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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

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

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Forget What You Know About Amnesia

November 6th, 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

Halloween (Film, US, David Gordon Green, 2018) Forty years after his 1978 killing spree, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield, where survivalist Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been waiting to kill him. Easily the best sequel to that Pinnacle horror film, it works because it tosses out all the cruft and returns to Carpenter’s original for its myth (and many of its story beats). Like Carpenter, Green cannily provides enough character to invest the viewer in the horror, while also inserting not quite enough meta to take you back out of it. –KH

I Love You Again (Film, US, W. S. van Dyke, 1940) After a conk on the head, con artist (William Powell) realizes that he’s been living an entirely different life for the last nine years—as a small town stuffed shirt whose beguiling wife (Myrna Loy) intends to divorce him. Set aside tiresome notions of how amnesia works to delight in the ineffable timing and charm of its leads in this lesser-known screwball comedy.—RDL

Michael Curtiz; A Life in Film (Nonfiction, Alan K. Rode, 2017) Biography of the  director of classics such as Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and White Christmas whips its deep research into the narrative shape its splenetic, hard-charging subject would have demanded. If you need your artists to be swell people, you can strike another titan of the studio era from your list, in this case for bullying, parental neglect and a sometimes shocking disregard for workplace safety.—RDL

The Mission (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To, 1999) After surviving a hit, triad boss Lung hires five experts (Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Jackie Lui, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet) to keep him alive. How this stripped-down, elegant, macho crime thriller hasn’t already had two disappointing Hollywood remakes is beyond me, but here we are. The gunfight on the escalator more than makes up for the sniper scene that maybe goes on a little too long. –KH

The Other Side of the Wind (Film, US, Orson Welles, 2018) Legendary director (John Huston) holds party for flunkies and film world notables to screen footage from his nearly completed, sex-drenched experimental picture. Even if it had been released when shot, rather than four decades later and posthumously, this aesthetic whirl of old Hollywood and 60s European art cinema would have played as a battle between eras. Now, with most of its cast dead, including the young bucks, it lands as a disturbance in the timestream.—RDL

Providence (Comics, Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, 2015-2017) In 1919, closeted journalist Robert Black goes on the trail of the mystical underground of New England, encountering figures and phenomena later thinly fictionalized by H.P. Lovecraft. Moore deepens his Neonomicon storyline, and continues his project of depicting the “nameless orgiastic blasphemies” that HPL decorously cloaked. Moore’s mastery of the form and deep command of the material produce another great work. –KH [Note: If you don’t want lots of penises in your comics, you don’t want this book.]

Good

The Babysitter (Film, US, McG, 2017) Dorky 12-year-old fraidycat Cole (Judah Lewis) can only really connect with his hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) so of course she’s up to fell Satanic doings. Energetic direction of a better-than-average script by Brian Duffield blends Home Alone with an 80s slasher film to ultimately fun effect. If we must have coming-of-age arcs, this is the way to have them: 80 minutes long and doused in fake blood. –KH

Okay

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (US, Film, Morgan Neville, 2018) Documentary about the fractured making and financial unmaking of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind (q.v.) provides essential context for its surprise completion. In addition to the odd omission of any information on its reconstruction, its tone is surprisingly corny if not outright condescending for a doc on such a mold-busting work of art.—RDL

You Might Be the Killer (Film, US, Brett Simmons, 2018) Camp counselor Sam (Fran Kranz) calls slasher-buff pal Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) for advice on his weird memory lapses and oh yeah all these murdered counselors. Longer, but not vastly more enjoyable than, its Twitter inspiration. More importantly, it has no more ideas to play with than that and kinda wastes Alyson Hannigan to boot. –KH

Not Recommended

Luke Cage Season 2 (Television, US, Cheo Hodari Coker, Netflix, 2018) Luke (Mike Colter) copes with his anger issues and reluctantly circles a reconciliation with his estranged father (Reg E. Cathey) as Mariah’s (Alfre Woodard) efforts to go legit are challenged by the brutal, grudge-bearing Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir.) It’s so frustrating to see a beacon of Afrocentric superhero storytelling killed off by muddled throughlines, an endless procession of inconsequential dramatic scenes, and the writing room’s evident conviction that Luke Cage is the fourth or fifth most interesting character in a show called “Luke Cage.”—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Halloween Brings Werewolves, Innsmouth, a Demon, and Girls’ Gymnastics

October 30th, 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

Burning (Film, South Korea, Lee Chang-dong, 2018) Aspiring writer obligated to return to his dad’s crummy farm loses his new girl to a mysterious rich dude (Steven Yeun.) Sublime and ambiguous suspense film that keeps the viewer questioning the nature of its central mystery. Yeun’s casual, collected menace makes him a bad guy for the ages.—RDL; Seen at TIFF; now in theatrical release.

