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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Vietnamese Mole and the Dread Secrets of Telemarketing

July 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.

The Pinnacle

The Sympathizer (Fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015) An erudite revolutionary mole inside the South Vietnamese secret police flees the fall of Saigon with his boss/target, adding American to his list of confusing opposed identities. A big, ambitious, funny and horrifying wallop of a novel, haunted by ghosts and vodka.—RDL

Recommended

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Film, US, Peyton Reed, 2018) Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) risks another prison sentence to help Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) rescue her mother from the quantum zone. It’s not Reed’s fault that the trailers gave away most of the fun, creative impact that shrinking has on chase and fight scenes, but it’s a good thing he has believable, strong villains in illicit supertech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and desperate quantum victim Ghost (Hannah-John Kamen). Charming actors playing good dialogue well in between original, interesting super-fights: what’s not to love? –KH

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook (Nonfiction, Alice Waters with Christina Mueller & Bob Carras, 2017) Autobiography follows the future epigone of the local ingredients movement from a buttoned-down 50s upbringing, to Berkeley during the Free Speech movement and the opening of her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. Unusually readable for a book assembled in the  “as told to” format uses plentiful flash-forwards to show us our hero after she becomes the person we’re interested in. Most startling takeaway: Waters’s approach to food happens after she opens Chez Panisse!—RDL

The Good Place Season 2 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2018) Not-Good Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her confused sort-of-torturer Michael (Ted Danson) zip through afterlife whack-a-mole in a giddy comedy that makes premise threat its premise. If every episode were as glorious as “The Trolley Problem” this would be a solid Pinnacle, but like Eleanor, we must accept its merely being much better than it should be. –KH

The Hardliners (Fiction, William Haggard, 1970) Now retired from the Security Executive, Colonel Russell gets involved when a friend’s father threatens to publish memoirs that could turn Czechoslovakia (never named as such) into a gulag. Personalities, pacing, and a lot of detail about shoes — this is a quintessential Haggard novel complete with ever-tautening plot. Except there is, in fact, some (tsk!) physical action. –KH

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2017) A lifetime’s tsuris dealing with their oblivious, narcissist artist father (Dustin Hoffman) comes to a head for half-brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matt (Ben Stiller) when they, along with quietly desperate sister Jean try to care for him after a mishap. Funny, unsparing character piece recognizes the fundamental unresolvability of most family conflict.—RDL

Sorry To Bother You (Film, US, Boots Riley, 2018) Skint Oaklander (Lakeith Stanfield) prospers at his new telemarketing job by affecting a white voice, leading him to a bizarre conspiracy. Hilariously biting satire with an initially stoned and dreamy vibe is relevant to KARTAS listener interests in a way the publicity campaign takes care not to spoil.—RDL

Good

The Bad Batch (Film, US, Ana Lily Amanpour, 2017) Exiled into a Mad Max LARP for no discernible reason, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) loses an arm and a leg to cannibals led by the Miami Man (Jason Momoa) and embarks on a journey to … something? Beautiful and dreamlike (Lyle Vincent’s cinematography kills throughout), but sadly aimless (just like its protagonist) this film succeeds more as an inchoate succession of vivid images, soundscapes, and emotional moments than as, say, a story. –KH

The Revenant (Film, US, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015) Frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives a bear mauling to pursue the truculent expedition member (Tom Hardy) who murdered his son. Visually and aurally awe-inspiring, unnecessarily long parable of religious redemption through mortification of the flesh.—RDL

Okay

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Film, Japan, Toshiya Fujita, 1974) Weary assassin (Meiko Kaji) is saved from the gallows by the secret police and sent to spy on a handsy anarchist (Juzo Itami), but the spirit of righteous vengeance needs only a fresh whiff of gore to reawaken. In lieu of plot obstacles, sidelines its iconic heroine for a very long and unnecessary torture-filled second act.—RDL

