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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Blood Red Sky, Summer of Soul, and the History of Weird Tales

August 3rd, 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

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) Worried mom’s transatlantic flight to a clinic to cure her nosferatuism is taken over by hijackers. Smart, well-executed combo platter of vampire tropes and Die Hard inspired action thriller beats.—RDL

The Green Ripper (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1979) When a terrorist assassin kills his girlfriend Gretel, Travis McGee infiltrates their compound to exact revenge. In this uncharacteristic installment, McGee switches from “fixer in a crime novel” about a third of the way through to a “thriller hero” that prefigures Jack Reacher. MacDonald keeps the suspense going throughout that section, a surprising shift in style. Perhaps in this 18th book in the series, he was open to shaking up the formula. –KH

He Ran All the Way (Film, US, John Berry, 1951) On the lam after shooting a cop, a doubt-wracked stick-up man (John Garfield) takes an anxious bakery worker (Shelley Winters) and her family hostage. Tight, expressionistic film noir notable for Winters’ poignant, layered performance.—RDL

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil (Film, Netherlands, Pieter van Huystee, 2016) Dutch historians embark on a perhaps contradictory quest to both assemble Bosch paintings from top museums for a major exhibition, while also minutely examining them to find out which ones are really his. Though packaged as a standard old master profile, this documentary is actually something much more interesting—a fly-on-the-wall view of the sometimes sharp-elbowed curatorial politics behind  blockbuster art shows.—RDL

Money Bots (Film, Germany, Friedrich Moser & Daniel Andrew Wunderer, 2020) Documentary examination of high-frequency trading traces the history of algorithmic finance from its 70s origins, to the race for ever-faster data connections, to its present status as a weird parasitic infestation of the stock exchange system. Or as one interviewee suggests, maybe it’s all a cover for deep collusion between markets and traders, and thus not new at all.—RDL

Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Film, US, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021) Featuring Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, the Fifth Dimension, the Staple Singers, Buddy Guy, and many many more, the five-day 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival concerts should rightfully overshadow the months-later (and much lamer) Woodstock. But instead, the film of this event remained mostly unbought and ignored for fifty years. While assembling this superb doc around the question “Why Didn’t We Know This?” the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter movement refocused Questlove on the question “Why Haven’t Things Changed Enough Despite the Changes We See in this Footage?” Rather than really answer either question, the doc shows a Harlem crowd and a Black musical scene both on the cusp of vanishing and at the peak of their cultural power. –KH

Good

The Thing’s Incredible: The Secret Origins of Weird Tales (Nonfiction, John Locke, 2018) Not so much the “secret” origin of “the Unique Magazine” but the first actually researched origin. Locke delves deep into the various memoirs, Lovecraft’s letters, and period trade magazines to piece together the actual story of Weird Tales’ founding, crucial early missteps, and disastrous near-disappearance after thirteen issues in 1924. While clearly Recommended for devotees and scholars, it’s pretty in-the-weeds stuff for someone who just wants the 101, and it assumes (rather than particularly demonstrating) the importance of its subject. –KH

Okay

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) On the Munich-New York redeye seeking a cure for her vampirism, Nadja’s (Peri Baumeister) flight gets hijacked. What on paper must have sounded irresistible (Passenger 57 with a vampire!) turns downright stodgy on the screen. It’s incomprehensible to me that a movie 11 minutes shorter than Die Hard feels about twice as long, with momentum-choking flashback scenes interspersed with ample running and murky badly-choreographed vampire fights. Nadja’s young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) essentially serves as the viewpoint character, a decision that whatever its payout in pathos leaves the actual hijacking (you know, the other half of the story) nearly opaque. –KH

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