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Archive for January, 2022

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Scream, Hyper-Local Agitprop, and Ursine Folk Horror

January 18th, 2022 | 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 a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Spettacolo (Film, US, Chris Shellen & Jeff Malmberg, 2017) Fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a tiny Tuscan village’s amateur theatrical troupe as they mount their annual original agitprop production. Visually and emotionally beautiful portrait of local tradition under siege features the sorts of surprising developments every documentarian dreams of.—RDL

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Emboldened by a trio of prophesying witches (Kathryn Hunter), an aging thane (Denzel Washington) and his psychopathic wife (Frances McDormand) kill the king and go blood simple. Stark, stripped-down rendition of Shakespeare’s gnarliest major tragedy as stark Symbolist nightmare, closely capturing hushed, intimate performances. Washington plays the text, as opposed to the usual Aristotelian projections onto it, by homing in on Macbeth’s fundamental weakness.—RDL

Recommended

Lokis: A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (Film, Poland, Janusz Majewski, 1970) In remote Samogitia to do ethnological research, Professor Wittembach (Edmund Fetting) is the guest of the unstable Count Szemiot (Jozef Duriasz), born nine months after a bear may have raped his now-insane mother. Combining proto-folk-horror atmosphere with wintry bright camera work, this film hits the uncanny sweet spot with increasing accuracy and power while never quite showing its hand. Or paw. –KH

A Taxi Driver (Film, South Korea, Jang Hoon, 2017) During South Korea’s 1980 declaration of martial law, a blustering Seoul cabbie (Song Kang-ho) drives a German reporter (Thomas Kretschmann) to Kwang-ju, into the heart of a military massacre of democracy protesters. Sweeping commercial moviemaking processes a national tragedy with rousing suspense and big emotion.—RDL

Good

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China (Nonfiction, Mitch Moxley, 2013) Directionless young Toronto journalist moves to Beijing, working for the state-run China Daily, then as a researcher for the CBC Olympics team, and finally as a freelancer specializing in offbeat angles on Chinese life. Provides engaging texture on an expat scene that is probably already gone or disappearing.—RDL

Scream (Film, US, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, 2022) A new Ghostface stalks Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and a bunch of other Woodsboro teens connected to the first rampage. Unexceptionable slasher whodunit suitably “requel”-izes (in the film’s obsessive even for the franchise metaspeak) the mostly fun series. Few actual scares, but competent run-and-jump direction and a surprisingly affecting turn from the returning David Arquette is worth a Good rating. –KH

Okay

The Mad Women’s Ball (Film, France, Mélanie Laurent, 2021) When a young woman (Lou de Laâge) from a aristocratic family in Belle Époque Paris mildly defies her rigid father, he commits her to the harsh confines of the Salpêtrière asylum, where her ability to communicate with the spirit world provides a connection to its stern head nurse (Laurent.) Sets aside the rich and specifically strange history of the Salpêtrière under early neurologist and mesmerism enthusiast Jean-Martin Charcot, portrayed here as a standard villain, for the beats of the imprisonment and escape narrative.—RDL

Episode 479: His Old Draping Skills

January 14th, 2022 | Robin

Get ready for twists and Gaming Hut turns as beloved Patreon backer Terry Robinson asks for advice on genre shifts on the tabletop.

The Tradecraft Hut finds intrigue behind an old-timey Canadian historical footnote with a profile on Thomas Miller Beach, infiltrator of the Fenians.

In part two of our Mythos Hut series on creating a new Lovecraftian deity, we survey the canonical gods of cosmic indifference to see what unoccupied slot we might profitably fill.

Finally Ken’s Time Machine goes to the movies at the behest of estimable backer Monster Talk, who wants a peek at David Lean’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Our Patreon-backed Letterboxd list of all films mentioned on the show is now up and running.

Also check out the Goodreads list of books mentioned on the show.

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Human problems are out of hand, so thank goodness, and Atlas Games, for Magical Kitties Save the Day, a fresh, fun roleplaying game for players of all ages, and for GMs from age 6 and up!

Score a blood-drenched special bonus from Pelgrane Press when you order the print edition Night’s Black Agents Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook or any of its associated bundles. A new 50-page Cuttings PDF of deleted scenes and horrors that didn’t fit is now available for a limited time with the voucher code VAMP2021.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Delta Green: Black Sites collects terrifying Delta Green operations previously published only in PDF or in standalone paperback modules.  They lock bystanders and Agents alike in unlit rooms with the cosmic terrors of the unnatural. A 208 page hardback by masters of top secret mythos horror Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Shane Ivey, and Caleb Stokes.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: New Tim Powers, Mads Mikkelsen Revenge, A Kafkaesque Book Tour, and a Norwegian Galoot

January 11th, 2022 | 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 a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

The Book Tour (Graphic Novel, Andi Watson, 2020) The micro-humiliations of an ill-planned series of personal appearances take a turn for the sinister for a put-upon novelist. Beautiful visual design informed by 50s and 60s British magazine cartooning lends poignancy to a deceptively cozy wrong man story at the intersection of Kafka and Hitchcock. [Disclosure: Beloved Patreon backer Andi kindly provided this review copy.]—RDL

Lupin Part 2 (Television, France, Netflix, George Kay, 2021) After his son is kidnapped, a master thief emulator of Arsene Lupin (Omar Sy) redoubles his operation of vengeance against the corrupt philanthropist (Hervé Pierre) who framed his father. Netflix did this show no favors by snipping its serial season in two, but now that the rest of the story is here it satisfyingly resolves its modernization / homage to the iconic gentleman burglar.—RDL

Repeat Performance (Film, US, Alfred L. Werker, 1947) After shooting her embittered playwright husband (Louis Hayward) a Broadway star (Joan Leslie) falls through a time slip and gets a chance to relive the year leading up to the fatal event. Offbeat blend of film noir and proto-”Twilight Zone” fantasy recently rescued from oblivion by the restoration efforts of the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film Archive.—RDL

Riders of Justice (Film, Denmark, Anders Thomas Jensen, 2021) Emotionally repressed military officer (Mads Mikkelsen) walks the path of vengeance when a freshly fired probability expert (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gives him evidence that a notorious biker gang arranged the commuter train accident that killed his wife. Jensen turns the revenge actioner inside out for a darkly comic parable of grief, causality, and community between outsiders.—RDL

Stolen Skies (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2022) An off-book ONI attempt to contact aliens brings Agent Castine back into contact with former Secret Service agent Vickery and the ghost ecology of LA. A deft, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy provides an interesting riff on UFOs (very reminiscent of Declare’s djinn). Without the usual Powersian historical backdrop, these books don’t quite escape the artificiality of their setup, but his LA ghost-iverse has become a rich setting in its own right. –KH

Good

Death on the Nile (Fiction, Agatha Christie, 1937) When the heiress Linnet Doyle is shot on her Nile honeymoon, Hercule Poirot just happens to be along for the cruise. Mechanically precise, I’ll grant you, and Christie’s archaeological interests pay off somewhat, but once more we have characters who exist only as tumblers in a lock with one (1) emotional tone apiece. –KH

Lake of the Dead (Film, Norway, Kåre Bergstrøm, 1958) Six friends visit one’s brother at a remote lake cabin, and find him missing and a legendary ghost afoot. Spooky atmosphere and gauzy camera work play well off each other, but only intermittently, as a conventional detective story insists on playing out complete with period Freudianism. The viewpoint character is a galoot, which doesn’t help. —KH

The Merry Wives of Windsor (Filmed Stage Production, Canada, Barry Avrich and Antoni Cimolino, 2020) When he simultaneously sends them seductive letters, married pals (Brigit Wilson, Sophia Walker) conspire to prank the notorious old wastrel Sir John Falstaff (Geraint Wyn-Davies), arousing one of their husbands (Michael Blake) to a jealous plot of his own. Against a 50s Canadian small town setting that neither adds or detracts, Wyn-Davies and Blake show how to do Shakespearean schtick—with tightly controlled big, big energy.—RDL

Okay

Kadaicha (Film, Australia, James Bogle, 1988) Teens living on a street built on an Aboriginal burial ground see a kadaicha magician in their dreams, get cursed stones, and die! Straight-to-video Ozploitation mashes up Poltergeist and Nightmare on Elm Street, stepping on the product throughout. The second kill (a jumping spider POV) and some of the surrealism catch the eye, but the flat acting and general slack don’t keep it. –KH

Episode 478: His Pursevant Had Dropsy

January 7th, 2022 | Robin

We open up the Gaming Hut for another year and find a strangely folded missive from beloved Patreon backer Stephen Dosman, who wants us to incorporate the practice of letter-locking into historical games.

A new series begins in the Mythos Hut, as we construct a Lovecraftian deity, starting with a look at the common qualities of the existing ones.

In How to Write Good we look at the process of deciding how smart your various fictional antagonists are.

Finally estimable backer Michael David Jr. enjoins the Consulting Occultist to profile English writer and Catholic decadent Montague Summers.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Our Patreon-backed Letterboxd list of all films mentioned on the show is now up and running.

Also check out the Goodreads list of books mentioned on the show.

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Human problems are out of hand, so thank goodness, and Atlas Games, for Magical Kitties Save the Day, a fresh, fun roleplaying game for players of all ages, and for GMs from age 6 and up!

