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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hollywood Archaeology and new Charlie Kaufman

September 15th, 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

Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome (Nonfiction, Shawn Levy, 2016) Scintillating, anecdote-rich history of the economic and cultural recovery that transformed Rome (with an assist from Florence) from war-ravaged wrecks to the epitome of late fifties and early sixties cool, from motoring to fashion to scandal rags and the movies.—RDL

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman, 2020) Despite her doubting inner monologue, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) accompanies her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) on a visit to his parents. Fans of Kaufman’s elliptical, writerly scripts and form-breaking direction get what they want here, and they get it good. Buckley and Plemons anchor what could otherwise be empty stunting in felt, understood humanity. –KH

Looting Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut’s Tomb (Nonfiction, David La Vere, 2007) Tells the stories in parallel of the building (by Caddoan priest-kings) and looting (by Depression-stricken Okies) of the greatest archaeological find north of the Rio Grande, the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. Stronger on the looting than the building, but then the looters left documentary evidence behind, and destroyed most of the evidence the builders left. –KH

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (Film, US, Peter Brosnan, 2016) Filmmaker documents his four-decade quest to excavate the buried Pharoah’s City set from Cecil B. De Mille’s 1925 version of The Ten Commandments from a Santa Barbara sand dune. A dizzying rush of colliding cultural history connections meets an epic battle against municipal red tape.

The Platform (Film, Spain, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019) Book lover (Ivan Massagué) seeking no-effort diploma accepts imprisonment in a nightmarish complex where inmates eat from a platform covered with food that steadily depletes as it descends between hundreds of floors. Claustrophobic grand guignol shows that there is no allegory too heavy-handed for the extreme cinema genre.—RDL

Good

#Alive (Film, South Korea, Cho Il-Hyung, 2020) Gamerboi Jun-woo (Yoo Ah-in) finds himself the very unprepared survivor of a fast-zombie outbreak in Seoul. A perfectly creditable zombie film with nothing particularly original or interesting to say, it squanders its interesting “apartment of Robinson Crusoe, with streaming” survival set-up and (except for one scene) Yoo’s acting chops, but does nothing very wrong either. –KH

Every Single Nero Wolfe Story (Fiction, Rex Stout, 1934-1975) On a lark in January I bought a bunch of Nero Wolfe books cheap, and as lockdown drove me deeper into comfort reading I read (or re-read) all 33 novels and 41 shorter works starring the famously lazy, corpulent detective. Stout’s greater creation was Archie Goodwin, an engaging viewpoint character who also thinks the hero is a jerk; his great gift was the ability to riff on his characters entertainingly enough to get you through a (usually fairly routine) plot shuffle very much including palmed cards. Start with The Silent Speaker or The Doorbell Rang (both Recommended) and see if you want to deal yourself in. –KH

The Freshour Cylinders (Fiction, Speer Morgan, 1998) Half-Native county prosecutor in 1935 Fort Smith, Arkansas investigates the murder of a collector of artifacts from the Spiro Mounds. More than adequate noir draws a detailed picture of Depression Oklahoma, with a possible lost tribe to boot. Sadly the style is only Good at best; I counted one line of really vibrant prose. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Leaves the House For Tenet

September 8th, 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

Tenet (Film, US, Christopher Nolan, 2020) A CIA agent (John David Washington) enters an even shadowier war between a covert agency in the present and a future that weaponizes reverse-entropy. Nolan’s Mannerist blend of grounding (“realism” isn’t the word) and myth gorgeously alloys spy-fi to philosophy, by way of half a dozen precisely realized set pieces. Plus all the BWOOOMMMM you could ever hope for; see it in its native IMAX where and if you can for the full experience. –KH

Recommended

Get on Up (Film, US, Tate Taylor, 2014) Achronological biopic dramatizes the life of R & B and funk superstar James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), tracing his notorious hard edges to childhood abandonment and poverty. The authority of Boseman’s performance unifies a difficult narrative line.—RDL

