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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hotel Ghosts and Mi’kMaq vs. Zombies

October 20th, 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

Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food (Nonfiction, Chase Purdy, 2020) Round-up of the technological, marketing and regulatory hurdles facing the small group of competing firms racing to bring satisfying, economical vat-grown meat to the world’s dinner tables. Concise, journalistic account covers the current state of play in a sector where proprietary secrets obscure the timetable for a revolution that might or might not be imminent.—RDL

Blood Quantum (Film, Canada, Jeff Barnaby, 2019) Immune to the virus that brings people—not to mention dogs and salmon—back from the dead, the Mi’kMaq of the Red Crow reservation, including a rueful police chief (Michael Greyeyes) and his atomized family, hunker against the undead apocalypse. Grim zombie horror finds room for complexity as it engages the genre’s tradition of social commentary.—RDL

The Invisible Man (Film, US, Leigh Whannell, 2020) Architect (Elizabeth Moss) escapes an abusive relationship with an optics genius, only to have him fake his own death and stalk her using his invisibility suit. Upending this classic horror tale to make Griffin the pursuing monster instead of the protagonist is one of those writing moves so brilliant that it seems obvious in retrospect.—RDL

Kubrick by Kubrick (Film, France/Poland, Gregory Monro, 2020) Tape-recorded interviews of Kubrick by film critic Michael Ciment play under footage from most of his films. Monro attempts to gently subvert, or at least provide perspective on, the image of Kubrick as obsessive perfectionist; the result may not be a revelatory film study but it’s a very good Kubrick 102. If you’re ready for Kubrick 202, maybe tick this back down to Good.–KH

Sleep (Film, Germany, Michael Venus, 2020) Nightmare-plagued Marlene (Sandra Huller) collapses in a mountain resort hotel — the one in her dreams — and her daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) investigates. A strong, dogged performance by Kohlhof anchors this excellent psychological ghost thriller, which gets nearly everything right from a creepy empty hotel set to vibrantly strange supporting actors.–KH

Good

Alms for Oblivion (Nonfiction, Peter Kemp, 1961) Lt. Col. Kemp, fresh from SOE service in Europe, transfers to the Pacific Theater right after V-J Day. Kemp runs guns to the French in Laos from Siam and serves as interim military governor of Bali and Lombok for two weeks. I had hoped for more action from this memoir, frankly. Interesting local color and details of political-military service in a neglected nook of history somewhat make up for that lack, however. –KH

Await the Dawn (Film, US, Pablo Macho Maysonet IV, 2020) In the grip of heroin withdrawal, Jane (Hannah Leigh) and her family get kidnapped by Miskatonic scientist Howard (Josh Server), fleeing a being from beyond in the form of a little girl. Decent acting, practical FX, and proper pacing make up for the occasional dialogue clinker and low-budget ambiance. In truth, this hovers over the Okay bubble, but the 80s Carpenter film Maysonet wanted to make shines through so clearly that the Lovecraft riff pops it into Good.–KH

Waking Sleeping Beauty (Film, US, Don Hahn, 2009) Documentary traces Disney Animation’s return to cultural omnipresence from its mid 80s doldrums, Surprisingly unvarnished insider look at the stresses and boardroom rivalries behind a blockbuster creative run.—RDL

Okay

I’m Your Woman (Film, US, Julia Hart, 2020) Wife of a professional crook, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) must go on the lam when he disappears. Attempting to make a film of the female-occupied negative space around a 70s crime thriller, Hart instead produces something by turns inert and facile. With nothing to do, at length, Brosnahan slowly sinks under the thick patina of 70s production design. Her brief, predictable spurt of agency in the last act comes far too late.–KH

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Film, Spain/Belgium/France, Terry Gilliam, 2018) Feckless commercial director (Adam Driver) becomes an unwilling Sancho Panza to a delusional shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) he once cast as Don Quixote. It turns out that the Fates spent a quarter century thwarting this film’s production because they realized that the script hits Gilliam’s core “the only thing worse than delusion is reality” theme too obviously on the nose. Or they were just waiting for Driver and his unerring knack for interesting choices.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Classic 70s Horror, Agricultural Revisionism, and Nice Gal Vampires

October 13th, 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

Don’t Look Now (Film, UK/Italy, Nicholas Roeg, 1973) After the drowning of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) remain haunted by their grief in Venice. Roeg’s time-shifted edits and deeply layered shots build a hyper-impressionistic experience of emotional trauma, while also evoking the eerie as only the very best horror films can. –KH

Recommended

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (Nonfiction, James C. Scott, 2017) An attempt to re-tell and subvert the heroic archaeological narrative of the rise to civilization from early Neolithic hunter-gathering. Scott somewhat palms a card when dealing with the invention of agriculture, but in his defense nobody on the other side can really explain it either. A fast read that should ideally lead to more detailed arguments. –KH

Gimme Danger (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2016) Iggy Pop recounts the history of his seminal band The Stooges, including not only the expected self-destructive excess but also the deep musicology behind the deceptively simple sound. Jarmusch elevates an otherwise straightforward rockumentary with savvy choices for his opening and closing sequences.—RDL

Vamps (Film, US, Amy Heckerling, 2012) Non-predatory vampire roommates (Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter) face a threat to their life of fun in NYC when one of them dates a van Helsing (Dan Stevens.) Because she projects an affirming vision and draws on girl culture, not boy culture, Heckerling’s auteurism is underrated, and that goes double for this female-driven hangout movie. A deep cast includes Wallace Shawn as the elder van Helsing, Sigourney Weaver as the villainous sire, and Malcolm MacDowell as Vlad Tepes, who has given up impaling for knitting.—RDL

Good

CBGB (Film, US, Randall Miller, 2013) Hygiene- and bookkeeping-eschewing club owner Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) turns a shabby Bowery bar into the nexus of American punk and new wave. Reverent evocation of an irreverent movement lets you feel what CBGBs was like without smelling it. To rivetingly hold the screen as a checked-out, inexpressive dude you couldn’t ask for better casting than Rickman.—RDL

Faithless (Film, US, Harry Beaumont, 1932) An heiress (Tallulah Bankhead) and her ad executive beau (Robert Montgomery) hit the skids hard as the Depression worsens. Nearly every film from this era deals with the Depression to one extent or another, but this hard-hitting melodrama tackles it with unusual directness.—RDL

God Told Me To (Film, US, Larry Cohen, 1976) NYPD detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) follows up on a series of spree killings after which the killers claim “God told me to.” One too many fascinating side plots somewhat unbalances this very weird movie, leaving it just below the Recommended bubble, but if your idea of joy is a grotty 70s New York Unknown Armies game this is part of that. –KH

Millie (Film, US, John Francis Dillon, 1931) After being rushed into marriage by an energetic heel, a charming young woman (Helen Twelvetrees) resolves to keep man problems at bay. Melodrama shows the price of all the fun characters in Pre-Code movies get up to, without betraying its feminist allegiances. Joan Blondell appears as one-half of a pair of lesbian gold-diggers.—RDL

Okay

The Beast Must Die (Film, UK, Paul Annett, 1974) Big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) gathers five guests at his surveillance-surrounded mansion to discover which of them is a werewolf and hunt him or her. This superlative high concept (even better than the excellent James Blish story it comes from) cannot overcome Lockhart’s histrionics, muddy Amicus lensing, and a talky script. But Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, and Peter Cushing push it as close to Good as they can. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: H. P. Lovecraft Film Fest Highlights (and more)

October 6th, 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

10 Rillington Place (Film, UK, Richard Fleischer, 1970) Mousy, diabolical serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough) murders the young mother (Judy Geeson) living in the upstairs flat, maneuvering her husband (John Hurt) into prime suspect status. Authentically grim true crime docudrama touches on the notoriously botched investigation that led to the execution of an innocent man and allowed Christie to kill four more victims, but primarily focuses on his criminal profile.—RDL

In Fabric (Film, UK, Peter Strickland, 2018) Seeking a boost of confidence as she re-enters the dating world, a shy bank clerk (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) buys a red dress from a boutique run by pervy capitalist witches. Absurdist satire with a diptych structure reverently conjures the stylistic flourishes of 70s giallo.—RDL

Nina of the Woods (Film, US, Charlie Griak, 2020) Failing actress Nina (Megan Hensley) takes the role of “local witness” in a reality-TV Bigfoot-hunting show, only to re-enter the haunted woods she explored with her father as a child. Thank the Great Spirit, this is not a found-footage film, but instead a plangent folk-horror piece; Stalker with a rural American accent. For trying something new, and for taking the time to paint its supporting characters with life and care, the film gets Recommended despite a somewhat mixed result. –KH

