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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Trouble by the Sea

November 26th, 2019 | 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

I Hear She’s a Real Bitch (Nonfiction, Jen Agg, 2017) Founder of wildly influential, now-defunct, Toronto charcuterie destination The Black Hoof recounts the building of her bars and dining spots, sex life, and the challenges confronting women in the bro-centric food biz. A rare look at such insider details as service, interior design, lighting and staff relations from a restaurant creator who isn’t a chef.—RDL

The Lighthouse (Film, US, Robert Eggers, 2019) Two men (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) spiral into madness while tending a remote Maine lighthouse in the 1880s. Decades of Guy Maddin films prepared me somewhat for this ferociously earthy sea story, shot in 35mm black-and-white in a 1920s aspect ratio, that hits more as a series of fabulous grimy images and scenes than as a narrative per se. Add to that a ferocious, top-notch actor’s duel and a foghorn-fueled Mark Korven score and sound design, and you’ve got yourself a film. –KH

Okay

Tiger Shark (Film, US, Howard Hawks, 1932) Lovable brute Mike Mascarenhas (Edward G. Robinson) marries the straight-talking daughter (Zita Johann) of a casualty from his tuna boat, who catches feelings for his loyal first mate (Richard Arlen.) Early Hawks outing features his key theme of camaraderie between men who perform dangerous labor, but also the over-the-top melodrama and big acting he will quickly toss overboard. Documentary footage of 30s fishing techniques would prove invaluable to anyone writing a tuna-themed Trail of Cthulhu scenario.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Doctor Sleep, The Irishman, and a 60s Op Art Head Trip

November 19th, 2019 | 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

The Irishman (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2019) Sponsored by mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) becomes the right-hand man of union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). De Niro actually puts in the acting work in his portrayal of a “good soldier,” and Scorsese wisely reins in Pacino just enough for his showboat Hoffa to work perfectly, but the real star is unimaginably Joe Pesci (!!) as the voice of tired reason (!!!). Scorsese out-Scorseses himself (and in one scene out-Hitchcocks Hitchcock) then dares to show his moral wrecks and wreckers in a calm, deadly light. –KH

Recommended

The Deuce Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, David Simon, 2019) As the Martino brothers (James Franco) pay the inevitable toll for their mob ties, Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) sees demand for her classy feminist erotica dwindle in the VHS market. The show’s touching, downbeat final season completes Simon’s thesis as grand-scale political and economic forces grind down its cast of shadow economy workers.—RDL

The Prisoner (Film, France, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1968) Fascinated by the bondage photography of her thickheaded artist husband’s imperious gallerist (Laurent Terzieff), a TV news producer (Elizabeth Wiener) initiates a mutually self-destructive love triangle. Drama of eros, thanatos and neurosis features saturated colors, arresting op art visuals, and a hallucinatory freak-out that stands as the kink counterpart to 2001’s hyperspace sequence. AKA Woman in Chains.—RDL

Okay

Doctor Sleep (Film, US, Mike Flanagan, 2019) Left a barely functional alcoholic by the events of The Shining, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) protects a young psychic girl (Kyliegh Curran) from a truly ridiculous team of shine-eaters led by, and I wish I were kidding, a vampire named Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). With dread gone, we’re left with a movie that’s a decent secret-mutant-battle flick until it becomes a literal travesty of Kubrick. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Irishman and Other Criminals

November 12th, 2019 | 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.

Ken was unavailable to consume media this week, due to a mission in space.

The Pinnacle

The Irishman (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2019) Obliging hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) becomes confidant and factotum to Pennsylvania mob boss Russ Buffalino (Joe Pesci) and then labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino.) Subdued formal control and absurdist humor predominate as Scorsese’s gangland cycle culminates and merges with his contemplative religious films. Absolutely worth seeing on a big screen if you can.—RDL

Recommended

The Florida Project (Film, US, Sean Baker, 2017) Under the eye of its beleaguered manager (Willem Dafoe) an adorable grade school hellion (Brooklynn Pierce) makes her Orlando motel complex a playground, as her authority-defying mother (Bria Vinaite) turns to increasingly desperate means of paying the rent. Irrepressible kid hijinks and a zowie color palette leaven the usual bleakness of the fly-on-the-wall social problem drama.—RDL

Widows (Film, US, Steve McQueen, 2018) Backed against the wall after their husbands die in a heist, a no-nonsense teacher’s union official (Viola Davis) recruits the grieving partners of his crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) to pull off his next planned job. Tough crime drama set in the world of corrupt Chicago politics offers a master class in executing a complicated set-up without a whiff of over-explanation.—RDL

