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Episode 468: Weird Mushroom Things and a Swirl Over There

October 22nd, 2021 | Robin

Our Gaming Hut look at the axes of roleplaying game design continues with the previously teased Ease versus Mastery.

In Ask Ken and Robin beloved Patreon backer Joe Webb takes the bait and requests the previously teased adventures of T. E. Lawrence and Robert Graves.

The Culture Hut looks at the changing moods of SF illustration from the 30s to today.

Finally estimable Patreon backer P. O’Neil seeks the Consulting Occultist’s files on a Theosophist retirement community in Ojai, California.

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.


Dig out your plastic T-Rexes and get them ready to stomp and chomp on your players’ character miniatures as our pals at Atlas Games announce the upcoming Kickstarter for Planegea, their dino-filled 5E setting of prehistoric fantasy adventure.

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!

Fear Is a Fractal …and your world is a lie. A horror freed from an antique book reverberates through reality. But don’t despair. There is hope. A King waits for us. And Impossible Landscapes, the  first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game waits for you. In PDF now, hardback in May. Hailed as “one of the best RPG campaigns ever made” and “a masterpiece of surreal horror!”

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Halloween Kills, The Story of Film, and a Mindblowing Hidden Gem From Japan

October 19th, 2021 | 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

Annette (Film, France, Leo Carax, 2021) A provocative comedian (Adam Driver) and sylph-like opera singer (Marion Cotillard) fall in love and marry, but his self-loathing foretells a dark fate for them and their daughter. The accent is on the opera in this original surrealist pop opera written by the Mael brothers and directed by Carax to play with the relationship between emotion and high artifice.—RDL

Being Natural (Film, Japan, Tadashi Nagayama, 2019) The placid existence of a kindly loner who works as a fish pond attendant is threatened by the arrival of big city health food zealots who want his the old house he lives in as the site of their macrobiotic cafe. Ideally I would describe this as an offbeat observational comedy tuned to the rhythm of rural life and leave it at that, but to get you to watch it I have to inform you that it takes a final veer into utter whatthefuckery.—RDL

Buddha Mountain (Film, China, Li Yu, 2010) Trio of rough-edged early twentysomethings rent rooms from a crabby former Peking Opera performer (Sylvia Chang.) Multiple melodramatic plotlines stacked upon each other and interwoven, but presented in an immediate, naturalistic style.—RDL

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Television, UK, More4, Mark Cousins, 2011) Covering 115 years of film history on six continents in 915 minutes, even these 1000+ film clips and talking filmmaker heads could never truly map the country of film. The route Cousins chooses relentlessly charts conventional film-school wisdom, with a few idiosyncratic choices getting (slightly) loopier as presentism sets in. Beware of a few factual bloopers, and shout angrily at your own pet omissions, but you probably won’t find a better global film 101 course … unless Robin and I assemble one. –KH

Unstoppable (Film, US, Tony Scott, 2010) Hard-ass veteran railroad engineer (Denzel Washington) and distracted new guy conductor (Chris Pine) improvise a solution when a pilotless train packed with explosive chemicals barrels toward a mid-size Pennsylvania town. Hyper-paced docu-thriller that harkens back to the labor hazards genre of the 30s is underappreciated in Scott’s ouvre. Part of me wants to ding it a notch for the over-the-top cheerleading for the heroes, but then I don’t downgrade Leone or Fuller for lack of subtlety and it seems inconsistent to do it for Scott.—RDL

Good

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (Film, US, Jacob Gentry, 2021) In 1999 Chicago, video archivist James (Harry Shum, Jr.) follows his increasing obsession with a masked figure that hijacked TV signals years ago. Gentry’s palpable love for 70s conspiracy thrillers, excellent location work, and a superbly crumpled neo-noir score by Ben Lovett almost conceal the linear script; Shum can’t quite pull off the depth of performance needed to compensate. –KH

Free Guy (Film, US, Shawn Levy, 2021) Unreflectively optimistic bank teller (Ryan Reynolds) realizes he’s an NPC in a video game and self-actualizes with the aid of a disgruntled game designer (Jodie Comer.) Lighthearted entry in the existential mystery/virtual headtrip subgenre eschews the muddy, interchangeable look of current CGI spectacles for crisp cinematography and gorgeous, evocative production design.—RDL

Not Recommended

Halloween Kills (Film, US, David Gordon Green, 2021) Picking up immediately after Green’s 2018 Halloween, firemen unwisely rescue Michael Myers from Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) burning deathtrap and we’re off again. Literally, off — Michael suddenly kills like Jason, characters shout subtext to each other, and Green squanders everything good about his previous venture as the story collapses. Anthony Michael Hall’s superbly fierce but entirely pointless turn as 1978 survivor-kid Tommy turned modern vigilante makes you weep for what could have been. –KH

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Episode 467: Can We Make It Blow Up?

October 15th, 2021 | Robin

Our Gaming Hut series on axes of roleplaying design continues with Robin’s handling cost opposition, Harmonica versus Violin.

In the Architecture Hut, beloved Patreon backer Anders Gabrielsson seeks the truth about Chicago’s Midway Gardens.

Robin picks up a foreshadowed Cinema Hut thread on the changing face of international film, from access to style.

Finally estimable Patreon backer Ben Vincent wants to know what Ken’s Time Machine might have had to do with a report of a WWII Japanese A-bomb test in Korea.

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.


Dig out your plastic T-Rexes and get them ready to stomp and chomp on your players’ character miniatures as our pals at Atlas Games announce the upcoming Kickstarter for Planegea, their dino-filled 5E setting of prehistoric fantasy adventure.

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!

Fear Is a Fractal …and your world is a lie. A horror freed from an antique book reverberates through reality. But don’t despair. There is hope. A King waits for us. And Impossible Landscapes, the  first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game waits for you. In PDF now, hardback in May. Hailed as “one of the best RPG campaigns ever made” and “a masterpiece of surreal horror!”

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bond, Dracula, Matt Helm, and a Surprising Master Forger

October 12th, 2021 | 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

Art and Craft (Film, US, Sam Cullman & Jennifer Grausman, 2014) Documentary profiles Mark Landis, a soft-spoken loner who, using materials purchased from Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart, forged works in styles from old masters to Dr. Seuss and gifted them to dozens of unsuspecting art museums throughout the US. Droll, poignant outsider portrait takes the expectations you might have formed when you read about the case and turns them on their head.—RDL

Cuadecuc, Vampir (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Using footage acquired under the pretence of shooting a behind-the-scenes doc about Jess Franco’s version of Dracula, Portabella assembles an experimental, wordless gloss on the Bram Stoker tale in blown-out black and white. Attests to the power of narrative, and this narrative especially, by showing how it stands up to an array of aural and filmic distancing effects.—RDL

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Film, US, Jim Cummings, 2020) The stress of a serial killing case that some blame on a werewolf drives an tightly wound, alcoholic sheriff’s deputy (Cummings) to the brink and beyond. Horror-tinged crime flick with a streak of black comedy zeroes in on male rage as the animating force behind the wolfman myth.—RDL

Good

The 8th Night (Film, Korea, Kim Tae-hyoung, 2021) An axe-wielding exorcist monk and surly cop, each accompanied by a contrasting sidekick, work at cross purposes as they separately pursue a demonic eyeball that kills by hopping from victim to victim in pursuit of hellish apocalypse. Investigative religious horror conjures a creepy vibe when it isn’t tripping on the exposition required by its overly complicated plotting.—RDL

Every Matt Helm Novel (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1960-1993) Ignore the Dean Martin movies. Matt Helm, a counter-espionage assassin for an unnamed US agency, prefers mordancy to humor, and although he does sleep with many women in his novels he usually understands that they have non-lascivious motives for approaching him. The Helm novels remain grounded, if not precisely realistic, but they never bore and often surprise a bit. Book 14 in the series has a cruelly wily edge to it that the better ones share. –KH

No Time to Die (Film, US/UK, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021) Retired (again) after Spectre (the film), James Bond (Daniel Craig) comes back in when SPECTRE (the group) seems to have stolen a bioweapon. A pretty fun Bond movie (with a bright color palette and everything!) hits a wall of script shrugging about two hours in, the last act having the grinding inanity of re-clearing a video game level. But Fukunaga’s direction and a fantastic 20-minute Cuba sequence in Act 2 featuring CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) pull an unwilling Bond just barely over Okay. –KH

Not Recommended

Big Brother (Film, HK, Kam Ka-wai, 2018) Ex-US Marine (Donnie Yen) returns to his hard-luck Hong Kong high school to aggressively inspire its most challenged students. Has enough action to cut into a trailer but is otherwise an inspirational teacher flick that tackles the genre’s inherent sentimentality with all the feeling of an Excel worksheet. Yen has hit the point in his career where he has to rely almost entirely on stunt doubles, meaning that the fights have to be created in editing, American style.—RDL

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Episode 466: Foolish Enough to Get Near Us

October 8th, 2021 | Robin

Our Gaming Hut series on the axes of RPG design takes a turn as Robin looks at the trade-offs he thinks about while working on games, starting with Simulation vs Emulation.

Fun With Science goes deep to contemplate the abundance of mesopelagic fish.

The Horror Hut gets connubial at the behest of beloved Patreon backer Toonspew, who wants to know if there’s a Queen in Yellow.

Finally we cover up our luminous watches and enter the Eliptony Hut to confront the dread mystery of the Brazilian vampire UFOs known as the chupas.

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.


Dig out your plastic T-Rexes and get them ready to stomp and chomp on your players’ character miniatures as our pals at Atlas Games announce the upcoming Kickstarter for Planegea, their dino-filled 5E setting of prehistoric fantasy adventure.

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!

Fear Is a Fractal …and your world is a lie. A horror freed from an antique book reverberates through reality. But don’t despair. There is hope. A King waits for us. And Impossible Landscapes, the  first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game waits for you. In PDF now, hardback in May. Hailed as “one of the best RPG campaigns ever made” and “a masterpiece of surreal horror!”

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Midnight Mass, Cinematographer Friendship, and a Brilliant Social Realist Procedural

October 5th, 2021 | 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

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Film, US, Eliza HIttman, 2020) To evade Pennsylvania’s parental consent laws, a high schooler (Sidney Flanagan) and her cousin (Talia Ryder) travel to NYC, where she can have an abortion. Social realist procedural where the tightening suspense is driven by the question of whether she can navigate the many obstacles between the protagonist and the procedure she needs.—RDL

Recommended

Midnight Mass (Television, US, Netflix, Mike Flanagan, 2021) Communion takes on a new meaning when a young substitute priest (Hamish Linklater) arrives in a dying island fishing town, bringing with him a monstrous secret. Expansively paced creature feature, as hyperverbal as a bullshitting youth pastor, drinks from the cup of Stephen King.—RDL

No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos (Film, US, James Chressanthis, 2008) Dual documentary profile of fast friends László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond, who escaped the 1956 Soviet crackdown on Hungary to come to America and redefine the look of American films with their poetic realist style. Ably weaves together the personal, historical and aesthetic threads of its story. Key Kovacs titles: Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon, Ghostbusters. Zsigmond: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.—RDL

Queen of Hearts (Film, Denmark, May el-Toukhy, 2019) Uncompromising lawyer (Trine Dryholm) loses her self-control when her wayward teenage stepson (Gustav Lindh) comes to live with the family. Drama of threatened bourgeois  domesticity, directed with subtle authority, showcases a brilliant performance from its lead.—RDL

Okay

The Killing of the Tinkers (Fiction, Ken Bruen, 2002) Cokehound ex-cop returns home to Galway and takes an assignment investigating the murders of tinkers, mostly by getting blitzed and waiting for secondary characters to swing by and give him information. Crime series authors often get bored with mystery construction to concentrate instead on open-ended character development, but it doesn’t usually set in during the second book in a series.—RDL

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Episode 465: Sour Joe

October 1st, 2021 | Robin

If it’s September, it must be, uh, Gen Con? Ken kicks off with a Travel Advisory on how the in-person side of the event went.

Speaking of unusual versions of long running events, Robin opens up the Cinema Hut to provide highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and to make a stunning announcement.

Our Gaming Hut series on principles and axes of tabletop design looks at Applicability, and whatever the positive opposite of that turns out to be.

Finally, in Ask Ken and Robin, beloved supporter Charles Cooley wonders what might be happening of a steampunky, monster hunting nature in late 19th century Romania.

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.


Dig out your plastic T-Rexes and get them ready to stomp and chomp on your players’ character miniatures as our pals at Atlas Games announce the upcoming Kickstarter for Planegea, their dino-filled 5E setting of prehistoric fantasy adventure.

You’ve got the Pelgrane greatest hits, but from now, until Monday September 6th, you can gather up the Deep Cuts.

Pitting Salvador Dali against the Mythos just got cheaper! Get an otherworldly 25% off Dreamhounds of Paris in print or PDF from now until September at the Pelgrane Press web shop with the voucher code #ANTDREAM. Add its companion fiction volume The Book of Ants and get 25% off that too.

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!

Fear Is a Fractal …and your world is a lie. A horror freed from an antique book reverberates through reality. But don’t despair. There is hope. A King waits for us. And Impossible Landscapes, the  first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game waits for you. In PDF now, hardback in May. Hailed as “one of the best RPG campaigns ever made” and “a masterpiece of surreal horror!”

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Suicide Squad, Norm Macdonald, Werner Herzog

September 28th, 2021 | 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

Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir (Fiction, Norm Macdonald, 2016) Burying its emotional truth amid packs of lies, Macdonald’s deconstructed celebrity memoir calls to mind influences as varied as Hunter S. Thompson, Nabokov, and Alice Munro, while also being intermittently hilarious. Those who know Macdonald’s standup will recognize some recycled bits, and those who followed his career will see a kind of funhouse reflection of it, all in his inimitable voice. –KH

Family Romance LLC (Film, US, Werner Herzog, 2019) Sensitive entrepreneur (Ishii Yuichi) who runs an agency allowing people to hire actors to pose as their family members connects with a preteen (Mahiro Tanimoto) whose mother has hired him to stand in for her father. Serene, semi-improvised drama complete with the discursions Herzogians will recognize from his recent documentary work.—RDL

Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema (Film, Taiwan, 2014) Documentary survey of the eighties cinematic movement focuses mostly on its influence on filmmakers and critics around the world, which makes sense when it gets to the end and one discovers how little Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien wish to say about it. My favorite interview snippet is Apichatpong Weerasethakul praises the way these movies put him to sleep, and inspired him to make films that have the same effect.—RDL

Invisible Life (Film, Brazil, James Chressanthis, 2019) In 1950s Rio, two sisters suffer separation when their father casts one of them out for coming home pregnant without the husband, telling the other that she’s vanished. Visceral, moving novel adaptation interweaves parallel storylines of women confronting patriarchal attitudes and the demands and betrayals of the body.—RDL

La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) (Film, France, Jacques Deray, 1969) The arrival of a libertinish old mutual and his lissome daughter (Jane Birkin) interrupts the St. Tropez villa idyll of a failed novelist (Alain Delon) and a languid journalist (Romy Schneider.) Sun-soaked quadrangle of envy and lust treats the extreme hotness of Delon and Schneider as a formalist challenge.—RDL

The Suicide Squad (Film, US, James Gunn, 2021) Weapons master Bloodsport (Idris Elba) leads a crew of convict supervillains including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to attack a secret installation on a Latin American nation now in the hands of an anti-American junta. Kudos to Gunn for convincing an entertainment megaconglomerate to underwrite the most lavish, gleefully nihilistic midnight cult flick ever.—RDL

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Episode 464: By Fun You Mean Opaque

September 24th, 2021 | Robin

Our continuing Gaming Hut survey of tabletop RPG design principles tackles Power. That sounds like something we always want. Does it belong at one end of a spectrum, or does it corrupt absolutely?

Beloved Patreon backer the Molten Sulfur Blog makes a Tell Me More request that opens up the History Hut to profile Edwardian socialite and taboo-smasher Lady Idina Sackville.

In Ask Ken and Robin, estimable backer Stefanie McClelland asks us to quickly bounce off the gruesome career of narcosatánico Adolfo Constanzo for a look at contemporary magicians as criminal henchmen.

Finally, on his recent trip to Providence, our bibliomane acquired but a mere skiff to new volumes to add to his library, inspiring a rare single segment edition of Ken’s Bookshelf.

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.


Dig out your plastic T-Rexes and get them ready to stomp and chomp on your players’ character miniatures as our pals at Atlas Games Kickstart Planegea, their dino-filled 5E setting of prehistoric fantasy adventure.

Pitting Salvador Dali against the Mythos just got cheaper! Get an otherworldly 25% off Dreamhounds of Paris in print or PDF from now until September at the Pelgrane Press web shop with the voucher code #ANTDREAM. Add its companion fiction volume The Book of Ants and get 25% off that too.

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!

Fear Is a Fractal …and your world is a lie. A horror freed from an antique book reverberates through reality. But don’t despair. There is hope. A King waits for us. And Impossible Landscapes, the  first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game waits for you. In PDF now, hardback in May. Hailed as “one of the best RPG campaigns ever made” and “a masterpiece of surreal horror!”

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Shang-Chi, The Green Knight, Prisoners of the Ghostland

September 22nd, 2021 | 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 Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood (Nonfiction, Sam Wasson, 2020) Brilliantly written step-by-step of the making of Chinatown, the business conditions that briefly sparked the American New Wave, and the Icarus-like descents that would follow for three of the four principal creators. Elegantly ties together disparate threads, from macro to micro, flowing from the tortuous creation of a haunted masterpiece.—RDL

The Green Knight (Film, UK, David Lowery, 2021) King Arthur’s unproven nephew (Dev Patel) steps up when a supernatural adversary appears at Camelot on Christmas to offer a frightening challenge. Sound design and cinematography provide an immersive sense of medieval spaces as the allegory of the Gawain poem receives a modern political update.—RDL

Prisoners of the Ghostland (Film, US/Japan, Sion Sono, 2021) Corrupt local headman puts a bad-ass convict (Nicolas Cage) in booby-trapped motorcycle leathers and sends him into the dangerous land of outcasts and mutants to rescue his so-called niece (Sofia Boutella.) Post-apocalyptic samurai western is a nutzoid, ultra-stylized ramble through the imagery of the 80s SF canon. But you knew that when I said “Nicolas Cage in a Sion Sono movie.”—RDL

The Yin-Yang Master (Film, China, Weiran Li, 2021) Disgraced imperial demon-fighter who now runs a haven for outcast spirit guardians investigates the theft of a powerful artifact from his former organization. Gorgeous-looking big budget fantasy adventure blends martial arts with fun CGI creature design. And this is Chinese cinema, so even the adorable cartoon characters can get melodramatic death scenes.—RDL

Good

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021) Heir to the Ten Rings criminal empire of his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must take his proper place as a hero to prevent the end of the world. The first “get the gang together” act is pretty good, with Awkwafina especially engaging as Shang-Chi’s bff, and although the fights are ripped off from better ones, they’re at least mostly visible. But the CGI battle to save a CGI valley from CGI monsters does not compel attention, and it’s mostly shot in a murky mud pit to boot. Michelle Yeoh is of course squandered, winning this installment’s Annette Bening award. –KH

Okay

The Old Ways (Film, US, Christopher Alender, 2020) Local brujos kidnap reporter Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) and forcibly exorcise the demon she carries. Although Kali Canales is game, and some of the demon effects are cool, this movie falls heavily between the stools of thrilling Mexploitation and intriguing culture clash, in the end presenting a by-the-numbers exorcism flick in brujeria garb with incongruous girl-power notes. –KH

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (Film, Japan, Keishi Ohtomo, 2021) In 19th century Japan, a melancholy killing machine (Takeru Satoh) is torn between service to an anti-Shogunate rebellion and the enigmatic young woman (Kasumi Arimura) who devotes herself to him. Prequel to a manga adaptation series features handsomely mounted action sequences but is weighed down by an obvious, belabored dramatic storyline.—RDL

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Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
d8
Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister