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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Vintage Deconstructed Vampirism, 30s Mexican Horror, and Hardboiled Mississippi Litfic

September 7th, 2021 | 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 Last Taxi Driver (Fiction, Lee Durkee, 2020) UFO-obsessed ex-novelist has a particularly bad day at work as a cabbie in an equally down-and-out Mississippi town. Hardboiled southern litfic paints a convincingly, not to mention hilariously, jaundiced portrait of life shuttling between rehabs, hospitals, motels and liquor stores.—RDL

The Phantom of the Monastery (Film, Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1934) Three lost hikers, a couple and the best friend who loves the wife, encounter the supernatural in a supposedly ruined and uninhabited monastery. It’s no surprise that Mexico was finding the gothic in Catholicism long before it hit Hollywood in ‘73, as this expressionistic journey into measured eeriness attests. Sometimes translated as The Phantom of the Convent.—RDL

Vampir Cuadecuc (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Dissident avant-garde filmmaker Portabella somehow talked the Franco regime into giving him permission to shoot a “behind-the-scenes” documentary of schlockmaestro Jess Franco’s production of Count Dracula as its own version of Dracula. The deconstruction of the coincidentally-named Franco’s art as artifice is only part of this polysemic experience: high-contrast black-and-white shifting tones, constant fourth-wall breakage, and the charged musique-concrète score by Carles Santos all create a reality-sliding metafilm experience more Dreyer’s Vampyr than Stoker’s vampire. –KH

A Very Curious Girl (Film, France, Nelly Kaplan, 1969) Put-upon servant (Bernadette Lafont) gets revenge on the creeps and prigs of her crummy rural village by connecting with her inner witch and selling sex. Wry Bunuelian satire with a feminist vantage point on comeuppance and the restoration of order.—RDL

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Film, US, Scott Frank, 2014) Haunted ex-cop (Liam Neeson) hunts a pair of psychos who specialize in kidnapping women to squeeze their drug trafficker loved ones for ransom money. Well-crafted, grounded detective noir based on a novel from Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series.—RDL

Good

The Menacers (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1968) Clandestine government assassin Matt Helm gets seconded to bring a UFO witness back to Los Alamos from Mexico — or kill her if he can’t do that. The eleventh in the Matt Helm series plays with the military-intelligence side of the UFO question, while also being a cracking good thriller leavened with tough-guy pragmatic philosophizing. Helm partisans emphasize his “realism” over the Bond novels, but Fleming’s flair is what elevates his books to Recommended. Hamilton’s books mostly hit the higher reaches of Good, however, so if you don’t mind a little period grit you can absolutely do worse. –KH

Not Recommended

Bridesmaids (Film, US, Paul Feig, 2011) Brittle, self-pitying failure Annie (Kristen Wiig) feels her only meaningful relationship slipping away when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, and responds with selfish panic. The comedy of unease depends on actually ever sympathizing with anyone in the story, a low bar that this over-explained sluice never clears. Melissa McCarthy’s anarchic honesty and feral comic joy provide the sole bright spot, so of course she’s always the butt (literally in one case) of the joke. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Candyman, Annette, Climate of the Hunter

August 31st, 2021 | 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 Bolter (Nonfiction, Frances Osborne, 2008) Biography of the Edwardian social rebel Lady Indina Sackville, whose hunger for love and sex drove her to five marriages and a life of scandal in England and colonial Kenya. Cameo appearances from bold-faced names abound in this piquant account of the swirling relationships of a shattered generation, written by the subject’s great grand-daughter.—RDL

Candyman (Film, US, Nia DaCosta, 2021) Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist living in the gentrified Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, becomes inspired by the local urban legend: Candyman. While just a little too didactic and self-congratulatory to be the equal of the 1992 near-Pinnacle, this sequel does a remarkable (and remarkably self-aware — other characters repeatedly ding McCoy’s art for its didacticism) job of renewing the legend for a new audience without copping out on the deep racial text at its core. DaCosta shoots Marina City like a beehive and Candyman like a peripheral-vision specter, and that’s just the highlights of her many-layered artwork. –KH

The Hot Rock (Film, US, Peter Yates, 1972) A museum heist to grab a diamond claimed by multiple African nations requires master planner John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) to stage a series of follow-up crimes. Lighthearted caper flick, based on a Donald E. Westlake novel, anchored by an undercoat of 70s grit.—RDL

Val (Film, US, Ting Poo & Leo Scott, 2021) Aided by home footage he’s been taking since childhood, Val Kilmer, his voice and health badly damaged by a bout with cancer, looks back on his successes and regrets. An unrevealing person cautiously reveals himself in this autobiographical documentary, with voice-alike narration from Kilmer’s son Jack.—RDL

Good

Annette (Film, France/Belgium/Germany, Leos Carax, 2021) The marriage of comedian Henry (Adam Driver) to soprano Ann (Marion Cotillard) buckles under the strain of his self-loathing in this musical written by art-pop duo Sparks. Much as it pains me to admit it, the weak link in this film is not the grandiloquence and artificiality of Carax (which repeatedly hits), but the script (and even the music) by Sparks. The music is great, but deliberately underpowered — the whole movie likewise deliberately undercuts itself, as a reach for a kind of pop-Wagnerian irony. Driver does almost too good a job integrating his character, adding another skew element to a movie not at all bereft of them. –KH

Okay

Climate of the Hunter (Film, US, Mickey Reese, 2019) Resentment between middle-aged sisters escalates when one suspects that the aging swain who has re-entered their lives is a vampire. Layers of stylistic affectation take precedence over narrative development in this talky supernatural drama.—RDL

Deadly Sweet (Film, Italy, Tinto Brass, 1967) A brooding protagonist who acts like a detective but is never explicitly identified as one (Jean-Louis Trintignant) investigates the murder of a club owner, falling for a witness (Ewa Aulin) he finds standing over the corpse. Pop art deconstructed detective flick apparently designed to turn Blow-Up into a genre, just as the Italian film industry did by obsessively imitating A Fistful of Dollars and Blood and Black Lace. Except this time it didn’t happen. Also known as I Am What I Am.—RDL

The Yellow Wallpaper (Film, US, Kevin Pontuti, 2021) Suffering from postpartum depression, a woman (Alexandra Loreth) goes mad thanks to really unpleasant wallpaper (and also patriarchal wilful blindness). Charlotte Perkins’ Gilman’s classic short horror story works not least because it compresses months of oppression into brutal momentum; although many aspects of Pontuti and Loreth’s film capture the story’s mood and themes it desperately needed 20 minutes vigorously trimmed rather than the lengthy rest cure it gets. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Green Knight, M. R. James’ Medievalism, and Where to Take a Break in the Tale of Genji

August 17th, 2021 | 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 Tale of Genji (Fiction, Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Dennis Washburn, 11th century/2015) A preternaturally handsome and charismatic Heian-era courtier and his descendants cause and endure suffering as a result of their romantic entanglements. The first long-form narrative readable as one would a contemporary mimetic novel, here in a lucid, accessible translation, limns the mores and atmosphere of a hothouse social milieu. The last third of this extremely long piece stands alone as a sequel to the rest, so you might want to set that aside that for later.—RDL

Recommended

The Green Knight (Film, US, David Lowery, 2021) Royal nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) seeks honor by answering the deadly challenge of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Lowery’s departures from the original 14th-century poem will irritate purists, and some of his insertions may well confound everybody regardless of prior knowledge. Our 21st-century failson Gawain seeks self-improvement through a series of lush, eerie set pieces that don’t quite add up — yet Patel sells them and himself, and you’re never bored watching Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematographic tapestries. Sean Harris’ exhausted Arthur imbues the film with special pathos. –KH

Jewel Robbery (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1932) Bored countess (Kay Francis) falls for a suave jewel robber (William Powell.) Adaptation of a frothy Hungarian play keeps the focus where it belongs, on the interplay between its charming leads.—RDL

Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James (Nonfiction, Patrick J. Murphy, 2017) Rather than a study of medieval elements in James’ ghost stories (although there is a decent amount of that) this book expounds the thesis that the discipline of “medieval studies” — just coming into being as James wrote — becomes the crucial lens through which to view James’ work. Rather than death or sex or body, the boundary James’ specters and protagonists transgress is the disciplinary boundary between antiquarianism and academe. I’m not sure I buy it, but Murphy also uncovers a lot of new details about the tales, and I did learn a good deal about “medieval studies” to boot. –KH

Pig (Film, US, Michael Sarnoski, 2021) Chef-turned-hermit (Nicolas Cage) returns to the city he abandoned in a stoic, implacable quest for his stolen truffle pig. Absurdist story elements played absolutely straight, in a strange feat of tonal control, with a plot adjacent to the noir and vengeance genres and an interiorized but nonetheless deeply Cagey lead performance.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Every Travis McGee Novel

August 10th, 2021 | 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

Every Travis McGee Novel (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1964-1984) Houseboat-dwelling South Florida “salvage contractor” Travis McGee contracts to get something stolen from his client by fair means or foul, in exchange for half the take. Meanwhile, we enjoy the South Florida scenery, the (usually doomed) lady guest star (all MacDonald’s characters really live and breathe), McGee’s witty (even mordant) observations, and the con-artistry and fisticuffs along the way. Not entirely hard-boiled, not pure crime fiction, certainly not “mysteries,” the 21 Travis McGee novels carved out their own niche and then spawned the “Florida crime” subgenre and emblematized the transition of the American knight-errant hero (McGee regularly compares himself to Don Quixote) from the cowboy to the P.I. to the thriller badass. Start with the first one, or the two I’ve already reviewed, or The Long Lavender Look (featuring one of my favorite McGee structures, man vs. town). –KH

Small Axe: Lovers Rock (Film, UK, Steve McQueen, 2020) Young members of London’s Anglo-Carribean community attend a house party in search of romance and/or catharsis. Experiential drama told with beguiling formal control that puts other slice-of-life flicks in the corner.—RDL

The Suicide Squad (Film, US, James Gunn, 2021) Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of supervillains (Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, et al.) to wipe out a black project on foreign soil that turns out to be Starro the Conqueror. I give this “splatter war comedy” the bump over the Recommended bubble for the same reason I did Gunn’s first Guardians movie — it looks like the product of an actual directorial vision, with bright visuals, a strong script tone, and deliberate throwback 70s-style editing. (Dialogue a little less good than Guardians, ending rather better.) Going in, remember that Gunn cut his teeth at Troma. –KH

Good

Godzilla vs. Kong (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2021) An ancestral grudge sets two enormous monsters at each other’s throats, when the real menace lurks in the high-tech facility of a sinister science businessman (Demián Bichir.) In a surprise move for this latest Godzilla series, Wingard asks the question, “Hey what if these tried to be fun?”—RDL

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2021) Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles a team of superheroes to defend the Earth from apocalyptic invasion. Everything about this film — the editing, the shot composition and lighting, the fights, the character development, the absence of ass jokes — vastly improves on the “Whedon cut” released to theaters in 2017, most especially the all-new neo-Wagnerian score by Tom Holkenborg. That said, it’s still four hours long and feels longer — especially with the entirely gratuitous alternate-history “Knightmare” dream ending (meant as a lead-in to the abandoned JL2) seemingly tacked on for no reason except to spend AT&T’s money. –KH

Okay

The House That Dripped Blood (Film, UK, Peter Duffell, 1971) Another Amicus portmanteau film, this one based on four Robert Bloch stories. Despite the title (and the presence of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Ingrid Pitt) the house never even so much as sprinkles blood — and this toothless approach also defangs half the horrors. Denholm Elliott as a writer haunted by his homicidal creation, and Christopher Lee as a man terrified of his young daughter, at least bring the horror via their performances but half-Good is just Okay. –KH

