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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Joker, the Riddler, and a Murdered Film

January 22nd, 2019 | 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

Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles (Comics, Tom King & Mikel Janín, 2017) Batman recounts the story of the Joker-Riddler war in his Year Two. King takes a lot of good ideas from other writers and makes them his own in this story that manages to squeeze a proper epic into eight issues. Janín’s layouts are the secret weapon here, folding up and flying where needed. Kite Man! Hell yeah! –KH

Injection Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey, 2015-2017) Five archetypal heroes (Ellis’ 21st-century riffs on Quatermass, Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Doctor Who) injected a sentient AI into the internet to stave off global stagnation — and must now deal with the consequences when it awakens the Other World. This “hauntological Planetary” is Ellis’ home turf, and although not revolutionary, the book is cruelly and wondrously crafted. Ellis broke the story to be five volumes, but the 60% we have is good stuff. –KH

Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes (Nonfiction, James Palmer, 2012) Examines the interlocking narratives of  the cataclysms that rocked China in 1976: the Tangshan earthquake that killed upwards of 250,000, and the death of Mao, followed by the maneuverings that brought down the Gang of Four and elevated Deng Xiaoping. Teases a complex and deliberately obscured story into a rattling narrative with thriller-worthy pacing.—RDL

Love in a Cold Climate (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1949) Even-keeled young woman observes the conflict between her preternaturally beautiful cousin and her mother, a blue-blooded battle-axe determined to marry her off despite her strange indifference to all suitable suitors. Somehow I failed to receive the memo on just how hilarious this classic satire of the English upper crust is.—RDL

Shirkers (Film, US, Sandi Tan, 2018) Documentary recalls the time when the filmmaker and her friends, as college-bound teens in Singapore, made a hip indie road movie, only to have their skeevy mentor abscond with the negatives. Moody memoir of stolen potential and the mark left on multiple lives by a scammer whose one talent was creating the appearance of talent.—RDL

Good

Aquaman (Film, US, James Wan, 2018) Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) must find the Trident of Atlan to claim the throne of Atlantis from his eco-warmongering half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson); fortunately, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) likes him enough to help out. This is a by-God big-screen Silver Age spectacular in every way, including a travelogue plot and dialogue straight out of a Jack Miller word balloon. Kudos to Wan and to editor Kirk Morri for building momentum throughout, so the slack water mostly stays in the first act. Recommended for fans of Lovecraft references, Amber Heard, and CGI dino-sharks. –KH

Batman (Rebirth) Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Tom King & divers artists, 2016-2017) When Bane breaks Batman’s new proteges, Batman breaks Bane back, and Bane seeks revenge. King’s high concepts for the book echo well, but his pacing is stop-and-start. The result: story beats that get spelled out in dialogue boxes and balloons rather than depicted in, well, sequential art. (The art, by the way, is uniformly very good.) When King does try to write more panels-per-page, the results are worth it, in the two one-off stories (of Swamp Thing and Ace the Bathound) that end Vol. 3. –KH

Battles Without Honor or Humanity: Police Tactics (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) As the Tokyo Olympics approaches, the deadlocks of Hiroshima yakuza politics break open into open warfare, forcing a police response. Satire creeps into the long-running crime docudrama series, as the death spiral of the post-war crime families exposes its top gangsters as a gaggle of fuckwits and weasels.—RDL

Blockers (Film, US, Kay Cannon, 2018) Discovering that their daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night, three variously boundary-challenged parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz) set out to stop them. Amiable comedy from the Apatow school follows its reliable juxtaposition of raunchy hijinks with grounded characterization.—RDL

The Devil’s Doorway (US, Film, Anthony Mann, 1950) Shoshone sergeant major (Robert Taylor) returns from fighting for the Union to his Wyoming ranch, to find a tubercular Eastern lawyer (Louis Calhern) scheming to give it away to sheep ranchers. Anyone remaking this today would cast a native actor in the lead and trim the more didactic flights of dialogue. Still, for 1950 it’s surprising to see a film that makes settlers the marauding antagonists and paints the would-be white savior as ineffectual. Mann’s direction, with its below the waist angles and chiaroscuro lighting, outperforms the script. —RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Greek Gods Diffuse and the Count de St-Germain Parties

January 15th, 2019 | 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

Greek Gods Abroad (Nonfiction, Robert Parker, 2017) After Alexander’s conquests, the Hellenistic kings and colonists outside historic Greece brought the Olympian gods to their new domains — or did they? Parker masterfully looks at what (surprisingly little) we know of blended (or interpreted) Olympian-local deities as well as the way the Greek gods shifted their roles following contact with Egypt, Anatolia, and the East. Parker ranges from polytheistic theology to Arabian epigraphy and back; I bought the book for reference and wound up reading it cover to cover. –KH

Hearts Beat Loud (Film, US, Brett Haley, 2018) With her sights firmly set on pre-med at UCLA, a charmingly dyspeptic Brooklyn record store owner (Nick Offerman) inveigles his talented daughter (Kiersey Clemons) into making music with him. Sweet-natured observational comedy-drama buoyed by affection for its characters and a commitment to the real.—RDL

The Little Drummer Girl (Television, UK/US, BBC/AMC, Park Chan-wook, 2018) Israeli spymaster (Michael Shannon) and agent runner (Alexander Skarsgard) recruit a young British actress to infiltrate a Palestinian terrorist network. Park retunes his style to (mostly) subtle, returning to his signature theme of cyclical vengeance, for this strongly cast and acted Le Carré adaptation. Best 70s color palette ever.—RDL

The Night Comes For Us (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto, 2018) Triad enforcer Ito (Joe “The Raid” Taslim) saves a little girl and brings down the ultra-violent wrath of the Triad including his old friend Arian (Iko “Merantau” Uwais). Great fight choreography and tight editing build to a battle of the action stars that has to be seen to be believed. Alternating stunningly beautiful compositions with shatteringly violent fight scenes, this would hit the Pinnacle if the story hung together better. –KH

Rumbullion (Fiction, Molly Tanzer, 2016) When the Count of St.-Germain performs at Julian Bretwynde’s house party in 1743, things get decidedly uncanny. This novella (originally published in 2013) follows Bretwynde’s epistolary attempt to figure out what happened at his own party. (Tanzer’s logline for it is “Rashomon with fops.”) Its weird tone precisely threads the line between funny ha-ha and funny-strange. –KH

Okay

Aberdeen (Film, HK, Pang Ho-cheung, 2014) Members of an extended family, including a surface-minded motivational speaker (Louis Koo), his philandering brother-in-law (Erik Tsang) and his struggling actress wife (Gigi Leung) grapple in their various ways with the limitations of fate. Atmospheric ensemble piece lets itself down with a decidedly peculiar set of concluding epiphanies.—RDL

Aldous Huxley’s Hands: His Quest for Perception and the Origin and Return of Psychedelic Science (Nonfiction, Allene Symons, 2015) Examination of the eliptonic interests of Aldous Huxley and his circle, including hand photography experiments conducted by the author’s father to establish a physical marker for schizophrenia in an era of doctrinaire Freudianism. In a case of two books continually interrupting one another, the short bio of Huxley through a KARTASian lens pays off, while the attempt to understand an opaque, eccentric parent struggles to yield the hoped-for epiphany.—RDL

Rulers of the City (Film, Italy, Fernando Di Leo, 1977) Cocky gangland debt collector and an enigmatic gambler become hunted men after swindling a scary mobster (Jack Palance.) Haphazardly switches back and forth between the director’s baseline fatalistic crime drama and goofball action romp. AKA Mister Scarface.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Baroque Power Games and a Noir Western

January 8th, 2019 | 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 Favourite (Film, UK, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) Young, fallen ex-noblewoman (Emma Stone) seeks a restoration in status by serving her cousin, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), domineering confidant to the sickly and querulous Queen Anne (Olivia Colman.) Armed with a scabrously witty script drawing from only the finest historical slanders, Lanthimos’ fisheye lens finds in early 18th century court intrigue the ideal venue for his fascination with perverse power rituals.—RDL

Recommended

The Favourite (Film, UK, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) The high-handed Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) finds her long-assured position as lover and favourite to the childish Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) under threat when her scheming cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) enters the fisheye-lensed picture. Lanthimos plays a little too fast and loose with tone (and history) for his tale of corrupt power to fully strike home, but even his near miss refreshes and stuns. All three stars rise to the occasion in an acting feast. –KH

Romancing in Thin Air (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 2012) Jilted movie star (Louis Koo) retreats in a drunken stupor to a remote mountain inn near Kunming, whose no-nonsense proprietor (Sammi Cheng) harbors a deep wound meted out by the surrounding, trackless woods. Romantic drama, more somber than his other commercial romances, gives To a space to limn the relationship between landscape and character.—RDL

Station West (Film, US, Sidney Lanfield, 1948) On the hunt for gold thieves, an army intelligence officer (Dick Powell) shows up at a saloon run by an alluring singer (Jane Greer), posing as  a troublemaking drifter. Transposes hardboiled detective tropes to a western setting, with barbed dialogue, noirish lighting, and Powell recalling his turn as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet.—RDL

Good

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet (Season 12) (Television, Netflix, Joel Hodgson et al., 2018) Jonah and the bots watch six bad films in a row, from Mac and Me to Ator. The “in a row” conceit never goes anywhere, but the mad scientists’ idiocy feels about right this time around. The riffs remain sporadic, but some of them show flashes of the old madness. –KH

The Whites (Fiction, Richard Price, 2015) NYPD Night Watch commander suspects that someone is bumping off the unarrested nemeses—the titular whales—of his ex-comrades from a 90s run-and-gun squad. Price adds a suspense element to the observational cop novel he specializes in, without compressing the pacing as that unforgiving sub-genre demands.—RDL

Okay

Aquaman (Film, US, James Wan, 2018) Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) reluctantly heads to his mother’s Atlantean birthplace to avert a war with the surface world. Lazy scavenger hunt plot construction and a tsunami of exposition drain energy needed to loft its go-for-broke spectacle.—RDL

Doctor Who Season 11 (Television, UK, BBC, Chris Chibnall, 2018) The latest incarnation of the time-traveling problem solver (Jodie Whitaker) gathers a trio of Sheffieldians to meet historical figures, save the residents of imperiled installations and run from monsters. Whitaker’s joyful take on the character’s iconic ethos is the standout element of an often flat series operating under a back-to-basics mandate. Where other post-revival Whos find an emotional core in the relationship between Doctor and companion, this one shifts that to the surrogate granddad/grandson pairing within the trio of sidekicks, leaving her a warm but distant figure.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Secret Origins of Jackie Chan and the Secret Diary of H. P. Lovecraft

January 2nd, 2019 | 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

Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet (Nonfiction, Daisy Dunn, 2016) Biography of the lovelorn poet of the late Roman Republic poet, known for concision, informality, explicit sex, and zinging his enemies. Pulls together scant sources to assemble an evocative portrait of the writer and his parlous times.—RDL

The Night Ocean (Fiction, Paul La Farge, 2017) Psychiatrist Marina Willett tries to trace her vanished husband Charlie (yes the parallel with “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is intentional), who supposedly stumbled onto the secret sex diary of H.P. Lovecraft and the secret history of his collaborator and disciple (and Charlie thinks, his lover?) Robert L. Barlow. La Farge’s prose effortlessly carries the reader into his nesting dolls’ house of fiction and forgery, and eventually into a tincture of epistemological paranoia. La Farge over-eggs the pudding by also inventing a right-wing-driven HUAC purge of horror fiction, which makes nonsense of the “secret” in his secret history (and also mis-assigns that particular moral panic) but thankfully it’s a minor beat in a novel that is, after all, about the need to believe in fictions. –KH

Painted Faces (Film, HK, Alex Law, 1988) In 60s Hong Kong, with interest in the art form fading, a hot-headed headmaster (Sammo Hung) trains a new generation of young boys in the acrobatic arts of Peking Opera. Nostalgic, mostly subtle melodrama pays homage to the taskmaster who taught backflips to Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao—depicted here as Big Nose, Sammo and Biao. Last seen on home video in laser disc, now available in a beautifully remastered print on Blu Ray.—RDL

They Will Not Grow Old (Film, UK/NZ, Peter Jackson, 2018) A composite portrait of the British Tommy on the Western Front front lines. This humane, almost plain documentary resolves from a pointillist set of soldiers’ stories: 100+ hours of period footage and 600+ hours of survivors’ recorded reminiscences. Jackson’s FX teams restored, sharpened, colorized, and looped the footage until it (almost) looks and sounds like a contemporary film: some of the trenches do still cut through the uncanny valley. –KH

This Am Bizarro Recommend

Susan Slept Here (Film, US, Frank Tashlin, 1954) Vice cops pawn a 17-year-old arrestee (Debbie Reynolds) off on stalled screenwriter (Dick Powell) to keep her out of jail over Christmas. From the strenuous efforts of the creaky Broadway-sourced script to keep its dodgy premise wholesome to the painstakingly garish colors and costumes, from the jaw-dropping dream sequence dance number to its voice-over narration from an Oscar statuette, this transmission from the alternate dimension of 50s sexual mores may not be believed even when seen.—RDL

Good

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror (Nonfiction, Howard David Ingham, 2018) Covering ninety films in over 400 pages, Ingham (and a few guest writers) takes a comprehensive, readable, and personal tour through the folk horror subgenre, from Night of the Demon to The Witch, including a number of titles well out on the margin (where better, though?) such as Duel and Winter’s Bone. (Though why Ringu but not Kairo, or neither? And why must even would-be completists in this field in England neglect This Is Not A Love Song, which I’m beginning to think only I saw?) Ingham knows how to tease out critical insight and (mostly) how to get out of his own way, which along with ample scope is what you (mostly) want from a genre survey. –KH

Okay

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Film, US, David Wain, 2018) Doug Kenney (Will Forte) founds National Lampoon and writes Animal House, revolutionizing American comedy in the process, but can’t win his father’s respect because biopic. The film tries fitfully to embody the anarchic spirit of a bygone age but mostly settles for not being funny while wearing ridiculous wigs, as must the actors. –KH

A Game for the Living (Fiction, Patricia Highsmith, 1958) When his lover is brutally murdered, an expat artist living in Mexico tries to move her other boyfriend off his false confession. Despite strong delineation of character through quotidian detail, the story of a level-headed protagonist who makes sensible decisions is not what one goes to Highsmith for.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Samurai, Santa and Spider-Mans

December 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 Great Killing (Film, Japan, Eiichi Kudo, 1964) Coup plotters hiding from an official purge plan a second attempt to prevent a ruthless rival from becoming the de facto ruler of Tokugawa Japan. Revisionist samurai film portrays struggles for power both figurative and physical as chaotic, confusing, and squalid.—RDL

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Bob Persichetti et al., 2018) Teen under pressure Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) gets bitten by a high-tech spider and sees a hole blown in reality. High-energy romp zings around the tired origin story at its heart, as numerous guest Spider-Folk provide capability relief and up-beats. The animation amply swipes from Ditko, Romita, Kirby, and co. with love, similarly zinging around its sub-Pixar base look. –KH

Roma (Film, Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón, 2018) Shy maid (Yalitza Aparicio) to a doctor’s family fears the worst when her martial artist boyfriend gets her pregnant. Domestic slice-of-life drama opened up by an epic period backdrop. Adopts Italian Neorealism as its guide both in style and brutal manipulation. See this Netflix production on a big screen if you’re lucky enough to live near a venue that’s showing it.—RDL

Good

The Christmas Chronicles (Film, US, Clay Kaytis, 2018) Inquisitive Katie (Darby Camp) and her big brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) stow away on Santa’s sleigh, resulting in a wrecked sleigh, Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) without his bag of presents, and Christmas in danger. Netflix tries for the “family Christmas classic” film by swiping from many better films and letting Kurt Russell chew the scenery, which is not a terrible plan as plans go. A notable Christian subtext and plenty of zoomy CGI reindeer over Chicago help Kurt and Camp keep this one on both the Nice list and the Good list. –KH

The Keyhole (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Charming socialite (Kay Francis) books cruise to Cuba to escape her blackmailing ex, shadowed by a suave private eye (George Brent) hired by her wealthy older husband. Noir plotline played as a glamorous romantic comedy, with all the best lines going to undersung character actor and classic Runyonesque mug Allen Jenkins.—RDL

Okay

Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (Film, Shunya Itō, 1972) Vengeance-seeking inmate (Meiko Kaji) goes on the lam with a group of fellow prisoners. More hallucinatory and theatrical than its predecessor, but just as harsh and lurid, part two in the series turns its patriarchy-slaying lead into a numbed bystander.—RDL

The Haunting of Hill House (Television, US, Netflix, Mike Flanagan, 2018) Hugh Crain’s (Henry Thomas in 1991, Timothy Hutton in the present) decision to buy and flip the much-haunted Hill House in 1991 tests his family to destruction, culminating in the present day. Flanagan’s bravura cross-decade plotting and filming might have justified his perverse decision to flip Shirley Jackson’s Pinnacle novel into a conventional post-Amityville haunted house story until the asymptotically Ire-Inspiring last episode. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Platonic Murders and a Teenage Witch

December 18th, 2018 | Robin

Recommended

The Athenian Murders (Fiction, José Carlos Somoza, 2000) When a killer stalks students at Plato’s Academy, they turn to Heracles Pontos, the Decipherer of Enigmas, to resolve the case — although the translator believes this supposedly ancient Greek novel holds a code, and that a killer stalks him … Works both as a mystery novel and as Nabokovian metafiction, which is surely all one can ask. –KH

Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist (Nonfiction, Phil Baker, 2011) Biography of the artist and occultist pierces layers of mythologizing, by its subject and others, revealing the hand-to-mouth life of an impoverished, working-class autodidact. In convincingly sorting truth from fancy, performs an act of Herculean and definitive proportions, while still leaving in the fun anecdotes.—RDL

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1 (Television, US, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, 2018) Half-mortal, half-witch (Kiernan Shipka) balances her affection for her human friends with the desire of the Dark Lord to enrol her in sorcery school. A great cast, led by the compelling Shipka, digs into the comic horror material with relish. Wisely sidesteps the meandering serialism of so many binge shows for the snappier pacing brought by clearly delineated episodes. It’s a telling moment in the culture wars when a show features multiple sympathetic comedy Satanists within a Dennis Wheatley/Jack Chick cosmology. –RDL

King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen (Film, US, Steve Mitchell, 2018) Wild anecdotes of shot-stealing guerrilla moviemaking take center stage in this clips & interviews career survey of the genre outsider responsible for such titles as It’s Alive, God Told Me To, and Q the Winged Serpent.—RDL

Primer (Film, US, Shane Carruth, 2004) Electronic engineers in their garage lab construct a time machine allowing them to jump a few hours into the future. Watching people perform complex procedures is weirdly absorbing on film; this micro-budget SF head-bender tests that by withholding any explanation of what we’re seeing that the characters wouldn’t make to one another.—RDL

Good

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Hardboiled robber (Spencer Tracy) bonds with an honest warden, only to be put to the test when his girl (Bette Davis) is badly injured by a former confederate. Flat script gives Curtiz little to work with, with results noteworthy for the only pairing of its iconic stars and a sympathy for the criminal class that has long gone by the wayside.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Raise a Glass With Miike, To, and Soderbergh

December 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.

Recommended

Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis (Nonfiction, Kingsley Amis, 2009) This omnibus collects three Amis books on (mostly) spirits, the first two being themselves collections of essays and newspaper columns written between 1971 and 1984. Thus some repetition sets in, but Amis’ superb wordsmithing, charm, and jovial curmudgeonry keep you at the party. The last book is a long quiz, best considered as the “top with soda” portion of the cocktail. –KH

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 20177) Sullen high schooler sporting  outlandish ducktail haircut discovers he is a Stand user, one of a class of metahumans who manifest super powers by conjuring freaky avatars. Manga adaptation heightens the comedy by treating its utterly kooky imagery with deadpan seriousness,—RDL

Today We Live (Film, US, Howard Hawks, 1933) Believing that her American bomber pilot beau (Gary Cooper) is dead, a British ambulance driver in WWI (Joan Crawford) marries a childhood friend (Robert Young), now serving on a torpedo boat. Wartime melodrama features gripping naval and aerial combat sequences and the group bonds and suppressed emotions synonymous with Hawks.—RDL

Unsane (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2018) Insurance-scamming psychiatric facility lures a bank analyst (Claire Foy) into involuntary commitment, exposing her to a worse personal horror. Already alarming subject matter is rendered all the more achingly suspenseful by its commitment to queasy, blue-brown realism.—RDL

Vengeance (Film, Hong Kong/France, Johnnie To, 2009) When Triads kill his daughter’s family in Macau, former assassin Costello (a glacial-eyed Johnny Hallyday, playing Alain Delon) recruits a team of hit men (Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Lam Ka-Tung) to hit them back. The first two acts run in a predictable rut, but halfway through To lights the afterburner and sends the film to the moon — or rather to a junkyard for a mindblowing shootout, and lands a stunning final act worthy of Sergio Leone. –KH

Walking With Cthulhu (Nonfiction, David Haden, 2011) The subtitle of this collection of essays says it all: “H.P. Lovecraft as Psychogeographer, New York 1924-1926.” Haden points out that Lovecraft’s habitual all-night walks prefigure the Surrealist flaneur and the Situationist dérive, and finds a productive new way to look at HPL’s art. He also finds a possible inspiration for R’lyeh in a forgotten Garrett Serviss novel, and intensively annotates “Nyarlathotep,” so step right up. –KH

Good

Craig Ferguson: Tickle Fight (Stand-up, US, Netflix, Craig Ferguson, 2017) Ferguson ambles through a lot of half-stories and engaging blather on the way to one disappointing joke: in short, classic Ferguson monologue but for an hour. Some of the stories gleam as perfect anecdotes, and some just let him mug engagingly. If you miss, miss, miss, miss Craig on the Late Late Show (as do all right-thinking people) it’s Recommended, but just because that hit feels so good. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ricky Jay, Widows and Semiotic Conspiracy

November 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

Babylon Berlin Season 1 (Episodes 1-8) (Television, Germany, Tom Tykwer et al., ARD/Sky, 2017) In 1929 Berlin, shell-shocked vice squad detective Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) and his typist Charlotte (Liv Lisa Fries) encounter a tangle of mysteries while he tries to recover a blackmail film. Once the series determines that Charlotte is the actual protagonist, momentum never flags; even while it’s finding its footing, its portrait of Weimar Berlin remains captivating. Note: Netflix lists both Seasons 1 and 2 as a single season. –KH

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Film, US, Joel & Ethan Coen, 2018) Anthology of six mordant short films joined by their Western setting (both physical and genre), by their nature as memento mori, by superb musical touches (both Carter Burwell’s score and the repeated use of Scots and Irish ballads) and by lovely, even bravura, cinematography. Unavoidable uneven-ness keeps it just shy of Pinnacle status for me, though perhaps not for thee. –KH

Life Without Principle (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To, 2011) The lives of pressured finance-instrument sales stringer Teresa (Denise Ho), stoic cop Cheung (Richie Jen), and Panther (Lau Ching-Wan) the honor-bound numbskull fixer for a failing Triad, overlap and interlock as the Greek financial crisis roils Hong Kong markets. More discourse on ethics than zingy financial thriller, To moves through his three plots as assuredly as his camera moves through the space around them. –KH

Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants (Film, US, David Mamet, 1996) This TV movie of Jay’s 1994 stage play needs nothing except Ricky Jay (RIP) and the titular deck of cards to captivate, although it also has cups-and-balls in a segment devoted to that illusion, and a zillion windup toys in one inspired bit. Jay blends historian, con man, and nonpareil card magician into a sui generis stage presence and  presentation impossible to duplicate or explain. –KH

The Seventh Function of Language (Fiction, Laurent Binet, 2015) Hard-nosed police superintendent teams with callow semiotics prof to investigate the eliptonic conspiracy behind the death of Roland Barthes, interviewing such witnesses as Michel Foucault, Umberto Eco, and Jacques Derrida. Satirical meta-thriller of figurative and literal academic violence rattles along like a cheeky cover version of Foucault’s Pendulum with samples of Fight Club. Get it in ebook format for easier reference look-up. “Eco listens with interest to the story of a lost manuscript for which people are being killed.” —RDL

Widows (Film, US/UK, Steve McQueen, 2018) When a robbery crew led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) dies in a fiery shootout with the Chicago PD, his widow Veronica (Viola Davis) assembles their widows (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) and a ringer (Cynthia Erivo) to pull off his next planned heist and get themselves out from under. McQueen assembles an astonishing ensemble cast, draws naturalistic performances from them in heightened scenes, and paints a mesmerizing picture of Chicago corruption and politics, all inside the beats of a heist film miraculously edited by Joe Walker. –KH

Good

Black Coal, Thin Ice (Film, China, Diao Yinan, 2014) In a bid to finally crack the dismemberment murder case that ended his career, an ex-cop gets close—too close—to a laundry clerk who may be more than a witness. Finds strong moments as it uneasily mixes the opposing styles of neo-noir and affectless naturalism.—RDL

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Film, US, Marielle Heller, 2018) Forgotten by the 1991 New York literary scene, biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) teams up with hustler Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) to peddle her forged letters by denizens of the Manhattan Golden Age. McCarthy plays wonderfully (even charmingly) internalized despisal, and the mechanics of forgery intrigue, but the film doesn’t know whether lying is noble or not, blurring the hue of both. –KH

Eli Roth’s History of Horror (Television, US, AMC, 2018) Clips and interviews conduct not a history so much as a thematic survey of screen horror, including looks at slashers, creatures, vampires, and ghosts. Collects a solid range of subjects to say smart things about key movies, with flashes of the more comprehensive series the makers probably wanted to make occasionally peeking around the corner.—RDL

November Night Tales (Fiction, Henry Chapman Mercer, 1928) The polymathic Mercer wrote these seven stories, which range from Gothic to urban horror to weird adventure and back again, toward the end of his life. Ghost-story fans won’t want to miss “The Dolls’ Castle,” and “The Wolf Book” should set off a strong Blackwood vibe for everyone; there’s not a dud per se in the batch, but they do mostly share the eccentric tone and recondite interests of their creator. –KH

Okay

The Kennel Murder Case (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Philo Vance (William Powell) investigates a locked-room murder peripherally related to a dog show. Directed with the usual Curtiz briskness, this modest series entry warrants an upgrade to Recommended if you’re programming a retrospective of Curtiz, Powell, or mystery novel adaptations. At one point a character utters the line “I’m a doctor, not a magician!”—RDL

Not Recommended

The Boss (Film, Italy, Fernando di Leo, 1973) Amid the multi-level corruption of Sicilian society, an efficiently murderous mafia soldier (Henry Silva) betrays and is betrayed on his rise to the middle. Dispensing with the usual convention that creates sympathy in a gangster film, The Boss depicts its protagonist as just as big a scumbag as everyone else. This is both interesting and a problem, but not as fatal a problem as the fact that it stops on a “To Be Continued” chevron and was never continued.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: New Coens, New Suspiria

November 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.

The Pinnacle

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Film, US, Ethan and Joel Coen, 2018) In a series of mordant vignettes, doom and sudden reversals of fortune stalk the old West. Anthology film finds the Coens entering a sagebrush version of Bunuel territory, a Discreet Charm of the Cowbourgeoisie if you will “Well, I’m not an enemy of betterment.”.—RDL

Chimes at Midnight (Film, Spain/Switzerland, Orson Welles, 1965) A condensed version of Henry IV Parts 1 & II focuses on just the material you need to follow the Falstaff/Prince Hal arc. You know, the good bits. Welles composes every frame as a perfect shot, with choreographed movement within the frame and a fast, ragged editing style two to three decades ahead of its time.—RDL

Recommended

Breaking News (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To, 2004) Canny thief Yuen (Richie Jen) and ambitious police superintendent Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) compete to manipulate the media while the latter hunts and traps the former, complicated by maverick cop Cheung (Nick Cheung). To really unveils his command of space in this multi-layered policier, beginning with a bravura six-plus-minute single-take establishing shot-turned-gunfight. –KH

The Deuce Season 2 (Television, US, David Simon, HBO, 2018) Fortunes in New York’s red light district rise and fall as Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plans an ambitious XXX feature and the Martino brothers (James Franco) are drawn deeper into mob activity. With the socioeconomic tapestry established in the previous season, this outing packs in a ton of storytelling as it shifts decisively into crime drama.—RDL

Face to Face (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1967) History professor (Gian Maria Volonte) goes from feckless to ruthless after throwing in with noble bandido (Tomas Milian.) Political allegory in Spaghetti western form tackles the corrupting influence of the intellectual class on peoples’ movements.—RDL

Good

The Match King (Film, US, William Keighley & Howard Bretherton, 1932) Chicago con man (Warren William) returns to his native Sweden to leverage a match factory into a world-spanning, fraudulent empire. White collar companion piece to Warner’s pre-Code gangster films, based on real-life figure Ivar Kreuger, driven by the suave charisma of now-forgotten star William.—RDL

Suspiria (Film, US/Italy, Luca Guadagnino, 2018) In 1977, dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) leaves her dying mother behind to join a Berlin modern dance troupe headed by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) but secretly run by witches. Each element in this thoroughly unnecessary remake of Dario Argento’s Pinnacle that works — the looming suspense, the modern-dance-as-witchcraft conceit and choreography, Tilda Swinton as artiste and witch — grinds against one that doesn’t — the lengthy detours, the tacked-on history and politics, Tilda Swinton as elderly male psychiatrist — to produce unease and final relief, which I suppose was the point, such as there was. –KH

Okay

Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Proxy War (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1973) In the fourth of a five-part series of hard-hitting crime docudramas, a paroled Hiroshima gangster (Bunta Sugawara) finds himself stuck between two equally feckless, narcissistic bosses. That yakuza life as Japan’s corporate era dawns has become an interminable chain of mind-numbing meetings in which the smart person fruitlessly tries to talk his idiot superiors out of their dumb ideas is both the point, and something of a slog. I strongly recommend the series in general even if this installment is basically the unrewarding, deck-clearing penultimate episode of a premium cable season.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lies, Tyranny and Decadence

November 13th, 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

Tyrant Banderas (Fiction, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, 1926) A Latin American dictator’s capricious decision to punish an underling’s petty crime sends reverberations affecting lives high and low in his rebellious capital city. Written in a voice of omniscient, scathing mockery, featuring searing imagery and frequently protagonist switches. It’s not hard to see how this Spanish novel became a foundational work for the classic generation of Latin American writers.—RDL

Recommended

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are (Nonfiction, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, 2017) Researcher reveals the covert attitudes on race, gender, sexuality and more  Americans reveal through their Internet activity. A flow of fascinating facts on matters from race horse superiority to the crime reducing powers of violent hit movies. —RDL

The Land of Steady Habits (Film, US, Nicole Holofcener, 2018) Early retiree from the finance world (Ben Mendelsohn) discovers that divorce from his house-proud ex (Edie Falco) has left him just as rudderless as his ex-addict adult son (Thomas Mann.) Mordantly funny drama of exurban anomie, adapted from a novel by Ted Thompson, gives Mendelsohn space to score in a rare leading role.—RDL

Masques (Film, France, Claude Chabrol, 1978) Biographer stays at the country house of his subject, a pompous TV presenter (Philippe Noiret), bringing with him a hidden agenda and a pistol. Cozy, sun-dappled suspenser features a lovely heel turn from Noiret, who gradually reveals the sinister truth behind an overbearingly genial persona.—RDL

Mystery of the Wax Museum (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Fast-talking reporter (Glenda Farrell) tracks a sketchy suicide to the wax museum of burned sculptor (Lionel Atwill.) The 30s Warner Brothers house style of wisecracking reporters and cynical cops drops into a world of Expressionistic horror, limned with Curtiz’s hallmark momentum and visual verve. In early two-strip Technicolor, with pre-Code innuendo and drug references. As a rare 30s fright flick that clearly takes place in that period, makes a fun reference point for Trail of Cthulhu GMs.—RDL

The Proud Rebel (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1958) An altercation with a sheep tycoon’s violent son (Harry Dean Stanton) forces a Civil War veteran (Alan Ladd) to pause his obsessive quest to cure his young son’s muteness to pay a debt to a stubbornly independent farmer (Olivia de Havilland.) By this point Curtiz is shooting in Scope, so he compensates for limited ability to move the camera with exquisite composition and staging. Features fine performances, including from the dog around whom much of the finely calibrated melodrama revolves.—RDL.

Good

H.P. Lovecraft: New England Decadent (Nonfiction, Barton Levi St. Armand, 1979) This early work of scholarship positions HPL’s writing as a tension between Aestheticism and Puritanism. Although it scants his actual pseudo-Decadent phase (e.g., “The Hound,” “Hypnos”) it remains an illuminating criticism. –KH

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