, Blake, and Vertigo comics with his war in heaven, triggered by the sudden disappearance of the big boss. Come for the angelpunk, stay for the chance to remake the cosmos.

Allen Varney’s “Bots” delightfully realizes its hardscrabble, post-organic premise in a piece that could only be described as Fox Animation’s Robots as rewritten by Upton Sinclair. It’s been a long time since anyone lured Allen back to straight-up RPG writing, and I can report that he hasn’t lost a bit of his satirical edge.

Both of our revisionist superhero pieces are in, as well.

Michelle Nephew’s “Mad Scientists Anonymous” lets you choose between Dr. Horrible-style humor or a darker spin on pulp mythology as its titular characters struggle together to stay sane and institutionalized—but what about the strange machinery humming away down in the basement?

Gene Ha and Art Lyon (concept by Lowell Francis) tackle matters from the opposite end of the genre food chain in “Henchmen,” in which no-powered criminals crewing for a costumed madwoman try to survive in her absence, in a city swarming with masks who hopelessly outmatch them. They wound up taking a straighter, crime-drama inspired approach than originally envisioned. This loses the wonderful original title, “Witless Minions”, but will result in a much richer game experience.

Gene has also turned in his illustration for the piece, the awesomeness of which speaks for itself:

Meg Baker has finished “Under Hollow Hills”; likewise Jason L. Blair with “Inhuman Desires.” I look forward to reading them.

Art assignments for all of the Series Pitches have been made already, and we’re starting to get sketches and preliminaries in. So all is on schedule on that front as well.

The on-time delivery of these pieces represents the main scheduling question mark, so I’m taking these early arrivals as a positive omen. I’ll continue to update Kickstarter backers and punterdom at large as the books continue to take shape.

November 29, 2012

Call for Submissions: DramaSystem Master Class

Now that Hillfolk Kickstarter backers have had time to digest and play the game, it’s time to solicit submissions for the Master Class section of the Blood on the Snow Companion book. This is an opportunity for the emerging game writers among you to gain some experience and see your name in print.

 

The Brief

We’re looking for contributions of approximately 300-1000 words in length that will help readers understand, play, and expand DramaSystem.

The theme: challenges you encountered during play, and how you overcame them.

If you wish to submit a piece taking another angle on DramaSystem play or design, feel free to do so, with the understanding that pieces adhering to the theme are more likely to be accepted.

Whatever your subject matter, all pieces must show that you have actually played the game. Armchair ruminations will have to seek other homes.

The Context

These submissions will appear in a 20,000 word section of Blood on the Snow, interwoven with commentary by Robin.

The Process

This is an open call for pieces written on a spec basis. We will accept as many quality submissions as fit within the section’s word count. In the case of similar submissions, we’ll pick the one of greatest utility in DramaSystem play.

Deadline for submissions is Jan 14. Send submissions in .doc, .docx or .odt format to the address given in the About/Contact banner entry above.

You will not be asked to perform rewrites. Instead, Robin may adjust your prose for clarity, brevity, and maximum impact, allowing you the opportunity to comment on these changes.

The Deal

Authors whose pieces are accepted for publication will receive 3 cents a word US, due on acceptance, in exchange for all rights to your text. You will receive credit both as a byline and on the table of contents. Due to the brevity of these pieces our budget does not permit us to offer complimentary author’s copies. (Remember that all Hillfolk backers already receive the book in electronic form, whether you purchased the print copy or not.)

Note to Established Designers

This open call addresses new and emerging game writers. If you are an already established designer and wish to submit, contact me with a concept brief and we’ll discuss alternate terms.

November 28, 2012

The Blood on the Wall in the Fortress

New Tales of the Yellow Sign, my anthology of weird tales conjuring Robert W. Chambers’ classic King in Yellow mythos, is in print as of September from Atomic Overmind Press, and in ebook form from vendors including Amazon/Kindle, DriveThru, Nook, Smashwords, Apple iTunes, and Paizo.

This post is third in a series looking at the individual stories.

In true weird-tale tradition, the germinative image of “The Blood in the Wall in the Fortress” pressed itself on me in a dream, where I was a member of an artillery unit shelling a tower across a river, knowing there were innocent people inside. The story, of a soldier’s guilt and the madness of self-justifying war, sets itself in 1947. But it’s not our 1947, as Loyalists battle Alsatians, to the incessant clattering of a black box issuing incomprehensible orders. This is a world made, or unmade, by the destabilizing influence of the Yellow Sign.

From Kenneth Hite’s introduction: Although the war in “The Blood on the Wall in the Fortress” begins in 1947 in another history, the fortress sits in Alsace, target and symbol of the Franco-Prussian War that Chambers used in a more personal catastrophe in “The Street of the First Shell.” The plot echoes “The Yellow Sign” in its portents, its artistic protagonist, and its inevitable approach of death; the tone is post-Remarque, post-trenches, almost documentary realism approaching the unreal.

November 27, 2012

Dragonmeet Ho!

Once again, through the promotional largesse of Pelgrane Press, I’ll be doing the guest thing at Dragonmeet, this coming Saturday at London’s Kensington Town Hall.

At 3:30 I’ll be teaming with my partner in podcasting crime, Kenneth Hite, and guest star Simon Rogers, for a live edition of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

For the rest of the day you’ll find me at the Pelgrane stand, ready to chat, sign books, and answer any questions that would otherwise go unasked.

It’s going to be a bumper show this year:

James Wallis will be back in the saddle, demoing the new Once Upon a Time.

The Moon Design crew will be there to stoke anticipation for their increasingly titanic crowdfunded dream project, The Guide to Glorantha.

And both Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson UK will reunite at the seminar table to celebrate 30 years of Fighting Fantasy, and share Games Workshop creation stories.

In other words, this is one show no London-area gamer should even consider missing. I look forward to seeing you there.

November 23, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: As Kenya is to Running

In this week’s episode of our Golden Geek-winning podcast, Ken and I talk time and pacing in RPGs, wrap up the election, propound my theory of the one okay game store, and open up the Spycraft Hut for a Petraeus-inspired survey of sexy security scandals.

November 09, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Undetectable Notes of Irony

In the fourteenth episode of our above-named podcast, Ken and I talk Chicago film fest, DramaSystem vs. Skulduggery, gangland mapping and the burnings of the Libraries of Alexandria:

November 02, 2012

Hillfolk Kickstarter in its Final Hours

If you get your Robin Laws information only from this blog, you may wish to be reminded that the Hillfolk Kickstarter is counting down to its astounding conclusion. This offer will not be repeated, so if you haven’t grabbed your tons of electronic content for $10 or two full-color 240 page hardcovers for $41, lurch on over there before 8 pm Eastern tonight.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: That Time We Burned Down the White House

In the latest installment of our eponymous podcast, Ken and I talk food, imagined worlds, Kenneth Grant, and the War of 1812.