Private Detective 62 (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Burned secret service agent (William Powell) turns private eye and falls for a socialite his crooked partner wants him to discredit. Powell’s charm and Curtiz’ sure direction lend watchability to a tossed-off script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Blood Red Sky, Summer of Soul, and the History of Weird Tales

August 3rd, 2021 | 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

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) Worried mom’s transatlantic flight to a clinic to cure her nosferatuism is taken over by hijackers. Smart, well-executed combo platter of vampire tropes and Die Hard inspired action thriller beats.—RDL

The Green Ripper (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1979) When a terrorist assassin kills his girlfriend Gretel, Travis McGee infiltrates their compound to exact revenge. In this uncharacteristic installment, McGee switches from “fixer in a crime novel” about a third of the way through to a “thriller hero” that prefigures Jack Reacher. MacDonald keeps the suspense going throughout that section, a surprising shift in style. Perhaps in this 18th book in the series, he was open to shaking up the formula. –KH

He Ran All the Way (Film, US, John Berry, 1951) On the lam after shooting a cop, a doubt-wracked stick-up man (John Garfield) takes an anxious bakery worker (Shelley Winters) and her family hostage. Tight, expressionistic film noir notable for Winters’ poignant, layered performance.—RDL

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil (Film, Netherlands, Pieter van Huystee, 2016) Dutch historians embark on a perhaps contradictory quest to both assemble Bosch paintings from top museums for a major exhibition, while also minutely examining them to find out which ones are really his. Though packaged as a standard old master profile, this documentary is actually something much more interesting—a fly-on-the-wall view of the sometimes sharp-elbowed curatorial politics behind  blockbuster art shows.—RDL

Money Bots (Film, Germany, Friedrich Moser & Daniel Andrew Wunderer, 2020) Documentary examination of high-frequency trading traces the history of algorithmic finance from its 70s origins, to the race for ever-faster data connections, to its present status as a weird parasitic infestation of the stock exchange system. Or as one interviewee suggests, maybe it’s all a cover for deep collusion between markets and traders, and thus not new at all.—RDL

Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Film, US, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021) Featuring Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, the Fifth Dimension, the Staple Singers, Buddy Guy, and many many more, the five-day 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival concerts should rightfully overshadow the months-later (and much lamer) Woodstock. But instead, the film of this event remained mostly unbought and ignored for fifty years. While assembling this superb doc around the question “Why Didn’t We Know This?” the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter movement refocused Questlove on the question “Why Haven’t Things Changed Enough Despite the Changes We See in this Footage?” Rather than really answer either question, the doc shows a Harlem crowd and a Black musical scene both on the cusp of vanishing and at the peak of their cultural power. –KH

Good

The Thing’s Incredible: The Secret Origins of Weird Tales (Nonfiction, John Locke, 2018) Not so much the “secret” origin of “the Unique Magazine” but the first actually researched origin. Locke delves deep into the various memoirs, Lovecraft’s letters, and period trade magazines to piece together the actual story of Weird Tales’ founding, crucial early missteps, and disastrous near-disappearance after thirteen issues in 1924. While clearly Recommended for devotees and scholars, it’s pretty in-the-weeds stuff for someone who just wants the 101, and it assumes (rather than particularly demonstrating) the importance of its subject. –KH

Okay

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) On the Munich-New York redeye seeking a cure for her vampirism, Nadja’s (Peri Baumeister) flight gets hijacked. What on paper must have sounded irresistible (Passenger 57 with a vampire!) turns downright stodgy on the screen. It’s incomprehensible to me that a movie 11 minutes shorter than Die Hard feels about twice as long, with momentum-choking flashback scenes interspersed with ample running and murky badly-choreographed vampire fights. Nadja’s young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) essentially serves as the viewpoint character, a decision that whatever its payout in pathos leaves the actual hijacking (you know, the other half of the story) nearly opaque. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cage Hits the Pinnacle, Magic Performance Art, and Tarantino Self-Novelizes

July 27th, 2021 | 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

Pig (Film, US, Michael Sarnoski, 2021) Grizzled off-the-grid truffle hunter Robin (Nicolas Cage) leaves the woods for the city in search of his abducted truffle pig. This is absolutely not “John Wick but with a pig”. Layered reveals build character and quasi-mythic story (archetypally Myrddin, the Wild Prophet of the Woods) in tandem, punctuated by superb physical acting by Cage, and equally superb performances by Alex Wolff as his reluctant helpmeet and Adam Arkin embodying the corruption and cruelty inherent in the modern food scene. A Pinnacle on a keynote of grief. –KH

Recommended

Forbidden Science 3: On the Trail of Hidden Truths, The Journals of Jacques Vallee 1980-1989 (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 2013) UFOlogy’s existential heretic keeps up with the times by becoming a venture capitalist, as the field is overtaken by abduction mythology and a shadowy cast of disinformation agents. Another essential wellspring of Eliptony, with any slackening of interest being the fault of the 80s and not the author. Also he convinces his wife to let him build a tower for his books, not that I know anyone who would aspire to that.—RDL

In & Of Itself (Filmed Theater, US, Hulu, Frank Oz, 2020) Magician/performance artist Derek Delgaudio repurposes card magic and mentalism to explore fables of identity involving elephants, Russian roulette, and intolerance experienced as the child of a gay woman. Attention-grabbing presentation fuses the aesthetics of Ricky Jay and Spalding Gray, provoking audience epiphany via classic trickery.—RDL

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Fiction,Quentin Tarantino, 2021) Less a straight novelization of Tarantino’s film than a second approach to the main characters — the entire third act becomes a one-paragraph flash-forward on page 110. Tarantino’s choices in fiction as in film are idiosyncratic collages, including ample film-criticism, studio gossip, fourth-wall breaking comments about the novel’s greater opportunity to depict a hero’s immorality, and a whole two chapters of what appear to be the novel that Lancer came from in the film’s continuity. Like Ellroy or Leonard (two clear models), once you get into the author’s rhythm, the pages fly past; just as I did after the movie ended, I wanted a whole lot more time with the characters. –KH

Raining in the Mountain (Film, Taiwan, King Hu, 1979) A fake-pious businessman and corrupt general vie to steal a priceless sutra scroll from a monastery as its abbot searches for a successor. A simple martial arts narrative serves as framework for Hu’s compositional mastery, arranging figures, structures and landscapes with a sublime harmony that echoes the script’s Buddhist message.—RDL

Good

F9 (Film, US, Justin Lin, 2021) When his jealous brother Jake (John Cena) brings down Mr. Nobody’s plane, Dom (Vin Diesel) reluctantly joins his team to stop Jake’s Eurotrash boss (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) from stealing a super-cyberweapon. A bit of a reset that pares the core cast back from F8 bloat (but returns a welcome Han (Sung Kang)), it suffers from lack of villain focus as Cena, Rasmussen, and a returned Charlize Theron all take turns trying to break Dom in various ways. The Jake-and-Dom backstory likewise probably takes up more weight than it needs to, although it’s a refreshing callback to the first, still underrated, film in the franchise. –KH

The Flash Season 7 (Television, US, CW, Eric Wallace, 2021) As longtime team members depart and newer ones step up, Flash confronts an imbalance of cosmic forces and battles the many clones of Godspeed. In another of its returns to form, the show recommits to its core elements of speedster fights and Hallmark moments. Though the series is definitely in its dotage, it did manage eighteen episodes of costumed comfort viewing in the middle of a pandemic, and we all deserve to be graded on a curve right now.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Loki, Gunpowder Milkshake, and Heinlein Dependence

July 20th, 2021 | 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 Big Sick (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2017) The romance between Chicago standup Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) goes awry when he lies to her and she goes into a medically induced coma. The script (by Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon) reliably and honestly produces laughs and tears, which used to be entry-level success for a rom-com but now rates genuine surprise. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano bat cleanup as Emily’s parents; Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff ace the more difficult position plays as Kumail’s disapproving folks. –KH