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (Film, US, Alex Gibney, 2014) For a deeper look at Brown’s music, check out the companion piece documentary, featuring extensive performance clips and interviews with the genius sidemen he frequently bullied and exploited. Includes his Nixon endorsement, which the biopic somehow doesn’t get around to. Archival interviews with Brown show that his speaking voice wasn’t nearly as affected as the Boseman version.—RDL

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Film, France, Céline Sciamma, 2019) Impossible love kindles when a woman (Noémie Merlant) is hired to covertly paint a portrait of a young noble (Adèle Haenel), to be sent to her prospective husband. Allusions to the Gothic lap at the corners of this romantic drama, acted with intense restraint and photographed with a beauty simultaneously lush and stark.—RDL

Good

Phantom Raiders (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1940) Suave detective Nick Carter (Walter Pidgeon) interrupts his Panama vacation to investigate a series of ship bombings. In the second of three Carter flicks, MGM applies the comedy-mystery tone of The Thin Man to another series character, with Tourneur giving shape and snap to a script that mixes kookiness with mass murder.—RDL

Warren William: Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood (Nonfiction, John Stangeland, 2011) Solid if often overly detailed biography of the suave, pencil-moustached actor who hit it big playing sophisticated anti-heroes in the early 30s and later played such series characters as Perry Mason, Philo Vance and the Lone Wolf. Off-screen, William turns out to have been a lovely man who adored terriers, was faithful to his wife, and invented, among other things, a motorized picnic table.—RDL

Okay

Project Power (Film, US, Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2020) A Special Forces ex-Major (Jamie Foxx), a New Orleans cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a plucky drug dealer (Dominique Fishback) come together hunting the source of a drug that gives users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes. Foxx’s charisma and one or three original touches give this over-long, under-plotted, straight-to-cable grind slightly more than five minutes of power. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Either Of Us Could Be Mad at the New Perry Mason, But Only One of Us Watched It

September 1st, 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

At Home at the Castle: Lifestyles at the Medieval Strongholds of Östergötland, AD 1200-1530 (Nonfiction, Martin Rundkvist, 2019) Just what it says in the subtitle, an archaeologically-informed social history of daily life in late-medieval Swedish castles. Attractively presented dig reports and extrapolations join with just enough speculation to spark creative identification; specific treatments of seven strongholds provide both longitudinal data and gameable variety. –KH [Disclosure: Martin Rundkvist is a beloved Patreon backer of our podcast, and provided a copy for review]

Bill & Ted Face the Music (Film, US, Dean Parisot, 2020) Aided by daughters (Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine) who have not fallen far from the tree, middle-aged rockers Bill & Ted (Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves) get one more chance to write the song that prevents time and space from collapsing. Returning writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson preserve the irrepressible positivity of the original flicks as Parisot keeps the affable proceedings on a brisk pace.—RDL

Forever Season 1 (Television, US, Alan Yang & Matthew Hubbard, 2018) As their marriage goes stale, routine-loving Oscar (Fred Armisen) and restless June (Maya Rudolph) die and are reunited in a weirdly quotidian afterlife. Touching, melancholy comedy probes the compromises between marriage and selfhood.—RDL

Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh (Stand-up, HBO, Michael Bonfiglio, 2019) Intersperses interview and older footage with an hour of stand-up on the topic of Gulman’s clinical depression, and on his time in the psych ward (“Electro-convulsive therapy is at best a lateral euphemism”). Along with the personal impact of the story, worth watching for the way Gulman braids and paces two traditions of stand-up: the one-man confessional and his regular serial-gag routine. –KH

Les Misérables (Film, France, Ladj Ly, 2019) Cop transferred in from the provinces (Damien Bonnard) joins a special squad on urban harassment duty as a hot summer day threatens the delicate informal power balance in a marginalized banlieue. French crime films have been vehicles for social realism since the beginning of the sound era, a tradition this tense, fly-on-the-wall police patrol narrative transposes to the present day.—RDL

Good

The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink (Fiction, Erle Stanley Gardner, 1952) A dinner out with Della Street leads crime-solving attorney Perry Mason into a mystery involving a waitress on the run from a hit attempt. Crisp dialogue drives an economical exercise in procedural problem-solving, albeit with a somewhat rushed ultimate revelation.—RDL

Ire-Inspiring

Perry Mason Season 1 (Television, US, Ron Fitzgerald & Rolin Jones, HBO, 2020)  Self-pitying private eye (Matthew Rhys) takes on a larger than expected role in a child murder case defended by his boss and mentor, a declining attorney (John Lithgow.) Gloomy, histrionic reimagining epitomizes today’s endemic misunderstanding of the iconic hero structure, not only portraying Mason as a tantrum-throwing mope, but actively thumbing its nose at his trademark M.O. I almost want to trick Ken into hate-watching this so we can talk about it on the show, but that’s no way to treat a friend.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Latest Johnnie To and Foundational New Folk Horror

August 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.

Recommended

Chasing Dream (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 2019) Brash MMA fighter hoping to get out (Jacky Heung) falls for a pop idol contestant (Keru Wang) with a score to settle. Loud, broad, colorful and kinetic, this is ostensibly one of To’s commercial romances for the home market, with a meta level of genre play for himself and his auteur fans. Is it a fight flick? No! Is it a talent contest flick? No! It’s a fight contest flick and a talent contest flick!—RDL

The Corporation (Nonfiction, T. J. English, 2018) José Miguel Battle Sr. murders and schemes his way through 20th century Cuban and American history as he rises from cop in the Batista regime to Bay of Pigs invader to numbers kingpin in New York and Miami. Incisive evocation of a criminal milieu centered around a larger than life figure who consciously models himself on Coppola’s The Godfather.—RDL

A Field in England (Film, UK, Ben Wheatley, 2013) During the English Civil War, a cross-section of the English class system (Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover) falls afoul of a paranatural field, its wild mushrooms, and an Irish sorcerer (Michael Smiley). It takes quite the chutzpah to set an experimental-New Wave-psychedelic film in the 1640s and make it a folk horror bottle drama, but Laurie Rose’s gorgeous, bleak black-and-white cinematography pulls all these disparate parts together. Foundational film of the New Folk Horror. –KH

Fleishman is in Trouble (Fiction, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, 2019) Tightly wound New York hepatologist spirals after initiating a divorce from a driven, status-obsessed talent agent. Brings contemporary detail, from dating apps to Minecraft, and most notably a feminist perspective, to the Philip Roth lane of American novel writing.—RDL

Vice and Virtue (Film, France, Roger Vadim, 1963) During the Nazi occupation, a mercenary young woman cozies up to German sugar daddies as her sheltered sister (Catherine Deneuve) is captured for her Resistance ties. Vadim’s glossy fetishist’s eye was never put to better use than in this examination of the sweaty perviness underlying Nazism.—RDL

Good

The Booksellers (Film, US, D.W. Young, 2020) Asking the questions “Where is antiquarian bookselling now, and where is it going?” but more interested in the conversation and the decor than the answers, this documentary teeters on the edge of self-indulgence. At its best when dealing with the nitty-gritty of the hunt and the sale (or when talking to Fran Lebowitz), it often worries pointlessly about questions of representation that it does nothing really to tackle. Still, worth watching for Bookhounds, and for Bookhounds of London players and GMs. –KH

Homecoming Season 1 (Television, US, Sam Esmail, Prime, 2018) Harried Florida waitress (Julia Roberts) resists the efforts of a dogged investigator (Shea Whigham) to uncover her past career as a counselor in an experimental treatment program for returned veterans, where she bonded with an affable young soldier (Stephan James.) Brings committed performances and an intriguing dour style to a narrative Rod Serling would have dispatched in a brisk 23 minutes.—RDL

