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Episode 219: Argue With Ceramics

December 2nd, 2016 | Robin

Dirk the Dice rolls into the Gaming Hut to ask us how to make sword and sorcery monster encounters exciting.

Don’t believe a word you hear in the Conspiracy Corner, as we look at the history and evolution of propaganda.

Expand your consciousness in the Cinema Hut, where backers Andrew Collins and Adam Grotjohn invite us to rap about visionary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Keep a careful watch as the Consulting Occultist whispers of Les Veilleurs, an Parisian occult group founded in the final days of WWI.

Support the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Get trapped in Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” in Atlas Games’ addictive new card game Lost in R’lyeh. Take a selfie with your purchased copy of the game at your brick and mortar game retailer and send it to Atlas to claim your special Ken and Robin promo card. Do intervals between Ken’s Time Machine segments leave you listless, bored, and itchy? Then you’re in luck, because TimeWatch, the wild and woolly GUMSHOE game of chrono-hopping adventure has now blasted its way into our reality. Brought to you by master of over-the-top fast-paced fun Kevin Kulp and our reality-maintaining overlords at Pelgrane Press. For those seeking yet more Ken content, his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. Attention, operatives of Delta Green, the ultra-covert agency charged with battling the contemporary forces of the Cthulhu Mythos! Now everything you need to know to play Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, perhaps extending your valiantly short field life, can be found in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook or Delta Green: Need to Know, the quick start rules set with extra-sturdy Handler’s Screen.   

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Witches Lovely and Otherwise

November 29th, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (Nonfiction, Gary Lachman, 2016) Biographies of writers are (if the writer mostly behaves himself, as Wilson mostly did) even more boring than films about writers; a biography of the polymathic Wilson must needs be both recondite and diffuse as well. Lachman brings his typical clarity of mind and prose to his subject, arguing for a core philosophical unity to a body of work spanning literally everything from existentialism to Atlantis. Lachman’s sympathy and affection for his mentor somewhat bates his normally sharp appraisal of Wilson’s occultism (and he scants Wilson’s fiction) but if Wilson is your jam, this is your breakfast. –KH

British Commando 1940-45 (Osprey Warrior 181) (Nonfiction, Angus Konstam, 2016) Concise description of Army and Royal Marine Commando training, equipment, and esprit, with five actions discussed in slightly greater detail. Those looking for details of tactics or a full military history of the units need to hit another book, but this is another great RPG splatbook that only technically is not an RPG splatbook. –KH

Evolution (Film, France, Lucile Hadžihalilovic, 2015) Pre-pubescent boys on remote island discover that their so-called, oddly young mothers and nurses are performing weird medical experiments on them. Hypnotic tone poem suffused with horror themes and imagery.—RDL. Seen at TIFF16; now in limited US release.

Heaven Will Wait (Film, (France, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, 2016) Interwoven narratives show two French girls at different stages of being lured, via cult-style social media recruitment, to Syria to be given to ISIL soldiers—one being indoctrinated, the other, deprogrammed. Fragmented storytelling techniques lend texture to what might otherwise be a standard-issue social problem film.—RDL. Seen at TIFF16; now in limited US release.

The Invitation (Film, US, Karyn Kusama, 2015) Grief-stricken man returns for a reunion of friends at his former home, a place where something terrible happened, only to discover that his wife and her new husband (Michiel Huisman) hope to recruit their pals into a transformational religious movement, which totally isn’t a cult, they none-too-convincingly insist. Sharply drawn characters maintain interest through a finely modulated, inch-by-inch transition from drama to horror. You know something’s wrong when one of the surprise guests no one else knows is played by John Carroll Lynch.—RDL

The Love Witch (Film, US, Anna Biller, 2016) If wicxploitation wasn’t a genre already, it is now. Biller wrote, produced, directed, scored, and perhaps most importantly designed this period-bending blend of 1960s giallo, 1970s grindhouse, and almost Sirkian melodrama to keep viewers off-balance but enraptured, much like the protagonist Elaine (Samantha Robinson) designs her sex-magickal spells. The film takes weird detours in story and in gender politics, but the trip is always, well, bewitching. –KH

Man is Not a Bird (Film, Yugoslavia, Dusan Makavejev, 1965) Love-hungry young hairdresser pursues an affair with an older man who has come to her grim mining town on a short-term contract. Ostensibly social realist drama bubbles with a subversive energy that the director, here making his first film, will soon take in ever more wild and surreal directions.—RDL

Good

The Quiet American (Film, US, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1958) Morally empty British journalist Fowler (an excellent Michael Redgrave) competes with an American aid worker (Audie Murphy) for young b-girl Phuong (Giorgia Moll) in 1952 Saigon. At the behest of US psywar operative Edward Lansdale, Mankiewicz detourned Graham Greene’s novel toward anti-Communism; Lansdale should also have tightened up the dialogue while he was at it. Full of great Saigon location shots, it intensely evokes the early Indochina war; given later revelations about Communist manipulation of the Western press, it has at least as much claim to prophecy as Greene’s novel does. –KH

Okay

The Outfit (Film, US, John Flynn, 1973) Fiercely independent heist man (Robert Duvall) goes after the mobsters who killed his brother, who helped him knock over a crooked bank. Adaptation of a Richard Stark/Donald Westlake novel, in which his iconic character Parker is renamed Earl Macklin and played by Duvall less as a stoic exponent of existential competence than as a surly small-timer. Flynn has an eye for gritty criminal detail but sours it with a misogynistic streak harsh even for the period. A film so deeply stocked with great character actors (Joe Don Baker, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Timothy Carey) that it feels free to throw away Elisha Cook Jr. on a nothing part as a diner cashier.—RDL

The Witch (Film, US, Robert Eggers, 2015) Banished New England Puritans stuck on a failing farm suspect witchcraft after the inexplicable disappearance of their infant son. Moody evocation of a now-alien historical worldview betrayed by a botched twist ending that not only fails to surprise but strips layers of meaning from the prior proceedings.—RDL

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Episode 218: This Podcast Still Hates Nazis

November 25th, 2016 | Robin

Patreon backer Michael Kotschi pops a moony question over the Ask Ken and Robin transom, prompting us to look at 70s NASA from a Moon Dust Men perspective.

The Politics Hut still has a hangover, but I guess we still have to address that thing that happened.

In Ken and/or Robin Talk To Someone Else, Ken talks to blogger, podcaster, freshly minted game designer and snailologist Darcy Ross.

Is the Eliptony Hut an odd place to talk about the Sybil case? The answer might surprise you!

Support the KARTAS Patreon!


Get trapped in Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” in Atlas Games’ addictive new card game Lost in R’lyeh. Take a selfie with your purchased copy of the game at your brick and mortar game retailer and send it to Atlas to claim your special Ken and Robin promo card. Do intervals between Ken’s Time Machine segments leave you listless, bored, and itchy? Then you’re in luck, because TimeWatch, the wild and woolly GUMSHOE game of chrono-hopping adventure has now blasted its way into our reality. Brought to you by master of over-the-top fast-paced fun Kevin Kulp and our reality-maintaining overlords at Pelgrane Press. For those seeking yet more Ken content, his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. Attention, operatives of Delta Green, the ultra-covert agency charged with battling the contemporary forces of the Cthulhu Mythos! Now everything you need to know to play Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, perhaps extending your valiantly short field life, can be found in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook or Delta Green: Need to Know, the quick start rules set with extra-sturdy Handler’s Screen.   

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Walter Brennan Upgrade

November 22nd, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Arrival (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2016) Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) attempts to decipher the language of just-landed aliens in an expansive adaptation of Ted Chiang’s novella “The Story of Your Life.” Thanks mostly to Adams’ performance, Arrival manages to layer its dense material without feeling too much like ten pounds of movie in an eight-pound bag; Jóhann Jóhansson’s score keeps things on a properly ethereal boil. –KH

Firelands Winery Gewürtztraminer (Wine, Isle St. George OH, 2014) No, I didn’t know there was an Ohio wine country either but here we are. This crisp, fruity white hovers between semi-dry and sweet, making it an excellent accompaniment to seafood, vegetables, risotto, and perhaps even chicken. I suspect the Ohio thing keeps the price down, too; at $11 a bottle this is a damn steal. –KH

I Am Not Madame Bovary (Film, China, Feng Xiaogang, 2016) After her husband reneges on a deal to remarry after a sham divorce to skirt housing regulations, a woman (Fan Bingbing) initiates a series of protests that ensnare countless hapless officials. Deceptively gentle comedy-drama shot within the imposing formal constraints of two extreme aspect ratios: a cropped upright rectangle and an iris.–RDL; seen at TIFF16; now in limited North American theatrical release.

Over the Edge (Film, US, Jonathan Kaplan, 1979) The boredom of a planned community with nothing for its teens to do sets an ordinary kid (Michael Kramer) and his delinquent pal (an alarmingly young Matt Dillon) on a dangerous collision course with authority. A flair for rebellion perfect for a 70s drive-in infuses this social problem drama with explosive energy.—RDL

Good

Atlas of Indian Nations (Nonfiction, Anton Treuer, 2014) National Geographic maps primarily depict contact-era linguistic boundaries and modern reservations; period maps with annotations provide some coverage of the history of major tribes. Not a historical atlas, really, but an adequate survey of the major remaining Amerind peoples north of the Rio Grande. Rich art, and those period maps, keep it in Good territory. –KH

Best of the Badmen (Film, US, 1951, William D. Russell) Union officer on the brink of retirement (Robert Ryan) arranges a safe transition to civilian life for such members of Quantrill’s Raiders as the Cole Younger gang and the James brothers, earning the murderous ire of a corrupt carpetbagger (Robert Preston). I was going to rate this diverting Technicolor nonsense as merely okay, but then Walter Brennan points two six-shooters at a room full of dangerous men and says, “Step back gents, and reflect on the joys of livin’.” So clearly my math was wrong there.–RDL

Sour Grapes (Film, US, Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, 2016) Documentary decants the story of the wine counterfeiter known as Rudi Kurniawan, who befriended and then defrauded a circle of ultra-rich grapeheads intent on collecting impossible old vintages. Tells its twisting story clearly, and comes this close to presenting a thesis about wealth, status, and desire, before veering away.–RDL

Not Recommended

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Film, Sweden, Roy Andersson, 2014) Absurdist vignettes of quiet desperation mostly focus on the travails of two incompetent novelty item salesmen, but also on Sweden’s King Charles XII, who exists and marshals a 19th century army against Russia in the present day. What at first plays as a spoof of Swedish cinematic mordancy eventually reverts to type and becomes regular Swedish cinematic mordancy.–RDL

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Episode 217: Home Movies You Didn’t Take

November 18th, 2016 | Robin

Patreon backer Ethan Cordray rises from the Pacific waves of Ask Ken and Robin to pose a stumper: how to make Cthulhu scary again.

Ken is back from an extended sequester in the Cinema Hut to talk about his favorites from the Chicago International Film Festival.

Once more we learn How to Write Good, this time with a look at authorial commentary.

Our hero saves America again as a Ken’s Time Machine after-action report details Timothy Pickering’s attempted New England secession of 1804, posed by Patreon backer Paul. Correction Hut: Ken is mortified that he got the XYZ Affair mixed up with the Citizen Genet affair, but rest assured they both involved the French and influence-peddling, so both the larger history and the jokes still work.

Support the KARTAS Patreon!


Get trapped in Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” in Atlas Games’ addictive new card game Lost in R’lyeh. Take a selfie with your purchased copy of the game at your brick and mortar game retailer and send it to Atlas to claim your special Ken and Robin promo card. Do intervals between Ken’s Time Machine segments leave you listless, bored, and itchy? Then you’re in luck, because TimeWatch, the wild and woolly GUMSHOE game of chrono-hopping adventure has now blasted its way into our reality. Brought to you by master of over-the-top fast-paced fun Kevin Kulp and our reality-maintaining overlords at Pelgrane Press. For those seeking yet more Ken content, his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. Attention, operatives of Delta Green, the ultra-covert agency charged with battling the contemporary forces of the Cthulhu Mythos! Now everything you need to know to play Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, perhaps extending your valiantly short field life, can be found in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook or Delta Green: Need to Know, the quick start rules set with extra-sturdy Handler’s Screen.   

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: When the Going Gets Strange

November 15th, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Clouds of Sils Maria (Film, France, Olivier Assayas, 2014) Insecure actress (Juliette Binoche) preparation for a revival of a play that made her career, now playing the older part, taxes her relationship with her protective assistant (Kristen Stewart.) Assayas, master of taking small moments and investing them with tremendous portent, creates a subtly troubling drama of creative power struggles.–RDL

Gun Crazy (Film, US, Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) Good-natured Bart (John Dall) is obsessed with guns, and then with hard-bitten trick shooter Annie (Peggy Cummins), leading to a crime spree and a bad end. Lewis alternates psychosexual melodrama with almost verite crime and car sequences, playing story against space until the final showdown in a fog-shrouded swamp. Rub a soft pencil anywhere over Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and this movie appears. –KH

Good

Doctor Strange (Film, US, Scott Derrickson, 2016) Crippled surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) discovers magic and takes on the role of superhero in a visually stunning production of a standard Marvel-school script. The big magic set-pieces, fortunately, combine cinematic originality (modulo some Inception) with Ditko-vision, and Michael Giacchino layers on a score that often breaks out of the Marvel mold. The humans, not so much. –KH

Okay

Doctor Strange (Film, US, Scott Derrickson, 2016) Arrogant surgeon, his hands damaged after a car accident, learns sorcery and battles a pawn of extradimensional evil. If any character cried out to be freed from the Marvel movie origin story template, it’s this one. In the comics Strange’s origin was only 8 pages long and appeared four issues after his debut. No amount of CGI Ditko tableaus or Cumberbatch charisma can pay off the exposition taxes its structure imposes.—RDL

Not Recommended

American Ultra (Film, US, Nima Nourizadeh, 2015) Anxiety-ridden stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) with preternaturally understanding girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) discovers he’s a super-soldier, and his CIA creators want him dead. To work this would need the Bourne bits to be Bournier, with non-cheated action, some degree of authenticity around its portrayal of the intelligence world, and a villain plan that isn’t flagged as idiotic from the get-go.—RDL

Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Epoque (Nonfiction, Tobias Churton, 2016) Examination of 19th French Rosicrucian Gerard “Papus” Encausse and Stanislas de Guaita, their circles, and their relationship to Symbolist art and music. Half rhapsodic critical exploration, half disorganized historical survey, peppered with random personal anecdotes as boring as they are irrelevant. When it comes time for the Yellow King RPG Kickstarter, remember that I read this so you don’t have to.—RDL

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Episode 216: Some Old Schlubby Wine God

November 11th, 2016 | Robin

This week the Gaming Hut holds a special surprise: it’s not just a segment, but a free game in and of itself, as Robin teaches you how to run Death Spiral.

In Ask Ken and Robin, Reiner Dobbelman asks us about mythic-level play.

Then we again hear the protesting groans of Ken’s Bookshelf as we vicariously paw through his haul from his latest raid on Powell’s Books in Portland.

Support the KARTAS Patreon!


Get trapped in Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” in Atlas Games’ addictive new card game Lost in R’lyeh. Take a selfie with your purchased copy of the game at your brick and mortar game retailer and send it to Atlas to claim your special Ken and Robin promo card. Do intervals between Ken’s Time Machine segments leave you listless, bored, and itchy? Then you’re in luck, because TimeWatch, the wild and woolly GUMSHOE game of chrono-hopping adventure has now blasted its way into our reality. Brought to you by master of over-the-top fast-paced fun Kevin Kulp and our reality-maintaining overlords at Pelgrane Press. For those seeking yet more Ken content, his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. Attention, operatives of Delta Green, the ultra-covert agency charged with battling the contemporary forces of the Cthulhu Mythos! Now everything you need to know to play Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, perhaps extending your valiantly short field life, can be found in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook.   

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Killer With a Bum Eye

November 8th, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

The Babadook (Film, Australia, Jennifer Kent, 2014) Frazzled mom and her uncontrollable six year old encounter a top-hatted, long-clawed monster that announces its appearance from the pages of a creepy pop-up book. Actors Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman find many levels of terrified in this fiendishly designed and paced journey to the borderlands between The Shining and Repulsion—with maybe a nod or two to House by the Cemetery.—RDL

The Hitch-Hiker (Film, US, Ida Lupino, 1953) Army buddies turned surburbanites (Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy) take a detour on their fishing trip, leading them into the clutches of a deranged highway killer. Brutally efficient noir with a career best performance by William Talman, later famed as the attorney who always loses to TV’s Perry Mason, as the psychotic baddie with a bum eye that never closes.—RDL

Love and Anarchy (Film, Italy, Lina Wertmuller, 1973) Traumatized farmer (Giancarlo Giannini) travels to Rome to rendezvous with vengeful prostitute (Mariangela Melato) to serve as triggerman in her plot to assassinate Mussolini. Yeah, the acting style, which starts big and ultimately rockets into the histrionic stratosphere, hasn’t aged so well. Nonetheless, this look at the futility of revolutionary violence even when morally justifiable has passion and particularity of vision to spare.—RDL

Sybil Exposed (Nonfiction, Debbie Nathan, 2011) Triple biography of the supposed multiple personality sufferer known as Sybil, her psychiatrist and the author who made them famous deploys investigative journalism techniques to reveal the interwoven deceptions and self-deceptions that led to the sensational diagnosis. More than a debunking, Nathan’s feminist empathy for her subjects elevates this into an account rich in pathos. More in an upcoming Eliptony Hut.—RDL

Good

Horror: A Literary History (Nonfiction, Xavier Aldana Reyes, ed., 2016) Anthology of academic essays covers the various periods of Anglo-American horror literature from the Gothic to the post-millennial. Mostly jargon-free, but occasionally divagatory in both good and bad ways. As a survey, it’s okay, but the advantages of multiple authorship don’t outweigh the absence of a unifying vision. –KH

Mascots (Film, US, Christopher Guest, 2016) The Guest company of players (minus, sadly, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) presents the stories of sports mascots competing for the coveted Fluffy Award in the 8th Annual World Mascot Association competition. Like Guest’s last two films, the story is not quite cruel enough for the comedy or the compassion to work at Best in Show levels, but it’s worthy of an Honorable Mention: “That’s like first place, but a weird first place.” –KH

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Episode 215: Not an Impaleologist

November 4th, 2016 | Robin

Among My Many Hats blows the lid off of Ken’s upcoming Kickstarter for a revised, revamped, and reanimated Tour de Lovecraft: the Tales.

Are the results of this podcast rigged? Find out as the History Hut looks at the history of vote-rigging in America.

When Ken and/or Robin Talk To Someone Else, sometimes that someone is Sandy Petersen, of Cthulhu Wars, Chaosium and Doom fame. This is one of those times.

Finally we open up the Horror Hut to entertain a query from Padraig Griffin, who needs to know about the precise sort of alchemy Dracula practiced. We won’t ask him why he does, because he’s a Patreon backer and so deserves the absolute benefit of the doubt.

Support the KARTAS Patreon!


Get trapped in Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu” in Atlas Games’ addictive new card game Lost in R’lyeh. Take a selfie with your purchased copy of the game at your brick and mortar game retailer and send it to Atlas to claim your special Ken and Robin promo card. Do intervals between Ken’s Time Machine segments leave you listless, bored, and itchy? Then you’re in luck, because TimeWatch, the wild and woolly GUMSHOE game of chrono-hopping adventure has now blasted its way into our reality. Brought to you by master of over-the-top fast-paced fun Kevin Kulp and our reality-maintaining overlords at Pelgrane Press. For those seeking yet more Ken content, his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. Attention, operatives of Delta Green, the ultra-covert agency charged with battling the contemporary forces of the Cthulhu Mythos! Now everything you need to know to play Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, perhaps extending your valiantly short field life, can be found in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook.   

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: If It Sounds Crazy, It Must Be a Manga Adaptation

November 1st, 2016 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Lady Snowblood (Film, Japan, Toshiya Fujita, 1973) Katana-wielding woman trained from birth as a remorseless avenger pursues the four criminals who murdered her father and raped her mother. Pioneer of arterial spray, seminal influence on Miike, Kitano and Tarantino, this no-holds barred manga adaptation stands as the most artful exploitation movie ever committed to celluloid. Now gorgeously restored.—RDL

Moonlight (Film, US, Barry Jenkins, 2016) A young man, seen as a withdrawn kid, bullied teen and finally a street-toughened mid-level drug dealer, struggles to come to terms with his addict mother and a sexuality he cannot safely express. Luminous, exquisitely acted character piece with a sure instinct for soundtrack music well deserves its Oscar buzz.–RDL

Recommended

From the Dark (Film, Ireland, Conor McMahon, 2014) Lost in the Irish countryside as night falls, Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) must evade a lucifugous vampire (Ged Murray) dug up in a peat bog. McMahon’s tight, straightforward script plays cat-and-mouse well, varying threats and resources throughout while cinematographer Michael Lavelle’s indirect, low-light, out-of-frame shots of the creature give a master tutorial in monster movie making. –KH

The God of the Labyrinth (Fiction, Colin Wilson, 1970) The conclusion of the Gerard Sorme trilogy follows Wilson’s alter ego Sorme on a quest to uncover the truth about the 18th-century Irish rake Esmond Donelly — and incidentally to become a kind of tantric superman. Wilson pioneers the “intellectual thriller” genre (most famously debauched by Dan Brown) in the strict form of the pornographic novel, because even when he’s kind of awesome, he’s still more than a little exasperating. –KH

Into the Inferno (Film, US, Werner Herzog, 2016) Documentary journeys across the globe with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to explore the science of volcanoes, and the mythologies of those who live near them. Awe-inspiring imagery stands at the center of this typically Herzogian mix of wonder, horror, and whimsy.–RDL

The Handmaiden (Film, South Korea, Park Chan-wook, 2016) Poor young girl sent during the occupation of Korea to serve as personal maid to a sheltered Japanese noblewoman isn’t as innocent as she seems–but then neither is anybody else. Luxurious surfaces speak as loudly as words in this twisting tale of passion, perversion and betrayal.–RDL

The Seven Five (Film, US, Tiller Russell, 2014) Interview-and-archival-footage doc recounts the case of epically corrupt Brooklyn patrol cop Michael Dowd, who rode the late 80s-early 90s crack wave with lunatic disregard for the law and his chances of getting caught. Perhaps even more jaw-dropping than the story itself is the undisguised glee with which the principal perpetrators let rip their crazy anecdotes.—RDL

Good

Count Yorga, Vampire (Film, US, Bob Kelljan, 1970) A Bulgarian vampire (Robert Quarry) arrives in hip Los Angeles and assembles a harem of Brides, opposed by their loved ones and Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry), a blood specialist. This fast-paced modern Gothic might well have been Recommended if the script didn’t betray its hastily written soft-core origin with a wasted scene or three and some less-than-robust characterization. If you dock points for bad AIP lighting and shoestring AIP budgets, drop it to Okay. –KH

Crosscurrent (Film, China, Yang Chao, 2016) Young barge captain Chun (Qin Hao) pilots his ship up the Yangtze, setting course by a book of poetry he finds in the engine room, meeting the mysterious girl An Lu (Xin Zhilei) at every port. I say “setting course” rather than “plotting course” because I don’t want to give the impression that any plotting happens in the film. But speaking of the setting, the industrial, drowned, and finally primordial Yangtze is the real star, lensed by Mark Lee Ping-Bing (Wong Kar-Wei’s cinematographer) in the style of Song Dynasty black-ink scroll paintings. An Wei’s dark, cello-driven score ideally complements the journey, but drink coffee before you start or you’ll nod off and miss another perfect shot or five. –KH

The Night Sister (Fiction, Jennifer McMahon, 2015) The brutal murder of a family reveals three generations of secrets surrounding a disused motel and old country legends of shapeshifters known as mares. Contemporary gothic notable for its strong characterizations and the ultimate niceness of its horror.–RDL

Man Without a Shadow (Fiction, Colin Wilson, 1963) The second volume in the Gerard Sorme trilogy opens where Ritual in the Dark left off, and follows Wilson stand-in Sorme through a very convoluted series of love affairs and an entanglement with sex magician (and Crowley manque) Caradoc Cunningham. Wilson wrestled with the form of his “novel of ideas about reality” and decided on the not-very-felicitous answer of a diary, which makes this one even talkier than usual. –KH

Thermae Romae II (Film, Japan, Hideki Takeuchi, 2014) Master builder of Roman baths Lucius (Hiroshi Abe) resumes his waterlogged time journeys to modern Japan to acquire the tech required to save the pacific regime of his beloved Emperor Hadrian. Affectionate paean to bathing culture commits sincerely to its kooky premise. And yes, of course it’s based on a manga.—RDL

Topaz (143-minute DVD version) (Film, US, Alfred Hitchcock, 1969) Based on Leon Uris’ interminable spy novel about French agent Andre Deveraux (Frederick Stafford), who stumbles onto both the Cuban Missile Crisis and a Soviet spy ring in France. Uris and then a second writer quit on Hitch during the script process, leaving him to hastily plan a film around an unfinished two-and-a-half-hour Samuel Taylor script; both Sean Connery and Yves Montand turned down the role of Deveraux, leaving him with the handsome but stiff Stafford; Hitchcock couldn’t direct his original ending because of his wife’s illness, rendering it bathetic instead of cathartic. As a final blow, Bernard Herrmann refused to come back and do the score, which became a weirdly jaunty waltz by Maurice Jarre. With any of those problems fixed, this would have been Recommended; with all of them fixed, it would be a Pinnacle, as Hitchcock experiments brilliantly here with color and story. Instead, it’s a string of gemlike sequences (many of them Recommended, and one death scene a Pinnacle) that never really become jewelry. –KH

Okay

Taste the Blood of Dracula (Film, UK, Peter Sasdy, 1970) Fusty would-be libertines enlist a young aristocrat to lead them into debauchery, but come to regret his plan to use Dracula’s blood to ritually sell their souls to Satan. Christopher Lee’s Dracula embodies the return of the repressed in this literate but none-too-scary entry in the Hammer series.—RDL

A Wolf at the Door (Film, Brazil, Fernando Coimbra, 2013) When a working class couple’s child is abducted, police suspicions fall on the husband’s mistress. Sunlit domestic noir conjures a realistic set of characters but could stand a tighter edit.—RDL

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