Midnight (Film, US, Mitchell Leisen, 1939) Arriving in Paris with nothing to her name but a gold lame dress, a plucky American (Claudette Colbert) agrees to continue posing as a countess in order to help a wily rich husband (John Barrymore) pry a pesky swain from his wife (Mary Astor.) But their plan doesn’t account for the determination of smitten taxi driver Don Ameche. Bubbling, witty screwball comedy adapted from a Hungarian stage play by the ace screenwriting team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.—RDL

Withnail & I (Film, UK, Bruce Robinson, 1987) Unemployed nebbishy actor (Paul McGann) and his unemployed psycho actor flatmate Withnail (Richard E. Grant) take an extremely impromptu holiday in the Lake District. Grant’s justly acclaimed Pinnacle performance hilariously and alchemically combines all the watchable sins — rage, vanity, cruelty, drunkenness, and lies — but the rest of the cast does almost as well down to the very small parts; McGann manages to somehow convey deserving his horrible friend without making us despise him. –KH

Good

Loki Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Kate Herron, 2021) Displaced from the timeline, a previous version of the Asgardian trickster god (Tom Hiddleston) gets shanghaied into service as a time cop, partnered with laconic wisecracker Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson.) The first five episodes dish out old-fashioned four-color fun, with zingy relationships and a structure emulating a comic storyline where each issue has its own distinct vibe. But by now we know the drill for Disney+ Marvel shows—the finale is yet another anticlimactic mess more interested in teasing future content than delivering a satisfying conclusion.—RDL

Okay

Gunpowder Milkshake (Film, US/Germany/France, Navot Papushado, 2021) A hit gone wrong prompts an assassin (Karen Gillan) to protect a kid from the mob, aided by her estranged killer mom (Lena Headey) and a trio of gun librarians (Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh.) I like stylistic nods to Leone and Bava at least as much as the next guy, but if you have five action leads and four of them aren’t Michelle Yeoh, you have to book the time to train them in the fight choreo instead of leaving it up to stunt doubles.—RDL

Make Happy (Standup, Netflix, Bo Burnham, 2016) Elaborately synchronized musical numbers interspersed with brief observational bits and jump-scare misdirection, all on the general theme of entertaining, and on the meta-theme of “I, Bo Burnham, am entertaining you by being edgy but not so edgy that you have to examine your relationship to the material or to me, Bo Burnham.” The trouble with meta-anything is that for it to be something besides self-congratulatory tailchasing there has to be something you’re actually willing to say, ideally something nobody else can (or will) say. If not, well … you can always claim you were being ironically ironic, I guess? –KH

Strongly Heinlein-Dependent

Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation (Fiction, Travis I.J. Corcoran, 2017 and 2018) Anarcho-capitalist moon colony rebels against a statist Earth in 2064, complete with enigmatic AI and American Revolutionary parallels. This perfectly serviceable (if somewhat bloated) modernization of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress adds uplifted Dogs and breaks up the lectures but loses zero of the didacticism as its characters remain somewhat flatter. Your response will be one grade below your rating of Heinlein’s original. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Soderbergh Crime, Winslet Crime, and Boardgame Metaphysics

July 6th, 2021 | 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

Mare of Easttown (Television, UK, HBO, Brad Inglesby, 2021) Jaded, grief-burying small town detective (Kate Winslet) investigates a murder involving a local teen, where nearly all the witnesses and suspects are friends or relatives. Obsessively wielded hardscrabble social observation lends docudrama credibility to an operatic, twist-filled crime story.—RDL

No Sudden Move (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2021) In 1954 Detroit, ex-con Curtis Goynes (Don Cheadle) and lunkhead Ronny Russo (Benicio del Toro) get paid too much to hold a schlub’s (David Harbour) family hostage and have to keep moving to avoid the setup and get out ahead. Elliptical script by Ed Solomon almost always reveals just enough (it does get a little expository at moments) and Soderbergh keeps the action and actors moving fast enough to keep all the crime-flick plates spinning. Stylish performances by the best-of-breed supporting cast (especially an Orson Welles-channeling Brendan Fraser playing a middle-management hood) and plenty of cool light remind you of what Soderbergh always has in the tank. –KH