Okay

Illang: the Wolf Brigade (Film, South Korea, Kim Jee-woon, 2018) In a grim near future, traumatized tactical team cop (Dong-Won Gang) and slain terrorist’s sister (Hyo-joo Han) become pawns in a power struggle between his squad and the Interior Ministry. Live action anime remake bogs down its stirring action sequences with overcomplicated storytelling.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Delon-Gabin Connection

August 18th, 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

Any Number Can Win (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1964) Freshly sprung veteran heister (Jean Gabin) enlists younger, impetuous ex-cellmate (Alain Delon) to help him knock off a Riviera casino. Icons of Gallic cool execute an intergenerational team up in this class-conscious heist flick, with a final sequence that wrings brilliant suspense from almost nothing. Double bonus points for a crawling-through-air-duct sequence in which one of the obstacles is the fact that air moves at high speed through air ducts.—RDL

Recommended

The Sicilian Clan (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1969) Jewel thief Roger Sartet (Alain Delon) escapes a prison transfer with the aid of the titular Manalese clan headed by capo Vittorio (Jean Gabin), pursued by Commissaire Le Goff (Lino Ventura). France’s top three tough guy icons throw down in this fast-moving film, parenthesized by two great caper set pieces — the prison van breakout and the midair theft of $50 million in jewels from a DC-8 flying from Paris to New York. Jacques Saulnier’s production design highlights the contrasts between bourgeois capitalist cityscapes, old-school Sicilian home life, and brief glimpses of feminine modern style. Ennio Morricone’s score likewise flits between harpsichord and Jews’ harp, to odd effect. –KH

Good

Man with the Gun (Film, US, Richard Wilson, 1955) Cool and calculating gunslinger (Robert Mitchum) reveals more than a streak of psychopathy as he tames a lawless town and seeks answers from the ex-wife (Jan Sterling) who wants nothing to do with him. Would be a classic dark western if it didn’t tack on its unearned happy ending with a perfunctory shrug.—RDL

The Square Circle (Fiction, Daniel Carney, 1982) Lebanese mercenary John Haddad takes a contract from Harvard liberal human-rights activists (!) to break Rudolf Hess out of Spandau prison (!!). If you can swallow the outrageous premise, your reward is a very tightly-wound thriller, though Carney no longer tries to understand most of his characters, for good reason. Became the basis for the shambolic film Wild Geese 2. –KH

Tokyo! (Film, France/Japan, Michel Gondry and Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, 2008) A woman who feels sidelined by her filmmaker boyfriend’s ambition undergoes a strange transformation; a green-suited troglodyte rampages through Tokyo; a shut-in finds reason to leave the house. Like most anthology films, this gives directors a forum for short, minor-key works based on ideas no one would greenlight as a standalone.—RDL

Okay

Enter Nowhere (Film, US, Jack Heller, 2011) Armed robber Jodie (Sarah Paxton), newly pregnant Samantha (Katherine Waterston), and orphan Tom (Scott Eastwood) meet in a mysterious cabin in the woods, and far too slowly unravel its mysteries. If you’ve written an adequate 27-minute Twilight Zone episode, even Katherine Waterston can’t carry it for 90 minutes, especially if you’ve written her as the drippy one. –KH

The Holcroft Covenant (Film, US, John Frankenheimer, 1985) Architect Noel Holcroft (Michael Caine, substituted at the last minute for James Caan and substituting yelling for acting) discovers that his Nazi general father has left him and two other men $4.5 billion in embezzled Nazi funds, supposedly “to make amends.” I so very wanted to like this otiose adaptation of a Robert Ludlum novel (not his best, but better than this) but at every turn the leaden script arbitrarily blocked me. Frankenheimer intermittently remembers he’s shooting a paranoid thriller, though. –KH

Lost Highway (Film, US, David Lynch, 1997) Stalked by mysterious forces, a jealous husband (Bill Pullman) is arrested for murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette); a dim but hunky mechanic (Balthazar Getty) falls for her doppelganger, the girlfriend of a sadistic mobster (Robert Loggia.) Though it presents the expected riveting images, this sour noir homage skips the interplay of light and dark found in Lynch’s key works in favor of darkness vs. more darkness.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Apatow/Davidson, Olivia de Havilland and a Book Ken is Surprised He Hadn’t Read

August 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.

Recommended

The Key to Rebecca (Fiction, Ken Follett, 1980) British Major Vandam hunts German spy Alex Wolff, infiltrated into Egypt and transmitting British troop positions to Rommel. Superb cat-and-also-cat thriller well told against a lively, real-seeming 1942 Cairo, based (very loosely) on the (completely unsuccessful) Abwehr Operation CONDOR. No, I don’t know how I never read this earlier, either. –KH

The King of Staten Island (Film, US, Judd Apatow, 2020) Self-acknowledged screwup (Pete Davidson) faces a threat to his directionless routine when his mom (Marisa Tomei) finds romance with a gruff fireman (Bill Burr.) Tighter, more cinematically burnished take on Apatow’s recurring theme of arrested maturity, this time with mental illness and unprocessed grief offering more somber and naturalistic causes for the protagonist’s dilemma.—RDL

Meditation Park (Film, Canada, Mina Shum, 2018) Vancouver grandmother (Cheng Pei Pei) questions her lifelong deference to her stubborn husband (Tzi Ma) after finding a pair of panties in his jacket. Sweetly affirming drama of sexagenerian feminist awakening offers a chance to see Shaw Brothers legend Cheng touchingly take on a naturalistic leading role.—RDL

Good

Four’s a Crowd (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1938) PR man (Errol Flynn) schemes to force philanthropy on a cantankerous industrialist, spurring a romantic quadrangle between himself, a bubbly heiress (Olivia de Havilland), a scoop-hungry reporter (Rosalind Russell) and a callow publisher (Patrick Knowles.) Affable screwball comedy doesn’t quite escalate the way it should but finds some laughs along the way, with charming stars and a charming dog.—RDL

The Great Garrick (Film, US, James Whale, 1937) Egotistical acting great David Garrick (Brian Aherne) goes to a French inn knowing that members of the Comedie Francaise are posing as its staff in an elaborate plot to humiliate him, mistaking a real fugitive noblewoman (Olivia de Havilland) for one of the hoaxsters. Historical farce gives its cast a stage to delightedly lean into tongue-in-cheek ham performances. The script does handwave away the resolution of its conflict though.—RDL

Okay

The Business of Drugs (Television, Netflix, 2020) Former CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox hosts this documentary series, traveling to various narcotrafficking hotspots and interviewing drug dealers and interdictors alike. Fox notes developments with alarm but presents only isolated nuggets of data; the first episode (on the cocaine trade) is the most rigorous but still offers little more than platitudes. Incoherent (over-regulation hampers legal cannabis, but under-regulation caused the opioid epidemic) and superficial, worth watching for Night’s Black Agents Directors for the location shots and interviews only. –KH

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Jack London Thrillers and Dark Comic Intrigue in the Russian Court

July 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 Assassination Bureau, Ltd. (Fiction, Jack London and Robert L. Fish, 1910 and 1963) Ivan Dragomiloff, founder of the titular Bureau, accepts a termination order against himself from his daughter’s lover. Less a pulse-pounding action thriller than a heightened philosophical melodrama, it reads like a Jack London riff on Chesterton’s Pinnacle metaphysical spy dialectic The Man Who Was Thursday. Fish completed the book from London’s outline, but tightens it somewhat in the thriller direction. –KH

