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The Full Lid 4th October 2019

Happy Friday everyone!

Welcome to the top of the month! And my birthday! AND The Full Lid!

I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist and BFS award nominated for this very newsletter. And this? Is The Full Lid. Every Friday, around 5, you get all the details of the interesting, weird, fun, clever or often all of the above pop culture I've encountered in the last seven days. If you like what you read,the archive and sign up link are here. Please share it but if you do please tell folks how to subscribe and where you got it. Also if you want to buy me a coffee, that would be amazing.

Oh and like I say, it's my birthday today so just in case you want to keep me in movies only I could love and not coffee, my wish list is over here. Thank you!

Contents time!
 

Contents

Cryptids Episodes 1 and 2
 Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung
Rabid
Horror Christmas-Carnival of Souls
So Where's Your Head At?
Signal Boosting
Signing Off/Playing Out
Read More

Cryptids follows two people on converging, and increasingly odd, trajectories. Trevor is a celebrity in the cryptozoology community, a voice for the voiceless who believe there is something unusual in the woods, who plumb the depths of lakes, who search for something more. There's one story especially, about the mile high spire storing every human soul on the Moon that he keeps coming back to...

As does Eve. A gifted pediatric nurse and true believer, Eve finds faith, even hope in the idea that just this once, Hamlet was right on the money. The two meet, become friends and find their paths becoming intertwined. Because someone in the field has figured out exactly what's going on and the Powers behind that, have noticed Trevor and Eve...

Cryptids subject matter sits solidly in my isolated, log cabin wheelhouse and were that all it did, I'd enjoy the show. I'm hooked on the show, and fascinated to see where it goes next, because of everything else it does. Not the least of which being it's fondness for taking it's dark, obfuscated subjects and bringing them out into the light. If you, like me, know what the inside of your ocular nerves looks like after years of eye rolling at the Truth always being just over there, have no fear, Cryptids doesn't tale that approach.

Instead, it chooses to talk about the odd side of the world in a completely upfront way. This is partially through the Art Bell-esque radio show that frames the show, but mostly through Trevor and Eve. Both kind, sensitive people with tough jobs, they find solace in each other in surprising ways. Eve views Trevor as being at the heart of the action. Trevor views Eve, and her clear-eyed optimism and determination with fascination and more than a little envy. She's right too. With the world how it is, how can the idea of mysteries to be solved and others species to meet be anything other than a good thing? That simple idea, of not only bringing the monsters into the light but making them creatures OF the light, an embodiment of hope, is staggeringly well realized. As a result of it, the show has a tone like no other. This isn't a dark conspiracy series or an edgy thriller. Rather, it's two people with the courage of their convictions, setting out to see just how that courage will take them. In this, the year 20OhDearGodWhatNow, that is exactly what I never knew I wanted to hear.

The answer to that question, and the flip side to Trevor and Eve's search looks to be the heart of the show and I genuinely can't wait. I had the opportunity to listen to the firs two episodes early and it's an impressive, complex and ambitius show. Adapted by Alexander V Thompson from his original play, it's a show that's conceptually heavyweight but moves like a lightweight. It's fast paced, bleakly humorous and has a top notch cast. Thompson's Trevor is a mildly world weary and sympathetic figure but its Marianna Mcellelan's Eve who will stay with you. From her first, odd appearance to the moment in episode 2 that brought me up short, if Trrevor is the show's mind than Eve is it's heart,. Open, willing, desperate even and quite prepared to go to extraordinary lengths. Because the truth really is out there, and based on the two episodes I heard, I think Trevor and Eve are odds on favorites to find it.

Cryptids is available through all good podcatchers now

Presenting Brooklyn's Other Finest.
It’s possibly a little early to call it, but Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung may be my favorite TV show of the year. My route to it was a little odd; inspired by the news all-time great show Leverage is being adapted for the Korean market, Marguerite (Love of my life, genius, partner in all things) suggested we try a couple of K-Drama shows to get used to the style. This was our first, it will not be our last.

Set during the Joseon dynasty, it follows Goo Hae-Ryung (Shin Se-kyung), a brilliant, gifted and deeply bored noblewoman. She’s academically brilliant, completely without chill and spends her days causing trouble and looking for anything resembling the Good Fight.

Any Good Fight.

She thinks she’s found it’s when she gets a chance to tell the most popular romance novelist in the land what she really thinks off his work. The one problem is, he isn’t just a writer. He’s Prince Dowon (Cha Eun-woo), second in line to the throne. 

Hilarity really does ensue. 

As the series goes on, the two have a series of meet-cutes (The first six or so episodes all finish with them, confronted with one another, gasping), slowly come to terms and then begin a relationship. At the same time all this is going on, Goo is one of four women to pass an exam allowing them to become trainee historians, as part of the Office of Royal Decrees. The kingdom employs historians as real-time recorders of events. One part journalist, one part stenographer, one part political cartographer the historians go everywhere, see everything and their word is sacrosanct. Goo and her colleagues are the first women in then job in four centuries.

If the show was just ‘she’s a bolshy noblewoman! He’s a precious cinnamon bun who has no concept how to do anything other than Prince!’ It’d be fun, Shin Se-Kyung and Cha Eun-woo have instant and instantly endearing chemistry and the relationship between their characters builds in some surprising ways. Goo is a cheerfully practical woman who has no problem literally throwing Dowon to the wolves every now and then while Dowon is a profoundly good-hearted soul who slowly realises just how coddled he’s been and how, in some ways, he’s not remotely okay with that. Goo helps him understand the world, Dowon listens to her. They’re adorable.

But this is just the start and the series wastes very little time telling you just how much ground its going to cover. There’s persistent discussion of events 20 years previously, a conspiracy of suppression, the collision between Eastern and Western culture, familial secrets on both sides and multiple levels of political machination. Dowon’s father (referred to as King PunkAss in this house) hates him for reasons we absolutely find out. The Dowager Queen Mother has plans all of her own and the Crown Prince (AKA Crown Prince Hottie) played by Park Ki-woong finds himself endlessly caught between different elements of his family. Park Ki-woong is incredibly good here, simultaneously a stern and determined monarch and a conflicted and fundamentally decent man who is terrified his love for his brother isn’t enough to protect him.  The entire cast are great but he’s the one who stays with you, a conflicted and decent leader in a time which needs both but welcomes neither.
Butt what really gets you, and by you I mean me, is the way the series constantly drills down on the importance of the Historians as a role and their bravery as individuals and as a unit. The Office of Royal Decrees is administered by the platonic definition of the odd couple, Officers Yang (Heo Jeung-do) and Min (Lee Ji-Hoon). Heo Jung-do pitches Yang perfectly as halfway between Jack Black at his most restrained and a permanently mildly enraged Chandler Bing. He’s short tempered, a little cowardly, endlessly concerned with his own well-being and the standing of his office and rarely able to shut up about it. In contrast, Min is almost silent, projecting constant, tranquil authority. Lee Ji-hoon moves like he’s carrying a vast weight and has done for a long time and as the show continues we find out why and what lies behind both these men’s masks. Min’s tragic life and devotion to duty are tested to the absolute limit and, in doing so, he wakes something up in Yang. The other man is still loud, pompous and really doesn’t want trouble. But when Min is functionally fired it’s Yang who helps him out and, when Min risks everything on a point of principle, it’s Yang who leads the Office in public defiance with him. He knows full well just how much trouble he’s going to be in. He does it anyway. Which is pretty much the mission statement of his Office, it turns out. On numerous occasions, the historians are ordered to not write something down or reveal something confidential. They are uniquely positioned to be both powerless and have unimpeachable authority and Yang and Min both fight to defend their profession in wildly different, but equally brave ways. All of which leads to one of the climactic scenes here being impossibly tense, deeply moving and involving a lot of people writing things down very intently while seemingly seconds from death. Seriously the crescendo on this thing, which hits and just keeps hitting for much of the final episode is amazing. Every character and concept, every theme is tied together into a final, literal and metaphorical confrontation between ways of life. Between history as people want it and history as it is; untidy, complex, cruel and, just sometimes, hopeful. Goo Hae-ryung really does find her Good FIght.

Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung crosses genres, challenges stereotypes (The guys! Have emotions! Frequently! And are viewed as being MORE manly for doings so!) and tells an astonishingly well realized collection of stories that mosaic into one much larger one. It’s in Netflix now, both dubbed and subbed and you should absolutely watch it.
 
There are very few movies I love more than the 1999 version of The Mummy. This oral history of the making of it is an absolute delight, as is that Robert Sammelin image for it.

Rabid

Rose is a fashion designer whose past is a cocoon of trauma. Raised by her best friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot)’s family after a car accident that left her scarred and her parents dead, Rose is a wallflower in an industry that hates them and her. Bullied by her boss, Gunter (Mackenzie Gray) and unsure of where she stands within possible boyfriend Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth), she runs off and gets involved in another accident. Horrifically disfigured, Rose believe her life is over. Until she sees an advert for an experimental new surgery...

The Soska Sisters remake of David Cronenbergs’ original is a gristly, chewy delight. Here, they’ve cleverly given Rose nothing but the agency she was largely denied in the original and watched as she proceeds to infect or destroy everyone and everything she touches, like some sort of inverse Typhoid Mary. This is in turn tied to both a subtle nod to the superhero origin narrative (‘My glasses? I don’t need them anymore’) and the hyper real, overtly bitchy theatrics most people assume the fashion industry is full of. Whether or not it is is ultimately irrelevant. This is Rose’s reality, whether or not it’s ours ultimately doesn’t matter. Whether or not it's a stable reality absolutely does.

That ambiguity is the backbone of the movie and it’s also going to be one of the two sticking points for people. Mackenzie Gray as Gunther is so broad, so OTT that he hauls the movie into jet black comedy. Gunther (Whose Haus of Gunther umlaut explosion logo made me laugh every time) is Karl Lagerfeld with the volume turned up. A big, flamboyant, millionaire who can make and break performances, And it’s Rose’s time in the spotlight.
Or is it?
The Soskas gradually begin to play with reality and film until the third act brims with fizzing invention and glee. There’s a stop motion sequence that would warm what Silent Hill residents have instead of hearts. There’s a flash freeze sequence showing how quickly the virus can pass. The camera shakes during one of the final conversations between Rose and Brad, in time with her spasms. The very thing that’s empowering Rose is destroying her and clearly has a sentience all of it’s own. It’s killing her even as it’s forcing her into a shape people will accept. There’s a lot of metaphor and simile here and it changes depending on where you stand. What doesn’t, and this is a mark of a good movie, is the success with which its delivered. The Soskas have a fiercely confident vision as directors and their lead, Laura Vandervoort, leaves everything on screen. Vandervoort is especially great in the second act when Rose’s torment really begins to come to the fore. She shows us this woman’s clear intelligence, self awareness and helplessness in the face of what she’s becoming. She does this in no way that’s pretty at all and that’s why it works. There’s a sequence where Rose’s face temporarily mutilates and she stumbles, howling with terror down the street towards a Good Samaritan. It ends badly for both of them and the Soskas show us the cost of Rose’s success again and again in moments like this.

That second sticking I mentioned though, is very nearly everyone else. Talbot is great as Rose’s cheerfully blunt roommate and best friend and, aside from getting to kill people in a FABULOUS dress in the third act, gets very little to do. Likewise Hollingsworth as Brad, Rose’s would be boyfriend. His plot is surprisingly underdeveloped and while he does well with what he has he could have carried more.

The flip side to that however are the people who do register. The Mendez-Brooks household has a whale of a time, with C.M. Punk  hilarious in a cameo as the world’s chewiest sex pest, and his other half AJ Mendez impressing as a charmingly snarly fashionista. Best of all, Ted Atherton is incredibly good as Doctor William Burroughs (Oh yes, they go there. ALL THE WAY there.). Bringing the same jovial menace he brought to his scene stealing turn in The Expanse, Atherton plays Burroughs as the hero of his own movie. A man for whom death is a disease and evolution the cure, prepared to pay any price because he knows we will once he’s perfected it. It’s brilliant work and secures Atherton as a go to bad guy for this kind of movie. Seriously, his third act opening speech is one of the best ‘Oh SHIT’moments  I’ve seen in a while.

In the end though, even those problems are covered by the sheer enthusiasm and love for the material the Soska Sisters bring. This is Rabid as a carrier not just for the original movie but for a discussion of female empowerment, work place discrimination and trans humanism. It’s anchored by a startling and star-making turn from Vandervoort. Old fans will be intrigued by the changes to the original while newcomers will find a classic tune played in a different, bloodier key. Honest, raw and massive fun.
Rabid is on general release from October 7th,
Just hook it into my veeeeeeins! And if that's the Mercury 13, then this show is officially off to the races.

Horror Christmas: Carnival of Souls

Carnival of Souls was released in 1962. it was written, produced, and directed by Herk Harvey, and starred Candace Hilligoss as Mary. A passenger in an impromptu street race, Mary's car crashes off a bridge into a river. She emerges hours later, unable to remember how she survived. Still in shock, she moves to Salt Lake City to become a church organist. But Mary is tormented by the figure of a strange, pale man. And Mary isn't always there...