No Sudden Move (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2021) In 50s Detroit, a gunman with powerful enemies and land to buy (Don Cheadle) agrees to a lucrative few-hour gig holding a family hostage with a luckless counterpart (Benicio del Toro) and a mouthy punk (Kieran Culkin), and awry it goes. Snappy dialogue, a deceptively matter-of-fact emotional temperature and a oneupping attitude to anamorphic lens distortion distinguish Soderbergh’s latest return to the crime genre.—RDL

Good

Avidly Reads Board Games (Nonfiction, Eric Thurm, 2019) Thurm uses personal memoir and play experience as a gateway to briefly discussing board game evolution and metaphysics. To the extent this slim volume is about anything (besides justifying its subject to a NYU Press editor), it’s about the implications of the “magic circle” of board game play for players and designers: complicity in various theoretical or political constructions, and potential to redefine experience through play and larger mechanical possibilities such as legacy games or coopetitive designs. Pleasant, clever, but too short to really bite: the Coup of board game books. –KH

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt Omnibus (Comics, Dynamite, Alex Ross & Steve Darnall and Jonathan Lau, 2015) Peter Cannon’s impulsive creation of a dragon tulpa to discourage nuclear testing blows back on every part of his life as old foes and new gather to destroy him. If Gillen & Wijngaard’s take on the same material was near-Pinnacle Recommended, this is near-Recommended Good: the comic never bored me and once or twice genuinely surprised me, but didn’t leave a whole lot behind. It’s funny how Moore’s deconstruction of Cannon has somehow become the template for every major treatment of the character since — in that respect Ross & Darnall break new (if less inviting) ground by depicting a genuinely confused Thunderbolt rather than an arch Ozymandias. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Actors, Superheroes and the Most Famous Submarine

June 29th, 2021 | 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

Burn! (Film, Italy, Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969) To drive the Portuguese from a Caribbean island, a cynical strategist (Marlon Brando) turns a porter (Evaristo Márquez) into an inspirational rebel, who he must later destroy at the behest of his sugar company bosses. Polemical tone poem of colonialism and counterinsurgency draws more than a bit of its operatic scope from the era’s spaghetti westerns.—RDL

The Design and Construction of the Nautilus (Nonfiction, Demetri Capetanopolous, 2018) Reconstruction of Nemo’s submarine based on Verne’s data that attempts to answer: is it a good submarine design? (Yes) Could it have been built in 1865? (Except for the handwaved engines, surprisingly mostly yes) Really Recommended mostly for Nemo completists, but a striking example of one of my favorite exercises: real-world data (Capetanopolous is a former sub captain and engineer) retrofitted into hallmark genre fiction. –KH

The Neighbor Season 2 (Television, Spain, Miguel Esteban & Raúl Navarro, Netflix, 2021) Romantic discord ensues when stumblebum hero Javier (Quim Gutiérrez) discovers that ex-girlfriend Lola (Clara Lago)  can also use his super pills. Looming alien menace nudges the charming comedy shambolism a few inches further into genre territory.—RDL

Nothing Like a Dame (Film, UK, Roger Michell, 2018) Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins drop by Joan Plowright’s house to tease each other, discuss aging and fame, trade acting shop talk, and roll out the anecdotes. Cozy hangout documentaries like this usually feature male actors, and I was little surprised to realize how little I’ve seen any of these legends interviewed at any length. Smith of course gets off the best line, zinging Plowright’s husband, Larry Olivier.—RDL