Good

Woman in Witness Protection (Film, Japan, Juzo Itami, 1997) Mismatched cops protect a fading actress (Nobuko Miyamoto) after she witnesses a cult murder. The director’s final film follows his central formula, in which kooky comedy sweetens a confrontation with intimidating, lawless power.—RDL

Okay

Out of Print (Film, US, Julia Marchese, 2014) Documentary homage to L.A.’s New Beverly Cinema, directed by a member of its staff, celebrates its role in film culture before moving on to lament the demise of 35 mm film print distribution. My biggest surprise was to discover how modest a house it is compared to its Toronto equivalents.—RDL

Raw Deal (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1948) Hardbitten gal (Claire Travor) helps her man (Dennis O’Keefe) bust out of prison only to see him fall for the idealistic paralegal (Marsha Hunt) they’ve taken hostage. Atmospheric, brutal noir hobbled by the casting of the patrician Trevor as a gun-toting product of the skids.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dolemite, Parasite and Growing Up Haunted

November 5th, 2019 | 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

Parasite (Film, South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, 2019) In a series of scams, a poor family infiltrates a rich household’s staff. Superbly executed con artist film becomes something more unpredictable in this assured, controlled masterpiece blending architecture, class struggle, and shock. –KH

Recommended

Dolemite is My Name (Film, US, Craig Brewer, 2019) Comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) gains underground fame for X-rated party records and a scrappy indie movie featuring his boastful pimp character. Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, specialists in cult cultural figure biopics, add another notch to their belts with this tale of lovable underdogs making it their own way.—RDL

Nameless (Comics, Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham, 2015) A nameless occult specialist gets drafted into a billionaire’s space mission to divert the asteroid Xibalba. Or gets trapped in PTSD after a seance gone horribly wrong. Or both. Or neither. Or something else. Morrison presents, and Burnham illuminates, a relativistic cosmic horror magic story with no privileged narrative that is extremely my jam. Much brilliance on display, and much blood. –KH

The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family (Nonfiction, Lindsay Wong, 2018) The author recounts her bruising upbringing in a pricey, grow-op ridden Vancouver suburb, as part of a family unswervingly wedded to understanding its endemic mental illness as ghost possession. Startling and often cruelly funny memoir of pain and growth in a familial mirror universe.—RDL

Good

The Four False Weapons (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1938) When an English playboy’s former mistress is found dead in his Paris hideaway chateau, Bencolin comes out of retirement. The plot is almost too thick and rich, pummeling the reader into acquiescence in the sea of clues and details, and Bencolin without the Gothic loses his iconic character without gaining very much humanity. But still, a solid read and a compelling ride. –KH

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Film, US, Angela Robinson, 2017) The lives of a convention-flouting psychologist (Luke Evans), his smarter wife (Rebecca Hall) and their girlfriend (Bella Heathcote) filter into his comic book hero, an Amazon with a penchant for tying up her enemies. Engagingly written and acted biopic goes beyond confirmable fact to more clearly portray its protagonists as early heroes of the kink and polyamory movements.—RDL

Okay

Being Napoleon (Film, US, Jesse Handsher & Olivier Roland, 2018) Documentary about the two leading contenders to play Napoleon Bonaparte at the 200th anniversary re-enactment of Waterloo loses steam (and focus) when one contender wins about two-thirds of the way through and the film switches (without result) to the general subject of re-enactors and why they bother. –KH

In the Tall Grass (Film, US, Vincenzo Natali, 2019) Distressed cries lure a traveling brother and sister into an overgrown field concealing a deadly space-time anomaly. A Stephen King/ Joe Hill novella gives Natali a sinister green playground for his creepy visual imagination, but pays the price of its  desultory Kingian characterizations.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Parasite, Jojo Rabbit and a Suppressed Transmission

October 29th, 2019 | 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

Parasite (Film, South Korea, Bong Joon Ho, 2019) Hardscrabble family spins a series of deceptions to win positions in a tech tycoon’s household. Deliriously unpredictable, masterfully executed thriller of slow-boiling class tension.—RDL

Recommended

Buoyancy (Film, Australia, Rodd Rathjen, 2019) Impoverished teen Chakra (Sam Heng) leaves his Cambodian village for work in Thailand but gets enslaved on a fishing boat. Gripping drama of character and situation fully digs into both, becoming a modern-day Jack London story complete with the sea, exploitation, and brutal violence. Sam Petty’s sound design exacerbates and completes the experience. –KH

Jojo Rabbit (Film, US,Taika Waititi, 2019) As the Allies close in on Germany, a naively fervent ten-year-old member of the Hitler Youth (Roman Griffin Davies) whose imaginary friend (Waititi) discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johannsen) is harboring a Jewish teen (Thomasin McKenzie.) Broad, biting comedy and bubbling energy create that most unlikely of combinations—a profoundly humane satire.—RDL

Mr. Jones (Film, Poland/UK/Ukraine, Agnieszka Holland, 2019) Curious about the Soviet economy,  Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) follows a lead to Ukraine where he witnesses Stalin’s terror-famine. After a long takeoff, the movie gets to the USSR and becomes a wild blend of Carol Reed and David Lean, going from the vile decadence surrounding the New York Times’ Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard, beautifully odious) into the white nightmare around Stalin. –KH

Monstrum (Film, South Korea, Jong-ho Huh, 2018) Exiled but loyal royal guard risks political treachery to investigate rumors of a monstrous creature. Classic adventure moments abound in a movie unabashedly intent on delivering the funnest version of every plot turn.—RDL

Once Upon A River (Film, US, Haroula Rose, 2019) In 1978 Michigan, teenage Annie Oakley-wannabe Margo Crane (Kenadi DelaCerna) heads up the Stark River to find her mother. Rose (and her cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby) pulls off a tour de force of tone, balancing and adjusting natural beauty with good and evil, growth and fear. DelaCerna commands the screen in every scene despite barely having any dialogue; John Aston makes a superb foil as a dying misanthrope. –KH

Vast of Night (Film, US, Andrew Patterson, 2019) While everyone in Cayuga, New Mexico one night in 1959 attends the high school basketball game, late night DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and precocious switchboard girl Fay (Sierra McCormick) discover a strange — dare I say suppressed — transmission. The word “bravura” could have been coined to describe this film, and so much (including the small-town dynamic) works so well that I feel like a churl kvetching about a slight misstep in the ending. –KH

Good

Svaha: the Sixth Finger (Film, South Korea, Chae-hyŏn Chang, 2019) Opportunistic cult-busting pastor (Jung-jae Lee) investigates a Buddhist sect engaged in a covert demon hunt. Bump up the rating of this twisty supernatural thriller to Recommended if you want to see a flick that precisely parallels a GUMSHOE scenario.—RDL

Okay

8: A South African Horror Story (Film, South Africa, Harold Hölscher, 2019) When Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) shows up at the farm inherited by hapless white folks, he fixes their generator and befriends their daughter Mary (Keita Luna) so of course he’s got a demon in a bag. “Single Black Handyman” doesn’t deliver much but rote plot ratchets and gratuitous misogyny on the way to a wildly colorful but nugatory ending. Bump it up to Good if the African lore and setting really move you. –KH

The Great Green Wall (Film, UK, Jared P. Scott, 2019) Documentary follows Malian singer-songwriter Inna Modja across the Sahel collaborating with local musicians on an album to raise awareness and funds for the titular wall, a planned reforestation belt from Senegal to Djibouti. It provides a 101-level overview of the region’s various interlocked crises from an unabashedly activist point of view; those seeking a close or hard look at the challenges and promises of reforestation (or full versions of the songs) should look elsewhere. –KH

The Hypnotist (Film, Finland, Arthur Franck, 2019) Olavi Hakasalo reinvents himself as Olliver Hawk, Finland’s missionary hypnotist — but what of his relationship with longtime Finnish President Kekkonen? What of it indeed? In this mix of recreation and archive, of self-aggrandizement and shrugging guesswork, somewhere there could be a gripping documentary about the relationship between politics and hypnosis and showmanship. Not here, though, in what my friend Emily describes as “the world’s most conspiratorial ASMR video.” –KH

Integrity (Film, HK, Alan Mak, 2019) Financial crimes agent (Lau Ching-Wan) races the clock to save a case against corporate-level cigarette smugglers after his whistleblower (Nick Cheung) flees to Australia. Police procedural with an overactive soundtrack takes its time getting to the twisty bit.—RDL

The Laundromat (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2019) An insurance scam impels a determined widow (Meryl Streep) to investigate the world of shell companies, as embodied by shady Panama-based lawyers Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Fonseca (Antonio Banderas.) Soderbergh’s knack for adding magic to quotidian moments partially buoys this effort to apply The Big Short’s dramatized essay format to a parallel instance of high-level financial chicanery. Chiefly interesting as a study in contrast between two highly mannered performances: Streep, fussy and joyless, Oldman fully committed to over-the-top hilarity.—RDL