Blondie of the Follies (Film, US, Edmund Goulding, 1932) Good-hearted tenement gal (Marion Davies) follows a fiery neighbor (Billie Dove) into burlesque stardom, but the wavering affections of a suave financier (Robert Montgomery) come between them. Anita Loos’ dialogue lends empathetic nuance to the standard patterns of early 30s escapist melodrama.—RDL

The Great Season 1 (Television, US/UK, Hulu, Tony McNamara, 2020) Upon arrival at the Russian court as bride of a less-than-great Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult), young Catherine of Anhalt (Elle Fanning) fixes on the power she’ll need to reform her adopted nation. Profane, gleefully grim historical travesty might be described as “The Thick of It” meets “The Borgias,” but with an emotional and moral center. Fanning conquers both the comedy and feeling of her role, while Hoult brilliantly leaps between upper class twit and dangerous psychopath. Ideal fodder for a Skulduggery game.—RDL

Revolver (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1973) Grim-faced cop turned prison official (Oliver Reed) busts out an imprisoned robber (Fabio Testi) in hopes of freeing his kidnapped wife. Though very much a 70s poliziotteschi, its extreme compositions, antagonistic bond between male leads, and Ennio Morricone score display an unmistakable kinship to the spaghetti western. The only gun seen prominently here is a luger, so the titular revolver must be capitalism.—RDL

Good

The Iron Heel (Fiction, Jack London, 1908) Memoir of Avis Everhard, wife of the great American socialist revolutionary Ernest Everhard during the rise of the oligarchic Iron Heel in the U.S. (1912-1917), annotated by a historian from the communist utopia of the 27th century. Social-sf urtext shares that subgenre’s fondness for political diatribe, leavened with red-blooded London action scenes. In a decision that seems even less realistic than the rest of the tale, London near-completely erases nonwhites from the text and politics. –KH

The Violent Men (Film, US, Rudolph Maté, 1955) Ex-cavalry officer (Glenn Ford) plans to sell his ranch to local cattle magnates (Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck)—until they make the mistake of messing with him. High 50s melodrama between the antagonists differentiates what would otherwise be a standard narrative of the stalwart man once more forced to pick up the gun.—RDL

Okay

Shanghai Fortress (Film, China, Huatao Teng, 2019) Young hotshot pilot in training (Han Lu) longs for his dedicated superior officer (Shu Qi) as they prepare for a last stand against power-suited aliens. Workmanlike CGI blockbuster provides another example of the Chinese film industry looking at 80s/90s Hollywood for tropes and gestures to reconfigure into CCP propagantainment.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Noir Westerns and Golden Age Mysteries

July 21st, 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

Blood on the Moon (Film, US, Robert Wise, 1948) Broke gunslinger (Robert Mitchum) confronts his conscience after his chancer friend (Robert Preston) enlists him in a scheme to strongarm a cattleman with a charming, rifle-toting daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes.) Tough, violent western with spare, to-the-point dialogue and a soulful turn by Walter Brennan as a hoodwinked homesteader.—RDL

Death at the President’s Lodging (Fiction, Michael Innes, 1936) Inspector Appleby investigates the murder of the President of St. Anthony’s College, which must (it seems) have been committed by one of the dons with access to the quad. Innes’ debut novel presents an almost deconstructed detection that stretches the borderlines of narrative amid flashes of self-referential observation — but resolves, astonishingly, into an almost clockwork fair-play Golden Age mystery. –KH

Hamlet, Revenge! (Fiction, Michael Innes, 1937) Inspector Appleby investigates the murder of the Lord Chancellor of England, shot behind the arras during an amateur performance of Hamlet in a ducal mansion. Even in 1937, writers played with the Golden Age conventions; Innes musters 31 (!!) suspects in a ridiculously huge country house while resolutely holding to detective-story logic. Innes’ language is so rich and allusive that it sometimes slows his momentum, especially in this near-Pinnacle at the outset of his career. –KH

The Walking Hills (Film, US, John Sturges, 1949) A tip regarding legendary lost gold sends members of a bordertown poker game, including a level-headed horseman (Randolph Scott), a fugitive (William Bishop), and a shady detective (John Ireland) digging in dangerous dunes. Stark contemporary western follows Sturges’ favored “group of men tested by adversity” template. In a departure for Hollywood of this era, blues singer Josh White appears in a supporting role and performs several numbers. —RDL

Good

Lured (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1947) Sandra (Lucille Ball), an American taxi-dancer in London, signs on with Scotland Yard to bait the serial killer who lured her friend into a rendezvous, while being romanced by caddish nightclub owner Fleming (George Sanders). Although the pacing and mood fall apart in the fourth act, Ball and Sanders play off each other surprisingly well until then. Sirk fills this semi-noir with his signature weird angles and leering shots; Boris Karloff as a mad couturier steals the show. –KH

Okay

Spiritual Kung Fu (Film, HK, Lo Wei, 1978) Ghosts sporting white leotards and mop-like orange wigs teach a boorish Shaolin apprentice (Jackie Chan) forgotten fighting moves just in time to confront a murderer in the temple ranks. If you want to sample one of the many formulaic martial arts flicks Jackie made before hitting his stride with Project A, this one has weird ghosts in it.—RDL

Terminator: Dark Fate (Film, US, Tim Miller, 2019) Augmented human from the future (Mackenzie Davis) joins forces with grizzled bot-hunter Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to save another apparently ordinary person target (Natalia Reyes) from a souped-up Terminator working for another dystopian AI regime. The latest unnecessary attempt to extend the original duology subjects its elements to a calculated rehashing.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Does a Razor Crest Get Flyer Miles?

July 14th, 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

Child of Light (Nonfiction, Madison Smartt Bell, 2020) Biography of the American novelist Robert Stone (Dog Soldiers, Outerbridge Reach) lucidly documents a life spanning from the IBM Selectric 60s to the era of literary festivals, creative writing programs and the word processor. Bell, a friend and colleague, details Stone’s struggles with such obstacles as depression, chronic pain, and prodigious substance abuse, fortunately anchored by an enduring marriage to his savvy, protective spouse Janice.—RDL

Craig Ferguson Presents: Hobo Fabulous Season 1 (Television, US, Joe Bolter, Comedy Dynamics, 2019) More (but not a lot more) than a tour film split up into episodes, the series follows Craig Ferguson on his 2019 tour and into introspection about the nature of stand-up and of his life as he approaches sixty. How much you’re likely to get out of it depends on how much you care about those things, and how much you appreciate Craig’s discursive, open style. –KH

Hamilton (Film, US, Thomas Kail, 2020) Immigrant overachiever (Lin-Manuel Miranda) takes a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War, selling of the Federalist Papers, and establishment of the federal banking system, frequently shouldering aside equally advancement hungry politician Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) Among the audacious moves of this aesthetically ambitious work about ambition: fusing hip hop and Broadway, taking on American pop culture’s least favorite period of American history, and bringing recitative back.—RDL

The Mandalorian Season 1 (Television, US, Jon Favreau, Disney+, 2019) Devoutly helmeted bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) reneges on a delivery when he discovers that his quarry is a (green, big-eared, Force-wielding) child, and his client (Werner Herzog) an imperial revanchist. Where the Abrams flicks revere the iconic moments of classic Star Wars, Favreau and his collaborators love the setting, allowing for storytelling that arises from the original without recapitulating it. In doing so it reaches into Lucas’ inspirations in Ford and Kurosawa, adding hefty portions of Leone and “The Rifleman.”—RDL

Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms (Nonfiction, John Hodgman, 2019) In a series of comic autobiographical essays, Hodgman turns quotidian anecdotes of tour life, the Chateau Marmont, pre-career jobs and his airline mileage plan of choice into platforms for wit and humane observation. An ideal “imagine-yourself-safely-on—a- beach” read. —RDL

Good

The Old Guard (Film, US, Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2020) Andromache (Charlize Theron) and her immortal mercenary team break in a new recruit (Kiki Layne) while hunting their CIA contact (Chiwetel Eijofor) who (shockingly! inevitably!) betrayed them to a weaselly pharma executive. Fight coordinator Danny Hernandez’ lackluster fights mostly land between the balletic melodrama of John Wick and the gritty realism of Atomic Blonde — kind of the problem with the whole film, in a way. Fightin’ immortal mercs is a great high concept, but nobody seems to want to do anything original or (God forbid) fun with it here. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Verbal Fireworks in Deadwood and Greece

June 30th, 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

Bell, Book and Candle (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1958) Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) selfishly ensorcels her neighbor Shep Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) only to find true love rearing its head. If you can get over Stewart being twice Novak’s age (which only works in Vertigo because it’s a creepy stalker story) this weird kind-of beat, kind-of-dark romcom has a lot going for it, including Jack Lemmon as Gillian’s brother, James Wong Howe’s underplayed but brilliant lensing, and the Oscar-winning costumes by Jean Louis. Kim Novak is always cool and wonderful, and Kim Novak with a cat, well, abracadabra! –KH

Deadwood: the Movie (Film, US, Daniel Minahan, 2019) Ten years after Swearingen (Ian McShane) faked Trixie’s (Paula Malcolmson) death to protect her from George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) , the psychopathic magnate returns to Deadwood to again flout the ire of Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant.) Belated, unexpectedly sweet  wrap-up to the groundbreakingly foul-mouthed HBO western benefits from the concision of the movie format.—RDL

The Trip to Greece (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2020) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s semi-fictional personae reunite for one last feast of gourmet cuisine, celebrity impressions, and razzing. The higher stakes of the finale, and the intermittent conceit of following the route of the Odyssey from Troy to Ithaca (featuring Sirens and a visit to Hades) leave the film feeling slightly discordant, but the byplay remains delicious. –KH

Good

Deadwood Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, David Milch, 2006) George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) tightens his grip on the camp; Swearingen’s old actor friend (Brian Cox) sets up shop in town. With nothing happening in episode 12 that couldn’t have happened in episode 1, we see that Milch stopped the series because a fourth season would have required some sort of plot to finally coalesce. Still the riffed scenes of quasi-Shakespearean frontier profanity continue to divert while they’re playing out.—RDL

Gary Gulman: Boyish Man (Stand-up, Gary Gulman, 2006) Gulman’s early act still shows its Seinfeldian influences, and the way-too-frequent cuts to the audience don’t allow him to build momentum. Nevertheless, any routine with a strong eleven minutes on cookies has something going for it. –KH

The Wrecking Crew (Film, US, Denny Tedesco, 2008) Coalescing under Phil Spector, an elite group of session musicians essentially played on every important piece of pop and rock music recorded in Los Angeles from 1962 to 1973 (drummer Hal Blaine had 170 gold records, for instance). Guitarist Tommy Tedesco’s illness in 1996 galvanized his son into gathering footage and interviews, and organizing a reunion of the core Crew, but the resulting doc only intermittently highlights its subject and ironically never settles into a groove. –KH

Okay

The Whole Town’s Talking (Film, US, John Ford, 1935) Danger descends on a meek clerk (Edward G. Robinson) when an identical fugitive armed robber arrives in town. Ford would clearly rather be making a straight-up gangster flick instead of a mistaken identity comedy, and the script both wastes Jean Arthur and spends twice as long as it should getting to the obvious thing that has to happen to satisfy the premise.—RDL

Not Recommended

Slightly French (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1949) Bullying film director (Don Ameche) convinces a carnival performer (Dorothy Lamour) to pretend to be French in order to take over as the new leading lady in his latest musical. Wan Pygmalion riff shows Sirk’s facility with pacing and integration of composition and production design, but not the rest of the signature ironic melodrama style of his peak mid-50s run.—RDL

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