Staged Season 1 (Television, UK, Simon Evans, 2020) When the pandemic shuts down a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, a gormless director (Simon Evans) persuades his leads, the petulant David Tennant (David Tennant) and tetchy Michael Sheen (Michael Sheen) to rehearse remotely. Considerable wit, a couple of superstar cameos, and of course the charm of the stars gleefully sending themselves up, overcomes one’s natural reluctance to sit through Zoom meetings or relive the early months of COVID.—RDL

Good

Project Superpowers Vols 1-3 (Comics, Dynamite, Jim Krueger & Alex Ross & divers hands, 2018-2019) The public-domain superheroes of the 1940s emerge from Pandora’s Urn into a modern dystopia and set about setting things to rights in the overarching frame story of Vol. 1. Vol. 2 focuses on the Black Terror, Vol. 3 on several different heroes and villains, the stories interacting with the frame crossover-style. (The X-Mas Carol and Owl stories in Vol. 3 are Recommended.) Ross’ covers are amazing, as are his art notes in the back, but he primarily acts as co-plotter and art director, so the actual art is kind of all over the place. The story mostly remains Big Reveals About Characters You Barely Remember, to necessarily limited effect, but the second half of Vol. 1 gets close to giddy Bronze Age event comics thrills, and Edgar Salazar’s art lives up to Ross’ potential there too. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Peter Cannon & The Sparks Brothers

June 22nd, 2021 | 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 Big Gundown (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1968) Implacable gunslinger (Lee van Cleef) tracks a an weaselly but ingenious criminal (Tomas Milian) accused of child murder. Quest-structured, Morricone-scored spaghetti western with emphatic staging, a wry eye for human perversity, and a classic frenemy dynamic between the leads.—RDL

The Clockmaker of St. Paul (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1976) Mournful watch store proprietor (Philippe Noiret) struggles to understand how his son could have murdered his girlfriend’s supervisor and gone on the lam. Restrained character piece with a political undertone, based on a Simenon novel. Aka The Watchmaker of St. Paul or The Clockmaker.—RDL

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt (Comics, Dynamite, Kieron Gillen & Caspar Wijngaard, 2020) Peter Cannon, heir to the Ancient Scrolls of a lost civilization, reluctantly defends his Earth against a faked alien invasion. I could write an essay about this intelligent, honest response/homage to Watchmen, but suffice it to say that Gillen’s engagement with the form and the content of comics’ eternal, nigh-fatal masterpiece provides the best possible argument for broad reading in the classics as a basis for creative effort. Its biggest flaw is that unlike its model it doesn’t quite encompass a superhero story — but Gillen intends that lacuna, as well. Wijngaard’s art counterpoints both Gillen and Gibbons’ genius (two difficult tasks!) with remarkable fluidity and strength, and Mary Safro’s coloring quietly amazes. –KH

The Sparks Brothers (Film, US/UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Rockumentary tracks the origin and evolution of the seminal, vastly influential glam-synth-comic-pop-art duo Sparks (Russell and Ron Mael) over five decades and 25 albums. Wright has as much fun as he can (which isn’t a whole lot) with the standard talking-heads-plus-footage format but fortunately the Maels’ dry seen-it-all vibe lets his puppyish auteurism bounce off and the music shine through. Nearly two and a half hours fly by with the only cavil being “oh I wish he’d dived deeper into [your favorite Sparks era] and also let Jane Wiedlin talk way more instead of Fred Armisen.” –KH

Okay

Dark City (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1950) Remote gambler (Charlton Heston) realizes that he and his confederates have been targeted for death by someone connected to a garrulous out-of-towner who killed himself after they fleeced him. Hardboiled noir falters until late in the game, when the protagonist finally gets far enough into his redemption arc for the viewer to stop rooting for his demise. Jack Webb appears in an uncharacteristic role as a contemptible heel.—RDL

Sword of Sherwood Forest (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1960) The Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing) pursues a fugitive into Sherwood, prompting Robin Hood (Richard Greene) to investigate a wider conspiracy. Hammer Films extends its policy of weaving new storylines around public domain characters into swashbuckler territory, resulting in an affable time-waster.—RDL

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
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Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister