Website find: Freeze Frame Pictures

Many years ago I wrote about horror short films, briefly mentioning some that I had found on YouTube. Since then I have on occasion continued to find new ones, and one of the standouts has been Freeze Frame Pictures. A small group from South Australia, their total output over the years has been small, but certainly high-quality. The two major standouts for me are The Secluded House and The Museum Project. They have released a third longer short film in 2019, The Groves; I’ve somehow not watched it yet, but it is certainly on my to-watch list! The atmosphere, tension, and dread packed into these short films are incredible, and put many higher-budgeted feature films to shame. I look forward to what they do next, whether it continues to be shorter films or if they possibly one day attempt a full-length feature!

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander is a book I first read many decades ago. While he was known for other books, namely the Chronicles of Prydain, this book served as my introduction to his writings. I have re-read the novel a few times since then, and recently did so after many years. I’m happy to say the book still holds up. There is a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own unique appearance, behavior, and little mannerisms that help the reader imagine them, even when many of them are together in a chapter. The overall story ends up being far different than what is expected, both for the main character as well as the reader. If you are looking for something to read that’s on the lighter side of fantasy, and also outside the default and cliche western European setting, I highly recommend this!

The Darkness and the Light

When I reviewed Monochrome, I wasn’t exactly enthused with the sophomore release from Scandroid, whose debut album set an extremely high bar to clear. At the end of my review, I wished for the next album to “take a little longer” as well as “we get something just a little more evolved”.

Well, I’m very happy to say that was mostly accomplished with the long-awaited release of The Darkness and the Light! While it was always his plan to release this album, there were two previous releases: The Darkness, and The Light. Both have original tracks as well as remixes and instrumentals. While I really enjoyed listening to those original songs, I was holding out for the full third album that would combine them.

Along with those thirteen previously-released tracks, there are an additional six on this album, making for an incredible amount of music. As mentioned above, I wanted a Scandroid album that took its influence and development in synth-/retrowave and go further with it. It’s very clear Klayton has indeed dug deeper and worked more on this material, with so many standout tracks (I have to mention I Remember You and Purified) so unique to show for it. There’s also some tracks that are closer to classic synth-/retrowave, such as The End of Time and Onyx.

One of Scandroid’s unique features when the first album came out was putting vocals to these kind of tracks, and I honestly can’t think of a single song that would have worked better without vocals. His singing voice is unique, along with guest singers as well as any additional processed vocals he puts into the songs. While there may be a few artists where I enjoy just listening to the music, when I put on Scandroid it’s as much about the words he sings along with the glorious synths and booming 80s drums backing them.

If it already wasn’t clear, I am very happy with this album! I am very curious to see where Klayton goes from here, whether he continues to evolve, tries for something really out there, or possibly reigns it back in to get closer to what the debut album had, as different as it was from other releases at its time. I have a pretty good feeling that no matter where the music of Scandroid goes from here, I will be glad to hear it and will be in my regular rotation for a very long time.

13 Reasons Why

The Show

Based on the debut novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why is a gut-punching, no-holds-barred look at suicide, bullying, and other issues that teenagers (and the parents and other adults) deal with.

Season 1

The first season is based on the novel, and like its title suggests it revolves around the 13 tapes (ie “reasons”) that Hannah made before she committed suicide. In the first episode Clay Jensen receives the tapes and begins listening to them; he is not the first to listen to them, nor will be the last. As he listens to each tape, Clay learns more about Hannah’s thoughts and feelings concerning the students they both supposedly knew.

As the episodes and tapes go by, we learn more about the other students, as much as if not more than Clay and Hannah. But, the focus tightens back onto the two of them as we get near the season finale, ending with a brutal and emotional final episode.

For those who watched it when it was first released, it shows on-screen the horrific way Hannah decided to end her life. More recently, the episode has been edited, removing the actual act and cutting (the editing term, also an unfortunate pun) to when Hannah’s mom discovers her in the tub. It’s hard for me to judge if that was the right decision or not (that’s up to mental health professionals to debate); I do know the original scene was emotional, raw, and unlike anything I’d ever seen, including any horror movies. I do believe the scene needed editing, but I think only the actual shots of the suicide act should have been removed; we should still see the pain and perhaps regret in Hannah’s face as it happens.

Season 2

Jumping off from the events of the first season and the book, the second season is all about the trial of the Bakers versus the school district. Justin has left the school and picked up (or resumed?) a heroin habit, and everyone else is judged not just in court but at school (as usual) and even at home.

Clay is rightfully unable to deal with Hannah’s death, and in his own coping mechanism begins to imagine she’s still around and even talks to him. While some people pick up on it, they don’t really say anything to him about it (at least in this season). It does obviously interfere with his potential relationship with Skye, which ends as abruptly as it began.

Building up to the climax and end of the season, we see a character become more interested in guns, and apparently enough money and ways around the law to start hoarding all kinds of weapons. In the final episode, this character arrives at the school dance, ready to open fire on everyone. Only Clay stands in their way, begging them not to do it and taking the rifle. As everyone else including the potential mass-murderer flees at the sound of sirens, Clay loses any sense of common sense and remains still, the rifle in his hands.

Season 3

Depending on who you talk to, the third is when the show jumped the shark. After my second viewing, for me it’s a mix of that along with simply getting tired of and burning out on the characters, the excess drama, and other little things I notice more and more of. It also marked the debut of the Ani character, and pretty much anyone you ask will remark on the absolute xxxx of her (including comments such as “Who the hell is this girl and why is she butting herself into everyone’s problems” and “I’m sorry, is she and her mom actually living with a known rapist?”).

Tagging along with Ani, Clay goes around and accuses literally every main character of killing Bryce. Apparently evidence isn’t a thing for him. Later on Clay suddenly becomes a friend to Tyler, who confides in him about what Monty did to him.

There is one remarkable thing about this season, however, that I must mention: it did somehow make me have just the tiniest sliver of sorrow for Bryce. Seeing his interaction with his mom, and going into more depth of that family’s problems, is certainly the highlight of the season. I did like learning more about that, and would get frustrated when it would cut back to more Ani-Clay melodrama.

The season ends with a dramatic reveal of who actually killed Bryce. Showing the actual events, it’s hard to empathize with Bryce; no-one deserves to die, but the fact that even at the end of his life he continued to say such hateful things.

Season 4

The fourth and final season… Woo boy, how to summarize it… Clay is officially off his rocker, and apparently nothing of consequence happens to anyone. Oh, and Alex is gay (nothing wrong with that, but with zero clue of this in the first three seasons it feels like a cheap attempt to try to further develop his character).

To be truthful that’s all I can recall about this season, and I have no intention or desire to re-watch it. After the first two seasons, this show was starting to over-reach and over-dramatize, and by the end of this season it was just too much to try to comprehend. The first season alone still stands as an example of a near-perfect adaptation, and it alone can be watched and enjoyed. The rest can simply be ignored.

The Book

Compared to the Netflix adaptation, the original book is far less dramatic, especially when it comes to Clay. Roughly following the same sequence of events and timeline as the first season of the show, the book focuses on Clay and his reaction to hearing Hannah’s tapes.

The biggest difference in the book is that Clay doesn’t take his sweet-ass-time listening to all 13 tapes; rather, he does it all in one day! Clay will often think back on his fellow students, but there’s never any actual scenes or chapters with them. The only direct interaction he has is with Tony, and even then it doesn’t seem like they’re very good friends, rather just long-term acquaintances. There’s also a brief interaction with his parents, but most of the book is Clay alone with Hannah’s tapes.

Overall I vastly prefer the book to the show, as under-developed as it seems in comparison. More is left to the reader’s imagination, and to make up their own mind of each character mentioned in each tape. I’ve read the book several times thanks to my library’s OverDrive page, and I will likely purchase my own copy (either on Kindle or paperback).

Streets of Rage 4

I’ve been a HUGE fan of beat-em-up games for a very long time. While I liked fighting games at the arcades such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, they never had quite the long-term appeal that beat-em-ups did. While I never really played them at the arcades, I still clearly remember when my friend Justin got Final Fight for his Super Nintendo. We stayed up so late playing it! I loved the levels, variety of enemies, the number of attacks and throws possible, everything about it.

It wasn’t until I’d had my Sega Genesis for quite awhile before I discovered the Streets of Rage series. Primarily playing the second one, I remember that it easily equaled Final Fight, if not surpass it. I think like the Genesis compared to the Super Nintendo, Streets of Rage just seemed to have a bit more edge to it.

After a VERY LONG hiatus, wherein I complained to both myself and online on the lack of a new beat-em-ups, I began to hear rumblings of a new Streets of Rage! I tampered my enthusiasm, dismissed rumors, and remained in my past-game-grump. But before long teaser videos and a trailer emerged, confirming that a new Streets of Rage was coming! The previews of the artwork were stunning, the animation smooth, and even the hints of music instantly shoved me back to the 90s. Was it too good to be true?

After playing the game for several months, I can happily say that Streets of Rage 4 is not only a worthy sequel, it’s one of the best beat-em-ups period! Licensed by Sega to publisher Dotemu, the game was co-developed by Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games. The game runs on a modified engine from Guard Crush Game’s tongue-in-cheek beat-em-up (wow such dashes) Streets of Fury.

A far cry from that game’s look, Streets of Rage 4 is exactly what’s been needed in this genre. With a returning cast of characters, along with a few new ones, players will take on new enemies in new locations, all the while collecting familiar weapons, health, and power-ups. I highly recommend this game not only for fans of Streets of Rage and beat-em-ups, but for anyone who enjoys action games and is looking for something that can be played and enjoyed in a variable length of time, whether it’s simply to beat a single level or to sit down for a marathon session and go through the entire game.

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