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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Moorcock, le Carre and Mae West

May 22nd, 2018 | 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.

One of us must be in crunch mode, but here’s the other with an all-recommendation round of media consumption.

Recommended

Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 5 (Television, US, FOX, Dan Goor, 2017-2018) Jake and Amy prepare for their wedding as Amy gets a promotion and Holt goes up for commissioner. Stays as solid as ever while showing how to advance characters without bending them out of shape.—RDL

Gotham Season 4 (Television, US, FOX, Danny Cannon, 2017-2018) Young Bruce reels from his killing of Ra’s al-Ghul and Jim Gordon watches another ex join the underworld. Highlighted by a classic rendition of the Joker from Cameron Monaghan, which brilliantly references the entire Romero-to-Ledger spectrum, capped by a weido reverse version. —RDL

A Legacy of Spies (Fiction, John le Carré, 2017) When a civil suit threatens to expose a decades-old operation, the feckless muppets running today’s MI6, decide to scapegoat Peter Guillam, right-hand to Cold War spymaster George Smiley. Flashback structure makes this both prequel and sequel to The Spy Who Came Out of the Cold, as seen through the lens of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. More a coda to those two masterpieces than a standalone work, so not the place to start with le Carré.—RDL

Night After Night (Film, US, Archie Mayo, 1932) Good-hearted speakeasy owner (George Raft) falls for a melancholy young woman (Constance Cummings) from a formerly wealthy family. The uncredited hand of screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz grants depth and sympathy to what in any other version of this film would be a collection of Runyonesque stock characters. Featuring Mae West and a nonchalant, positive lesbian subplot.—RDL

Phoenix in Obsidian (Fiction, Michael Moorcock, 1970) In part two of the Eternal Champion sub-series, Erekose becomes wintry warrior Urlik Skarsol and reunites with the black sword. A lesson in stripped-down, image-rich sword and sorcery from the days before fantasy was struck by the Great Word Count Bloat.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Microbes, Quantum Ghosts and Harry Dean Stanton

May 15th, 2018 | 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

Future Echoes (Play, Paul Foster, 2018) Allie’s (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers) dinner party reunion gets interrupted by mysterious death-fetches — are they perhaps connected to missing roommate Eamon’s experiment at the super collider? Mostly successful blending of ghost story and quantum physics nightmare slowly pivots into a truly horrific fable of stalking. Lott-Rogers’ performance holds the play together over a few bumpy transitions from spookshow to science fiction. [Disclaimer: Paul Foster and I are both part of WildClaw Theatre, and I have beaten him at so many board games that we must be friends by now.]  Playing through May 27 at the Den Theater in Chicago. –KH

Lucky (Film, US, John Carroll Lynch) Lovably irascible old man (Harry Dean Stanton) living in a small Arizona town arouses the concern in his friends after a fall confronts him with his mortality. Near plotless character piece, with a lived-in feel reminiscent of Jarmusch and The Straight Story (complete with David Lynch acting turn), gives the sublime gift of a final showcase for the soulful, never obtrusive acting art of Harry Dean Stanton.—RDL

Welcome to the Microbiome: Getting to Know the Trillions of Bacteria and Other Microbes In, On, and Around You (Nonfiction, Rob DeSalle and Susan L. Perkins, 2015) Introductory survey of the body’s relationship with its host of microbial residents, from their essential role in digestion to the possible role they play in obesity, depression and autism. Aimed at the novice but quite technical for a pop science book. The main takeaway is how young a field the study of the microbiome is, and how little we know about it, or bacteria in general.—RDL

Good

Super Fly (Film, US, Gordon Parks Jr., 1972) Outwardly dominant but inwardly terrified NYC coke dealer tries to arrange a single deal large enough to get him out of the business. Gritty locations lend authenticity to this camp-free, rough-hewn classic of the blaxploitation cycle. Soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield features most of his best songs.—RDL