The Saint (Film, US, Ernie Barbarash, 2017) Partners in crime Simon Templar (Adam Rayner) and Patricia Holm (Eliza Dushku) chase down a kidnapper (Ian Ogilvy) and $2.5 billion in stolen charity money. Man, did I want to like this, not least for rescuing Patricia Holm from the forgotten pages of Leslie Charteris’ early novels. And man, was this a TV pilot shot in 2013 and not picked up, so nope. Some nice fight choreography and a good heist density can’t rescue clunky delivery, cheap production, and the overstuffed, underwritten cast. –KH

Spielberg (Film, US, Susan Lacy, 2017) Interviews new and archival, plus the requisite beautifully presented film clips, trace the life and filmography of director Steven Spielberg. A film made with the full cooperation of its subject can gesture toward, but not really grapple with, the central question of his wildly inconsistent output.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Incredibles, Ant-Man and Southern Werewolves

July 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.

The Pinnacle

Incredibles 2 (Film, US, Brad Bird, 2018) Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter) and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) switch domestic roles when she becomes the face of a tech mogul’s (Bob Odenkirk) attempt to restore the public image of superheroes. Literally everything works here, from Bird’s writing to the beyond-state-of-the-art action sequences, but special kudos to Michael Giacchino’s score, which perfectly homages spy-fi soundtracks of yore while kicking the animation into over-overdrive. Maybe it doesn’t aim super-high, but replicating a Pinnacle fourteen years later remains pretty incredible. –KH

Recommended

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Film, US, Peyton Reed, 2017) With hours left in his house arrest, Scott (Paul Rudd) agrees to help erstwhile partner Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and ever-truculent quasi-mentor Hank (Michael Douglas) recover her mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum zone. The comic banter between the engaging cast of this warm and generous romp is so deceptively loose and fun—which is to say, precisely and painstakingly timed—that it’s almost a drag when the plot galumphs in to interrupt it.—RDL

The Endless (Film, US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2018) Two brothers (Benson and Moorhead) who escaped from a “UFO death cult” a decade ago return to it after receiving a mysterious videotape. Slow (but never easy) burn starts with family drama, escalates to weirdness, and achieves cosmic horror by the end, ably abetted by Jimmy Lavalle’s creepy electronic score. –KH

GLOW Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, 2018) Ruth’s eagerness to add her input to the show bruises her friendship with Sam; Debbie channels divorce rage into her new role as producer. Nary a sophomore season slackening in sight as the the writing swerves around obvious choices as expands its always-sympathetic attention to the rich cast of supporting characters.—RDL

The King and the Chorus Girl (Film, US, Mervyn LeRoy, 1937) The aunt (Mary Nash) and chief aristocratic attendant (Edward Everett Horton) to a young deposed king encourage an American showgirl (Joan Blondell) to rouse him from his alcoholic despond by resisting his romantic overtures. Charming light romantic comedy gains extra crackle from a script by Norman Krasna and Groucho Marx.—RDL

Mongrels (Fiction, Stephen Graham Jones, 2016) Teen grows up on the run in the hardscrabble rural south, protected by his impulsive uncle and survival-hardened aunt, both werewolves. Rich, evocative family story told with the structures and techniques of literary fiction in which an extensively extrapolated set of lycanthrope rules becomes part of the realist texture .—RDL

Good

Archer: Danger Island (Television, US, FXX, Adam Reed, 2018) The latest run of Archer seasons swaps in multi-episode story arcs for the procedural nonsense that marked earlier years, to the general detriment of comedic density: time spent advancing a plot is time not spent making drunken sex jokes. This season sets the show’s cast, suitably rejiggered, in a 1938 Pacific air adventure serial that shows Reed’s love for the material, but again shorts the rapid-fire comedy. –KH

