Far From Sleep Jay Griffin's creative dumping ground. Mon, 26 Aug 2013 10:45:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6 Pistols at Dawn /?p=1229 /?p=1229#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 10:43:15 +0000 Jay /?p=1229 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> Another month, another Game Jam. August marks my first ever attempt at the Ludum Dare 48-hour design competition, and in a nice change from last month’s events, I actually met my deadline this time.

So here’s a new mini-game for you all, a tale of two shady Generals and their ten trusty Seconds, otherwise known as The Duellists.


More info and a proper game page to come soon, but for the time being you can grab it from GameJolt in both downloadable and web versions. Hope you like it : )



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GemHEX Beta 2 Update /?p=1191 /?p=1191#comments Sun, 14 Jul 2013 17:39:13 +0000 Jay /?p=1191 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> select_set_bgTime for the second and final beta test release before the finished version, to hopefully iron out the last of the kinks and give you nice people a slightly slicker and more intelligible version to toy around with. Hope you enjoy it : )


  • Added all-new interactive tutorial to ease that learning curve a little.
  • Added end-of-set score bonuses, victory screen and hiscore saving.
  • Added another ten levels, bringing the total to 30.
  • Further soundtrack work, with a third gameplay track and an end-of-set “victory” track.
  • Gems on the right panel now glow when matched, as a visual aid.
  • Editor tweaks: right-clicking “next” or “previous” jumps between sets.

Download beta 2 (17.9 MB ZIP)

gemHEX info page :: level editing guide

We’re definitely approaching the home stretch at this point. Just need to finish the last of the levels, finish off the last bit of art and animation work and do the last round of voice recording and we’ll be all set. I should be on track for a final release by this time next week.


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gemHEX Beta 1 release! /?p=1184 /?p=1184#comments Mon, 08 Jul 2013 15:43:54 +0000 Jay /?p=1184 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> As my current game project’s found itself in a playable state at last, I’ve uploaded a beta version to the site for you to check out. Grab it by following the weirdo banner to your right, or alternatively right here. Just a windows download for now, but the Android port’s not far behind.

As I work on polishing off gemHEX, I’ll be starting work on the next project, inspired by another classic puzzler. And now I’ve got the theme song from that stuck in my head. Tremendous.

I’ve also updated the games page with a few details on past projects and prototypes, with downloads to follow later, maybe. It’s all change around these parts.

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A wild NaNoRenO appears! /?p=1046 /?p=1046#comments Thu, 28 Feb 2013 21:02:39 +0000 Jay /?p=1046 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> We interrupt this period of apparent inactivity for a brief news flash. Due to a freak set of circumstances lining up in exactly the right kind of way, I’m on board for the annual NaNoRenO event. Over the month of March, myself and a good few other equally deluded hopefuls will be working to finish our short game projects from inception to completion before April makes fools of us all.

The goal of this exercise is to create something new from scratch, so I dug around in the to-do pile to find an idea that could be realised fairly quickly and had the potential for a lot of fairly flat-colour backgrounds. And when it’s sink or swim time, the answer kind of speaks for itself.


So we’re left with the adventures of alternative fin-swisher Vella and her laconic pufferfish buddy, Bub. The exact fashion of their adventures are yet to be determined (it’s a pretty recent entry to the to-do pile) but rest assured they’ll involve the usual japery and flim-flammery we like around these parts. There may even be an actual joke in there (deadline permitting). It’ll be using the latest version of the CHLOE Engine I’d been developing for HellBounders, so will be playable in your browser alongside the usual downloadable versions.

As this kind of thing was exactly the reason this place was started up to begin with, I’ll be keeping a development diary of sorts on the blog between regular updates, to give some idea of how things are progressing and to serve as a fun reminder for the future when I look back fondly and think to myself “Jesus Halibut Christ, how did I think finishing this inside a month was a thing that was ever going to happen”.

Here’s the first piece of art for the project so far. Production proper isn’t allowed to start until tomorrow, but rough sketches and the like are fair game, so I knocked up a couple to get some idea of the protagonists and try out a colour scheme. Everything’s subject to change, but here’s how they stand at the moment, in the dog-rough initial pencils stage.


Things should start moving along properly tomorrow, I’ll try to keep you posted as and when there’s something worth showing. There may be a work-in-progress demo somewhere along the way, too.

Apologies for the delays in updating the rest of this place lately, normal review services will resume shortly. Art duties will be fairly heavily weighted towards Go Fish for the moment, but I’ll try to get a new strip up in some free time. Free time, heh, that’s gonna happen.

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Review: The Moth Diaries /?p=1022 /?p=1022#comments Sun, 24 Feb 2013 02:55:10 +0000 Jay /?p=1022 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> The Moth Diaries

Mary Harron, 2011

Now here’s one that had ‘hidden gem’ written all over it. A darker, R-rated take on the teen vampire story adapted from a well-regarded novel by the director of American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page, one that’s a little less Twilight and a little more Let The Right One In. Eschewing the standard immortal boy-crush pangs for a more complex lesbian subtext while dealing with the repercussions of suicide and feelings of betrayal, on paper there’s a lot going for it. And sadly that’s where a lot of it ends.


Fittingly enough, a UK release seems to have been mothballed.

Rebecca (Sarah Bolger, In America) is adjusting to life in her boarding school while attempting to come to terms with her father’s suicide. She’s given invaluable support by her closest friend Lucy (Sarah Gadon, A Dangerous Method) until enigmatic new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole, Snow White and the Huntsman) enters their lives. With the once-best friends beginning to drift further apart as life at the school slowly becomes more and more surreal, Rebecca begins to suspect there may be more sinister motives at play. Could this strange girl who looks, acts and glares like a creepy immortal actually be one?

It’s hard to shake the feeling that somewhere along the way, something went very wrong with this whole project. While I’m typically a fan of brevity in films, the running time of 82 mins set alarm bells ringing for what seems intended to be a psychological slow-burner. Perhaps a longer cut ended up too dark for its intended audience or just didn’t work at all, but whatever the reason, it’s got that ‘hatchet-job’ feel to it where a studio exec somewhere panicked and cut the thing into some kind of shape to just rush it out the door.


Today’s lesson in Metaphor 101: the most obvious reference imaginable.

Whatever the reason, the pacing feels all over the place, somehow managing to feel too brief and interminable at the same time. Characters are written off with abandon in a series of events that should be shocking but have little resonance once they’re dispatched with. Rebecca’s never seems to have time to process anything, jumping from setback to tragedy in a purely reactive way that never allows the audience to really get inside her head. At its worst, it can feel like a whole lot of nothing that just keeps ticking through the beats of its plot like it’s working through a checklist. Tonally it’s similarly problematic, veering between bizarrely coy and intense, with occasional flashes of suicide trigger imagery that feel like they come from another film entirely.

The film’s one real success is thanks to living special effect Lily Cole, who lends the part of Ernessa an ethereal and otherworldly quality with her naturally disarming presence. She’s perfect for this kind of role, making for some wonderfully haunting scenes where you think everything is finally going to come together before it all blows over again and you’re left with characters with little to define them wandering through a story it’s hard to care about. She’s a large part of the reason the film engages so much at first but proves increasingly frustrating as you realise it’s never going to really come together.


Creeping things up admirably.

This is a disappointing piece of work from genuine talents who should (and have, previously) come up with something a lot better. Whatever the story behind its development, we’re left with a fitful patchwork of a film that manages to outstay even its brief running time. I’d hold out hope that there’s a longer cut out there somewhere that makes more sense of the material, but the way this one has been buried away with a dead-end release makes the chances of such a thing appearing slim in the extreme. Not a total loss, but a regrettable one.


2 Stars - Passable


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Retro: The Big Deal /?p=970 /?p=970#comments Tue, 19 Feb 2013 17:29:47 +0000 Jay /?p=970 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> The Big Deal

aka Tou Shen Gu Zu

Lu Chin-Ku, 1992

If you know your Hong Kong action cinema, and especially if you’re of a similar age to geeks like me, you’ll probably remember the craze for “Girls With Guns” action in the ’80s to mid-’90s, featuring strong female leads kicking and blasting their way through modern settings in everything from breezy affirmative actioners to full-on Cat III sleazefests. Today’s review features some of the standout stars of that genre in a breathtakingly silly send-up of their typical day jobs. It’s daft, it’s relentless and it’s a bit of a bugger to get a hold of, it’s Lu Chin-Ku’s The Big Deal.


Stunt Dummy no jutsu!

The plot, such as it is, gives us Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima as a pair of thieves on the run from supercops Lethal Weapon (The Killer‘s Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) and Super Cannon (fellow action starlet Sibelle Hu, who starred alongside most of the girls here in the incredible Angel Terminators 2). This game of cat-and-mouse continues until they stumble across the real villains of the piece (including the fantastic Yuen Wah of Kung Fu Hustle fame and Buffy’s future stunt double Sophia Crawford) and decide to team up to take them down.

