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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spies, Celts and 30s Beefcake

June 14th, 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

The Americans Season 4 (TV, FX, 2015-2016) The best show on television turns up the Cold War heat, slowly breaking some characters (especially KGB sleeper Elizabeth (Keri Russell)) and destroying others, but annealing FBI bulldog Stan (Noah Emmerich) and especially spy-daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) into ever more interesting and powerful roles. The narrative arc is if anything even stronger than the amazing Season 2, and a bio-weapons plotline pays off in spades not only as the setup for superbly lo-fi spycraft thrills but as a multi-faceted metaphor for the sleepers, their hunters, and their diseased home life. –KH

Dark tales by Guy de Maupassant (Fiction, 1880s-1890s) Spare, observant, ironic and anecdotal, the weird tales of Guy de Maupassant never unequivocally invoke the supernatural but sometimes introduce intimations of it. More often his horrors are entirely the work of humankind: “Man is the worst!” declares one of his adventurer characters, comparing us to the animals he has hunted. A key influence on Chambers, and therefore on the subsequent horror tradition. Absent an immediately available anthology, I curated one myself from Gutenberg and other online sources. Key stories: “The Horla”, “Fear”, “Magnetism”, “The Apparition”, “Terror”, “On the River”, “The Case of Louise Roque,” “Who Knows?” and “Mother Sauvage.”—RDL

Recommended

The Children Are Watching Us (Film, Italy, Vittorio De Sica, 1944) Young boy watches helplessly as his mother conducts an affair. More visually sumptuous, and, because of its emotional complexities, even more heart-wrenching, than De Sica’s later classic The Bicycle Thieves. A small-scale tragedy filled in by the director’s eye for social observation.—RDL

Kill the Messenger (Film, US, Michael Cuesta, 2014) Investigative journalist at second rank paper (Jeremy Renner) finds that publishing a story about CIA complicity in cocaine smuggling is only half the battle. Taut news procedural differs from the genre’s usual structure by focusing less on breaking the story than on weathering the ensuing backlash.—RDL

Search For Beauty (Film, US, Erle C. Kenton, 1934) Recently sprung con artists take over a health magazine, using two Olympic athletes (Ida Lupino, Buster Crabbe) as respectable fronts to deflect attention from its racy contents. Snappy sex comedy from the dying moments of the Pre-Code era, whose camera ogles the men with greater enthusiasm than it does the women, juggles enough contradictions to launch a thousand gender studies papers. The text may take the side of the squares, but the subtext tweaks the cruelty of their virtue and roots for the libertines. —RDL

Good

The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? (Nonfiction, Simon James, 1999) An archaeologist specializing in Iron Age Britain, James slightly outruns his evidence while arguing (from the archaeological record) against any “Celtic invasion” of the British Isles. Instead, he posits local elites of no particular ethnos self-acculturating with “the La Tène aristocratic package” in much the same way later British elites self-acculturated with an Italian “aristocratic package” during the Renaissance. Prolix without being detailed, it still frames one side of the debate well. More recent DNA research tends to bear his argument out, but “invasions” such as that of the Belgae recorded by Caesar remain more likely than James wants to admit. –KH

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Film, UK, Piers Haggard, 1970) After a plowman (Barry Andrews) uncovers the hairy skull of the demon Behemoth in a rustic 17th century English field, its cult (and bodily infection) spreads to the manor’s children until the Judge (Patrick Wymark) reluctantly realizes the supernatural is afoot. Combining a naturalistic, earthy rustic mise-en-scène with a 1970s post-Manson “youth problem” plot somehow creates a truly unnerving experience sadly let down by the cheap monster effects and arbitrary ending.. Linda Hayden is wonderful as the cult priestess, and Dick Bush’s camera work seals the anti-Hammer feel in this deliberately formless horror. –KH

Okay

Doctor X (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1932) Medical research institute head (Lionel Atwill) hunts the cannibal serial killer who must be one of his colleagues. Mad science horror from the future director of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood shows his flair for montage and serves up a cool monster transformation but is otherwise creaky. Easily adapted into a Trail of Cthulhu scenario though. Shot in the sickly cyan and orange of the early two-strip Technicolor process.—RDL

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