Carnival of Souls is a cinematic temple to uncertainty. The movie simply opens. The dialogue regularly slips sync or seems quieter than the atmospheric soundtrack. The drag race is endearingly slow but the crash into the river is brutal. Even the ending, robbed of shock by time and countless imitations, denies you certainty. There is no change where you expect change. No answer where you expect Rod Serling's stentorian tones. The movie just stops. A ballroom glimpsed in the distance, a heat mirage at the edge of consciousness. The last thing you see before you drown. Unless, of course, the last thing you see is The Man, the iconic ghoul at the heart of the movie. An iconic ghoul played, with fourth wall shattering exuberance by writer, producer and director Harvey. The architect of Mary's fictional nightmare, repeatedly showing up to remind her of that fact.
But while Harvey has all the fun, Hilligoss does all the work in a surprisingly modern performance. Mary is...off. Just a little odd sometimes in a manner that modern viewers will peg as PTSD and contemporary viewers I can only presume thought were 'lady problems'. She's literally crawling from the wreckage and endures everything from an overly familiar neighbor to a self righteous Priest with the same dazed candor. Mary knows she isn't right. Mary's pretty sure she's alive and that's a good enough start. At least that's what she keeps telling herself.

The middle hour of the movie, with modern eyes, flickflacks between being an examination of casual, offhand discrimination and trauma. Mary has, in fairness a touch of Barbara from Night of the Living Dead to her but again, that plays as oddly plausible and modern. She's in a terrible situation, no one cares and she's making the best of it. That's the basic plot of every soap opera ever, every kitchen sink drama and every shambling This Life clone ever made. Yet, here, it's the stuff of overtly supernatural nightmare.

Nightmare, it should be noted, that doesn't waste any time. The dream like quality of the third act in particular is far from somnolent and there's a real sense of danger and the uncanny to the entire movie. Mary knows something is wrong but struggles to grab onto it. When she does, it could be argued, there's even a (loose) case for the ending being hopeful. Whether you believe that or not, those final scenes show you just how little can be done with near total silence, white face paint and the slow, yet somehow still maniacal dance of a silent, suited group of revelers. If you listen very carefully, you can hear entire generations of horror writers making notes. Listen even closer, you can hear Joss Whedon committing the entire thing to memory through sheer force of will.

Carnival of Souls is quiet, disjointed, unsettling and frankly brilliant. I caught a very small section years ago and it's haunted me ever since. I'm delighted to find that the whole thing is even more powerful and, from our position in the year of our Lord Keanu19, provides a fascinating look at some of modern horror's most successful, unnerving ideas when they were still saplings.

Carnival of Souls, the original and the attempted remake, are both available now via Amazon Prime. There is a predictably lovely Criterion edition of the original too.

So Where's Your Head At?

Admit it, you were humming it too.

It's been, so far, a weird and intense year and this month is probably the most intense yet. I'm acutely aware that I'm not quite past the Hugo Losers Party nonsense but it is on the way. I'm making my peace with the fact I probably have to write about it to put it all the way to bed.

(This means my subconscious, which, oddly, has red hair and an American accent, has already realized this and is patiently waiting for me to catch up)

But for the first time in a while, the last few days feel like I've got pretty much ALL the reins in hand which makes a nice change. I'm working on streamlining how I do this newsletter too and have a month's worth of content planned and in some cases written. I may drop photos of my whiteboards here next week so you can see. It's color coded and everything!

Most of all though I'm ready to be 43 tomorrow. I'm looking forward to some time off, some time in London with Marguerite and all sorts of food shopping and classical music adventures. Time to take some time off. Time to maybe go for a swim. Time to go to one of my favorite places in the world and eat something I've never had before. And that's where my head's at this week.

Signal Boosting

  • This is one of the abstract blocks April Sumner, one of The Rusty Quill's producers has painted for the various factions from The Magnus Archives. This one is The Lonely and it's my favorite for...all sorts of reasons. Check out her store here and the rest of the blocks here.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

Signing Off/Playing Out

Right then! I'm off to That London to prepare to celebrate the passage of linear time!

Please do yourself, and my...self, three favors between now and next week. First off, the Escape Artists Podcast Network is crammed full of free, amazing fiction, go dive in.

Secondly check out the Team KennerStuart instagram because we're back, baby! And also off to That London so expect pictures galore.

And finally, be kind to yourself. It's a rough climate out there right now. Wrap up warm, check your tethers and your bearings and go at the speed you need to. You've got this.

I work without pay, here. I know times are tight but if you can afford it please consider dropping something in the tip jar. Thank you:)

Also on account of it being my birthday, my list is here if you're feeling gifty. Thank you:)

Playing us out this week! The Teddy Bears with Cobrastyle, beloved of Chuck fans everywhere! And if I have to know that show debuted 12 years ago, so do you! Oh one more thing, this?
is a Full Lid
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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