November 01, 2012

Blood on the Snow Contents Description

[My Kickstarter page has reached its character limit. To give it space to breathe, I’ve moved the original contents of the Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem sourcebook here. Blog overflow, if you will.]

Contents:

How To Write a Series Pitch: Robin shows you how to design a Series Pitch for publication—and tells you which pitches not to bother with. Approximately 2000 words. 

DramaSystem Master Class: design notes and troubleshooting tips. Approximately 21,000 words. For this section we’ll be soliciting contributions from the early adopter community—yes, that means you—describing issues that confronted you in DramaSystem play and how you overcame them. Robin will then respond with his own notes and observations. Think of it as Actual Play Plus. (In addition to providing nuts and bolts troubleshooting and inspiration, it also provide an opportunity for emerging roleplaying writers to establish themselves with a paid professional credit. Stay tuned for details.)

LARPing with DramaSystem: a 5,000 word exploration of DramaSystem as a LARP engine, from designer extraordinaire Emily Care Boss. 

Series Pitches: (~2,000 words each):

Pedro Ziviani (Chaosium’s Mythic Iceland) shows you how to weave an Icelandic saga in Blood on the Snow. Justice, feuding and strangeness as only the Norse can do it!

John Rogers (co-creator/producer, Leverage) brings you all the glamour, opium and intrigue of Shanghai 1930. Gangsters, spies, imperialists, revolutionaries and emigres strive to survive the 20th century's most dangerous time and place.

Scott Bennie (Testament) intones Darke and Stormy Nights: feuding aristocratic families are confronted by terror when an implacable supernatural evil awakens!

Steve Darlington (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd ed, There Is No Spoon) cries “stat!” in System Shock: Galatea General Hospital has always been on the cutting edge of cybermedicine and bionics, but now its new staff have patients wondering: can I trust a robot to save my life?

Paula Dempsey (The Book of Smoke) lays on the equestrian glam for The Chase, a soap opera set in the glossy, moneyed world of high-end horse racing.

Cedric Ferrand (Wastburg) changes your name at Ellis Island in Grave New World, as banished European vampires seek refuge in 1850s New York.

Richard Iorio II (Colonial Gothic) presents Dolphin. The Blue is threatened. The Blight and its warriors amass. The only thing standing in their way are the dolphins dedicated to dedicated to The Way. Finding Nemo meets The Lord of The Rings.

Jack Norris (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War, DC Adventures Heroes & Villains) presents Gangs of Old York: Saxons commoners and deposed Anglo-Danish nobles plot, battle, intrigue, and turn outlaw while battling starvation and Norman conquerors and their supporters in the shadows of William the Conqueror's Harrowing of the North.

Aaron S. Rosenberg (Asylum, Spookshow) runs the Family Business: A family of crooks, con artists, and thieves has to rely on everyone's skills and loyalty when the Law closes in, trying to shut them down for good.

Plus two more Series Pitches from Robin:

Mutant City HCU: Ten years after 1% of the population acquired super-powers, the cops of the Heightened Crime Unit live, love and occasionally put away a genetically enhanced perp or two. A dramatic game set in the heretofore procedural world of Pelgrane’s Mutant City Blues.

Against Hali: Student revolutionaries mix love, ambition and revolution in a dictatorial alternate present warped by the eerie power of The King in Yellow.

The book starts at 128 pages (6 x 9 format) with room for expansion as our final-week stretch goals take us beyond Pagemageddon and into the great unknown. Creators standing by on deck to be stretched into the book include: Josh Roby, James L. Sutter, Andrew Peregrine, Lester Smith, David L. Pulver, Kevin Allen Jr., Jeff Richard, Gareth Hanrahan, Mark Diaz Truman and maybe another superstar or two we’ve yet to fully wrangle.

October 26, 2012

Open Licensing and DramaSystem (and GUMSHOE, too)

With the Hillfolk Kickstarter having funded both open licenses for DramaSystem and now GUMSHOE as well, it’s time to consult the stakeholders on just what the configuration of those licenses ought to be. Ultimately the decision will be mine (DramaSystem) and Simon’s (GUMSHOE), but we’re both on the same basic page in wanting low-hassle licenses that encourage uptake by gamers and commercial users alike.

(With GUMSHOE there’s a wrinkle concerning foreign languages. The games have been licensed to various territories, and Simon will respect the wishes of those publishers if they don’t want third-party GUMSHOE material published in their languages. That’s why the text on the Kickstarter site refers to the English language. At least some of our translation partners seem stoked about the open license, so we may be able to widen this out.)

Parentheticals aside….

Hillfolk backers made this happen, so I want to take your preferences into account.

Those of you who aren’t going to use the licenses or play the games, but are here purely out of abstract interest in open culture, will have only the steely rigor of your intellectual argument to fall back on.

The question at hand is whether to adopt an OGL, or OGL-like, approach, or to go the Creative Commons route—or a hybrid of both.

A Creative Commons attribution license that allows for mash-ups would be simplest for me. But that doesn’t require give-back the way the OGL does. Do you as Hillfolk funders want a give-back provision that requires anyone adding or modifying to the DramaSystem structure to also make their design work available on the same open basis as the core license itself? Or do you not care if someone designs a great new sub-system and then treats it as proprietary?

A CC attribution license with Share Alike doesn’t allow third-party publishers to cordon off the story elements of their products from the rules stuff, keeping their intellectual properties proprietary while letting the rules stuff enter the general use pool. When George Lucas wants to do his dramatic game of marital strife between Darth Vader and Natalie Portman, he can’t use DramaSystem under a Share Alike without backdooring Star Wars into the public domain. I’d love to see DramaSystem games based on existing properties, which requires the kind of carve-out the OGL allows for, where certain chunks are designated open content and others product identity.

Stalwart Wolf Clan member and open content maven Bryant Durrell has proposed a CC/OGL mash-up, the details of which I hope he’ll provide in a comment below.

Have at it, people, and don’t let the eternal enmity between Wolf and Lion deter you from speaking out in the name of all the badlands…

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: +4 Damage from Boat

Ken and I talk player ejection, ur-Call of Cthulhu, wrong opinions and the Cuban Missile Crisis in the latest episode of our award-seeking podcast, Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

October 25, 2012

Why DramaSystem Uses Cards Instead of Dice

Over on the Twitter, Jack Of Spades asked why DramaSystem uses cards instead of dice.

The answer is that as soon as you have dice in your resolution system, you have numbers on your character sheet. Since DramaSystem presents a new play style revolving around the way emotional interactions occur in fiction, I wanted to help gamers jump into it by pulling them out of familiar territory.

In the game (for those of you who have yet to sign onto the Hillfolk Kickstarter and get their playable draft copy), cards come into play only in the type of scene the game de-emphasizes. That’s the procedural, in which characters exert skills to complete external, practical tasks. In other words, the kind of scene we’re used to going to in roleplaying games. As they acclimate themselves to DramaSystem, most groups find themselves going to procedural less and less, invoking it only when it really matters.

As seen on its character sheet, DramaSystem is about the aesthetic of the word and not of the number.  In fact, arithmetic plays essentially no role in game play itself. You may compare numbers but you’re never doing even simple math.

(An exception occurs in the post-play bookkeeping phase, when the GM takes a vote and tallies the results, to see which two players get bennies they can use in subsequent sessions.)

While we seasoned gamers feel comfortable seeing numbers on our character sheets—maybe even adrift without them—it’s my hope that the simplicity of the system will allow you to draw in people who are interested in story but never put the words math and fun in the same sentence. (For example, the current stretch pitch for the game, Andrew Peregrine’s Jane Austen tribute Vice and Virtue, might be the perfect vehicle to suck in your book club.)

That’s also why I simplified the already not-crunchy procedural system further after playtest groups found the initial version out of keeping with the game’s overall feel.

October 23, 2012

Join Me on #RPG.NET Chat Tonight

I’ll be typing a storm at you on #RPG.NET chat at 8 PM Eastern tonight (Tuesday Oct 23rd.) I’m sure that Hillfolk and its ongoing Kickstarter will be the topic du jour. But feel free to ask me anything within my remit, from GUMSHOE to HeroQuest, from GM advice to podcasting.

To join #rpgnet chat: go to http://www.magicstar.net/chat2/, select your nick, log in, and type "/join #rpgnet".

Thanks to Dan Davenport for the invitation.

October 12, 2012

October 05, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Riesling and Dirigibles

The latest episode of the Golden Geek-nominated podcast that's sweeping the gamer nation, Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, now wings its way toward your earbuds. Join us as we fling open the inaugural doors of the Cartography Hut to contemplate maps we have known and loved.

In a frenzy of construction, we then throw caution to the wind and cut the ribbon on Politics Hut, in which we look at the current US Presidential election from the Republican and Canadian points of view.

Ask Ken and Robin prompts us to consider: can comedy and Lovecraft coexist? (Thanks for the question, Monica Valentinelli.)

Finally, Ken faces his most daunting Ken’s Time Machine yet as Time Incorporated asks him to prevent Prohibition.

October 04, 2012

Hillfolk Kickstarter 200%+ in 16 hrs; New Stretch Goals Announced

Response to the Hillfolk Kickstarter has been so overwhelming I haven’t had time to tell you how overwhelming it’s been. Things are moving faster than I can type this update. As of this writing, we’re at the 16 hour mark and are already 201% funded. The first two—no, make that three—stretch goals have been surpassed before I could even hype them. I thought I had a good store of stretches in my back pocket, but, no, you’re going to send me out on an immediate game guru harvest, aren’t you? Good thing I have a fat contacts list.

In the meantime, funding levels have surpassed the thresholds needed to commission Jason Morningstar’s Hollywoodland series pitch, Michelle Nephew’s Mad Scientists Anonymous, and Kenneth Hite’s Moscow Station. And we’re a tad more than less than $500 from Matt Forbeck’s World War 2.1.

Now that you’ve shown me that you’ve come to throw down, I’m going to make it a little tougher on you (and buy myself a little recruiting time) by widening the distance between stretches a little.

$8500 gets us another Series Pitch: TS Luikart’s Malice Tarn, which he describes as King Lear meets Watership Down.

Then comes the $12,500 stretch goal: open licensing. If we reach this goal, I’ll release DramaSystem under a permissive open license. I’m open to input on the exact parameters of the license but want to err on the side of availability. The reference document will be a stripped-down affair, without the Hillfolk setting, examples, or Series Pitches, so those of you purchasing the PDF of the finished book will still be getting excellent value for your ten smackeroos.

Finally, there’s the all-important battle between the clans. When last our judges calculated the tallies, the Wolves pushed past a late night Lion offensive to once again grab the high badlands ground, howling in the glee of their victory.

Clan Battle 04

Are the clans, in addition to being a thinly veiled contention between cat and dog people, a proxy for a certain political struggle? Maybe so—the lions are fewer, but are drawn disproportionately from the ranks of high-ranking pledgers: your Chieftains and your Nabobs of the Northlands.

Fight the power, or be the power, by pledging to the Hillfolk Kickstarter today, and declaring your allegiance to Clan Lion or Clan Wolf.

October 03, 2012

Hillfolk Kickstarter Goes Live

After much preparation and furrowing of brows on the badlands, the clan council has decreed it: the Kickstarter campaign for Hillfolk has now gone live! Throw in with the Lion clan or the Wolf clan and help bring this labor of love from the manuscript stage to finished product. Backers of the project receive a complete draft text of the game, so you can get started right away. For much more on the game, the book, and the goodies, hop on over to the freshly activated Kickstarter page.

October 02, 2012

RPGGeek Nominations

I’m absolutely gobsmacked—in a good way, naturally—to learn that the brand spanking new Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast is already up for a prestigious award. Thanks to the gang at RPGGeek for the Golden Geek Award nomination.

Thanks are also in order for their nods to Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents, with rules by yours truly, in the Best RPG Category. And for their recognition of my game Ashen Stars for Best Artwork and Presentation. Congratulations to Jerome Huguenin, Chris Huth and art director Beth Lewis for this spotlight on their fine efforts.

My Pelgrane pals can also be proud of nominations for 13th Age for Best RPG, a signal accomplishment given that it’s only available in an electronic sneak peek form, and for Ken’s Bookhounds of London for Best Supplement.

As it would be crass to lobby those of you who vote for the awards to cast ballots for these nominees, I will merely sit here, casting significant glances in no particular direction.

September 25, 2012

The Serendipity of Maps

A while back, the in-house group wrapped the first season of Greasepaint, the DramaSystem series set around a traveling carnival in the dustbowl era, with supernatural doings going on at the margins. When deciding where to set the first episode, I typed “West Texas” into Google Maps and discovered that there is a town called West, Texas. This seemed like a sign and so I went with it.

When Jo-Jo the Cat Boy got arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, the group wound up stuck in West. After several episodes and a deal with the devil later, they decided to go south to the next town, which turned out to be Waco. They left that in haste, pursued by the Klan because they’d taken in a teenage girl who can move things with her mind.

This took them to Abilene, where again they decided they wanted to make tracks—this time after (falsely, as it turns out) deciding that Dixie, murderous ex-wife of the carnival magician, had set the carnival on fire and would soon be back to finish them off. Deciding to head west, they asked how far it was to the state line, and what the nearest decent-sized town on the other side of it might be.

Google Maps supplied the answer once again: Roswell, New Mexico.

The final scene of the season concluded with the carnival rushing out of town, hot on Dixie’s trail, as strange lights flashed in the sky overhead.

September 20, 2012

With New Opportunities Comes New Etiquette

A powerful quality of social media is its ability to break down barriers between creators and audience, and indeed between colleagues working in the same field. With that, however, come new interactional pitfalls. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re contacting a creator you admire—for the sake of example, let’s call him Robin Laws—to ask for help on your cool new project.

The creator you admire gets lots of requests for help. With the sudden uptake of Kickstarter, they’ve multiplied by what feels like tenfold.

When you ask creators for input on your project, and you’re not clearly offering to pay their consulting rates to do so, you’re asking them to work for free. Chances are that they will be unable to do so, even if they want to. Which they don’t, because you’re popping up out of the blue to ask them to do something for free. Any freelancer has to maximize the creative time spend doing work that will help pay that pesky rent. This is as true for fiction projects as game designs. Looking at both of these things is, to be blunt, a task I perform in exchange for money.

When you ask creators to look at your project and promote it, you are asking them to expend a limited resource, the attention of their social media audiences. Is your thing so awesome and different that the creator is doing himself a favor by pointing to it, enhancing his stature as a linker to awesomeness? Unless what you’re doing is genuinely category-busting, well, probably not. If what you’re doing is just the regular cool labor of love, you’re simply asking a favor. And in a favor economy, you’ve got to give in order to receive.

I have so many great folks in my immediate circle of collaborators that pointing to their work, which I’m already to some degree aware of and can confidently tout, already uses up my finite pool of promotional mojo. If we have no prior relationship and I don’t feel that tug of mutual loyalty, I’m going to beg off.

To that end, you will likely get my new boilerplate reply, which goes like this:

Thanks for letting me know about your Kickstarter project. As crowdfunding has taken off, I’ve been getting an increasing number of requests for help in promoting various projects and have been struggling with the best way to handle this.

If I choose to promote a large number of projects, the value of that promotion dilutes. Also, I’m crazy-busy these days and can’t always spare the time to check out every project I’m asked to post about. For these reasons, the approach that feels right to me is to confine my plugs to projects within my immediate circle of colleagues and collaborators. With the ubiquity of crowdfunding at the moment, and the size of that circle, that’s already a lot of plugging.

This is in no way a judgment on the promise of your project, and I wish you every success with it.

Just another nugget of new etiquette for the disintermediation age.

September 19, 2012

Gaps

New Tales of the Yellow Sign, my anthology of weird tales conjuring Robert W. Chambers’ classic King in Yellow mythos, is in print as of September from Atomic Overmind Press, and in ebook form from vendors including Amazon/Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Apple iTunes, and Paizo.

This post is second in a series looking at the individual stories.

When trauma compromises your memory, spaces in time become abysses of horror. Experience this through the second-person point of view of “Gaps”’ unnamed narrator, for whom a kidnapping scheme leads to strange vengeance and an even stranger affection. What complicity do you bear if you jump into an awful crime in mid-act, with no memory of the decision that led to it?

Kenneth Hite, in his introduction finds parallels to multiple Chambers tales:

...a long-form, secular variation on the theme Chambers sets down in “In the Court of the Dragon,” invoking in negative space the games of memory in “Repairer of Reputations,” the loss and wonder of “The Demoiselle D’Ys,” and in muted tones the shifts in “The Prophets’ Paradise.”

September 18, 2012

2012 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Review Round-Up

Brain activity is slowly returning to normal after the eleven days of relentless movie-absorption that was the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Judging both by my own picks and the critical responses to the higher-profile flicks that will be rolling out across awards season and the year to come, it was a banner year. Titles generating big buzz included The Master, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Thank You For Sharing, Looper, and The Place Behind the Pines. Cloud Atlas divided opinion in a way that stokes me to see it.

Here then, for your clipping and saving convenience, is my capsule review round-up of the 45 films I caught at this year’s fest. They’re ranked in rough order of preference—but bear in mind that the rankings within headers are a matter of fine differences, and will likely move about further as these pieces settle in memory. Some have already been revised upwards since my tentative number ratings in the heat of the moment.

Some of these films are shortly headed to a theater near you; most will continue through the festival circuit before going to theatrical, VOD and disc.

 

The Best

The Act of Killing [Denmark, Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn & Anonymous] Gangsters who acted as death squad leaders during the 1965-66 Indonesian military coup comply enthusiastically with a project to self-document their war crimes on film--complete with drag roles and a musical number. Documentary exploration of an evil that is everything but banal, and still very much in power, drops one's jaw from start to finish.

The Land of Hope [Japan, Sion Sono] After Fukushima repeats itself at another nuke plant, a farm family on the literal edge of the evacuation zone struggles with the aftermath. Sweetly drawn--and therefore, all the more harrowing.

The End of Time [Canada, Peter Mettler] Disorientingly beautiful images of the natural and man made worlds comprise a meditation on accelerated particles, island volcanism and urban decay. Unlike many documentaries, this consciousness-altering essay piece demands to be seen on the big screen.

 

Recommended

Penance [Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa] A cruel promise, extracted by the mother of a murdered child from her four playmates, reverberates in all of their lives fifteen years later. Interlinked tales of fate, betrayal and murder unfold with cryptic power.

The Thieves [South Korea, Choi Dong-hoon] Heisters from Korea and Hong Kong uneasily ally to steal a diamond from a Macao casino. Cracking entertainment presents a fresh take on the genre by focusing on plots and betrayals among the gang--then throws in killer action sequences and Simon Yam, to boot!

Key of Life [Japan, Kenji Uchida] Unemployed actor steals the identity of an amnesiac hitman. Clever, charming comedy of selfhood, isolation and belonging.

Room 237 [US, Rodney Ascher] Five amateur theorists share their varying, obsessive interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Hypnotic exploration of the dissolve point where critique enters the frozen hedge maze of overthinking.

Painless [Spain, Juan Carlos Medina] Surgeon's quest for a bone marrow donor leads him to a strange case from the 30s, when a group of children were institutionalized due to a disorder rendering them immune to pain. Horror-tinged mystery takes the political themes of Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth a step further.

The Deep [Iceland, Baltasar Kormakur] Fisherman defies the odds when his ship goes down in the frigid North Atlantic. Dramatization of unbelievable real incident breaks the structural rules with surprising authority.

Something in the Air [France, Olivier Assayas] High school student navigates the contradictions of art, politics, and love in early the early 70s. Evocative autobiographical drama sticks to matter-of-fact approach, resisting the usual urges to either romanticize the era, or send it up.

Everyday [UK, Michael Winterbottom] A five-year sentence turns a man's (John Simm) relationship with his wife (Shirley Henderson) and four kids into a series of prison visits. The strength of this generous slice-of-life piece lies in the honesty of the script and performances.

Sightseers [UK, Ben Wheatley] Put-upon new couple turn their caravan holiday into a killing spree. Character-driven black comedy plays like early Mike Leigh with grisly murders.

Byzantium [UK, Neil Jordan] Vampires on the run (Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan) take refuge in a seaside resort town. Mood-driven contemporary gothic tips the hat to the Hammer tradition.

Detroit Unleaded [US, Rola Nashef] Young man stuck managing the family gas station/convenience mart falls for gorgeous girl in similar boat at phone store--but they're Arab-American, which is all the complication you need.Vibrant indie comedy buzzes with social observation.

The We and the I [US, Michel Gondry] A crosstown bus ride on the last day of classes takes a group of NYC high schoolers from raucousness to melancholy. Energetic, Altmanesque group portrait with occasional flash-cuts to the director's trademark whimsy.

Dust [Guatemala, Julio Hernandez Cordon] Suicidal busker searches for the remains of his father, disappeared by the death squads, while pursuing a vendetta against the man who denounced him. Strikes an elusive tone mixing quotidian naturalism, incongruous humor, and blunted pathos.

7 Boxes [Paraguay, Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori] Delivery kid's assignment to transport the titular containers in his wheelbarrow leads to pursuit, danger and death across a sprawling market. Sharp, fast-paced action thriller from an unexpected quarter.

Mushrooming [Estonia, Toomas Hussar] Resentful parliamentarian's Sunday forage in the woods goes spectacularly awry. Barbed comedy of errors.

Outrage Beyond [Japan, Takeshi Kitano] Oily cop connives to curb a yakuza gang by springing from prison a supposedly dead former nemesis (Beat Takeshi), who is getting too old for this shit. Slow burn, followed by stoic ultraviolence.

Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story [US, Brad Bernstein] Documentary profile of groundbreaking illustrator who was blacklisted as a children's author over his scathing political posters and shocking excursions into erotica. Filmmakers take full advantage of their subject's wit and eloquence as he takes them from a childhood under Nazi occupation to his present state of uncomfortable acclaim.

A Hijacking [Denmark, Tobias Lindholm] When Somali pirates hijack one of his firm's freighters, a CEO disregards his expert's advice to conduct the negotiation himself. Gritty ticktock focuses on authenticity over thrills.

Pieta [South Korea, Kim Ki-duk] Brutal debt collector loses his psychopathic equilibrium when a woman shows up claiming to be the mother who abandoned him at birth. Kim recovers from a dry spell by returning to the ultra-nastiness of the films that first made his name on the festival circuit.

Blondie [Sweden, Jesper Gaslandt] Fraught relations between control freak matriarch and her three daughters come to a head when they return home to help run her 70th birthday bash. Places the expected meltdown at the first act break, then follows the aftermath.

In Another Country [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo] Film student writes three similar-but-different vignettes inspired by a French woman she met in passing at an off-season beach resort. Isabelle Huppert adds left-field star wattage to the auteur's hallmark minimalist comedy of soju-soaked social misadventure.

Fin (The End) [Spain, Jose Torregrossa] A once-tight group of friends reunites at a mountain cottage for the first time in two decades, scarcely suspecting that they're about to number among the last people left on Earth. Although I'm guessing this omits a layer or two from the best-selling novel it adapts, this is still an engaging entry in the quiet apocalypse sub-genre.

Fitzgerald Family Christmas [US, Edward Burns] Large, fractious Irish-American family experiences experiences an uptick in its Yuletide crisis quotient when the father who abandoned them twenty years ago wants to come to the big dinner. Well-written comedy drama delivered by a skilled ensemble.

A Werewolf Boy [South Korea, Jo Sung-hee] Sickly girl and her family take in and tame a feral teen who is more than he seems. Funny, romantic crowdpleaser.

Shanghai [India, Dibakar Banerjee] Official shows more diligence than his bosses expect when they assign him a token enquiry into an assassination attempt on a famous activist. Crackling, vibrant political thriller represents a big step forward for Indian indie cinema.

Motorway [HK, Soi Cheang] Two traffic patrolmen, a young hotshot (Shawn Yue) and a savvy vet counting the days till retirement (Anthony Wong) pursue a cop-killing robber and his ace getaway driver. Leans into its police movie cliches as it reconfigures the car chase set piece for Hong Kong's confined spaces.

The Last Supper [China, Lu Chuan] Shaky memories and revised histories intermingle as the dying first Han emperor recalls the betrayals that allowed his rise from street rat status. Uses the resources of the historical epic to present a fragmented political allegory.

Caught in the Web [China, Chen Kaige] Journalists make a national scandal of a young woman who refuses to give up her bus seat to an elderly man, unaware that she just received a fatal cancer diagnosis. Satirical ensemble drama serves up gloss, social critique and pathos.

Out in the Dark [Israel, Michael Mayer] The security fence between Ramallah and Tel Aviv becomes a barrier in the budding romance between an out Israeli lawyer and a Palestinian student for whom the closet is a matter of life and death. Taut political melodrama.

After the Battle [Egypt, Yousry Nasrallah] Pro-democracy activist involves herself in the family affairs of a disenfranchised tourism worker who disgraced himself by taking part in a horse and camel attack on Tahrir Square protesters. Written and shot concurrently with the events it portrays, this political drama takes the time to round out its characters.

 

Good

Here Comes the Devil [Mexico, Adrian Garcia Bogliano] Strained couple confronts weirdness after their son and daughter disappear overnight on a hill said to be haunted by ancient entities. Replaces the usual religious imagery of the demonic possession flick with domestic and sexual hysteria.

The Color of the Chameleon [Bulgaria, Emil Christov] Oddball loner, fired from job as a student infiltrator, forms his own rogue secret police operation. Absurdist satire of the informant state would be even funnier if it picked up the pace a bit.

 

Okay

Night Across the Street [France/Chile, Raul Ruiz] Aging shipping clerk recalls his childhood and waits to be assassinated. Adaptation of magic realist novel misses the transporting quality of the director's key works.

Tai Chi 0 [China, Stephen Fung] One-horned martial arts prodigy seeks fighting secrets from insular village, placing him in the path of steampunk railway developers. As the numeral in the title implies, this knowing and hyper-stylized fu romp doesn't bother to stand on its own, but instead stops on a series-establishing cliffhanger.

No One Lives [US, Ryuhei Kitamura] Ordinary criminal gang get more than they bargain for when their resident psychokiller waylays a super-psychokiller who has his own kidnap victim stashed in his trunk. Inventive gore thriller features heightened dialogue few of its actors are able to convincingly deliver.