Not Recommended

Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days (Film, Japan, Azuma Morisaki, 2013) Flailing ad salesman and part-time cartoonist struggles to keep up with his mother’s accelerating dementia. Shambling slice-of-life comedy set in the present day, intercut with melodramatic flashbacks, culminating in unbearable mawkishness. Based on an autobiographical manga.—RDL

A Woman’s Secret (Film, US, Nicholas Ray, 1949) Pianist (Melvyn Douglas) tries to exonerate a steely ex-singer (Maureen O’Hara) who has confessed to shooting her reluctant protege (Gloria Grahame.) Cast and director work hard to breathe life into a hash of a script that meanders in chronology, genre and tone. Made just a year before Ray’s masterpiece In a Lonely Place, also with then-wife Grahame.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cats > Infinity War

May 8th, 2018 | 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

Ballad of a Small Player (Fiction, Lawrence Osborne, 2014) After a bout of unearned love, an expat Brit in Macao confronts the worst fate that can befall a baccarat addict—a run of preternatural luck. Mordant contemplation of the most cosmically punishing of the self-destructive vices, permeated by damp local ambience and intimations of the supernatural.—RDL

Kedi (Film, Turkey, Ceyda Torun, 2017) Documentary follows the doughty street cats of Istanbul and the humans who feed and admire them. Soothing and gorgeously photographed, this is the apotheosis of the cat video.—RDL

Good

The Avengers: Infinity War (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018) Thanos (Josh Brolin), an enormous purple Malthusian, seeks the six Infinity Stones as the Avengers, et. al. (Robert Downey, Jr., et. al.), try to stop him. The first half of a five-hour action movie released alone perhaps could never be that great as a film, even if it didn’t try to shoehorn three dozen characters into spotlight moments. To the Russos’ credit, they have many better ways to shoot superhero fights than the very tired “clash of incompetent CGI armies” and often cut to that something better. Brolin is as good as his mocap millstone lets him be, and Downey sells his own exhaustion with the franchise convincingly enough as Tony Stark’s. But at the end of the day, this is a movie that feels pretty much exactly like reading a too-long superhero crossover comic series. –KH

Beware of the Trains (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1953) This collection of mystery short stories mostly starring Crispin’s detective don Gervase Fen sets up some excellent puzzles and solves them with Crispin’s usual flair. However, the difference between a detective best suited for novels (like Fen or Lord Peter Wimsey) and a classic short-story star (like Sherlock Holmes or Nick Velvet) really comes into focus when you read the one in the other form. –KH

The Great Wall (Film, US/China, Zhang Yimou, 2016) Western blackguard (Matt Damon) finds his inner hero when he stumbles onto the latest round of an eternal battle between a colorful legion of wall defenders and the iguana-dragon horde that wants to eat the empire. Yeah, this misses a character beat or three on its hero’s selfishness to altruism arc, and fell prey to a colossal expectations mismatch on its initial release. Go in expecting a Harryhausenesque CGI romp where Zhang gets to indulge the wildest edges of his color sense and you’ll get your Saturday matinee money’s worth. —RDL

Okay

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 3 (Television, US, Marc Guggenheim & Phil Klemmer, 2017-2018) The team undergoes personnel changes and engages in player-character-like hijinks while trying to prevent the materialization of a plummy-voiced time demon. Wildly uneven season starts out incredibly shaky, redeems itself with the giddily splendid multi-show crossover event, then settles into a groove. (Not Good + Pinnacle + Good) / 3 = Okay. —RDL

The Outsider (Film, US, Martin Zandvliet, 2018) In 1954 Osaka, American ex-soldier Nick (Jared Leto) helps yakuza member Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) escape prison, and gets adopted into his yakuza clan. Its simplistic A-to-B plot recalls the yakuza films of the 1950s without their emotional depths or stylistic heights. Zandvliet films the ample bloodshed in a low-key, even flat affect that perhaps reflects the cold sociopathy of Nick and his milieu, but (also like Leto’s Nick) it barely holds the viewer’s interest even while it’s on screen. –KH

