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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tiger King and Vengeful Ghosts

April 7th, 2020 | Robin

Recommended

The Doorway to Hell (Film, US, Archie Mayo, 1930) Sharp-minded bootlegger (Lewis Ayres), abetted by less competent right-hand man (James Cagney), organizes the Chicago rackets, then announces plans to get out of the business while he’s ahead. Rarely mentioned early entry in the Warners gangster cycle is less mythic and more grounded than its successors.—RDL

Kill, Baby, Kill (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1966) Coroner assigned to conduct an autopsy in a remote village finds its hostile inhabitants terrorized by a child’s ghost bearing a deadly curse. Hammer-influenced gothic with touches of surreal reality horror stands among Bava’s most consistently realized films.—RDL

Nobody Lives Forever (Film, US, Jean Negulesco, 1946) Con artist back from WWII (John Garfield) reluctantly fronts a plan to fleece a sheltered widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald), arousing the ire of his sleazier confederates when he catches feelings for her. W. R. Burnett’s script shows the insight into underworld characters that also drives his better-known The Asphalt Jungle. Walter Brennan appreciators will enjoy his poignant turn as a rueful grifter on the downslope.—RDL

A Place of One’s Own (Film, UK, Bernard Knowles, 1945) Retired Leeds haberdasher’s (James Mason) purchase of an abandoned manor seems like less of a bargain when his wife’s charming new hired companion (Margaret Lockwood) succumbs to ghost possession. The suspense of this cozy Edwardian gothic slowly builds in the background as Mason hams up his old man role.—RDL

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (Television, Netflix, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, 2020) Exuberant private zoo owner Joe Exotic’s indictment for the attempted murder-for-hire of animal rights activist (and private big-cat refuge owner) Carole Baskin anchors a dive into the extremely weird subculture of big cat trafficking, resulting in the most Unknown Armies thing you are likely to see on Netflix. As with any documentary, ritual, or roller-coaster, it exists to manipulate you, and it is all of those things. –KH

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Season 1 (Television, US, Prime, Carlton Cuse & Graham Roland, 2019) Earnest CIA analyst (John Krasinski) tracks an ambitious Lebanese terrorist (Ali Suliman) and struggles to right his relationship with a skeptical new boss (Wendell Pierce.) Focus on character moments anchors this update of the character, and the technothriller genre, to the latter-day war on terror era.—RDL

Under an English Heaven: The Remarkable True Story of the 1969 British Invasion of Anguilla (Nonfiction, Donald E. Westlake, 1972) In 1967 the Caribbean island of Anguilla, fed up with its partner islands St. Kitts and Nevis, declared its independence … in order to convince Britain to take Anguilla back over as a colony. So the British invaded to put down the rebellion. Of course. There’s a lot more to the story, and born storyteller (if not born historian) Westlake tells it with the perfect spice rub of irony and honesty. –KH

Good

All the Colors of Giallo (Film, US, Federico Caddeo, 2019) Some talking head interviews are more informative than others in this modestly produced but thorough survey of the Italian mystery-horror cycle.—RDL

And So To Murder (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1940) After her bodice-ripper becomes a best-seller, Monica Staunton gets hired as a screenwriter for Pineham Studios — and gets targeted for murder. A tight mystery novel wrapped in a satire of film work, with a somewhat restrained Sir Henry Merrivale to sort it all out. There’s a switchback that doesn’t play entirely fair, but the end result is entirely satisfactory (if not brilliant) Carr. –KH

Okay

As Above So Below (Film, US, John Erick Dowdle, 2014) Relic hunter Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) enters the Paris catacombs — and the gates of a low-budget Hell — in search of Nicholas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone. This really keen idea turns out to not be enough to hang a whole film on, and also to have a risibly weak ending. A found-footage cheapie that could have worked if the characters weren’t just pawns shoved down a literal hole in the ground. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Picard, Hobbs & Shaw, and Korean Political Thrills

March 31st, 2020 | 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

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (Film, US, David Leitch) Federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and freelance spy Shaw (Jason Statham) swallow their mutual loathing to save the latter’s equally capable sister (Vanessa Kirby), and the world, from fanatical cyborg Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba.) Dials down the sentimentality, and dials up the sass, of the franchise it’s spinning off from, to less absurd but rousing results. Likely the last mainstream entertainment in a good while that will use an apocalyptic virus as its McGuffin.—RDL

The Hellbenders (Film, Italy, Sergio Corbucci, 1967) Having massacred the army guard for a money shipment, a family of Confederate revanchists led by a fanatical patriarch (Joseph Cotten) trick a gambler (Norma Bengell) into aiding their imposture as they return home with a coffin full of loot. Caustic fable of doom from the other auteur of the spaghetti western cycle. Also known as The Cruel Ones, with music by Leo Nichols, and by “Leo Nichols” I mean Ennio Morricone.—RDL

I Married a Witch (Film, US, Rene Clair, 1942) Revived after centuries of magical imprisonment, a witch (Veronica Lake) pursues vengeance on a gubernatorial candidate (Fredric March) descended from her witchfinder, only to quaff the love potion intended for him. Breezy supernatural romantic comedy gives Lake, now better remembered for femme fatale roles, room to break out the charm.—RDL.

Picard Season 1 (Television, US, CBS, Alex Kurtzman & Michael Chabon, 2020) A Romulan conspiracy that kills one possible heir to the late Data and endangers another draws a disaffected Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) from his vineyard and back to danger in space. Gripping, sometimes unnecessarily harsh, serial narrative paradoxically shows deep-dive love for Trek continuity while jettisoning everything about the Roddenberry ethos that makes it hard to write for.—RDL

Steel Rain (Film, South Korea, Woo-seok Yang, 2017) After a coup-turned-massacre, an intense North Korean agent (Woo-sung Jung) flees to the south with a wounded Number One Leader, teaming up with a mordant South Korean presidential security advisor (Do-won Kwak) to avert catastrophic war. Briskly executed thriller fills its hand with geopolitics, action, and buddy dynamics.—RDL

Good

Lawyer Man (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1932) Shabby but honest downtown attorney (William Powell) tests his moral compass by heading uptown and brushing up against machine politics, to the concern of his wiser, loyal secretary (Joan Blondell.) Light-hearted melodrama exemplifies the scrappy underdog social awareness of 30s Warners Brothers.—RDL

My Generation (Film, UK, David Batty, 2018) Documentary examines the Swingin’ Sixties youth culture explosion in England as a rising of the working class. Treatment of an oft-covered subject finds a surprisingly emotional pang in its contrast between youth and remembrance, by having Michael Caine deliver much of his narration as on-camera monologue, which he acts the subtle hell out of.  Too bad it devolves into a trite video montage during the obligatory “and then it all went bung” third act—in part because the disciplined, drug-declining Caine took a pass on the spiral-out phase.—RDL

Not Recommended

Madness (Film, Italy, Fernando Di Leo, 1980) Escaped killer (Joe Dallesandro) seeks loot buried inside a hunting cabin occupied by a macho lunkhead, his dutiful wife, and the calculating sister-in-law he’s having an affair with. Blends Di Leo’s hardboiled crime sensibility with psychosexual social critique typical of Wertmuller or Cavani, to dubious results.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Monkey King, and Classic Cheng Pei-Pei

March 24th, 2020 | 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 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol IV: The Tempest (Comics, Top Shelf, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, 2018-2019) A revived James Bond goes to war against the surviving Leaguers and the Blazing World while Satin Astro attempts to avert a future catastrophe. Moore’s final word on comics* incorporates all his terror and wonder at the heroic medium in a deliberately tangled narrative that when cut apparently argues decisively for drowning his books and breaking his staff. But like Milton, his hymns transcend his argument, and we’re all richer for the ambiguity Moore cannot avoid in his indictment of the unambiguous. –KH

[* At this time]