Okay

Legion Season 2 (Television, US, FX, Noah Hawley, 2018) As David Haller (Dan Stevens) sort-of races the Shadow King (Navid Negahban) to the latter’s body, he questions everything about his quest. If anything the shots this season are more gorgeously inventive than ever, so it’s a shame Hawley lards the season with story side trails and literally sophomoric explorations into pop cogsci and pop ethics. Maybe “we know nothing” isn’t the best spine for a series narrative, especially when almost nobody can act well enough to earn viewer sympathy. The show quotes The Who a lot, so I will, too: “Why should I care?” –KH

Not Recommended

RocknRolla (Film, UK, Guy Ritchie, 2008) Betrayals, scams and side hustles ripple outward from a crooked real estate deal brokered by a bullying thug (Tom Wilkinson.) Without a throughline a screenplay is just a series of incidents, in this case not especially compelling ones. Kudos to the casting director; you sure couldn’t assemble this cast on crime flick budget today.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: With Cate You Only Need Eight

July 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

The Big Clock (Fiction, Kenneth Fearing, 1946) Considerably darker than the film version (q.v.), and as a result more believable in its plot action. Multiple viewpoints slow tension but also provide verisimilitude. Fearing’s weird digressions jazz up the novel like his ever-chiming “big clock” metaphor mostly doesn’t. –KH

The Newburgh Sting (Film, US, David Heilbroner and Kate Davis, 2014) Documentary unwinds a 2009 case in which an FBI informant recruited four small-time criminals from a poverty-wracked African-American community into a terror plot for the government to triumphantly bust. Interweaves interviews with government surveillance footage to clarify a complex story. For those doing the math, yep, the FBI head who appears for a celebratory victory lap before a Congressional committee is none other than Robert Mueller.—RDL

Ocean’s 8 (Film, US, Gary Ross, 2018) Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gets out of prison, reunites with her sidekick Lou (Cate Blanchett) and recruits a crew for an impossible heist during which many things seem to go wrong but either they didn’t or the crew fixes them on the fly. Yep, it’s an Ocean’s movie! (Minus the editing, which is a little slack, leading to a more toothless feel.) Daniel Pemberton does a great job shifting David Holmes’ cool jazz toward funk, and everyone is fun to watch, especially Anne Hathaway as the biggest Anne Hathaway ever. –KH

The Villainess (Film, Jeong Byeong-Gil, South Korea, 2017) A shadowy government agency retrains an already bad-ass assassin, but a complex web of bloody betrayals still waits to ensnare her. Wild, hyper-violent action sequences bookend a twisty, chronologically fractured narrative.—RDL

Good

The Big Clock (Film, US, John Farrow, 1948) Crime editor George Stroud (Ray Milland) winds up the intended patsy for a murder committed by his tyrannical publisher Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), who unwittingly assigns Stroud to track himself down. After the idiot plot maneuvers Stroud into position, the tense self-manhunt propels the last two thirds of the film, juiced by Laughton’s delightful mannered cruelty and a screwball turn by Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric painter. –KH

Chains (Film, Italy, Raffaello Matarazzo, 1949) Garage owner’s wife conceals from her husband the efforts of her ex-fiancee, now a caddish car thief, to win her back. Noir-tinged melodrama loses steam when its third act turn switches to a less compelling conflict.—RDL

Legion Season 2 (Television, FX, Noah Hawley, 2018) Now working for the anti-mutant agency he used to fight, David loses his grip on reality and his moral bearings as he pursues the Shadow King. The most visually inventive season of TV ever shot burrows so deeply into subjective reality—not to mention time travel and alternate realities—that it’s often impossible not just to know what is happening, but what one wants to see happen.—RDL

The Powder Barrel (Fiction, William Haggard, 1965) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must deal with a too-independent Chinese agent trying to kill the Foreign Secretary and destabilize a fragile British oil protectorate. Like the best Haggard thrillers, this one turns on personalities, but Haggard’s normally tight control of the plot seems a little stop-and-start in this one. –KH

Not Recommended

Historical Atlas of Ancient Mesopotamia (Nonfiction, Norman Bancroft Hunt, 2004) Although the mix of maps and archaeological plans scants historical continuity in favor of snapshot cultural views, I would be inclined to call it Okay or even Good if the text didn’t contain several considerable errors of fact. Most notably to our listeners, Hunt confuses Mithridates II of Parthia with Mithridates VI of Pontus. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hollywood’s Greatest Suave Weasel

June 26th, 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

Danger Signal (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1945) Pulp writer who makes his real living swindling and murdering women (Zachary Scott) sets his sights on a staid stenographer (Faye Emerson)—until her prettier, vivacious younger sister, who receives an inheritance when she marries, shows up. Scott, Hollywood’s quintessential suave weasel, gets plenty of room to do his thing as an homme fatale who tempts the female protagonist to moral ruin.—RDL

Kedi (Film, Turkey, Ceyda Torun, 2017) I love a good sense-of-place movie that meanders down or pinwheels above the streets and byways of a great city, and Istanbul ably holds the screen alongside dozens of its feral and semi-domesticated cats. This documentary follows seven cats on their patrols and takes time to talk to the humans who feed, care for, and love them. Kira Fontana’s nimble score perfectly captures the grace and lightness of the subjects, weaving together the perfect chill-out film for cat lovers. –KH

The King is Dead: Studies in the Near Eastern Resistance to Hellenism 334-31 B.C. (Nonfiction, S.K. Eddy, 1961) Even given the paucity of source material and the philhellenic tendencies of the academy, you’d think there would be a more recent postcolonialist study of Alexander’s Successors in the East, but this remains the state of the field. Eddy does a remarkable job weaving the evidence into narrative, using the structure of religious resistance (best typified by the Maccabean Revolt) as his weft. –KH

Little Sister (Fiction, Barbara Gowdy, 2017) Rep cinema owner reacts with alarm when thunderstorms cause her consciousness to project itself, as a passive spectator, into the body of an editor engaged in an affair with a colleague. Contemporary litfic uses its magic realist premise as an entry point into the lives and histories of its characters.—RDL

Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing (Nonfiction, Ben Blatt, 2017) Statistical analysis delves into the texts of English literature’s canonical classics and today’s litfic and best-sellers. In addition to showing how algorithms can identify authorship based on the placement of simple words alone, breaks down favored words by gender, the trend toward simpler reading levels, and post-fame word count bloat.—RDL

They Remain (Film, US, Philip Gelatt, 2018) At the behest of a shadowy corporation, field scientists (William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson) investigate animal behavior anomalies in the forested site of a notorious cult massacre. Slow burn reality horror anchored by the groundedness of Harper’s performance. Based on a Laird Barron novella.—RDL

Veep Season 6 (Television, HBO, David Mandel, 2017) Defeated, with half her team scattered, and facing the horrible prospect of grandmotherhood, Selina struggles to fund her presidential library. With lowered stakes comes ever more vicious satire—yet oddly, a nostalgia for an era when high velocity profanity and backstabbing careerism seemed as bad as DC could get.—RDL

Good

Operation Mekong (Film, China, Dante Lam, 2016) Hard-charging cop (Zhang Hanyu) his new undercover partner (Eddie Peng) lead an expert team to capture the Golden Triangle drug smugglers who massacred Chinese citizens. It’s not just the wild action that’s head-spinning here, but also the demonstration of how seamlessly Hollywood tropes and drug war imagery export themselves to a putatively different propaganda context.—RDL

The Void (Film, Canada, Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, 2016) Cultists trap two cops, a smattering of civilians, and the skeleton staff inside a nearly defunct hospital as Lovecraftian/Barkeresque horrors brew up. Practical effects and a commitment to full-throttle fright acceleration hearken back to 80s horror in this effective film; sketchily drawn characters and a somewhat muddled ending likewise. –KH

Okay

Now You See Me (Film, US, Louis Leterrier, 2013) Four down-and-out magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) follow mysterious instructions to rob from the rich and give to the poor-ish as unshaven FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) fumes impotently in their wake. Brian Tyler’s score and a terrific mano-a-magic fight scene aside, this movie has little to recommend it: Leterrier directs like a Michael Bay wannabe, not the Luc Besson disciple he was, and if a script promises in so many words to outsmart you it shouldn’t be nearly this dumb. That said, a great high concept wasted remains a great high concept. –KH

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Grim, Gritty Crime and the Cat in the Hat

June 12th, 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

13 Tzameti (Film, France, Géla Babluani, 2005) Young roofer stiffed by the death of a junkie client takes over the man’s mysterious mission, leading him to a deadly game. B&W photography, loosely paced first act, and motifs of alienation and solitary danger hearken back to the indie aesthetic of the mid-80s.—RDL

American Animals (Film, US, Bart Layton, 2018) Based on the true story of a 2004 rare book theft from Transylvania University in Kentucky, Layton interweaves talking-head commentary by the real thieves into his engaging — then riveting — heist film. (Anne Nikitin’s score drives the rivets home.) The resulting deliberate metafictions point up all manner of contrasts: between art and life, memory and truth, and yes wrong and right. Kudos to Layton for risking ruining a good movie to make a pretty great one. –KH

The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (Nonfiction, Philip Nel, 2007) Thoroughly annotated edition of The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Came Back provides deeper insight into Dr. Seuss’ process, children’s publishing in the 1950s, and the nature of Voom. –KH

Atomic Blonde (Film, US, David Leitch, 2017) M16 badass Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) sent to courier a list of enemy agents from late 80s Berlin fights her way through a tangle of betrayals centered around rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy.) Combines hard fight choreography with neon-saturated grit and paranoia. Kudos for staging its defining action set piece in mid-film.—RDL

Good

Borrowed Time (Fiction, Jack Campbell, 2016) A collection of competent to fine time-travel stories, some of them sharing a linked “T.I.” universe and some merely serving as excuses to talk history to SF readers. (NTTAWTT) I liked “Betty Knox and Dictionary Jones in the Mystery of the Missing Teenage Anachronisms” beyond its merits, I suspect, but the high camp adventure of “These Are the Times” and “Working on Borrowed Time” is nigh irresistible. –KH

Dark of the Moon (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1967) In his last appearance, Dr. Gideon Fell must unravel the impossible murder of a mathematician amidst the emotionally charged atmosphere of his South Carolina house. Carr occasionally disguises a murder mystery as a door-slamming farce, and he returns to those rhythms here in Dr. Fell’s familiar Gothic register. Carr’s dialogue, always somewhat theatrical, seems borderline ridiculous here, but plot and tension do their work well. –KH

Okay

Papa Là-Bas (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1968) Future Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin solves a Voodoo-soaked impossible murder in 1858 New Orleans. Generally considered Carr’s worst book, its sole strength is period research; even his reliable plot propeller scrapes bottom in this one. The characters solely exist to shout at each other, burst through doors suddenly, and interrupt the detective-ing when they’re not soft-pedaling slavery. –KH

What Price Hollywood? (Film, US, George Cukor, 1932) Actress (Constance Bennett) rises to movie stardom as the director who discovered her (Lowell Sherman) spirals into alcoholism. Full of great early Hollywood atmosphere, though the extremely charming Bennett is stronger in the lighter early acts than when the melodrama kicks in. The ‘37, ‘54, ‘76 and upcoming ‘18 versions of A Star is Born are all uncredited remakes of this—the fifties Garland one also directed by Cukor. See Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from the 60s Batman show, in his dashing leading man phase as Bennett’s husband.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Americans Ends; Han Solo Begins

June 5th, 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 Americans Season 6 (TV, FX, Joe Weisberg, 2018) The best show on television ends its run with the end of the Cold War and a final reckoning for Soviet sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, even better in those roles now if you can believe it). A three-year jump from Season 5 provides the perfect launch pad for a final season that recapitulates the series’ meaning while flipping its narrative on its head, and never taking the direction you expect. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (TV, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2017) To the consternation of his surrogate uncle-slash-manager, a malleable hit man (Bill Hader) enrolls in an L.A. acting class. Squeezes fresh energy from the collision of two otherwise well-worn sub-genres, with a dark moral wallop at the heart of its squirm comedy.—RDL

Dark Star Rising: Magic and Power in the Age of Trump (Nonfiction, Gary Lachman, 2018) Traces the influence of such esoteric beliefs as New Thought, chaos magick, Traditionalism, and biospherism on the burgeoning forces of international post-modern authoritarianism. Ties its threads together with clarity, erudition, and the rueful alarm felt when a chronicler of occult and fringe topics sees his work becoming suddenly topical. (An unease shared, needless to say, by a couple of podcasters I could name.)—RDL

The Final Master (Film, China, Xu Haofeng, 2015) Laconic wing chun master attempting to establish a martial arts academy in the northern city of Tianjin discovers that the deadliest fights occur behind the scenes. Invests the bare bones of 70s fu fight tropes with languorous style and covert, Brechtian political allegory.—RDL

Good

Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes (Film, Denmark, Mikkel Nørgaard, 2013) After a stubborn misstep gets one partner killed and the other paralyzed, a brooding homicide detective (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gets downgraded to cold case duty, where he and his upbeat but disregarded new partner (Fares Fares) take a more hands-on approach to a bureaucrat’s disappearance than his superiors intend. Well-crafted, straight-up treatment of police procedural tropes uses a flashback structure to interweave the events of the crime with its investigation. First of a trilogy.—RDL

Okay

Martin Roumagnac (Film, France, Georges Lacombe, 1946) Small-town construction contractor (Jean Gabin) falls hard for a scandalous young widow (Marlene Dietrich) whose con man uncle hopes to marry her off to a freshly widowed diplomat. Engaging when its two great stars share the screen, not so much when it turns into a by-the-numbers courtroom drama. Also known as The Room Upstairs.—RDL

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Street rat Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has a creakily paced origin story that provides him with all of Han Solo’s trappings but little of his personality. I’m a fan of Ehrenreich, who plays his thankless Lazenby role as well as possible — he’d make a better rebooted Indy, on this showing. The one element I was sure would never work, Han’s friendship with Chewbacca, actually sold me. But the endless endless callbacks and fan servicings (and Ron Howard’s staid direction) drain much of the zip out of what could have been a really neat B-movie set in the Star Wars universe, if only it had been called Frelbeg: A Star Wars Story and been about literally anybody else in the galaxy. –KH

Not Recommended

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Brash street kid Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) joins a team of energy thieves in a bid to rescue his first love, who has her own survival plans. Fun intermittently breaks out when given the breathing room to be a heist flick in the Star Wars universe, but mostly this is an unnecessary origin story that both over-references and undercuts the ‘77 classic. Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian demonstrates it’s better to be asked to channel Billy Dee Williams than Harrison Ford.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deadpool 2 and Lovecraft Illustrated

May 29th, 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

Arrow Season 6 (Television, US, CW, Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, 2017-2018) As dissension rocks Team Arrow and Oliver adjusts to fatherhood, a hacker/gangster partnership tightens its grip on the city. Gets the show’s grim groove back by splitting the heroes, and hiring top character actors Kirk Acevedo and Michael Emerson as the big bads.—RDL

The Italian Connection (Film, Italy, Fernando di Leo, 1972) Small-time pimp (Mario Adorf) shows surprising grit when, due to mob machinations above his pay grade, a pair of New York hit men (Henry Silva, Woody Strode) show up in Milan looking to snuff him. Wild, lurid poliziotteschi resolves a corrupt, chaotic universe with underdog ultraviolence.—RDL

Lovecraft Illustrated (17 vols.) (Fiction, H.P. Lovecraft and Pete von Sholly, 2014-2018) Von Sholly’s bold, colorful, pulp-inflected cartoons help re-establish Lovecraft as first and foremost an author of weird, scary stories. The early volumes mostly cover one story each, with some scholarly pieces or inspirational fictions as addenda; the later ones pack in several shorter works per volume. Texts are the Joshi-edited versions, although one or two typos creep back in. –KH

Raazi (Film, India, Meghna Gulzar, 2018) During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani crisis, a dying Indian spy plants his daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt, ever more superb) in the household of a Pakistani general as bride to his son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal). Gulzar flavors her tense, realistic spy thriller with a love story, the acting and genuinely human characters bringing both off without a hitch. Jaideep Ahlawat excels with underplayed stoicism as Sehmat’s handler, and the score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy provides both period and emotional beats par excellence. –KH

Supernatural Season 13 (Television, US, CW, Andrew Dabb, 2017-2018) Sam and Dean become surrogate dads to an angsty nephilim as his real father, Lucifer, schemes to regain his full power. Worth it for the Scooby Doo episode alone, this show is still finding just enough freshness to keep its very specific formula spinning.—RDL

Good

The Chelsea Murders (Fiction, Lionel Davidson, 1978) DCS Warton doggedly, if not particularly effectively, pursues three main suspects in a series of killings in Chelsea, connected both by by killer-sent letters and by the victims’ initials to the district’s famous poetical inhabitants. Davidson wrote very infrequent novels, each of which seem to be in a different style and genre. This one combines an airy, cynical tenor with a somewhat hectic murder mystery that Davidson explicitly compares to a game of three-card monte. The result, while a rocketing good read (as are all Davidson’s works), doesn’t carry the immediacy or the power of his best thrillers. –KH

Crime Seen: From Patrol Cop to Profiler, My Stories from Behind the Yellow Tape (Nonfiction, Kate Lines, 2015) Author recounts her career with the Ontario Provincial Police, starting with highway patrol and undercover operations to top leadership posts, with a notable stint as the province’s first Quantico-trained criminal profiler in the middle. A fresh local (to me) angle on the forensic psychology memoir. The sections covering the upper management years do get a bit press release-y.—RDL

Deadpool 2 (Film, US, David Leitch, 2018) Meta metahuman Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) tries, intermittently, to stop future soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) from killing a young mutant (Julian Dennison) who goes bad in the future. The original film had enough juice that the sequel can run on that during its own slack periods, which are not insubstantial. Deadpool would also seem to be an odd franchise within which to examine the morality of murder; further, the temptations of irony and snark predictably undercut it. But the fights are fun, and Zazie Beetz’ Domino deserves a trilogy of her own. –KH

Deadpool 2 (Film, US, David Leitch, 2018) Left suicidal by a loved one’s murder, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reluctantly decides to protect a super-powered kid (Julian Dennison) from grim time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin.) With the original’s dizzying tonal surprises now an established quantity, this amiable follow-up pelts the viewer with enough gags and action sequences to keep the plates spinning.—RDL

The Flash Season 4 (Television, US, CW, Todd Helbing, 2017-2018) The Flash battles the Thinker, who is hunting metas, including louche new teammate the Elongated Man, to absorb their powers. A shift to a lighter tone comes at first in the form of inane hijinks, which fortunately recede as the stakes rise later on.—RDL

Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History (Nonfiction, Mike Pesca, ed., 2018) This collection of 31 essays runs the gamut from Jon Bois’ absurdist “What if Basketball Rims Were Smaller Than Basketballs?” to Mary Pilon’s earnestly sociological “What if Title IX Never Was?” My favorites include Claude Johnson’s alternate beginning for the NBA and Julian Zelizer’s “What if Nixon Had Been Good at Football?” but most of them don’t make too many waves, in memory or history. –KH

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

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