Incomplete

The Avengers: Infinity War (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018) Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. No protagonist, no ending, not a movie.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Be Very Very Quiet, It’s a Curse of Vengeance

May 1st, 2018 | 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 Killing of a Sacred Deer (Film, UK/Ireland/US, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017) Arrogant heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) takes an interest in a dead patient’s son (Barry Keoghan), bringing weird vengeance on his wife (Nicole Kidman) and family. Affectless line readings, hyper-banal dialogue, sun-drenched visuals and boundary-less characters converge to create quietly excruciating tension long before the film reveals its true genre. Such a slow burn that it’s almost a spoiler to tell you it’s supernatural horror, but if I don’t you won’t all watch it, will you?—RDL

Recommended

Founding Fathers Funnies (Comics, Peter Bagge, 2016) Anthology of pieces from 2005-2015 on the foibles and furors of America’s founding fathers (and one or two mothers). Bagge liked Hamilton before it was cool, and Alex (along with Ben Franklin and John Adams) gets most of the ink here. The best piece depicts John Singleton Copley depicting Paul Revere; the only real dud is the too-tepid John Paul Jones segment. –KH

A Quiet Place (Film, US, John Krasinski, 2018) Following an apocalyptic invasion of monsters that track and kill by sound, Lee and Evelyn Abbott (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) try to preserve their family. Driven by the overwhelming central concept, taut set pieces and rich metaphor proliferate throughout. Even the acting, almost entirely in silence or in ASL, benefits. No, it doesn’t beat the fourth-act fall of most horror films, but in a tight 95 minutes that’s more forgivable. –KH

Okay

Lisa and the Devil (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1976) Lost tourist (Elke Sommer) stumbles into a haunted villa presided over by a weird mom and son, and their smugly sinister, mannequin-toting butler (Telly Savalas.) Dream logic gothic horror features Bava’s flair for color and ornate set decor. Savalas shows up his wooden castmates by deciding to act up a storm, complete with Kojak’s iconic lollipop.—RDL

Mr. Holmes (Film, Bill Condon, 2015) An elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) befriends his housekeeper’s boy while struggling to remember the 30-year old case that drove him into retirement. Prestige drama in need of an urgency transfusion. Notable for McKellen’s kind and vulnerable master detective, a break from the current vogue for Sherlock as sociopath.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Time Travel, Zora Neale Hurston and the Russian Mob

April 24th, 2018 | 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

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story (Comics, Peter Bagge, 2017) Straight-up biography in (well-endnoted) comics form of anthropologist, novelist, folklorist Hurston, the most glorious maverick of the Harlem Renaissance. Bagge doesn’t try to find a through-line except in Hurston’s mercurial personality, which is probably for the best as her prose can’t be condensed to comics and her politics shouldn’t be. –KH

Source Code (Film, US/France, Duncan Jones, 2011) U.S. Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a commuter train headed for Chicago, sitting across from a stranger (Michelle Monaghan) who seems to know him. And then he does it again. A tasty blend of thriller, science fiction, and Groundhog Day that just plain works — everybody does a great job filming a script that moves more than fast enough to deliver the Dickian mindscrew at its core. –KH

Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (Nonfiction, Mark Galeotti, 2018) Traces the evolution of organized crime in Russia from pre-WWI horse thieves to Stalin’s bandit pals, and on to gulag-hardened recalcitrants, the regime-favored trusties who violently broke them, the trigger-happy turf-grabbers of the wild 90s and the finally the hybrid businessman-gangsters of today. Punchy subtitle notwithstanding, this admirably focused, engagingly written survey looks at its subject matter through a demythologizing lens.—RDL (Full Disclosure: In his time off from interviewing Chechen hit men, the author is One of Us, and a KARTAS Patreon backer.)

Wild Wild Country (Television, Netflix, Chapman Way & Maclain Way, 2018) Docuseries recounts the rise and fall of the free-loving, gun-toting, salmonella-weaponizing Rajneeshpuram religious community in rural Oregon. A rippling score by Brocker Way adds tension to the archival footage/modern interview format, as the artifacting of deteriorated video footage underline a chaos of conflicting perspectives.—RDL

Good

Cash on Demand (Film, UK, Quentin Lawrence, 1961) Persnickety, dare I say Scrooge-like, bank manager Fordyce (Peter Cushing) learns what’s really important when a roguish bank robber (Andre Morell) uses him in a clockwork heist. Real-time tension counterpoints Cushing’s superb portrayal of a man disintegrating under pressure. I would not disagree if other viewers’ temperament upgrades it to Recommended. –KH

White God (Film, Hungary, Kornél Mundruczó, 2014) Tossed out on the side of a highway road by his adoring owner’s loser dad, Hagen the mixed-breed suffers mistreatment, including a stint as a fighting dog, before leading a city-wide canine kill spree against his oppressors. Allegorical drama with arthouse style and an exploitation heart.—RDL

Okay

The Deadly Companions (Film, US, Sam Peckinpah, 1961) After accidentally shooting her child in a gunfight with outlaws, a tortured Union veteran (Brian Keith) delays his mission of vengeance to make himself an unwelcome bodyguard to a dance hall performer (Maureen O’Hara.) In his first directorial outing, Peckinpah introduces a bracing moral grottiness unusual for a studio western of the period, but shows little affinity for the script’s central hostility-to-affection romantic arc.—RDL

Kodachrome (Film, US, Mark Raso, 2018) Struggling A&R guy (Jason Sudeikis) reluctantly agrees to a road trip with his estranged, dying famous photographer dad (Ed Harris) and his nurse (Elizabeth Olsen.) RIYL strong performances and obvious story developments.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deadites and Samurai

April 17th, 2018 | 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

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2 (Television, US, STARZ, Craig DiGregorio, 2017) Ash (Bruce Campbell), now allied with Ruby, returns to his hometown and a certain cabin in the woods to battle a new, more human-like threat, the demon Baal. Season 2 moves closer to the spirit of the original, including more sympathetic portrayal of Ash, while gleefully topping itself in the gore department. The ending, apparently a last minute creative shift, leaves a headscratcher for Season 3 to redeem . —RDL

Commandos Strike at Dawn (Film, US, John Farrow, 1942) After the Nazi takeover of Norway, a mild-mannered fisheries scientist (Paul Muni) forms a resistance cell. Gripping drama pulls no propaganda punches, as was typical of the films Hollywood made about the war, during the war. With story by C. S. Forester.—RDL

Eleven Samurai (Film, Japan, Eiichi Kudo, 1967) Retainers of a falsely punished clan realize that the man responsible for their fate, the heedless and violent son of the shogun, needs killing. Tense and moody mix of Edo politics and samurai action.—RDL

In Order of Disappearance (Film, Norway, Hans Petter Moland, 2016) When drug dealers kill his son, a taciturn snow plow operator (Stellan Skarsgard) starts killing his way up the local gangster food chain, sparking an ever-widening cycle of violence. Wintry, mordant take on the vigilante revenge genre.—RDL

The Power House (Fiction, William Haggard, 1967) A left-wing MP’s failed defection leads to a war between London gambling houses, and Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must keep the lid on all of it. Crime and party politics burst in on Haggard’s cozy world, to the benefit of pacing. Haggard also changes up his standard class signifiers somewhat in the interest of properly blackguarding a thinly-disguised Harold Wilson. The resulting discord makes Haggard’s plotting even more satisfying. –KH

Good

A Cool Day For Killing (Fiction, William Haggard, 1968) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must protect the English heirs to the ruling family of the Sultanate of Shahaddin from Chinese agents in this genuinely thrilling yarn. Although the two sympathetic heirs are female and half-Malay, respectively, 21st-century audiences may jib at Haggard’s gender and ethnic essentialism; spy-fi fans may cavil at the relative lack of challenge posed by Russell’s Chinese opposite number. –KH