Rabid (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 1977) Experimental surgery recipient (Marilyn Chambers) grows a feeding tube under her arm and a thirst for blood, becoming patient zero in an epidemic that spreads via violent bite attacks. Homely seventies Canadian decor grounds the horror in this weird science update of the vampire as pandemic vector motif. And yes it’s super weird that I hadn’t seen this till now.—RDL

Good

Eerie Fairy Tales (Film, Estonia, Mart Sander, 2019) Anthology film comprising four stories: a tavern-told horror (Good but the ending lacks punch); a UFO puzzle in the fine tradition of old, cruel SF (Recommended but somewhat cheap-looking); a beautifully shot proper fairy tale (Recommended); and a shaggy-dog murder mystery joke (Okay for terrible accents and telegraphing its ending almost immediately). –KH

Intersect (Film, US, Gus Holwerda, 2020) Physics prodigy Ryan (Jason Spisak) and two colleagues build a time machine at Miskatonic University. This film needed at least one rewrite (to provide payoff for the time spent in Ryan’s past) and another edit to provide a bigger hit of Primer-style metaphysics and to handle the tonal shifts as the story moves backwards. TV’s James Morrison is sadly wasted in a conventional supporting role; lead Spisak can’t convey enough meaning to invest us; the villain is a cartoon. But, Lovecraftian time machine! [Currently available for rent on Amazon streaming.]

Loving You (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 1995) Brusque, philandering cop (Lau Ching Wan) tries to become a better man and husband after being shot in the head. A couple of years before the epic run that starts with A Hero Never Dies, To’s signature style is pretty much in place, with the weak link a script that fails to connect the emotional dots between its action thriller and romantic drama components.—RDL

The Return (Film, Canada, BJ Verot, 2020) After his father’s death, physics prodigy Roger (Richard Harmon) returns to his family home to find it possibly haunted by his dead sister’s imaginary friend. A nice, tight sfnal twist on the haunted house with a script just a bit too talky to keep suspense up where it needs to be. The actors are fine, but Verot doesn’t trust them to sell the material. –KH

Okay

The Deep Ones (Film, US, Chad Ferrin, 2020) Alex (Gina La Piana) and her husband Petri (Johann Urb) rent a beach house in a gated community and discover … well, you know what they discover. As the leader of the cult, Robert Miano gives a bravura Columbo-villain performance but the rest of the film doesn’t deliver enough juice to lubricate its completely obvious plot. Too-visible creatures and tentacles don’t help. –KH

The Hill and the Hole (Film, US, William Darmon & Christopher Ernst, 2020) A surveyor (Liam Kelly) discovers something weird about a mound in a strange small town. I so wanted to like this film, based on a bluntly creepy Fritz Leiber story, but the script careens entirely arbitrarily from point to point, the comedy fails at both camp and cult, and the effects would have done AIP proud circa 1970. –KH [Currently streaming on Amazon.]

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sherlock’s Sister and Cagney’s Mustache

September 29th, 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 Public Image (Fiction, Muriel Spark, 1968) As a young English actress heads for stardom, abetted by the Italian gossip press, the playwright husband who condescends to her commits a terrible act of career sabotage. Spiky, incisive novella of betrayal and survival set against Rome’s film industry heyday.—RDL

He Was Her Man (Film, US, Lloyd Bacon, 1932) On the lam from betrayed associates, a cocky safecracker (James Cagney) agrees to escort a gal with a past (Joan Blondell) to the tiny coastal town where she intends to wed a good-hearted immigrant fisherman (Victory Jory.) Romantic melodrama offers an unexpectedly affecting blend of two staple 30s Warners genres, the crime flick and the working class saga. A rare chance to see Cagney sport a pencil-thin mustache.—RDL

Good

Enola Holmes (Film, US, Harry Bradbeer, 2020) When her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears, Enola (Millie Bobbie Brown) goes in search of her in London, while remaining a step ahead of her older brothers Mycroft and Sherlock (Sam Claflin and Henry Cavill). Repeat to yourself “It’s a kids’ movie” and enjoy Brown’s whole-hearted embrace of her character, and the zingy virtues of this trifle outweigh the occasional clunkiness of the script and routine directorial choices. Cavill, surprisingly, does not embarrass himself, possibly because Sherlock also seldom shows human emotion. –KH

False Faces (Film, US, Lowell Sherman, 1932) Crooked doctor (Sherman) moves up in the world by passing himself off as a plastic surgeon. Snappy ripped-from-the-headlines crime docudrama belongs to a cycle of films from the period tracing the rise and fall of scoundrels. Based on the case of Henry Schireson, who had no medical license whatsoever and continued to mangle patients for more than a decade after this film’s release.—RDL

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman, 2020) A painter—or medical researcher, or poet, or waitress—(Jessie Buckley) considers breaking up with her neurotic boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) as he introduces her to his eccentric parents. The Pinteresque second act, with Toni Colette and David Thewlis as the parents, stands out in Kaufman’s adaptation of a Kaufmanesque novel by Iain Reid.—RDL

Senso (Film, Italy, Luchino Visconti, 1954) During the Risorgimento, a married Venetian countess (Alida Valli) loves a dashing but callow officer (Farley Granger) of the occupying Austrians. A beautiful object that bends the standard Technicolor palette to match 19th century Italian painting, in which the director detaches himself from his protagonists when they morally disappoint him.—RDL

Not Recommended

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Film, US, Michael Dougherty, 2019) Emma (Vera Farmiga) goes rogue, endangering her plucky daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) as she helps eco-terrorists to free Ghidrah and the other black-hat titans. Latches hard onto the assumption that what we want from a movie where the marquee Toho kaiju kick each other’s asses is a grim and dispiriting tone. Points for hewing to the classic creature designs to the newly reintroduced monsters, and to Bradley Whitford for adding unauthorized levity to his expository role.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spies, Attorneys, and Eliptonic Audio

September 22nd, 2020 | Robin

Recommended

Ace Attorney (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2012) Flustered defense lawyer (Hiroki Narimiya) unwimds a complex conspiracy when he takes on a murder charge against his usual prosecutorial nemesis (Hiroki Narimiya.) Miike uses manga, and in this case, video game adaptations, as a platform for formal play, with this as the wiggiest example in more ways than one.—RDL

Reilly: Ace of Spies (TV, UK, ITV, Chris Burt, 1983) Miniseries follows the romanticized career of con man and sometime British agent Sidney Reilly (Sam Neill) from Baku in 1901 to his execution in Moscow in 1925. Neill’s simultaneously suave and feral performance carries the show past the occasional talky bits, and strong villains like Basil Zaharoff (Leo McKern, superb as always) and Felix Dzerzhinsky (Tom Bell) make sure Reilly’s successes and failures feel earned. Shout-out to Elizabeth Waller’s costumes, and to future Bond helmer Martin Campbell cutting his spy teeth as co-director.–KH

Mr. & Mrs Adelman (Film, France, Nicolas Bedos, 2017) At his funeral reception, the wife (Doria Tillier) of a renowned writer (Nicolas Bedos) recounts their life together to a prospective biographer. Novelistic comedy drama ironically aces the difficult feat of multi-decade narrative with ironic divides in perspective.—RDL

Septimo (Film, Argentina, Patxi Amezcua, 2013) Big shot defense attorney (Ricardo Darin) resorts to desperate measures when his young kids disappear on their way down the staircase of their apartment building. Pressure cooker suspense thriller keeps its surprises admirably within the realm of plausible human behavior.—RDL

The Vast Of Night (Film, US, Andrew Patterson, 2019) In the late 50s in a sleepy New

Mexico town, a radio DJ and a switchboard operator encounter an eliptonic audio mystery. Rattletrap dialogue, low-contrast images and fluid, racing camera moves create evocative atmosphere in this SF thriller—even if it does include one layer of stylization too many.—RDL

Good

Streets of Fire (Film, US, Walter Hill, 1984) When motorcycle gangster Raven (Willem Dafoe) kidnaps rocker Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from the stage in a nameless timeless city that looks a lot like Chicago, her soldier ex Tom Cody (Michael Paré) comes to the rescue. A lesson in just how far you can take a film without acting or a script, this unreally glorious “rock & roll fable” nearly sells you regardless. Ry Cooder’s score and Jim Steinman’s bookend songs, Hill and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo’s shots, and the combo of Studebakers, neon, the L, and Armani create a perfect (and surprisingly influential) cinematic neverland. –KH

Okay

The Forest of Love (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2019) Aspiring directors making a film based on a transparently awful but effective con man are sucked into his cult-like orbit of murder and degradation. Overlong journey into the ultra-extreme appears to be advancing a political metaphor but ultimately chucks that in favor of mystical ambiguity.—RDL

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

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