Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Tourist, Things I Do for Money and More

Oh, winter doldrums you’ve really set in by now, haven’t you? I need a sunny day. If you do too, well, I can’t change the weather, but maybe we can help you figure out some ways to pass the time inside under a blanket. Each week you’ll find in this space a set of recommendations from our writers, ranging from TV and film to music and podcasts, or whatever else we might be into at the moment. These things may or may not be new to the world, but that’s not the point. What matters is what’s interesting, and what’s worth your time. This week’s entries include: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Tourist, Carrie, Kaasin, Things I Do for Money, and RocaNews.

TV Recommendation: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

Timothy Glaraton: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a recent discovery of mine, one of those cult shows that never found the audience it deserved. Presented as a ‘lost’ series airing for the first time—complete with commentary from “Garth Marenghi,” “Dean Learner,” and “Todd Rivers”—Darkplace is a parody of low budget ’80s horror/sci-fi/drama so thoroughly executed that it’s virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

All the hallmarks are there: the Casio synth soundtrack, subpar editing, frequent out-of-place cuts, sloppy camera work, acting of both the painfully wooden variety and the over-the-top ridiculous variety, little-to-no-budget special effects, excessive use of slow motion, poorly redubbed dialogue that only sometimes is properly lip-synched, and storylines that are both severely flawed and open-ended.

And what storylines they are. Mist that brings the ghost of Scottish warriors, supposedly coming to punish Rick (Garth’s character in-show) for a racist outburst in Glasgow. New hire Liz feels is unable to get a chicken supper which causes her psychic powers to go berserk. Rick finds himself taking care of a mutant baby with one giant eye that winds up filling the emotional void left by his dead half-grasshopper son.

At the center of all this is Garth Marenghi. Author. Dreamweaver. Visionary. Plus Actor. Marenghi is the brainchild of writer/actor Matthew Holness, a parody of both Stephen King and what has been referred to as “the rampant egotism of self-appointed ‘mastermind’ authors.” “Marenghi’s” character, Rick Dagless, is as obvious of a Mary Sue author insert as you can get, and much of the show is simply a mouthpiece for “Marenghi’s” views.

Meanwhile, the director’s commentary that serves as a framing device for the series is a gold mine of absurd, pseudo-intellectual quotes: “I know writers who use subtext and they’re all cowards,” “I love working with women—hang on, let me rephrase that…I admire the women I work with—let me rephrase that…I am willing to work with women,” and, “This eve’s tale o’ blood is an allegory, and as such I’ve included interviews with myself, my publisher Dean Learner, and the actor Todd Rivers, so we can tell you what it means,” to pull out just a few especially memorable ones.

The show never received any sort of large following, but trust me when I say that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a true gem of early ’00s TV–-disguised as a hidden gem of low budget ’80s TV.

Characters hold guns and stand in a row in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

Film Recommendation: Carrie (1976)

Alix Turner: Carrie (1976) may not have been director Brian De Palma’s first film, but it was his first major box-office success and took him and his cast to growing fame. Many of De Palma’s films were powerful or even melodramatic, but none quite left a mark in cinema history like Carrie. Oh the cast! Amy Irving (who also featured in De Palma’s The Fury…and later married Steven Spielberg!), Nancy Allen (who had major roles in more De Palma films before the RoboCop trilogy), William Katt (I prefer to remember in The Greatest American Hero than in House), Piper Laurie (Catherine Martell of Twin Peaks), P.J. Soles (her first film role before becoming a real scream queen), Sissy Spacek (known only for Badlands until this point), and John Travolta (in his first film role).

But why do I love the film so much? So many reasons. I love the interesting and slightly radical use of techniques such as the split diopter and split screen, enough to make the audience pay a little more attention and not enough to feel over-used. I love the melodrama, the screeching strings while a mirror cracks; the intensity of long, slow moments when you know disaster is about to strike, but Carrie herself does not. The beautifully drawn characters, some bitchy and some more nuanced; all of whom say something about teenage life.

I love Spacek’s performance, and I love the character of Carrie herself, the classic hero-victim. I want to hold her in the way she wanted from her messed up mother. I love her growing confidence: “I’m goin’, Mama. You can’t stop me. And I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.” And I love her understatements: “They laughed at me, Mama.” No need to mention that she burned the place down in response. Carrie is a classic, even still; am I right?

Carrie sits at a desk at school

Music Recommendation: Kaasin

Steve Swift: When you’ve got a group founder who’s worked with Rock Royalty Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, and Bernie Marsden and when you also founded the marvellous Deep Purple and Rainbow rousers Come Taste the Band, any Rock band graced by that presence should be great.

The man is Jo Henning Kaasin and the group is…Kaasin. No surprise there.

And no surprise in their debut Fired Up either. Just Rock quality. With the warm bellow of Jan Thore Grefstad upfront and big beat and bass behind, Jo weaves his six string magic and the melodies make you think of prime Rainbow.

For so many rockers, that’s going to be something special. Fired Up.  Fully loaded.

Another TV Recommendation: The Tourist (BBC)

Christopher Pilbeam: If you were meeting yourself for the first time, what would you think? When does it become too late to change who you are? The Tourist is one man’s struggle to find himself in the Australian outback. It has a lot in common with Fargo; I’d also recommend it to fans of Twin Peaks and Lost (now where could I find some of those around here…).

This six-part mini series is full of quirky characters and a cascade of plot twists, where the blood flows as freely as the lies. The Tourist seeks to discover what makes a person who they are—be it their actions, their relationships with others, or their own memories of themselves. Given that the protagonist (portrayed by Jamie Dornan) has amnesia, the concept of memory and how it can be misinterpreted is key to the story, and is exploited in ways both comedic and tragic. The Tourist is stylish and exhilarating and has a surprising amount of heart. I can’t say more without giving the game away—you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

News Source Recommendation: RocaNews

Daniel Siuba: This week I’m recommending my favorite news source, RocaNews. Roca is run by four individuals who are committed to providing fact-oriented (and compelling) news stories. Their primary platform is Instagram (@ridethenews) but they also offer a free newsletter via email, which includes a little extra information, as well as some fun polls and trivia questions. Their news stories vary from current events to intriguing deep dives on a vast variety of topics. The deep dives are my favorite; so far, they’ve included stories about the blue people of Kentucky (yes, their skin was actually blue); the witch hunts of Scotland (far deadlier than the Salem Witch Trials); the 19th century Chinese pirate queen, Shil Gang Xu (who eventually controlled 1,800+ pirate ships and 80,000 pirates), and the world’s slowest marathon runner, Shizo Kanakuri (it took him over 50 years to finish).

Overall, Roca’s news stories are well researched, concise, entertaining, and educational. I have never learned so much from a single news source, and this is the first time I’ve ever felt genuinely excited to read the news.

Another Film Recommendation: Warren Sonoda’s Things I Do for Money

Paul Keelan: Written and directed by Warren Sonoda, Things I Do for Money is a fun albeit somewhat familiar crime-caper elevated by sweeping cello solos and an idiosyncratic milieu. Set in Hamilton, Ontario (a blue-collar, steel mining town sometimes referred to as the ‘Pittsburgh’ of Canada), Sonoda infuses his film with heartfelt details and a personal touch. Led by a refreshingly multicultural cast, the story follows Eli (Theodor Aoki) and Nick Yaguchi (Maximilian Aoki)—a pair of Japanese-Canadian brothers / cello-playing maestros—as they unwittingly find themselves embroiled in a dark, criminal underworld.

The plot line largely sticks to classical genre beats: After stumbling upon a hitman’s stash of money, a cascade of events cause Eli and Nick to become reluctantly ensnared in the heist of a multi-million-dollar painting. Meanwhile, the brothers are preparing for an all-important cello audition. This is where the film truly shines. Amidst the dingy dive bars, Russian mobsters, and shoot-outs, Eli and Nick steadfastly rehearse their cello duet; and each time their cello bows slice the strings, Things I Do for Money ascends to transcendent heights.

The stark juxtaposition of the film’s two primary sensibilities—the drab proletarian backdrop of Hamilton and the aesthetic refinement of Eli and Nick’s virtuoso cello-playing skills—works well, presenting a potent and inspiring reminder that it is possible to overcome environmental obstacles, no matter how stifling they may seem.

Even Eli’s romantic interest—an ice-skating prodigy named Laura (Yodit Tewoderos)—dreams of escaping Hamilton and heading to Winnipeg. Unfortunately, she is similarly constrained by circumstance: stymied by her vulgar, wheelchair-bound, crime boss grandmother. By empathizing with these exquisitely talented yet opportunity-starved characters, the film reinforces the fact that some crazy things people do for money are, in fact, justified by their ends.

Things I Do for Money can be streamed for free on Tubi or rented on Amazon Prime.

What have you been into this week? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

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