Recommended

Immortal Demon Slayer (Film, China, Derek Kwok, 2017) Monkey-like demon (Eddie Peng) forges unlikely alliances with a trio of young immortals as he rebels against the sterile authority of the Heavenly Kingdom. Peng reveals a flair for physical comedy in one of the more satisfying of the recent cycle of CGI spectacle movies based on the Monkey King legend. Also known as Tales of Wukong or Wukong, this one downplays the story’s Buddhist elements.—RDL

Ivory Apples (Fiction, Lisa Goldstein, 2019) Adolescent Ivy’s great-aunt Maeve wrote the beloved novel Ivory Apples with the help of the muses — supernatural beings that enter Ivy’s life and bring desperate, dangerous occult seekers there as well. Goldstein veils female bildungsroman with imagination and myth in another assured modern fantasy reminiscent of her excellent 2011 modern fairy tale The Uncertain Places. –KH

Marc Maron: End Times Fun (Television, US, Netflix, Lynn Shelton, 2020) Pulled back from the personal to the political by the tenor of the times, Maron’s latest stand-up special takes an atypical turn for Rabelaisian, with guest appearances from Jesus and Iron Man. Warning: contains strong language and apocalyptic prescience.—RDL

The Shadow Whip (Film, HK, Lo Wei, 1971) Inn proprietor (Cheng Pei Pei) whose whip-handling skills are exceeded only by the reclusive uncle who trained her, learns secrets of her past when security officials and bandits show up for a long-awaited reckoning. Delightfully pulpy star vehicle for Cheng features snow-swept vistas and top-notch large-scale fight choreography, with more wire work than you’d expect for the early 70s.—RDL

Supreme: Blue Rose (Comics, Image, Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay, 2015) Obsessed tycoon Darius Dax hires reporter Diana Dane to investigate the disappearance of Ethan Crane from Littlehaven during a bizarre impact event. Warren Ellis playing a riff on Alan Moore playing a riff on Mort Weisinger may be a little too meta for some, but if you enjoyed Moore’s run on Supreme seeing Ellis cover it (in the key of Planetary) brings magic jazz thrills. Lotay’s art is exactly the right blend of clear and uncertain, washes and chalks establishing unmistakable moods behind Ellis-driven techie details. –KH

Good

Nothing Sacred (Film, US, William A. Wellman, 1937) Small town watch factory worker (Carole Lombard) who has just discovered she is not dying of radium poisoning covers it up in order to become a New York celebrity squired about by a hardbitten reporter (Fredric March). Screenwriter Ben Hecht puts his journalistic cynicism on full blast, pushing a romantic comedy premise into caustic satire.—RDL

Odds On (Fiction, Michael Crichton, 1966) Trio of crooks use a computer to plan their heist of a luxury hotel on the Spanish coast, so nothing can go wrong. Except cops, girls, the weather, and … Crichton’s first novel fulfills a clear promise to the publisher to have a sex scene about every fifty pages, and shows clear promise of the high-concept plotter (and cinema-minded author) he would become. A fast-moving froth in the spirit of the decade’s heist movies. –KH

Okay

Lost Girls (Film, US, Liz Garbus, 2020) When Mari Gilbert’s (Amy Ryan) daughter goes missing on Long Island, the cops (Gabriel Byrne and Dean Winters) fumble (or obstruct) the investigation into what becomes the Craigslist Killer serial murder case. Documentarian Garbus nobly keeps the focus on Mari’s fight for justice, but at the cost of characters who mouth cliches and platitudes between luminous camera shots through the tall grass. The interesting real story, and the potentially interesting drama, both get short shrift although Ryan and Byrne do all they can. –KH

Love For All Seasons (Film, HK, Johnnie To & Wa Ka Fai, 2002) Needing to perfect a sword technique based on shattered love to defend her all-female martial arts temple against its rogue master, a celibate swordslinger (Sammi Cheng) enlists a womanizing millionaire (Louis Koo) to break her heart. Very broad romantic comedy in which one of the leads just happens to have wuxia powers is one of the fluffy flicks that keeps the lights on at To’s production company, enabling him to make the tough crime films he really cares about.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stolen Game Pieces and a Split Party

March 17th, 2020 | 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

American Made (Film, US, Doug Liman, 2019) Charming dope of a TWA pilot (Tom Cruise) goes off on his own to fly for the CIA, Medellin cartel, and other clients in need of a seat-of-the-pants smuggling fleet. Breezy crime/espionage biopic reconfigures the trajectory of the classic Cruise striver character to a series of upward failures toward inevitable comeuppance.—RDL

The Clowns (Film, Italy, Federico Fellini, 1970) Staged documentary sequences complement performance set pieces as the famed director inquires into the history of European clowning. Alternating the wistful with the anarchic, this essay film provides a corrective to the notion that there’s anything off-model about a disturbing clown.—RDL

Die Vol 2: Split the Party (Comics, Image, Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans, 2020) Trapped in the world of Die not by their malevolent ex-GM but by their own divisions, our heroes recombine and re-split while uncovering another layer of the world’s origin. Having built compelling characters in a fantasy game and game-world, Gillen reaps the story rewards of clashing personalities while deepening and strangefying his world. Hans’ versatile art pulls out all the stops, a toccata of story and craft in ideal complement. –KH

Forced Perspectives (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2020) Former Secret Service agent Vickery and TUA operative Castine re-unite when a tech guru gets hold of Egyptian magicks to restart a God-mind project that went somehow wrong in 1926 and 1968. This sequel to Alternate Routes feels more like a standard Powers novel than that one, which went big on the fantasy at the cost of some coherence. This novel’s relatively constrained high concept and cast of fucked-up (and fuckup) villains puts us (and Powers) back in the scope and zone he’s been working comfortably since Expiration Date. –KH

Invention for Destruction (Film, Czechoslovakia, Karel Zeman, 1958) Kidnapped by submariner pirates, the assistant to a naive scientist realizes he must keep them from taking over the world with his super-weapon. Stylized sets and an array of animation techniques reproduce the look of a 19th century engraving in this must-see for any steampunk enthusiast. Based on the lesser known Jules Verne novel Facing the Flag, alternately known as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and a clear influence on Brothers Quay and The Life Aquatic.—RDL

McMillion$ (Television, US, HBO,  Brian David Lazarte, 2020) Documentary miniseries follows FBI investigators and a tough prosecutor as they unravel a late 90s / early 2000s conspiracy to divert every single high-dollar prize from the McDonalds Monopoly game. Although it develops a weird sentimental streak toward one of its unsavory characters, I’m nonetheless recommending this as an entertaining deep dive on contemporary investigative techniques useful to any GUMSHOE GM.—RDL

Good

Madam Satan (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1930) A society wife’s efforts to win back her philandering husband get decidedly weird when she adopts the titular persona at a masked ball on a tethered dirigible. Tepid farce shifts into the utterly bizarro at the halfway mark, as we’ve all come to expect from musical comedy art deco disaster movies.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Painted Love

March 10th, 2020 | 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

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Film, France, Céline Sciamma, 2019) In 1770, love kindles when painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travels to a remote manor in Brittany to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), an unwilling bride. Sciamma’s restraint, Claire Mathon’s Mannerist camera eye, and the actors’ chemistry creates a series of beautiful cameos marvellously punctuated by emotion and sparingly (but devastatingly) deployed music. –KH

Recommended

A Dandy in Aspic (Film, UK, Anthony Mann, 1968) An assignment to hunt down a KGB assassin gives a burned-out M16 desk agent (Laurence Harvey) a case of the nerves, as the man he’s supposed to kill is himself. Lonely widescreen compositions and a playing style of fey ennui place this existential spy thriller midway on the spectrum between Fleming and le Carré.—RDL

Emma (Film, UK, Autumn de Wilde, 2020) Rich, young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes a poor girl (Mia Goth) under her wing, and gets in over her match-making head. Adapting Austen’s novel well requires three things: a lead actress who can play a sympathetic sociopath, faithfulness to the book and its comic heart, and a proper dance scene. Extra points to de Wilde for keeping her film brightly lit and not full of over-mixed footsteps. –KH