The Moneychanger (Film, Uruguay/Argentina, Federico Vieroj, 2019) Somewhat ambitious and totally venal, Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) oozes to the top of 1970s Uruguay’s money laundering and offshoring business. Somewhat ambition isn’t enough to drive this lackluster film, though, despite a game cast and a suitably grainy color palette. Like its main character it gets partway somewhere but doesn’t have nearly enough fun along the way. –KH

Paradise Next (Film, Japan, Yoshihiro Hanno, 2019) Two gangsters — taciturn, cool Shima (Etsushi Toyokawa) and smirking punk Makino (Satoshi Tsumabuki) — hide out in rural Taiwan with bartender Xiao En (Nikki Hsieh), who eerily resembles a dead girl linked to both. Look, I’m as fond of beautiful yet oblique emotional collage as the next Taiwanese director, but you’ve got to give me something we can agree is a plot before you’re getting out of Okay. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Carmilla, Capra, and CIFF

October 22nd, 2019 | 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

Bring Me Home (Film, South Korea, Kim Seung-woo, 2019) Nurse and mother Jung Yae-on (Lee Young-ae) searches for her son, who went missing six years ago, following a lead to a fishing station and its corrupt cop enforcer Sgt. Hong (Yoo Jae-myung). Korean films do not generally soften their blows, and this genuinely harrowing psychological thriller is no exception. Even the inevitable violent climax avoids Western-style catharsis, becoming yet more chaotic horror leaving unease behind. Just another powerful triumph from by far the best national film culture on the planet. –KH

Carmilla (Film, UK, Emily Harris, 2019) Isolated in rural Sussex, young Lara (Hanna Rae) welcomes the presence of the mysterious Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) although her upright governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine) has her doubts. Harris soft-pedals the supernatural elements of LeFanu’s source novel almost into invisibility, playing up Lara’s naive excitement and love for the new girl. Although the script wavers between murk and didacticism, the strong acting and Michael Wood’s eager camera work (much of it in candle-lit night interiors) keep it on the Recommended side of the bubble. –KH

Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Film, US, Sasha Waters Freyer, 2018) Critical and biographical documentary profile of archetypal street photographer Garry Winogrand, who famously left mountains of his images unprocessed at the time of his death. Poignant testimony from his colleagues brings emotional impact to the arts doc format.—RDL

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (Film, Spain/Estonia/Ethiopia/Latvia/Romania, Miguel Llanso, 2019) CIA agents DT Gargano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo) must enter the Psychobook cyberspace to defeat the Soviet virus “Stalin” (and the Beta-Ethiopian dictator Batfro, who yes dresses as Batman) in this gonzo mashup of spy-fi, martial arts, cyberpunk, lucha, and every other genre with “-sploitation” added to it. Shot in three different formats plus stop-motion, Llanso’s inspired PKD-WSB bricolage somehow hangs together around its many many curves and triumphs, backed by a killer free-jazz soundtrack by Bill Dixon. –KH

Ladies of Leisure (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1930) Cracks appear in the hardboiled veneer of a mercenary party girl (Barbara Stanwyck) when a brusque but handsome railroad heir (Ralph Graves) hires her as an artist’s model. Surprisingly uncreaky pre-Code stage play adaptation elevated by Stanwyck’s affecting, quicksilver performance.—RDL

Varda by Agnés (Film, France, Agnés Varda, 2019) The beloved filmmaker assembled this documentary montage of her lectures on (and excerpts of) her own work just before her death this March, and the portion of it that unpacks her cinematic creation does so with the genius and generosity that became her trademarks. Most of the last half of the film deals with her post-2000 career as a digital installation artist, a less interesting and more remote body of work that leaves you wanting more of the first half. –KH

Good

Gambling Lady (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1934) When she falls for a naive but handsome socialite (Joel McCrea) an honest gambler (Barbara Stanwyck) learns that the upper crust contains sharper characters than the underworld. Star power wins the day in a typically veering early 30s script.—RDL

Knives and Skin (Film, US, Jennifer Reeder, 2019) After teenage Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) disappears in Big River, Illinois, her mother and schoolmates remain haunted. Very ambitious blend of David Lynch and Richard Linklater ultimately drowns in a too-large cast of characters, most written in the same voice; intriguing story notes appear only to vanish like Carolyn. But the luminous color-high cinematography by Christopher Rejano, Badalamenti-esque score by Nick Zinner, and compellingly sharp edits by Mike Olenik enhance your experience throughout. –KH

Miyamoto (Film, Japan, Tetsuya Mariko, 2019) Young schlemiel with anger issues Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu) hits the rapids in his relationship with Yasuko (Yu Aoi) as we follow two halves of their story to inevitable confrontation. Ambitious plotting and roller-coaster emotion (and a viscerally unsettling fight scene) almost distract from what a drip the main character is throughout, but help drive the endings to almost inevitable anticlimax. –KH

The Whistlers (Film, Romania/France/Germany, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019) Femme fatale Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) inveigles corrupt Bucharest cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) into learning the whistling language of the Canary Islanders to break her partner out of jail, and no it doesn’t make a lot more sense than that after you’ve watched it either. Porumboiu’s deadpan style blends unevenly with the crime thriller genre, and Cristi (and the viewer) only learn he’s not the protagonist far too late in the proceedings. But it still racks up plenty of great sequences on the way to not at all being Charley Varrick with whistling. –KH

Okay

Blue My Mind (Film, Sweden, Lisa Brühlmann, 2015) 15 year old arriving mid-term at a new school throws in with the fast kids while coping with a weird bodily transformation that fuses her toes and gets her hungering for raw fish. Hews so utterly to the distressing teens realist template that it plays as an earnest plea to understand the important social problem of turning into a mythical sea creature.—RDL

La Llorona (Film, Guatemala/France, Jayro Bustamante, 2019) Mobs of protesters besiege the house of elderly, genocidal general Enrique (Julio Diaz), while the vengeful spirit La Llorona (Maria Mercedes Coroy) infiltrates it. Regardless of its virtues as indictment of Guatemala’s actual past genocidaires, it fails as a horror film because the contemptible General never has the remotest audience sympathy and La Llorona (a beautifully creepy portrayal by director and actor wasted) never really threatens anyone else. Promising threads about the General’s Alzheimer’s and elderly weakness drop unused. –KH

T2 Trainspotting (Film, UK, Danny Boyle, 2017) Twenty years after stealing his mates’ drug deal proceeds, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh to face his reckoning. Fun but inessential sequel serves as a reunion tour for the cast, with touches of sentimentality the original bracingly avoided.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hot Priests

October 15th, 2019 | 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

Fleabag Season 2 (Television, UK, BBC/Amazon, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2019) A yen for the priest (Andrew Scott) who will officiate the wedding of her father (Bill Paterson) to his dreadful partner (Olivia Colman) threatens Fleabag’s (Waller-Bridge) newfound equilibrium. In a rare recent instance of a second season building on and topping the first, Waller-Bridge deepens her already rich characters and brings the proceedings to a satisfying unresolved resolution.—RDL

Recommended

The Devils (Film, UK, Ken Russell, 1971) Accusations of sorcery from a sexually frustrated abbess (Vanessa Redgrave) provide the pretext for Cardinal Richelieu’s allies to rid themselves of a politically inconvenient, hot-blooded priest (Oliver Reed.) Only in the topsy-turvy film world of the early seventies could this wildly theatrical, and wildly everything else as well, phantasmagoria of a satirical historical drama appear on the Warner Brothers release slate.—RDL

Exhibition (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2013) The marriage of two artists, one (Viv Albertine) in preemptive mourning over the striking modernist house she does not want to sell, the other (Liam Gillick) cerebral and unresponsive, hits a rough patch. Austere, minutely-observed, (mostly) naturalistic drama will induce squirms of pained sympathy from anyone who hates to be interrupted while working at home.—RDL

Joker (Film, US, Todd Phillips, 2019) Failed by everyone including himself, party clown Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) embraces nihilism in a broken Gotham City. Phoenix’ gripping physical performance carries the film over its two main structural problems: origin stories aren’t stories, and even the best pastiche (which this is) only reminds viewers of the better originals (in this case, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy). However, within those limits, Phillips and his team (especially production designer Mark Friedberg) make a really great movie nobody really needs. –KH

On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (Nonfiction, C.S. Lewis, 1982) In a series of essays (mostly published between 1944 and 1960) Lewis justifies the Romance and explains, as best he can, his own works in that broad country. Mostly minor pieces, a few of them (“On Stories” and “On Criticism” especially) sparkle as critical gems. Lovers of Lewis’ stately arguments, and of that breed of fiction concerned with Story, can find plenty to chew over, although readers already familiar with Lewis will find plenty that’s familiar here as well. –KH

Good

1637: The Polish Maelstrom (Fiction, Eric Flint, 2019) Book 27 (!!) in the “Ring of Fire” series finds the time-slipped Americans at war with the Ottoman Empire and deniably undermining the Polish kingdom. Nothing much happens in the big picture, but at least it happens fast this time around, thanks to Flint authoring solo and attempting to advance his unwieldy alternate timeline by main force. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s Recommended for this refreshing pacing change. –KH

Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils (Nonfiction, Richard Crouse, 2012) Until Criterion releases the deluxe disc edition they’re clearly hankering to make, this thorough, occasionally hyperbolic,  look at Russell’s best and most doomed film serves as a commentary track in prose. Covering everything from the historical case of the Loudun possessions to the myriad censored cuts of the film, this dangles the ironic likelihood that Warners only greenlit it because studio execs can’t read stage directions.—RDL

Okay

The Curse of the Werewolf (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1961) Spanish nobleman (Clifford Evans) tries to shield his adopted son (Oliver Reed) from the lycanthropic curse caused by the violent circumstances of his conception. Structural problems are the bane of werewolf movies, and this Hammer effort, memorable for the intensity of Reed’s performance, has them in spades: he doesn’t even appear until halfway through the runtime. Fun fact: producer Michael Carreras forced the filmmakers to switch the setting to Spain to reuse sets from another production. The resulting movie so offended Spanish officials that all Hammer films were banned there until the end of the Franco regime.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Brides of Dracula (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1960) Vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing (Peter Cushing) heads to Transylvania to mop up the vampire cult Dracula left behind, encountering a fanged baron and the women he’s turned. Rote, listless stab at spinning off the Hammer franchise without Christopher Lee. Lovely sets though.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Weighs in on Color Out of Space

October 8th, 2019 | 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

Color Out of Space (Film, US, Richard Stanley, 2019) When a meteorite strikes the Gardner family farm outside Arkham, failed patriarch Nathan’s (Nicolas Cage) is only the loudest of the resulting disintegrations. Stanley provides a multiply layered and blackly funny look at destruction, from cancer to alpacas, while still retaining the cosmic core of Lovecraft’s story. Masterful sound design and Colin Stetson’s powerful score amplify the horror. –KH

Death-Watch (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1935) When a man is found fatally stabbed with the minute hand of a clock in a tense London house, Dr. Fell must solve the crime. Not an impossible murder (except for the impossibility of keeping the house layout straight) but an interesting puzzle that also prefigures the post-Golden Age mystery by turning on the psychology of the household rather than the minutiae of method on which Carr usually focuses. –KH

Graveyard of Honor (Film, Takashi Miike, 2002) Dishwasher proves to be a rampaging liability to his yakuza clan after a swift rise through their ranks. Remake of Kinji Fukasaku’s scabrous 1975 film encourages us to feel empathy for a protagonist who is himself incapable of it, compelled by his limited emotional range to destroy others and ultimately himself.—RDL

Hustlers (Film, US, Lorene Scarfaria, 2019) When 2008 dries up the wallets of their Wall Street clientele, a single mom stripper (Constance Wu) and her pole artiste mentor (Jennifer Lopez) hatch a scheme to drug marks and max out their credit cards. Transposes the Scorsese/Pileggi first-person sociological crime drama template to a non-murderous scheme run by women, where even the betrayals remain supportive.—RDL

Tom Jones: the Director’s Cut (Film, UK, Tony Richardson, 1963) Charming adoptee (Albert Finney) loves a country squire’s daughter (Susannah York), with his pleasure-loving ways and apparent low birth standing as obstacles between them. Today it takes a bit of context about Britain in 1963 to see why its cheeky use of anti-realist cinematic devices and hipsters vs squares rebellion into the period literary adaptation hit like lightning, but still amiable fun.—RDL

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Television, Japan, Amazon, Sion Sono, 2018) Trad and neo vampire clans vie to possess a young woman raised as the vessel for ancient Dracula blood, leading to ultra-violence and weird regret at the titular establishment. Sono spends his Amazon money on a structurally daring chimera of a horror-action mini-series, featuring mode shifts, eye-popping colors, precision fight choreography, campy yet appropriately awful vampires, and an aesthetic that crosses the streams  between Jean Rollin and Frank Tashlin.—RDL