Burn It Up Djassa [Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo] A young man's plunge into street crime is seen both through the bravado of a neighborhood storyteller and the bitter reality of direct experience. Your basic naturalistic developing world crime drama.

 

Not Quite

Road North [Finland, Mika Kaurismaki] Aging ne'er-do-well imposes a surprise road trip on the tightly-wound concert pianist son he abandoned as an infant. Workmanlike comedy-drama hints only fleetingly at the personal style that first brought the director to prominence.

Thale [Norway, Aleksander Nordaas, 2.5] Guys abating a death scene find a feral woman in a basement lab. Folkloric creature feature invests loads of atmosphere in a rudimentary storyline.

Dreams For Sale [Japan, Miwa Nishikawa, 2.5] Discovering her husband's sad sack appeal to vulnerable women, a wronged wife puts him to work swindling them. Could be quite affecting if trimmed of 30-40 minutes of superfluous sub-plotting.

 

Weak

The Great Kilapy [Angola, Zézé Gamboa] Handsome player's yen for the good life puts him in the crosshairs of the secret police, both as a student in Lisbon and then in his native Angola. Rookie screenwriting mistakes show the failed struggle to fashion a compelling narrative from a colorful true story.

Satellite Boy [Australia, Catriona McKenzie] Young boy and pal go on an unintended walkabout when he tries to retrieve his mom from the city. Tale of truth to aboriginal roots is too sweet-natured to ever let us fear a negative outcome for its kid hero--which is death to compelling narrative.

Dead Europe [Australia, Tony Krawitz] A hallucinatory confrontation with dark family secrets ensues when an Australian photographer ignores his Greek parents' pleas not to visit the old country. Heavy-handed exercise in Polanskian paranoia.

September 17, 2012

Jennisodes

I do the guest thing (and explain your dreams to you) in this week's exciting episode of Jennisodes.

TIFF Day Eleven (and Out)

Road North [Finland, Mika Kaurismaki, 2.5] Aging ne'er-do-well imposes a surprise road trip on the tightly-wound concert pianist son he abandoned as an infant. Workmanlike comedy-drama hints only fleetingly at the personal style that first brought the director to prominence.

Room 237 [US, Rodney Ascher, 4] Five amateur theorists share their varying, obsessive interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Hypnotic exploration of the dissolve point where critique enters the frozen hedge maze of overthinking.

Dreams For Sale
[Japan, Miwa Nishikawa, 2.5] Discovering her husband's sad sack appeal to vulnerable women, a wronged wife puts him to work swindling them. Could be quite affecting if trimmed of 30-40 minutes of superfluous sub-plotting.

In Another Country [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo, 4] Film student writes three similar-but-different vignettes inspired by a French woman she met in passing at an off-season beach resort. Isabelle Huppert adds left-field star wattage to the auteur's hallmark minimalist comedy of soju-soaked social misadventure.

The Deep [Iceland, Baltasar Kormakur, 4] Fisherman defies the odds when his ship goes down in the frigid North Atlantic. Dramatization of unbelievable real incident breaks the structural rules with surprising authority.

September 15, 2012

TIFF Day Ten

Key of Life [Japan, Kenji Uchida, 4] Unemployed actor steals the identity of an amnesiac hitman. Clever, charming comedy of selfhood, isolation and belonging.

Satellite Boy [Australia, Catriona McKenzie, 2] Young boy and pal go on an unintended walkabout when he tries to retrieve his mom from the city. Tale of truth to aboriginal roots is too sweet-natured to ever let us fear a negative outcome for its kid hero--which is death to compelling narrative.

Painless [Spain, Juan Carlos Medina, 4] Surgeon's quest for a bone marrow donor leads him to a strange case from the 30s, when a group of children were institutionalized due to a disorder rendering them immune to pain. Horror-tinged mystery takes the political themes of Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth a step further.

Shanghai [India, Dibakar Banerjee, 4] Official shows more diligence than his bosses expect when they assign him a token enquiry into an assassination attempt on a famous activist. Crackling, vibrant political thriller represents a big step forward for Indian indie cinema.

Outrage Beyond [Japan, Takeshi Kitano, 4] Oily cop connives to curb a yakuza gang by springing from prison a supposedly dead former nemesis (Beat Takeshi), who is getting too old for this shit. Slow burn, followed by stoic ultraviolence.

September 14, 2012

TIFF Day Nine

Night Across the Street [France/Chile, Raul Ruiz, 3] Aging shipping clerk recalls his childhood and waits to be assassinated. Adaptation of magic realist novel misses the transporting quality of the director's key works.

Burn It Up Djassa [Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo, 3] A young man's plunge into street crime is seen both through the bravado of a neighborhood storyteller and the bitter reality of direct experience. Your basic naturalistic developing world crime drama.

It does not need to be said that, among directors with work appearing at this year’s festival, Lonesome Solo hands-down wins the award for best name.

Pieta [South Korea, Kim Ki-duk, 4] Brutal debt collector loses his psychopathic equilibrium when a woman shows up claiming to be the mother who abandoned him at birth. Kim recovers from a dry spell by returning to the ultra-nastiness of the films that first made his name on the festival circuit.

The Thieves [South Korea, Choi Dong-hoon, 4] Heisters from Korea and Hong Kong uneasily ally to steal a diamond from a Macao casino. Cracking entertainment presents a fresh take on the genre by focusing on plots and betrayals among the gang--then throws in killer action sequences and Simon Yam, to boot!

This is now South Korea's top box office grosser.

TIFF Day Eight

I know what you’re thinking. Only three movies today? Is Robin punking out? Know this: the last film of the day is actually a four-and-a-half hour TV miniseries.

Sightseers [UK, Ben Wheatley, 4] Put-upon new couple turn their caravan holiday into a killing spree. Character-driven black comedy plays like early Mike Leigh with grisly murders.

Caught in the Web [China, Chen Kaige, 4] Journalists make a national scandal of a young woman who refuses to give up her bus seat to an elderly man, unaware that she just received a fatal cancer diagnosis. Satirical ensemble drama serves up gloss, social critique and pathos.

Penance [Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 4] A cruel promise, extracted by the mother of a murdered child from her four playmates, reverberates in all of their lives fifteen years later. Interlinked tales of fate, betrayal and murder unfold with cryptic power.

September 12, 2012

TIFF Day Seven

Day Seven is one-word title day.

Blondie [Sweden, Jesper Gaslandt, 4] Fraught relations between control freak matriarch and her three daughters come to a head when they return home to help run her 70th birthday bash. Places the expected meltdown at the first act break, then follows the aftermath.

Mushrooming [Estonia, Toomas Hussar, 4] Resentful parliamentarian's Sunday forage in the woods goes spectacularly awry. Barbed comedy of errors.

Thale [Norway, Aleksander Nordaas, 3] Guys abating a death scene find a feral woman in a basement lab. Folkloric creature feature invests loads of atmosphere in a rudimentary storyline.

Motorway [HK, Soi Cheang, 4] Two traffic patrolmen, a young hotshot (Shawn Yue) and a savvy vet counting the days till retirement (Anthony Wong) pursue a cop-killing robber and his ace getaway driver. Leans into its police movie cliches as it reconfigures the car chase set piece for Hong Kong's confined spaces.

Sign o' the times: of all the films I've seen so far at this year's festival, this was the first projected on celluloid. They had to stop a couple of times to fix the focus.

September 11, 2012

TIFF Day Six

So far my schedule has been weighted toward the serious side of world and indie cinema. Today took a swerve into genre territory, with vampires, demons, and a werewolf. Okay, there's a Detroit gas station in here too.

Byzantium [UK, Neil Jordan, 4] Vampires on the run (Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan) take refuge in a seaside resort town. Mood-driven contemporary gothic tips the hat to the Hammer tradition.

Detroit Unleaded [US, Rola Nashef, 4] Young man stuck managing the family gas station/convenience mart falls for gorgeous girl in similar boat at phone store--but they're Arab-American, which is all the complication you need.Vibrant indie comedy buzzes with social observation.

Here Comes the Devil [Mexico, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, 3.5] Strained couple confronts weirdness after their son and daughter disappear overnight on a hill said to be haunted by ancient entities. Replaces the usual religious imagery of the demonic possession flick with domestic and sexual hysteria.

A Werewolf Boy [South Korea, Jo Sung-hee, 4] Sickly girl and her family take in and tame a feral teen who is more than he seems. Funny, romantic crowdpleaser.


September 10, 2012

TIFF Day Five

Act of Killing [Denmark, Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn & Anonymous, 5] Gangsters who acted as death squad leaders during the 1965-66 Indonesian military coup comply enthusiastically with a project to self-document their war crimes on film--complete with drag roles and a musical number. Documentary exploration of an evil that is everything but banal, and still very much in power, drops one's jaw from start to finish.

Because the killers are still in command in Indonesia, every local crew member, as a protective measure, is anonymously credited.

Fitzgerald Family Christmas [US, Edward Burns, 4] Large, fractious Irish-American family experiences experiences an uptick in its Yuletide crisis quotient when the father who abandoned them twenty years ago wants to come to the big dinner. Well-written comedy drama delivered by a skilled ensemble.

Fin (The End) [Spain, Jose Torregrossa, 4] A once-tight group of friends reunites at a mountain cottage for the first time in two decades, scarcely suspecting that they're about to number among the last people left on Earth. Although I'm guessing this omits a layer or two from the best-selling novel it adapts, this is still an engaging entry in the quiet apocalypse sub-genre.

A Hijacking [Denmark, Tobias Lindholm, 4] When Somali pirates hijack one of his firm's freighters, a CEO disregards his expert's advice to conduct the negotiation himself. Gritty ticktock focuses on authenticity over thrills.

No One Lives [US, Ryuhei Kitamura, 3.5] Ordinary criminal gang get more than they bargain for when their resident psychokiller waylays a super-psychokiller who has his own kidnap victim stashed in his trunk. Inventive gore thriller features heightened dialogue few of its actors are able to convincingly deliver.

September 09, 2012

TIFF Day Four

Something in the Air [France, Olivier Assayas, 4] High school student navigates the contradictions of art, politics, and love in the early 70s. Evocative autobiographical drama sticks to matter-of-fact approach, resisting the usual urges to either romanticize the era, or send it up.

The Last Supper [China, Lu Chuan, 4] Shaky memories and revised histories intermingle as the dying first Han emperor recalls the betrayals that allowed his rise from street rat status. Uses the resources of the historical epic to present a fragmented political allegory.

The Land of Hope [Japan, Sion Sono, 5] After Fukushima repeats itself at another nuke plant, a farm family on the literal edge of the evacuation zone struggles with the aftermath. Sweetly drawn--and therefore, all the more harrowing.

7 Boxes [Paraguay, Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori, 4] Delivery kid's assignment to transport the titular containers in his wheelbarrow leads to pursuit, danger and death across a sprawling market. Sharp, fast-paced action thriller from an unexpected quarter.

Dust [Guatemala, Julio Hernandez Cordon, 4] Suicidal busker searches for the remains of his father, disappeared by the death squads, while pursuing a vendetta against the man who denounced him. Strikes an elusive tone mixing quotidian naturalism, incongruous humor, and blunted pathos.

Tiff Day Three

Out in the Dark [Israel, Michael Mayer, 4] The security fence between Ramallah and Tel Aviv becomes a barrier in the budding romance between an out Israeli lawyer and a Palestinian student for whom the closet is a matter of life and death. Taut political melodrama.

That Thing I Always Say: in the digital era, out-of-sync subtitles are the new film burning in the gate.

The End of Time [Canada, Peter Mettler, 4] Disorientingly beautiful images of the natural and man made worlds comprise a meditation on accelerated particles, island volcanism
and urban decay. Unlike many documentaries, this consciousness-altering essay piece demands to be seen on the big screen.

The Color of the Chameleon [Bulgaria, Emil Christov, 3.5] Oddball loner, fired from
his job as a student infiltrator, forms his own rogue secret police operation. Absurdist satire of the informant state would be even funnier if it picked up the pace a bit.

Everyday [UK, Michael Winterbottom, 4] A five-year sentence turns a man's (John Simm) relationship with his wife (Shirley Henderson) and four kids into a series of prison visits. The strength of this generous slice-of-life piece lies in the honesty of the script and performances.

The film was shot in segments over the course of five years, so you see the child actors age in the time frame the story covers.

The director, kid actors and Shirley Henderson were present to introduce the screening. She stood on tiptoes to reach the podium mic.

Tai Chi 0 [China, Stephen Fung, 3] One-horned martial arts prodigy seeks fighting secrets from insular village, placing him in the path of steampunk railway developers. As the numeral in the title implies, this knowing and hyper-stylized fu romp doesn't bother to stand on its own, but instead stops on a series-establishing cliffhanger.

With action direction by Sammo Hung, and a healthy dollop of Scott Pilgrim influence.

September 07, 2012

TIFF Day Two

The Great Kilapy [Angola, Zézé Gamboa, 2] Handsome player's yen for the good life puts him in the crosshairs of the secret police, both as a student in Lisbon and then in his native Angola. Rookie screenwriting mistakes show the failed struggle to fashion a compelling narrative from a colorful true story.

Note to aspiring screenwriters: if your script has more than one instance of friends hugging, cut out all instances of friends hugging.

The We and the I [US, Michel Gondry, 4] A crosstown bus ride on the last day of classes takes a group of NYC high schoolers from raucousness to melancholy. Energetic, Altmanesque group portrait with occasional flash-cuts to the director's trademark whimsy.