Okay

Baadshaho (Film, India, Milan Luthria, 2017) During the Emergency in 1975, Princess Gitanjali (Ileana d’Cruz) depends on her loyal bodyguard Bhawani (Ajay Devgan) to heist her fortune in gold when crooked government officials seize it. Relatively competent, if leisurely paced, period heist thriller literally goes up in a cloud of dust in the abrupt and opaque final act. –KH

Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground (Nonfiction, Ian Purkayastha with Kevin West, 2016) Truffle supplier to the NYC restaurant elite recounts his quest for high-end fungus in an industry rife with risk and deception. Requires the reader to sniff out salient nuggets of food biz info from a field of anodyne autobiography.—RDL

Two Evil Eyes (Film, Italy/US, George Romero and Dario Argento, 1990) Two hour-long films based on Poe stories: in Romero’s “Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar,” he ties Poe’s grotesque to an EC Horror-style crime-comeuppance story, while Argento’s “The Black Cat” nestles the title story amidst ample other Poe callouts. Romero’s half is competent enough, even Good, albeit mostly marking time to the weird end; Argento neither provides Poe’s portrait of a madman (Harvey Keitel) nor digs into the notion of a Poe universe unspooling around him. Especially for Argento fans, this is Not Recommended. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: More Dogs, More Stalin, More Haggard

April 10th, 2018 | 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 Death of Stalin (Film, UK, Armando Iannucci, 2017) As they prepare for Stalin’s funeral (spoiler),, frantic members of his inner circle, portrayed with comic relish by Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs and Michael Palin, scheme for survival as the power vacuum closes. Iannucci’s “The Thick of It” / “Veep” style achieves apotheosis by tackling a circumstance where the stakes go all the way up to murder.—RDL

The Hard Sell (Fiction, William Haggard, 1965) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive investigates sabotage and delays of a British jet prototype being built in Italy — where he has no jurisdiction. A judicious blend of political machinations and policier maneuver steadily speeds the pace of this novel into genuine thriller territory, albeit at the discreet remove Haggard prefers. Maybe the ending wraps up a little too neatly, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. –KH

Isle of Dogs (Film, US, Wes Anderson, 2018) Exiled to Trash Island off the coast of Megasaki in retrofuture Japan, a pack of dogs (Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray) help crashed 12-year-old pilot Atari (Kyou Rankin) search for his own exiled dog. Over and above the strong script and metronomically quirky Anderson-company performances, the most impressive thing about this stop-motion animation adventure quest is its sheer crafted beauty. Anderson surpasses Fantastic Mr. Fox and turns his obsessive-compulsive auteurism into a strength instead of a crutch. –KH

A Man and a Woman (Film, France, Claude Lelouch, 1966) Attraction sparks between two single parents whose kids attend the same boarding school, a script supervisor (Anouk Aimée) and a race car driver (Jean-Louis Trintignant.) Beguiling romance in which the obstacles keeping the lovers apart take a back seat to New Wave formal experimentation and early 60s chic.—RDL

The Yacoubian Building (Fiction, Alaa Al Aswany, 2002) As Gulf War I begins elsewhere in the region, Cairo residents of high and low status, united by a connection to the titular building, find their daily struggles worsened by the brushes with dictatorial power. Revisits the social realist tradition of Egyptian fiction within the context of recent politics.—RDL

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (Television, HBO, Judd Apatow, 2018) Documentary miniseries lovingly portrays the rise and ensuing struggle of Shandling, creator of the seminal Larry Sanders Show and previous cult hit It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Hilarious and heartbreaking bio of a wounded guy who sought solace in perfectionism, and found it in Buddhist meditation.—RDL.

Okay

The Emperor’s Candlesticks (Film, US, George Fitzmaurice, 1937) Russian spy (Luise Rainer) and Polish agent (William Powell) fall in love while racing to deliver competing messages to the czar. Frothy Continental espionage confection expends much screen time on the complexities of its titular McGuffin. Rainer is always a bit of a dud, especially when contrasted with the infinitely more present Maureen O’Sullivan, who appears in a secondary role.—RDL

I, Vampire (Comics, DC, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino, 2011-2013) Collected in three trade paperbacks, this relaunch of J.M. deMatteis’ emo action vampire hero Andrew Bennett overlaps a literally apocalyptic story of Andrew and his murderous lover Mary with DC’s magical supers and John Constantine and Batman and Stormwatch for some reason. The result is a cascading series of dei ex machina and over-the-top writing that vitiates the characters’ humanity while not selling their epic status. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Futura Dogs

April 3rd, 2018 | 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

Annihilation (Fiction, Jeff VanderMeer, 2014) A nameless biologist encounters the mysteries of Area X, including the mystery of its effect on her. Not many Gothics focus on ennui and introversion, for obvious reasons, and it’s a tribute to VanderMeer’s prose style and inventive blend of nature writing and the eerie that this one remains compelling. High concepts of free will, perception, and other dimensions surface briefly and vanish again, much like the creatures in the swamps of the Southern Reach. –KH

The Arena (Fiction, William Haggard, 1961) Soft-spoken spymaster works discreetly behind the scenes to prevent a foreign enemy from acquiring an old-school merchant bank, which in turn controls the firm behind a strategic radar technology. Coolly unheightened spy thriller elements provide a vessel for an examination of class mores and mannerisms as minutely detailed as anything this side of Jane Austen.—RDL

Franca: Chaos and Creation (Film, US/Italy, Francesco Carrozzini, 2016) Documentarian profiles his mother, Franca Sozzani, who remade Vogue Italia into a showcase for striking, often disturbing art photography blending fashion with provocation. The family relationship lends emotional throughline to a rich barrage of challenging, glamourous images tinged with a latent weird horror sensibility.—RDL

Isle of Dogs (Film, US, Wes Anderson, 2018) Pack of canines exiled to a trash island off retrofuture Japan help the plucky distant nephew of a sinister politico search for his beloved short-haired Oceanic speckle-eared sport hound. Stop-motion animated adventure is both Anderson’s most conventionally structured film, and the most whimsical and charming parable about the ever-present specter of genocide one could imagine. —RDL

Legion Season 1 (Television, US, FX, 2017) Mental patient David Haller (Dan Stevens) slowly discovers his mutant heritage while forces outside and inside attempt to use him and/or kill him. Formally audacious and beautifully styled, and best of all exactly the right length, Legion could not be more different from the molasses-and-murk Netflix school of Marvel TV. Outside Stevens and his anima (played by Aubrey Plaza) the casting is uneven, but the writing and the production design carry each episode from strength to strength. –KH

Texts From Jane Eyre (Nonfiction, Mallory Ortberg, 2014) Ortberg reduces the great works of literature (and the Sweet Valley High novels) to childish, needy, downright insane text messages — usually to another character who responds with befuddlement, disinterest, or codependent mania. The gag shouldn’t work twice, but in the hands of possibly the greatest humorist of the 21st century, it almost always lands. Reading the texts all straight through is like eating a whole pie — unhealthy, but sooo much fun. –KH

Tom at the Farm (Film, Canada, Xavier Dolan, 2013) Young Montrealer (Xavier Dolan) in rural Quebec to attend the funeral of his boyfriend falls into a twisted relationship with the dead man’s menacing brother. The fear of gay-bashing adds a layer of logic to the French rural horror sub-genre in his moody, arresting journey into Hitchcockian dread.—RDL

Good

TV (The Book) (Nonfiction, Mark Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, 2016) Under the guise of listing “the 100 greatest American shows of all time,” (from The Simpsons to Terriers, since you asked) Sepinwall and Seitz compile an attempt at a canon for the least canonized of media. Much of their critical insight boils down to nothing much more than “we really liked it,” but TV criticism as a field is still in its infancy. The usual sins of presentism, me-tooism, and Bochco-ism notwithstanding, they do an acceptable job of it — they do pick the correct Star Trek as the best one, for example (TOS at #62). –KH

Not Recommended

Kidnapped (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1974) Ultraviolent knuckleheads on the run after an payroll robbery take a woman hostage, then hijack a car driven by a man with a sick child. When you take the politics out of poliziotteschi, all you have left is nihilistic depravity, here realized with unwelcome brio by horror master Bava. Better encapsulated by its alternate title, Rabid Dogs.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Raidin’ Tombs and Retailin’ Games

March 27th, 2018 | 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 Arena (Fiction, William Haggard, 1961) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must protect a radar company from acquisition by a foreign industrial combine. The banker opposed to the deal takes center stage in this third of Haggard’s cozy spy thrillers, the plot turning on the state of his marriage and health as much as on the machinations of Germans and (brrr) arrivistes. The result is affecting and original, if not quite thrilling per se. –KH

The Death of Stalin (Film, France/UK/Belgium, Armando Iannucci, 2018) Contemptible, monstrous weasels Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) maneuver for power following the titular death of Stalin in 1953. This black farce unspools at a lickety-split pace, with dialogue as crackling as it is craven. Iannucci’s decision to forego cod-Russian accents keeps comic delivery on key while adding just the right surreal tinge to the dramatically collapsed historical events. Jason Isaacs’ Yorkshire-voiced bully Marshal Zhukov steals every scene, but Michael Palin’s heartbreakingly sad and funny turn as true believer Molotov may be the best in show. –KH

The Moving Target (Fiction, Ross Macdonald, 1949) LA private eye Lew Archer investigates a wayward businessman’s disappearance at the behest of a wife who only half wants him back. In the first of his 18 Archer novels, Macdonald follows the Chandler hardboiled template, but with less stylized prose and characterization. GMs looking for inspiration for their own Cthulhu Confidential scenarios might stroke their chins at the crooked astrologer and the shady Mithras cultist.—RDL

Good

Friendly Local Game Store (Nonfiction, Gary L. Ray, 2018) The owner of Black Diamond Games in Concord, CA clearly lays out the basics of what it takes to create, run, and manage a retail hobby game store as a small business, sharing both the airy “bistro math” of small business plans and some real costs and revenues (and narratives) from his own million-dollar-a-year emporium. Everyone in gaming should know what it takes to keep pumping those cards and dice and players and other corpuscles into the body of this idiosyncratic (to say the least) industry. If you’re a hobby retailer, or interested in starting a game store yourself (or in buying one from someone less interested) vault this book up to highly Recommended. –KH

Tomb Raider (Film, US, Roar Uthaug, 2018) Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) travels to the mysterious island of Yamatai in search of her vanished father (Dominic West) only to discover a tomb in the process of being raided by Matthias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Vikander plays the role with a sort of wounded curiosity rather than Angelina Jolie’s feral confidence, but she plays her weaker part well and jungle archaeology adventure remains wonderful whoever wears the blue tank top (or the fedora). Not quite the juicy pulp of the 2001 film, but it manages to infuse the depressing reboot of the game with a modicum of joy. –KH

The Unquiet Sleep (Fiction, William Haggard, 1962) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must deal with a nascent drug ring peddling a not-yet-illegal pharmaceutical that implicates a government official. Haggard slightly titrates this cozy spy thriller with action, but gives in a bit too much to the temptation to vindicate his worldview through his protagonists to sell the emotional weight he wants. –KH

Okay

Death Watch (Film, France/UK, Bertrand Tavernier, 1980) Outfitted with camera eyes by his shifty reality TV producer (Harry Dean Stanton), a hard-knuckle reporter (Harvey Keitel) surreptitiously records a novelist (Romy Schneider) as she undergoes a rare event—death by disease. Listless 70s pacing drains the energy from this prescient, low-tech SF drama.—RDL