Yella (Film, Germany, Christian Petzold, 2007) After her ex drives them off a bridge and into a river, an accountant (Nina Hoss) travels to Hanover, where a promised job leads to an unmoored, subtly unnerving professional life. Demythologized riff on Carnival of Souls, anchored by Hoss’ quietly riveting screen presence, posits that in the German Bardo Thodol you still have to study spreadsheets and face the moral disequilibrium of nagging procedural irregularities.—RDL

Good

The Ikon (Film, Canada, Nathan Saliwonchyk, 2019) Animated rotoscope depicts the discovery of a blasphemous ikon by two Russians, in 1942 and 1992. Beautiful animation and fairy tale narration layer a tight, if familiar, Lovecraftian tale with a bit of political bite. –KH

Okay

Lost Island (Film, Russia, Denis Silyakov, 2018) When his boss exiles him to a remote island in the Kuriles, reporter Ivan Voevodin (Daniil Maslennikov) discovers weird amnesia, healing algae, and a beautiful marine biologist. Voevodin never interests the viewer, so even the most beautiful of islands doesn’t hold your attention, and nor does the desultory mystery. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wendigo Spoor

October 1st, 2019 | 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

The Rim of the Pit (Fiction, Hake Talbot, 1944) “I came up here to make a dead man change his mind.” Maybe the best opening line in mystery fiction introduces this locked room novel set in the Maine north woods. The solution exhausts and gratifies, but what elevates this superb novel above all but the best of Carr is the same thing that elevates the best of Carr: supernatural atmosphere. Talbot surrounds the crime with a séance, Algernon Blackwood wendigo spoor, and fresh snowfall. Don’t read it during a blizzard. –KH

Recommended

The Headless Lady (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1940) When a mysterious woman steals the Headless Lady illusion from the Great Merlini, he tracks her to the circus and discovers murder afoot! Rawson buries the reader in circus details, especially including slang, before adding a couple more plot rings to watch. I am a giant sucker for this whole milieu, but I stand by the Recommendation if only for the sheer brio of Rawson introducing one of his own pseudonyms as a suspect. –KH

No Coffin for the Corpse (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1942) The Great Merlini’s Watson, Ross Harte, has fallen in love with the daughter of an angry, and poltergeist-plagued, millionaire. Rawson’s final Merlini novel provides the requisite impossible killings and magical misdirection — plus ghost-breaking! — while pushing the boundaries of the fair-play mystery. Again, even as smitten with digression and showing off as Rawson is, he still revs up the pacing while keeping sure-handed control of his story. –KH

Off the Rails (Film, US, Adam Irving, 2016) Documentary profile of Darius McCollum, who attributes to his Asperger’s his compulsion to impersonate NYC transit employees, taking control of trains and buses, which kept him in prison for half of the last thirty years. Warm and heartbreaking portrait of a man who can’t help but mire himself in a system that can’t even contemplate connecting him to the help he so evidently needs.—RDL

Toni (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1935) Fickle quarryman’s love for a vintner’s niece turns disastrous after she instead agrees to marry his loutish foreman. Rural melodrama finds Renoir turning his sociological eye to migrant workers in the south of France.—RDL

Good

The Twenty Year Death (Fiction, Ariel S. Winter, 2012) A novelist on a slow but inexorable downward spiral becomes a peripheral figure in murder cases in 1930s France and 1940s L.A. before becoming the alcohol-sodden perpetrator of a killing in the 1950s. Three standalone novels, in the respective styles of George Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, constitute a prodigious feat of literary mimicry, though the Thompson, the hardest voice to nail, isn’t quite as bang-on a pastiche.—RDL

Okay

Between Two Ferns: the Movie (Film, US, Scott Aukerman, 2019) Reflexively insulting public access talk show host (Zach Galifinakis) goes on the road with his partially loyal crew in search of the celebrity interviews that will earn him a prime time show contract from the cruel, click-seeking Will Ferrell (himself). Expansion of the ongoing Funny or Die spot to feature-length has both the comic highs and dead spots typical of a sketch comedy movie.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Come For the Tacos, Stay for the Criminal Profiling

September 24th, 2019 | 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

Boom Town (Nonfiction, Sam Anderson, 2018) Subtitled “The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis,” Anderson’s book tells the story of my quondam hometown through the lens of its NBA team and its meteorologist hero Gary England, with sidelights into its disastrous I.M. Pei-designed “urban renewal,” the Oklahoma Land Run, the Murrah building bombing, and OKC’s memory-holed role in the civil rights era. In this stress test of the principle “there are no dull topics, only dull authors,” Anderson triumphs, striking gushers of weirdness and truth in a place allergic to both. –KH

The Chase (Film, US, Arthur Ripley, 1946) Down-on-his-luck veteran (Robert Cummings), chauffeur to a brutal criminal (Steve Cochrane), rescues his wife (Michele Morgan) from his controlling clutches. This haunted, dreamlike noir B-movie has it all: weird atmosphere, an odd automativd gimmick, sudden love, gay subtext, Peter Lorre, reality shifts, and a recursive structure that loops back on itself.—RDL

Death From a Top Hat (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1938) Two murders of two magicians (well, an occultist and a magician) in two locked rooms, both bodies strangled in a pentacle for the demon Surgat, who opens all locks. This being a Golden Age mystery, not a fantasy novel, the Great Merlini solves the case using his knowledge of stage magic (and magicians) and the requisite annoying showmanship. For a first novel, the plot and puzzle work amazingly well, and despite literal pages of exposition at some points, it never drags. –KH

Mindhunter Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Donen & Courtenay Miles & David Fincher, 2019) Now working under an enthusiastic boss, Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) interview Berkowitz and Manson, then butt up against local political hurdles when assigned to the ongoing Atlanta Child Murders. A subtle protagonist switch puts the more likeable Tench in the viewpoint role as Fincher’s chilly crime world gives way to director Carl Franklin’s acute portrait of a steamy, stymied Atlanta. The killer roles are always a meal for this show’s guest actors; here Christopher Livingston brilliantly captures Wayne Williams as an impertinent goober.—RDL

The Praise Singer (Fiction, Mary Renault, 1978) While not as thunderous as her Alexander trilogy or as glorious as her Theseus books, this brief novel — told as a reminiscence by the 6th-century BC lyric poet Simonides of Keos — still grabs the reader with its natural, albeit un-lyrical, voice and engaging eye for character. A kind of backstage-showbiz novel less about art than patronage, it also provides plenty of interesting historical filips that leave you wanting more, a maxim Simonides would surely have endorsed. –KH

Taco Chronicles (Television, Mexico, Carlos Perez Osorio, Netflix, 2019) Documentary series examines the origins, production methods, and enthusiastic clientele of six classic taco varieties, from the shawarma-derived pastor to the portable, fat-drenched canasta, or basket taco.. Edifying and mouth-watering, if you can get past the whimsy of having each episode narrated in the voice of a particular taco.—RDL

Good

The Footprints on the Ceiling (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1939) Stage magician and amateur sleuth the Great Merlini visits Skelton Island (in the East River) to expose a phony medium and discovers a phony suicide complete with footprints on the ceiling. Rawson throws even more stuff into his second novel, from pirates to blue men, but in fine misdirection style it mostly distracts from the business at hand, and not entirely to the book’s benefit. Still, the strong setting of this installment and the fun meta qualities of this series remain engaging. –KH

Glow Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch, 2019) The wrestlers find an audience with their show in Vegas, leaving them to wonder what they really wanted in the first place. The ennui that follows success provides a fresh theme for the series, though in practice this means splitting the ensemble into individual soapy plotlines, without sufficient run time to develop them.—RDL

Mindhunter Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Donen & Courtenay Miles & David Fincher, 2019) The problems of success begin to rear their heads as the nascent Behavioral Sciences Unit weathers new pressure to look good first and do good second. The choice of director Carl Franklin, and the Atlanta child killings, for the core of the season hit pay dirt narratively. It’s a shame that pointless, padded subplots about two agents’ personal lives wrap around and muffle that core. Holt McCallany remains the key performer of the series, even as the show vigorously embraces its “serial killer interview as actor’s workshop” leitmotif. –KH

Twilight (Film, US, Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) When teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to cloudy Forks, Washington she attracts the romantic attentions of local vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), endangering the supernatural balance of power. Hardwicke’s explicit fairy-tale direction and compassion for the characters create probably the best film that could faithfully adapt the mawkishly adolescent source novel. The vampire baseball scene, insane as it is, remains an example of cinema’s full potential to show something no other medium can. –KH

Okay

The Editor (Film, Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada, 2014) Film editor (Brooks) with a dissatisfied wife (Paz de la Huerta) becomes the chief suspect in a series of brutal murders at his film studio, as investigated by a randy police inspector (Kennedy.) Giallo spoof minutely pastiches the genre, including not only egregious pseudo-dubbing and a shambolic plot, but also paper-thin characterization, which wears poorly at feature length.—RDL

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