The Invisible Man (Film, US/Australia, Leigh Whannell, 2020) After fleeing her abusive boyfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) discovers he’s using his invisibility suit to gaslight and stalk her. Whannell’s fluid direction and cleverly omniscient script keep this “killer B” interesting, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score glories in horror potential. But it’s Moss’ expressive gaze that fascinates throughout. –KH

Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service (Nonfiction, John Sawatsky, 1980) History of the counterespionage arm of the federal Canadian police from inception to a few years before the trouble-plagued division was replaced by a separate civilian agency. That this is still the definitive book on the subject four decades later speaks to a small media market that doesn’t turn out much spy nonfiction, and to Sawatsky’s clear, detail-rich storytelling.—RDL

The Spymasters: CIA in The Crosshairs (Film, US, Jules & Gedeon Naudet, 2015) Documentary surveys the failures and controversies of the Global War on Terror from the perspective of CIA directors and other top officials. Key interview subjects speak with surprising candor on both the emotional toll of the job and the drone strike program, which does not officially exist. What struck me most watching this now was not anything in the film, but the extent to which its central issues have been so backburnered in our present Orange Times that the GWOT seems like another historical era altogether.—RDL

Good

He Who Whispers (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) Historian Miles Hammond finds himself falling for his new librarian Fay Seton: a woman at the heart of a murder from a decade ago that could only have been committed by a vampire. Again, Carr’s blend of tension, intricate plotting, and Gothic horror — this time imbued with the threadbare feel of postwar England — lives up to its billing. However, it involves a whopping coincidence and a psychological key that I found resoundingly unconvincing. To many, though, one of Carr’s best. –KH

The Lost Gallows (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1931) Visiting London, Surete detective Henri Bencolin investigates a dead chauffeur and a terrorized Egyptian playboy. With Egyptian curses, sex, a dwarf, and a missing London street, this reads more like a particularly unstrung Stevenson novel than a Carr construction. Atmosphere it has in abundance, but in this early work Carr still can’t reliably set his metronome. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sabrina Goes Mythos; The Doctor Goes Back to the Well

March 3rd, 2020 | 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

Below Suspicion (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1949) Barrister Patrick Butler defends two women accused in two poisoning cases, but Dr. Fell suspects a Satanic link between them. Carr turns his plow to Dennis Wheatley furrows and reaps a bounty in a story that he keeps set in the twentieth century only by an effort of will. –KH

The Black Monday Murders, Vols 1-2 (Comics, Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker, 2016-2018) The exiled claimant to an occult banking empire returns, with bloody consequences. Bravura deep-lore conspiracy of money as demonic pact backs up a solid if familiar story. Coker’s moody, almost monochrome art exactly suits the intricate Gothic setting. With the series on hiatus, this may be all we get, but the arc completes (a bit hastily) across both volumes, even if we’re left wanting much much more. –KH

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 4 (Television, US, Netflix, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, 2020) Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) vies semi-reluctantly for the throne of hell as a circus of bloodthirsty Green Man devotees menaces her family and coven. Jettisons the show’s high school angle and episodic format for a single suspense narrative. Nods to Lovecraft include a Deep One and invocation of eldritch terrors, with full-on Mythos set up for next season. (If there is one, Netflix being Netflix.)—RDL

Kid Galahad (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1937) His intemperate impulses held in check by his swell ex-chanteuse girlfriend (Bette Davis), a fight manager (Edward G. Robinson) grooms a forthright, cornfed heavyweight for the world title. Archetypal boxing picture features Davis pouring on the charm in an uncharacteristic sweetheart role. Curtiz’s control of rhythm and spatial relationships comes to the fore in the boxing sequences, an obvious reference point for Raging Bull.—RDL

Shattered Illusions: KGB Cold War Espionage in Canada (Nonfiction, Donald G. Mahar, 2017) Former CSIS agent uses unprecedented access to historical case files to reveal the amazing story of Soviet illegal-turned-double agent Yevgeny Brik, who was in turn betrayed to his masters by a turncoat officer of the RCMP Watcher Service. Most illuminating for its detailed portrayal of 1950s tradecraft, this account loses some of its zing when the author starts to write about himself in an affectedly neutral third person, as the story reaches 1992 and a surprising final twist. —RDL

Good

The Dead Man’s Knock (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1958) Near-deadly pranks at a small Southern college presage a murder in a locked room devised by Wilkie Collins. A later Dr. Fell mystery, and not an entirely triumphant one, it manages to create psychological tension (at some cost to character realism) rather than Carr’s regular fallback of Gothic tension. That said, I enjoyed the resulting Douglas Sirk melodrama as a change. –KH

Not Recommended

Doctor Who Season 12 (Television, UK, BBC, Chris Chibnall, 2020) The Master (Sacha Dawhan) returns yet again to confront The Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) with previously unrevealed secrets of her past. Unlike the first Whitaker series, this moves the spotlight from the companions to the Doctor, but but with writing this aggressively forgettable that’s scant consolation.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Watchmen, Birds of Prey and Barry

February 25th, 2020 | 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

Watchmen (Television, US, HBO, Damon Lindelof, 2019) In an alternate present where Tulsa cops wear masks, the detective known as Sister Night (Regina King) investigates the death of her superior, leading to a bizarre conspiracy involving past generations of costumed adventurers and vigilantes. Densely layered, inventive, and packed with outre images and narrative surprises, this sequel to the original comic book shows a rare ability to build anew on the mythology of an existing work without just recapitulating it.—RDL

Recommended

Barry Season 2 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg & Bill Haider, 2019) As hitman-turned-actor Barry (Haider) tries to put his old career behind him its consequences keep catching up. Two manic episodes punctuate a turn for the interior, as the show attempts to dig deeper into its characters while still honoring the ridiculous situation they find themselves in. Not as fresh as Season 1, but still capable of surprise and shock. –KH

I Walk Alone (Film, US, Byron Haskin, 1947) Hair-trigger ex-bootlegger (Burt Lancaster) returns from a lengthy prison stint to discover that his proudly manipulative partner (Kirk Douglas) has no intention of honoring their fifty-fifty deal on his now successful club. Character-driven noir features Lizabeth Scott’s best performance as the perceptive chanteuse who forms the third point of the Lancaster-Douglas triangle.—RDL

Saint Jack (Film, US, Peter Bogdonavich, 1979) Bluffly charming expat panderer (Ben Gazzara) discovers that his ambitions to set up a bordello in wild early 70s Singapore run through the CIA. Atmospheric study of character, time, and place from the waning days of the American New Wave, co-written from his novel by Paul Theroux. Though even its thriller elements are played for mood, not suspense, the background details would be eminently mineable by Fall of Delta Green Handlers.—RDL

Good

Birds of Prey (Film, US, Cathy Yan, 2020) Dumped by the Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) picks up the pieces and finds female friendship during a Gotham gangland takeover by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Intermittently delightful fights and banter mesh only somewhat with a Gotham City gang story: Looney Tunes and DC have very different cartoon flavors that Yan and the script don’t always bridge or blend. Hong Kong does this stuff so effortlessly that it’s weird to see someone work this hard at it. –KH

John Carter (Film, US, Andrew Stanton, 2012) Former Confederate cavalryman John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) teleports to Mars and rescues Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and her planet from their fate. Remarkably decent adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel even manages to touch on the weird Theosophical flavor that powers it; Recommended for Burroughs fans. I suspect that for others, it’s a little too big and loose despite a Michael Chabon turn on the script. –KH

Two Men in Manhattan (Film, France, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1959) The search for a French ambassador missing from his UN post takes two of his countrymen, a hangdog reporter (Melville) and a boozehound photographer (Pierre Grasset) on a journey through the nighttime world of New York. A thin reed of a plot strings together episodes of beguiling crime jazz cool.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heaven, a Hitman, and the Deadly World of Produce Sales

February 11th, 2020 | 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 Good Place Season 4 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2019-20) Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her friends find themselves responsible for saving every human on Earth from the malfunctioning points system. In its intentionally final season, the show comes in for a glide path landing by switching its philosophical center from the nature of the good to the nature of the eternal. Schur nails the landing on the greatest narrative aerial act in television history. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2018) Increasingly alienated hitman (Bill Hader) navigates an existential crisis by joining an acting class on the spur of the moment. This least likely premise for acidulous, perfect-pitch black comedy nonetheless delivers thanks to a deep bench of gifted actors and writing that tries to slip the jokes by you like curveballs. –KH

The Beach Bum (Film, US, Harmony Korine, 2019) Lovable alcoholic poet and Key West party figure (Matthew McConaughey) stays true to himself as he flees a variety of challenges to his lack of sobriety. Majestically photographed picaresque flips the bird to the redemption arc, and for that matter arcs in general. Isla Fisher, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence show up to confound their agents with outlandish roles, with Snoop Dogg playing to type in his.—RDL

Blood and Black Lace (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1964) A masked figure in a black trenchcoat wages a murder spree against women associated with a modeling agency. With its sumptuous production design, hyper-saturated colors, and twisting, protagonist-free narrative structure, this combination of horror and murder mystery launched the giallo sub-genre into a local movie industry hungry for new templates to copycat.—RDL

Thieves Highway (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1949) Returning veteran (Richard Conte) enters the cutthroat world of fruit trucking to get to the corrupt produce wholesaler (Lee J. Cobb) responsible for his father’s maiming. Adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from his own autobiographical novel, this presents as scathing a portrait of bare knuckled American business as studio-mandated happy endings will allow. Dassin leavens the proceedings with romanticism, symbolized by Valentina Cortese as the bad girl savior, clad in Hollywood’s most expressive coat.—RDL

Good

Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (Film, US, Daniel Raim, 2019) Documentary illuminates the careers of key early American D.O.P.s, including Billy Bitzer (Griffith), Roland Totheroh (Chaplin), William Daniels (Garbo and glamour photography), Gregg Toland (deep focus) and James Wong Howe (realism.) If there’s one subject matter that cries out for the documentary format, it’s this.—RDL

Judy (Film, US/UK, Rupert Goold, 2019) Out of cash and struggling with the pill addiction MGM gave her as a teenager, Judy Garland (Renée Zellwegger) hopes a long term gig in London will turn her situation around. Stylistically unadventurous biopic exists as a container for the very specific type of bravura performance awards season can’t get enough of.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Good Place, Arrow, and a Feminist UFO Cult

February 4th, 2020 | 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 is on assignment.

The Pinnacle

The Good Place Season 4 (Television, US, NBC, Mike Schur, 2019-2020) Challenged to improve the afterlife by guiding a fresh quartet of souls, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Michael (Ted Danson) discover that spotting the flaws in a system is easier than building one that works. The proof of a finale season is in the last episode, and the kicker here, a sweet and melancholy meditation on how happiness might itself be the saddest thing, concludes a remarkable series with understated brilliance.—RDL

Recommended

Arrow Season 7 (Television, US, CW, Beth Schwartz, 2019-2020) Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) says goodbye to old friends as he struggles for and against the Monitor, a cosmic entity guiding his sacrificial fate in an upcoming battle for the multiverse. It’s rare to see any season, let alone a final one, set so many hurdles for itself: welding a cosmic plotline to the show’s crime/spy baseline, putting its climactic moments in a multi-show crossover, weaving in a backdoor pilot for a spinoff, and papering over the absence of the series’ heart, Emily Bett Rickards. Yet if, as someone just said above, the proof is in the payoff, this always shaggy show in the end reaches for and once more captures the spandex-clad high emotion that made its key moments.—RDL

New Eden (Television, Canada, Kayla Lorette, Evany Rosen & Alyesa Young, Crave, 2020) In a bid to keep their 80s feminist commune together, the uptight and needy Katherine (Lorette) and charismatic codependent (Rosen), transform it into a UFO cult, which only accelerates its doom spiral. In keeping with hallowed Canadian tradition, this true crime mockumentary uses a playing style rooted in sketch comedy to plumb the depths of human desperation.—RDL

San Babila-8 P.M. (Film, Italy, Carlo Lizzani, 1976) A twelve hour period of trouble-seeking for a quartet of variously neurotic neofascist youths escalates from vandalism to serious bloodshed. Tense crime docudrama foregrounds the misogyny that unites its grandiose loser protagonists.—RDL

The Two Popes (Film, UK/Italy, Fernando Meirelles, 2019) In a debate bookended by two papal conclaves, conservative Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) rebuffs the attempts of Argentinean reformist cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) to renounce his post. Meirelles pulls out the full playbook of cinematic technique to bring wit, energy and warmth to a two-hander revolving around theological debate.—RDL

Good

The Bounty Hunter (Film, US, Andre de Toth, 1954) Acerbic bounty hunter (Randolph Scott) sets a booming copper mining town on edge with his hunt for stagecoach robbers even the Pinkertons can’t catch. I enjoyed this soothingly routine Western more than I can objectively argue for, chiefly for the pleasure of seeing Scott play a hardboiled private dick in a Stetston. Watch him solve the case using the GUMSHOE abilities Intimidation, Bullshit Detector, Flattery, Reassurance (a spend), Evidence Collection, and Interrogation.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ballard, Almodovar and the Whisperer in Podcast Darkness

January 28th, 2020 | 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

The Atrocity Exhibition (Fiction, J. G. Ballard, 1970) A psychiatrist, or psychiatric patient, or rogue installation artist, named Travis, or Tallis, or Traven, stages a series of ultra-disturbing demonstrations, or interventions, or hallucinations concerning celebrity, the Vietnam war, and automobile accident eroticism. Kaleidoscopic and prescient, and still truly transgressive after all these years. I’ve written before about what the Dreamhounds of Paris surrealist Dreamlands might look like in the 60s, and well, exactly like this, right down to the direct invocation of Ernst and Dali and inescapable parallels to “Repairer of Reputations.”—RDL

Pain and Glory (Film, Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2019) Sidelined by chronic pain, an acclaimed filmmaker (Antonio Banderas) remembers his childhood, reconnects with estranged figures from his past, and experiments with heroin. His color sense as expressive as ever, Almodovar frames a powerfully interiorized performance from Banderas with deceptively simple mastery.—RDL

The Whisperer in Darkness (Podcast, BBC, Julian Simpson, 2019) Following up on 2018’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the true crime “Mystery Machine” podcast ventures into the mysterious disappearance of Henry Akeley from Rendlesham Forest. Lovecraft’s tale was already the ur-UFO/contactee tale, and the addition of weird government conspiracies only juices the original story kernel. Purists may grump at the submergence of Lovecraft’s original climax, but they can’t complain about an insufficiency of audio trickery and cool stuff. –KH

Good

A Brighter Summer Day (Film, Taiwan, Edward Yang, 1991) In early 60s Taipei, a high school student flirts with street gang violence and falls for a seemingly demure girl with bad luck in boyfriends. Subtly told epic flags in its fourth and final hour, when it becomes apparent that the central character is less interesting than the piece’s overall evocation of time and place.—RDL

mid90s (Film, US, Jonah Hill, 2018) Young teen whose suffocating home life drives him to self-harm finds community by joining a band of hard-partying skateboarders. Dreamy slice-of-life drama delivers more charm than your average social drama pic, without quite managing a third act escalation.—RDL

Midsommar (Film, US, Ari Aster, 2019) Grief-stricken young woman (Florence Pugh) accompanies her feckless grad student boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his pals to visit an insular community in rural Sweden, whose charming folk rituals take a turn for the sacrificial. Holds interest with slow burn pacing and Kubrickian compositions but ultimately proves a long walk around the block for a cover version of The Wicker Man.—RDL

Okay

No Blade of Grass (Film, UK, Cornel Wilde, 1970) When a grain-killing virus plunges the world into starvation and Britain into anarchy, a stentorian architect (Nigel Davenport) and his family flee London for the north, descending almost immediately into murder hoboism. Brutal, crudely executed stewpot of social conscience and exploitation gives voice to the misanthropic strain of environmentalism. While the text laments humanity’s downfall, the subtext says the bastards had it coming.—RDL

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