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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Secret Origins of Jackie Chan and the Secret Diary of H. P. Lovecraft

January 2nd, 2019 | 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

Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet (Nonfiction, Daisy Dunn, 2016) Biography of the lovelorn poet of the late Roman Republic poet, known for concision, informality, explicit sex, and zinging his enemies. Pulls together scant sources to assemble an evocative portrait of the writer and his parlous times.—RDL

The Night Ocean (Fiction, Paul La Farge, 2017) Psychiatrist Marina Willett tries to trace her vanished husband Charlie (yes the parallel with “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is intentional), who supposedly stumbled onto the secret sex diary of H.P. Lovecraft and the secret history of his collaborator and disciple (and Charlie thinks, his lover?) Robert L. Barlow. La Farge’s prose effortlessly carries the reader into his nesting dolls’ house of fiction and forgery, and eventually into a tincture of epistemological paranoia. La Farge over-eggs the pudding by also inventing a right-wing-driven HUAC purge of horror fiction, which makes nonsense of the “secret” in his secret history (and also mis-assigns that particular moral panic) but thankfully it’s a minor beat in a novel that is, after all, about the need to believe in fictions. –KH

Painted Faces (Film, HK, Alex Law, 1988) In 60s Hong Kong, with interest in the art form fading, a hot-headed headmaster (Sammo Hung) trains a new generation of young boys in the acrobatic arts of Peking Opera. Nostalgic, mostly subtle melodrama pays homage to the taskmaster who taught backflips to Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao—depicted here as Big Nose, Sammo and Biao. Last seen on home video in laser disc, now available in a beautifully remastered print on Blu Ray.—RDL

They Will Not Grow Old (Film, UK/NZ, Peter Jackson, 2018) A composite portrait of the British Tommy on the Western Front front lines. This humane, almost plain documentary resolves from a pointillist set of soldiers’ stories: 100+ hours of period footage and 600+ hours of survivors’ recorded reminiscences. Jackson’s FX teams restored, sharpened, colorized, and looped the footage until it (almost) looks and sounds like a contemporary film: some of the trenches do still cut through the uncanny valley. –KH

This Am Bizarro Recommend

Susan Slept Here (Film, US, Frank Tashlin, 1954) Vice cops pawn a 17-year-old arrestee (Debbie Reynolds) off on stalled screenwriter (Dick Powell) to keep her out of jail over Christmas. From the strenuous efforts of the creaky Broadway-sourced script to keep its dodgy premise wholesome to the painstakingly garish colors and costumes, from the jaw-dropping dream sequence dance number to its voice-over narration from an Oscar statuette, this transmission from the alternate dimension of 50s sexual mores may not be believed even when seen.—RDL

Good

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror (Nonfiction, Howard David Ingham, 2018) Covering ninety films in over 400 pages, Ingham (and a few guest writers) takes a comprehensive, readable, and personal tour through the folk horror subgenre, from Night of the Demon to The Witch, including a number of titles well out on the margin (where better, though?) such as Duel and Winter’s Bone. (Though why Ringu but not Kairo, or neither? And why must even would-be completists in this field in England neglect This Is Not A Love Song, which I’m beginning to think only I saw?) Ingham knows how to tease out critical insight and (mostly) how to get out of his own way, which along with ample scope is what you (mostly) want from a genre survey. –KH

Okay

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Film, US, David Wain, 2018) Doug Kenney (Will Forte) founds National Lampoon and writes Animal House, revolutionizing American comedy in the process, but can’t win his father’s respect because biopic. The film tries fitfully to embody the anarchic spirit of a bygone age but mostly settles for not being funny while wearing ridiculous wigs, as must the actors. –KH

A Game for the Living (Fiction, Patricia Highsmith, 1958) When his lover is brutally murdered, an expat artist living in Mexico tries to move her other boyfriend off his false confession. Despite strong delineation of character through quotidian detail, the story of a level-headed protagonist who makes sensible decisions is not what one goes to Highsmith for.—RDL

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