That’s all largely irrelevant though, as the setup’s little more than the flimsiest excuse to dash through a breakneck series of terrible gags, genuinely impressive kung-fu slapstick and levels of mugging so egregious it seems at times like they’re trying to bend their own faces off. It’s wilfully daft in a way that’s easily infectious if you’re not above that sort of thing, and all the better for it.


Lethal Weapon and Super Cannon, hard at it.

Despite, or perhaps because of the sheer blunt force silliness of it all, it somehow works a lot better than it should. There are some fun visual gags, but the majority of the jokes run from flat to incredibly obvious, carrying itself along with a quickfire pace supported by the actresses’ natural charm and obvious delight in subverting their more popular personae. No matter how insane the situation, everyone throws themselves into it 110 percent, whether they’re being mistaken for sinister pimp doppelgangers or chewing out the director for making them run into lampposts. By the time you’re done cringing at a particularly bad clanger, they’re already well into something else entirely, racing towards the end like they can’t believe they’re getting paid for this, dashing to get it finished before they get rumbled.


A slapstick kung-fu beatdown ends with them wearing each other’s outfits.

Western fans get a bonus with a subtitle track that runs from the bizarre to the nonsensical, featuring such delights as “I’ll chop you to dead” and the constant refrain of “are you nut?” that amps up the silliness even further. It’s the product of the kind of domestic translation job hardcore fans will probably be all too familiar with, as to my knowledge this film has never had (and is unlikely to ever have) a western release. These movies have had a rougher shake than most after their brief popularity in the ’90s, with many of them almost impossible to find even on import, so it’s no big surprise that this one seems to be entirely out of print. You’ll have to do a little digging to get a hold of this (or get friendly with opportunistic eBay bootleggers), but I’d say it’s worth the effort.


“Fair treatment”, Big Deal-style.

Fans of Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima can add another star to this score, but any HK action fan would be hard pressed not to find this an entertaining bit of occasionally inspired nonsense. You’ll get some bonus laughs if you’re au fait with your gun-toting girls (and we’ll be helping out there with a few retrospectives down the line), but even if it drives you mental it’s all over before you know what the hell happened, and you’ll get a few good fights into the bargain. A mad, mad mess and a whole lot of fun.


3 Stars - Watchable


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Review: American Mary /?p=922 /?p=922#comments Sun, 17 Feb 2013 22:30:12 +0000 Jay /?p=922 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> American Mary

The Soska Sisters, 2012

Typical. You wait ages for a psychosexual body horror with a bizarre surgical fixation, then two come along at once. Stranger still is that both turned out as well as they did, offering distinctly different takes on the subject that set them apart in their own right. So sharpen your scalpels and prepare your best cringing gear, it’s that time again, as we take a butcher’s at the Soska Sisters’ American Mary.


“Mostly ‘armless,eh? We can do that.”

Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs Jason) stars as Mary Mason, a promising surgical student. Becoming increasingly disillusioned with her profession and finding herself straining to make ends meet, a chance encounter brings her into the world of underground surgery, eventually introducing her to one of the harder of hardcore fetishes, extreme cosmetic body modification. As she delves ever deeper into her strange new world, her reputation starting to precede her as the new darling of the fetish community, she finds her surroundings starting to change her.

It’s easy to come into the Soska’s follow-up to their grindhouse throwback Dead Hooker in a Trunk with certain preconceptions in mind, but to their credit those preconceptions will be entirely wrong. This is much more accomplished stuff, both on a technical and a storytelling level. No longer beholden to trading on a sense of trashy nostalgia, this is a more confident work, happy to blaze its own trail on its own terms.


Betty Boop fetishist Beatress is another highlight.

Though certain to make you squirm in places, it’s nowhere near as explicit as you’d expect, confident enough to pull back from the worst of the surgical detail that other films might have revelled in. And for all the bizarre characters and outlandish fetishes on display, it never forgets to treat its subjects with a certain degree of humanity. It reminds me a little of Todd Browning’s Freaks in that respect, and that can only be a good thing. Indeed, a great deal of the more monstrous acts are committed by the straightest characters from typical positions of male power, letting you know in no uncertain terms where the filmmaker’s sympathies lie. It might be overreaching to claim it as a feminist film, but it’s certainly one with a distinctly feminine take on the material that really sets it apart.

It’s helped along by a tremendous performance from Katharine Isabelle, finally returning to a great lead role after too many years in the bit-part wilderness, proving once and for all that she’s one of the strongest actresses in the genre when given something she can really get her teeth into. It’s just a shame that with subject matter as strong as this, she may not get the kind of accolades she truly deserves, but hey, at least we know better. I can only hope it leads to a few more leading roles in the near future, as it’s great to have our Ginger back.


Our directors, ladies and gentlemen.

The only major criticism I have is that the film does seem to lose its way a little in its final moments. While never coming completely undone, it does feel a little rushed towards its conclusion compared to the deft handling of all that came before. It’s far from ruinous, but the faltering final steps are a little disappointing, knocking it back from masterpiece status to “merely” a great piece of work.

With their second film, Jen & Sylvia Soska have set themselves out as a real force to be reckoned with. A huge improvement on their previous work in every imaginable way, aside from a sloppy final act this has everything going for it. Strangely beautiful, engaging and often darkly funny, add in a career-best performance from Isabelle and you’ve got an irresistible slice of outsider cinema.


4 Stars - Excellent


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Retro: Thriller – A Cruel Picture /?p=808 /?p=808#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 11:57:52 +0000 Jay http://farfromsleep.net/?p=808 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> Thriller – A Cruel Picture

aka They Call Her One-Eye

Bo Arne Vibenius, 1973

With the recent switch to bi-weekly reviews here at FFS, we’re mixing things up a little. Sundays will cover the usual contemporary stuff, while Tuesdays are now home to retrospective reviews on the best, worst and just plain weirdest from the wider world of exploitation cinema. And where better to start than with one of my favourites, Bo Arne Vibenius’ artful, nihilist revenge story They Call Her One-Eye.

As a vintage genre piece, the usual caveats apply. If you’re expecting work at the technical standard of productions with actual budgets, this is not your movie. We’re firmly in the realm of grubby 16mm film stock and extremely limited resources here, and it’s rated on its relative merits. Some people just can’t get along with this stuff, but I find they provide unique experiences on their own terms if you’re willing to meet them halfway.


I wish they still shot this kind of stuff in 16 mil.

This Swedish film tells the tragic tale of Frigga (Christina Lindberg, Sex & Fury), a young woman rendered mute after a childhood assault. After finding some degree of peace and happiness with a simple farm life, her world is once again thrown into disarray when she is captured and forced into heroin addiction and prostitution by a local lowlife (Heinz Hopf, Exposed). Following a vicious punishment after refusing to co-operate with a deviant client, Frigga decides to put the money she’s been earning towards lessons in self-defence, weapons handling and stunt driving. Slowly developing a formidable array of skills as she struggles through her day-to-day existence, eventually she finds her time has come, and everyone who wronged her is headed for a reckoning.


Special guest director: J.J. Abrams.

What sets this one apart from contemporaries like I Spit On your Grave (which I’ve never had much time for) is the tone and style of the piece. There’s a sense of isolation that runs throughout, making even the most explicit scenes feel strangely repellent, especially in its intended cut with its jarring hardcore inserts staged by stand-ins. It’s dressed like obvious exploitation but feels more like an art film in its execution, falling into a hypnotic, repetitive rhythm with a queasy, disgusted air that seems to mirror the emotional state of its protagonist.

It all hangs on the performance of Lindberg as its iconic lead, striking an unforgettable image as the tortured soul with a nifty line in colour-coordinated eye patches. She was best-known at the time as a cover girl, and while her performances in other films had their limitations, she fits this role like she was born for it. Silent throughout, she gives this unusual part a surprising amount of weight with a haunted presence that feels removed from her surroundings while hinting at hidden depths. She’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, but in a doll-like way that accents the fragility of her character and makes her trials that much harder to bear.


You might have to pray a little harder for that happy ending.

A sense of irreparable destruction runs throughout, where even the eventual acts of catharsis seem to ring hollow. Frigga’s revenge plays out in hyper-slow motion over a booming feedback loop of echoing noise, giving the scenes a surreal, weightless quality that denies the viewer a real sense of satisfaction from their outcome. Whether that was an intended effect or simply a result of overusing the technique to mask some weak action direction is another matter, but it adds an interesting twist regardless.

At their basest level, revenge films of this stripe tend to work by titillating with their opening acts and thrilling with a redemptive conclusion, but this film subverts or at least challenges both (however intentionally) to great effect. The cards are stacked against a typical outcome right from the start, with an already damaged heroine with no means of resolving trauma inflicted before the central events of the film even happen. It matches the expected beats for the most part, but feels like something very different, with a little more thought and a lot more venom to it. Anyone coming into this one for guilty thrills might well leave disappointed, but I found its slow-burning attack engaging, though certainly depressing.


I’m guessing he wasn’t a Christinas Svampskola fan.

After languishing in obscurity for far too many years, Thriller now holds its rightful place as one of the most distinctive and influential examples of its strange little sub-genre. Referenced by everything from Kill Bill, MacheteHobo With A Shotgun and Sweet Karma to Christina’s upcoming return to the patch in Cry For Revenge, time has been kind to this once-forgotten gem. Not everyone will get along with the confrontational content, minimal dialogue and glacial pacing, but those who do will find a curiously hypnotic film that lingers in the memory long after lesser contenders have been forgotten.


4 Stars - Excellent


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Review: Danger 5 /?p=785 /?p=785#comments Sun, 10 Feb 2013 09:47:08 +0000 Jay http://farfromsleep.net/?p=785 ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]> Danger 5

Dario Russo, 2012

A bit of a departure from the usual this time, with a review of a TV series for a change. It’s not something I’m planning on making a habit of on here, but I think this one deserves to be an exception. First of all, it’s one that’s sure to be of interest to exploitation and trash culture fans, and secondly it’s an Australian production that hasn’t really made much of an impact outside its home territory (not helped by it not getting any kind of international release yet). It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a hugely entertaining show with a clear love for its sources.


Tucker, Claire, Jackson, Ilsa and Pierre.

Set in a very ’60s-inspired version of World War 2, the series follows the exploits of the multinational adventurers of the title. Their mission: to upset Hitler’s endless schemes, eliminate his subordinates and eventually put an end to the mustachioed fellow himself. Each episode focuses on one of those plots in particular, from Rommel’s golden superweapons to Mengele’s Lizard Soldiers of the third Reich, which says most of what you need to know about this show by itself.

This is the follow-up from the same creative team that brought you the internet’s own Italian Spiderman, and if you were a fan of that, then you’re almost certain to love this one. Drawing on everything from Thunderbirds to Kaiju shows (think Ultraman) with a healthy dash of spy action and exploitation thrown in to sweeten the deal, there’s a lot here for genre fans to revel in, not least because it’s clearly a product of some pretty talented fans itself.


Blingtime for Hitler.

The 5 newcomers do some sterling work capturing their stereotypes, from their period looks through to the accents dubbed (of course) over their performances. The production design is right on the money, supported by some appropriately vivid colour grading and endearingly shonky miniature work that all adds to the appeal. Throw in confident, crash-zooming direction, stop-motion monsters and no small amount of men in rubber suits and you’ve got quite the package.

The only failing that might annoy some is that for a comedy show, the joke rate is on the light side, with little more than a handful of out-and-out gags per episode. On the flipside of that, however, it’s never really content to just throw silly stuff onscreen to chuckle at, knowing when to go for it and provide some straight-up entertainment. When the soundtrack kicks in and the bullets start flying, it’s hard not to get swept along by the relentless fun of it all, in a way that similar attempts like Darkplace never came close to managing (a closer comparison would be the similarly affectionate Black Dynamite). It’s not content to snark on the sidelines when it could be showing you what the creators loved about this stuff to begin with, and it’s all the better for it.


Mutant Nazis make for ‘saur losers.

Beautifully realised, stylish and charmingly evocative, this is the kind of show that could have been custom-made for people like me. Aside from being a little light on the laughs, this is a highly enjoyable series that makes an asset of its limited budget, the only real shame is that there’s so little of it (six episodes plus a mini webseries that adds up to another one). You could do a lot worse than checking that link to see if it floats your model boat.


4 Stars - Excellent


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00: Gotta Start Somewhere /?comic=00-gotta-start-somewhere /?comic=00-gotta-start-somewhere#comments Fri, 08 Feb 2013 03:49:15 +0000 Jay http://farfromsleep.net/?post_type=comic&p=773 comic_000_final

Okay, finally got around to ridding myself of that bloody placeholder image, at long last :p This is my first artwork in quite a while, needless to say I’m a little rusty. That should take care of itself as I […] ↓ Read the rest of this entry...]]>

Okay, finally got around to ridding myself of that bloody placeholder image, at long last :p

This is my first artwork in quite a while, needless to say I’m a little rusty. That should take care of itself as I get back into it, with any luck. Comic updates will be once a week for the moment, with new episodes every Friday.

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