Dead Europe [Australia, Tony Krawitz, 2] A hallucinatory confrontation with dark family secrets ensues when an Australian photographer ignores his Greek parents' pleas not to visit the old country. Heavy-handed exercise in Polanskian paranoia.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Gen Con ‘12

This week’s episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff mines topics galore from the wonder that was Gen Con ‘12.

TIFF Day One

That time of year has rolled around again, and it's time for me to attend my 26th go-round of the dazzling, exhausting, overwhelming Toronto International Film Festival. Every year they seem to make it tougher for the diehards: this time they've squished the slots closer together, making it harder than ever to move between venues. And eating between screenings? Forget about it. This will be an experiment in how long one can survive on hardboiled eggs, trail mix, and hoarded Starbucks sandwiches.

Here’s the standard drill, if you’ve forgotten how it works around the Cinema Hut at TIFF time or are joining the festivities for the first time:

I’ll be writing capsule reviews of everything I see, and then gathering them up in order of preference in the festival’s aftermath. Until then, I’ll be giving provisional ratings to the films, which are bound to change as they settle into memory. Ratings range from 0 to 5, with 0 arousing my active ire and 5 ascending to rarefied heights of masterpiece-dom.

Interspersed between the capsules will be expansions on the reviews, stray observations, and whatever logistical complaining I fail to suppress.

If you’ve heard of a release that’s playing TIFF, chances are that it’s because the film will be coming out shortly and is getting a big PR push. I tend to skip films that have distribution in place in favor of those I might never get another shot at. So I’m not the one to ask about the Oscar-bait movies with the big stars in attendance.

Do you want to see these movies right away? Well, these titles are beginning their long journey through the distribution chain. Many will continue to appear on the film festival circuit over the next year or so. The high profile releases I tend not to schedule at the fest may appear in theaters as early as next week. Indies and foreign titles will score theatrical releases over the next year or so, and DVD releases after that. Some may appear only on DVD, or vanish completely.

While a few of last year’s films still await theatrical release, most have made it through the chain. So if you want to enjoy some fine cinema right away, you could do worse than to check out my recommendations from last year.

And now, let's start the capsule reviews rolling, with the two films I caught on opening night:

After the Battle [Egypt, Yousry Nasrallah, 4] Pro-democracy activist involves herself in the family affairs of a disenfranchised tourism worker who disgraced himself by taking part in a horse and camel attack on Tahrir Square protesters. Written and shot concurrently with the events it portrays, this political drama takes the time to round out its characters.

The director was present to introduce the film and movingly call heed to the recent arrest by the Syrian government and documentarian Orwa Nyrabia, who he described as having been accused of crimes against inhumanity.

Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story [US, Brad Bernstein, 4] Documentary profile of groundbreaking illustrator who was blacklisted as a children's author over his scathing political posters and shocking excursions into erotica. Filmmakers take full advantage of their subject's wit and eloquence as he takes them from a childhood under Nazi occupation to his present state of uncomfortable acclaim.

Ungerer was present for the screening and will be signing at the Beguiling on Sat. Attn: local illustrator peeps.

This is the first film I've seen to list Kickstarter in the credits. It sure won't be the last.

September 06, 2012

Full Bleed

New Tales of the Yellow Sign, my anthology of weird tales conjuring Robert W. Chambers’ classic King in Yellow mythos, is in print as of September from Atomic Overmind Press, and in ebook form from vendors including Amazon/Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Apple iTunes, and Paizo.

This post is first in a series looking at the individual stories.

In “Repairer of Reputations”, Robert Chambers writes one of the canon’s earliest tales from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. The reading experience trains us to accept the words presented to us by the author—without that trust, we are unmoored, disoriented. What device could be more appropriate to a cycle of stories about a book—a collection of untrustworthy words—that spreads madness and perhaps even reshapes reality itself?

“Full Bleed” plays with both ideas by siting them in the present day, through the action report of an agent determined to stamp out new eruptions of the Yellow Sign in print—in this case, by tracking the activities of an indie comics artist.

In his introduction to New Tales of the Yellow Sign, Kenneth Hite says of “Full Bleed”:

Full Bleed” riffs off “The Repairer of Reputations,” through a procedural tenor recalling both Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled fictions and the first-person “fantasy of competence” that fearful 21st-century readers crave from their security romances.

Secret hint: downloading the free sample on the Kindle page and elsewhere gets you all of “Full Bleed,” and Ken’s intro in its entirety.

August 31, 2012

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Purely Medicinal

Kenneth Hite and I talk worldbuilding, creating interesting female pregens for con games and freeforms, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and time-traveling health care in a brand new episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

August 30, 2012

And the Winner of the 2012 Gen Con Buzzword Contest Is…

Since the inception of the Gen Con Buzzword Contest in 2008, with the infamous wheelhouse, one contestant, despite his hard-charging efforts and intense training, has seemed perpetually relegated to second place. He has been the Susan Lucci, the 2002 Oakland A’s, of Gen Con buzzwordery. Consistently he’s come out hard from the gates, earned an early first place, only to be passed in the stretch by such thoroughbreds as Kenneth Hite and Great Cthulhu himself.

This year, then, with pride and a not inconsiderable sense of relief, the judges declare that Kevin Kulp, the Artist Formerly Known As Pirate Cat, has finally outpaced all comers to win the 2012 event. They salute his determination, his heart, and his cavalier willingness to despoil the trust placed in him as moderator of the Gen Con Keynote address on the future of D&D. He achieved his grim victory by slipping the dread word incubate into his concluding question, before the innocent ears of a packed ballroom and the pixelated eyes of a worldwide streaming audience. Kevin’s brazen act of linguistic vandalism can be heard on YouTube or in the Tome Show podcast’s recording of the event.

Congratulations, Kevin. May your victory lap be as sweet as it was long in coming.

August 29, 2012

Treasure of Far Thallai Concludes

Because August has turned into the Robin D. Laws Fiction Explosion (RDLFE for short) I have failed to point out that with the sixth and final installment in Paizo’s Skull and Shackles Adventure Path comes the swashbuckling conclusion to “The Treasure of Far Thallai.” In “Claw Cove”, a classic ship-to-ship showdown unfolds as Challys Argent sends her ship, the Aspidochelone to intercept the Slicer, captained by the insane Kered Firsk. With final battle comes a strange decision for one of Challys’ reluctant sidekicks. Sail your galleon to the Paizo store, or to your discerning local purveyor of fine gaming products. And while you’re there, keep the plundering to a minimum, willya?

August 28, 2012

Part Two of “In the Event of My Untimely Demise”

When in doubt, have a dwarf come through the door carrying a grudge. Part Two of “In the Event of My Untimely Demise” is now up at the Paizo blog.