Death Wish (Film, US, Eli Roth, 2018) Chicago surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) becomes a murderous vigilante after home invaders kill his wife and leave his daughter in a coma. Though it nods toward the traumatized protagonist of Brian Garfield’s original novel, the script eventually becomes a straight-up revenge hunt. Despite his clear love of 70s film, Roth shies away from the anarchic power of the 1974 Charles Bronson movie in favor of competent domestic drama. Worse yet, he aims in so many more interesting directions in passing: Kersey as surgeon of society’s ills, vigilantism as meme, or even Kersey as cinematic serial killer. –KH

The X-Files Season 11 (Television, US, Chris Carter, FOX, 2018) Mulder and Scully continue to investigate eliptonic threats as the Cigarette Smoking Man hunts for their long-lost genetic hybrid son. With episodes ranging from middling to atrocious—and premise-violating—this faded reprise ekes its way to mediocrity with its sweet portrayal of the middle-aged Scully-Mulder relationship and a less-awful capper to the saga than we’ve had to date.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cozy Spies and Underground Bunkers

March 20th, 2018 | 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

Brigsby Bear (Film, US, Dave McCary, 2017) Man (Kyle Mooney) reunited with his biological family after being raised in an underground bunker by the couple (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) who kidnapped him as a baby resolves to create a final episode of the weirdo kid’s show they made to mold him into a mathematician. Dark, bizarre comedy premise realized with a surprising sweetness and generosity of characterization.—RDL

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Film, US, Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014) In a desolate Iranian city, a young man with a junkie father crosses paths with a chador-clad, skateboarding vampire girl. Hip and haunting mood piece scores with commanding widescreen compositions, tension-filled stillness, and b&w photography done right.—RDL

Good

Confession (Film, US, Joe May, 1937) Nightclub chanteuse (Kay Francis) refuses to reveal why she shot a caddish composer (Basil Rathbone) as he made a play for a naive music student (Jane Bryan.) Swirling his camera positions like a proto-Scorsese, May lets the melodrama fly, arcing from fizzy Continental confection to expressionistic dread . When Basil Rathbone gets shot dead by a woman at the end of the first act, the question is not whether he deserved it, but how.—RDL

Slow Burner (Fiction, William Haggard, 1958) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must trace the source of a mysterious radiation signal near London despite bureaucratic interference. If there is a spy novel equivalent of the “cozy mystery” this is it, concerned as much with suits, furniture, and good breeding as it is with the almost abstract threat of Russians or nuclear science. Haggard was praised for writing “Bond novels from M’s perspective” — his first novel doesn’t live up to that billing, but the tone shows originality and the plot shows promise. –KH

This is Not What I Expected (Film, Hong Kong/China, Derek Hui, 2017) Control freak hotel tycoon (Takeshi Kaneshiro) doesn’t suspect that the chef whose food obsesses him is also the irrepressible young woman (Dongyu Zhou) who draws him into a chaos and humiliation whenever they meet. Movie stars being charming, mouth-watering food scenes and an adorable pooch—what else do you need from a romantic comedy?—RDL

Venetian Blind (Fiction, William Haggard, 1959) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must find the source of the leak in Britain’s Negative Gravity research, while training his own replacement — the secret rival of the program’s lead engineer. Another cozy spy thriller, with the same abstract air and focus on personalities and bureaucracy over action as his debut. This one has a strong plot with rather a nice ending. –KH

Okay

10 Cloverfield Lane (Film, US, Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) Aspiring fashion designer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in an underground bunker, whose tightly-wound prepper owner (John Goodman) claims that civilization has been destroyed above them. Not so much a genre mash-up as three acts of expected confinement thriller beats duct-taped to the end of a kaiju flick. Great to see Goodman given the space to layer one of his ogre characters, though.—RDL

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