Score a blood-drenched special bonus from Pelgrane Press when you order the print edition Night’s Black Agents Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook or any of its associated bundles. A new 50-page Cuttings PDF of deleted scenes and horrors that didn’t fit is now available for a limited time with the voucher code VAMP2021.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Delta Green: Black Sites collects terrifying Delta Green operations previously published only in PDF or in standalone paperback modules.  They lock bystanders and Agents alike in unlit rooms with the cosmic terrors of the unnatural. A 208 page hardback by masters of top secret mythos horror Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Shane Ivey, and Caleb Stokes.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Matrix Resurrections, Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

January 4th, 2022 | 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 a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

Blithe Spirit (Film, UK, David Lean, 1945) Urbane writer (Rex Harrison) researches his next novel by inviting a dotty spiritualist (Margaret Rutherford) to conduct a seance, which, to the dismay of his second wife (Constance Cummings), brings back the ghost of his first (Kay Hammond.) Though a bit past the Edwardian period, the Noel Coward play adapted here also concerns itself chiefly with the out-of-placeness of ghosts, with any lethal mayhem they may commit along the way brushed off as merely gauche. Lean, now best known for his later wide-scale epics, shows a relaxed facility for the confined spaces of a stage adaptation.—RDL

California Typewriter (Film, US, Doug Nichol, 2016) From star names like Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard to collectors, repair shop owners, and repurposing artists, this affectionate doc looks at the typewriter and the devotees keeping its memory alive. Traces an emotional arc from the expected quirkiness to the elegiac to the hopeful.—RDL

Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas (Nonfiction, Glenn Kenny, 2020) Comprehensive making-of and close reading of the 1990 Scorsese gangster classic covers everything from the screenwriting process to the troubled, damaging post-movie life of Henry Hill. Learn how many bit players were convicted for later crimes, including the not one but two cops in the “how ya doin’” tracking shot who subsequently crossed over to the mob.—RDL

The Sound of Fury (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1950) Desperate family man (Frank Lovejoy) lets a rash stick-up artist (Lloyd Bridges) lure him into a kidnapping; when it goes wrong, an intellectual columnist (Richard Carlson) stokes the community’s worst instincts. Film noir of gritty despair shifts into a message picture taking aim at press sensationalism. Fictionalization of the 1933 Thurmond-Holmes lynchings omits from its editorial ire a key component of the story, the open calls to mob justice from California governor “Sunny Jim” Rolph. Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) is based on the same incident. Also known as Try and Get Me! —RDL

Raging Fire (Film, HK, Benny Chan, 2021) Incorruptible maverick cop (Donnie Yen) goes up against a former colleague (Nicholas Tse) bent on ultra-violent revenge. Chan’s consistency of energy and style makes this the best Yen vehicle in a long while. Advances the argument that Heat’s street shootout ought to have led to a mano-a-mano martial arts fight in a cathedral.—RDL

The Second Shooter (Fiction, Nick Mamatas, 2021) Investigating dodgy sightings of second shooters, writer Mike Karras finds himself enmeshed in an increasingly weird conspiracy. Until the ending jinks off at a weird angle, this is another terrific Mamatas political thriller, all strong characters and fringe behavior. Then it becomes a whole different (but still terrific, still political, and still Mamatas) genre thriller. I ding it a bit for that swerve but still Recommend it. –KH

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the ambitious co-dependents in a stark 1940s Expressionist vision of Scotland. The gothic-brut sets and staging contrast with deliberately underplayed line readings, unified by Bruno Delbonnel’s pitiless camera. A dream nobody can wake from, no matter how loud the knocking gets; a very creditable Scottish play. –KH

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) As ethnic gangs square off in a Lincoln Square facing 1950s “urban renewal,” Polish ex-gangbanger Tony (Ansel Elgort, a ham loaf) and Puerto Rican cleaner Maria (Rachel Zegler, wonderful) fall in star-crossed love. Spielberg’s camera moves through dance numbers seamlessly alternating medium and wide shots while nailing performance after performance in close one- and two-shot punches. Janusz Kaminski lights the sets with actual color and life, and Tony Kushner’s tweaks to the script (accidentally?) lace the original play’s too-pat self-congratulation with historical irony. –KH

Good

Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle (Film, Netherlands/Italy/Canada, Mike van Diem, 2017) Returning to Italy with the ashes of her mother, a lonely Montrealer (Ksenia Solo) learns the surprising truth about her real parents (Gijs Naber, Anneke Sluiters), transplanted Dutch tulip farmers who ran afoul of the local mob. A dark story told as a breezy, nostalgic fairy tale.—RDL

Wilczyca (Film, Poland, Marek Piestrak, 1983) In 1848 Poland, freedom fighter Kasper (Krysztof Jasinski) returns from the war to find his dying wife Marina (Iwona Bielska) promising to curse him as the titular she-wolf. Bielska also plays the debauched mistress of the noble house he swears to guard, and a she-wolf stalks the grounds … A perfectly competent, nicely brutal, werewolf movie that never quite makes the most of its wintry weirdness or gets inside Kasper’s mind or provides any deeper conflict than “werewolves (and occupiers of Poland) bad.” –KH

Not Recommended

The Matrix Resurrections (Film, US, Lana Wachowski, 2021) Under pressure to develop a sequel to his seminal CRPG The Matrix, game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has a psychotic break. The film drowns that pretty cool core concept under endless fanfic dialogue, and looks like a mid-season CW episode (if the CW ever showed middle-aged people). Literal intercuts with the earlier movies do this film zero favors, and the core narrative combines sloth and idiot-plotting in new (but never interesting) ways. –KH

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