You Will Know Me (Fiction, Megan Abbott, 2016) A hit and run killing turns the screws on a suburban family organized around the daughter’s potential Olympic gymnastics career. Taut, precisely observed examination of the noir heart lurking in the American success drive.—RDL

Recommended

Bad Times at the El Royale (Film, US, Drew Goddard, 2018) Four guests (Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson) check into a shady hotel on the Cali-Nevada border in 1969; retro quasi-noir ensues. Another B-picture on an A-budget, this near weightless film doesn’t feel 141 minutes long any more than it feels actually set in 1969. But everybody (especially Bridges) does their damn job, and Michael Giacchino turns in another great score, and that’s just enough to edge it over the state line to Recommended. –KH

Border (Film, Sweden, Ali Abbasi, 2018) Customs officer whose ability to smell fear and shame makes her a standout at her job feels a powerful attraction for a traveler whose Neanderthal-like features resemble her own. Beguiling weird tale framed, lit and edited in the style of a social realist drama.—RDL; Seen at TIFF; now in theatrical release.

When Animals Dream (Film, Denmark, Jonas Alexander Arnby, 2014) Shy teenager in a remote fishery town undergoes a strange physical transformation connected to the condition that has paralyzed her mother. Plays for much of its run time as a realist social problem drama, where the social problem is lycanthropy.—RDL

Good

The Endless (Film, US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2017) Two brothers return to the cult compound they left a decade ago, where they discover that a bizarre space-time anomaly has their former community in its thrall. Non-Euclidean weird tale has its engagingly head-bendy moments, but by casting themselves in the leads the directors lose the acting punch they need to deliver their emotional arc.—RDL

Lovecraft’s Pillow and Other Strange Stories (Fiction, Kenneth Faig, Jr., 2013) This collection of (mostly) Lovecraft-related tales by a pre-eminent Lovecraft researcher only really hits a weird note in the first two “Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors” and in “Gothic Stories,” but most of the rest at least remain interesting, especially to those of us with strong opinions about (or interest in) Lovecraft research. “Innsmouth 1984” and “The Squirrel Pond” hit a sort of realist Ramsey Campbell horror note that Faig shies away from in the other tales. –KH

Noroi: the Curse (Film, Japan, Kōji Shiraishi, 2005) In his final documentary, a paranormal researcher reveals a sprawling case concerning a psychic child, eerie baby murmurs, and a man in a tinfoil hat. Ambitious found-footage horror constructs some genuinely creepy moments but could use a tighter edit..—RDL

Okay

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Film, Italy, Francesco Barilli, 1974) Disturbing visions of repressed childhood trauma assail an overworked industrialist (Mimsy Farmer.) Stylish visuals and a a jittery, fawn-like performance from Farmer elevate this blend of giallo and old-school Freudian surrealism. But there’s more to surrealism than not making sense, and the script fumbles the alternate, non-linear logic necessary to the style.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Welles and Hill House Lead a Double Pinnacle Week

October 23rd, 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 Haunting of Hill House Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Mike Flanagan, 2018) A ghost-ridden mansion reasserts its hold over a fractured family who briefly tried to renovate and flip it a generation ago. Makes full use of its ten-hour run time, radically reconfiguring the source material into a multi-perspective, chronologically fragmented family saga centered around deeply drawn and acted characters.—RDL

The Other Side of the Wind (Film, US, Orson Welles, 1976 & 2018) Imperious director J.J. Hannaford (John Huston) returns from European exile to make one last masterpiece but the system (and his own legend) gets in his way. Scripted and shot as a combination of found footage and film-within-a-film, this prodigiously innovative, elliptical movie has finally achieved final cut (Bob Murawski completing the remaining 70% of the editing from Welles’ notes) thanks to Netflix money and hard-working producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza. –KH

Recommended

Dogman (Film, Italy, Matteo Garrone, 2018) Dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) plays sidekick and lackey to brutish thug Simone (Edoardo Pesce) until … Garrone’s strong, pure study of a man under pressure depends almost entirely on Fonte‘s acting for its compelling drive. The story is far less complex than Garrone’s amazing Gomorrah, but this is almost its equal as a film. –KH

Friedkin Uncut (Film, Italy, Francesco Zippel, 2018) Perhaps with a lesser subject than Chicago’s own William Friedkin, this fairly conventional documentary-about-a-director (direcumentary?) would just be Good, but Friedkin remains a live wire at 83 and the galaxy of talents from Ellen Burstyn to Walter Hill to Quentin Tarantino who pay him homage do so joyfully. (The Willem Dafoe segment also reminded me why and how much To Live and Die in L.A. blew me away when I saw it in the theater.) Friedkin eschews the term “art,” about his own films at least, but like a true artist he stubbornly shoots what he sees. –KH

Overlord (Film, US, Julius Avery, 2018) Just before D-Day the remnants of an American paratrooper squad (Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, et al) must destroy a key Nazi radio jammer in a church, but find the Nazi forces conducting supernatural experiments in the crypt. Remarkably competent war action joins with top-notch zombie action for a thoroughly satisfying, controlled horror-adventure B-movie on an A-budget. –KH

Salt Fat Acid Heat (Television, US, Netflix, Samin Nosrat, 2018) Chef and author Nosrat trains her ebullient food perspective on four bedrock elements of successful cooking, with stops in Italy, Japan, Mexico and the Chez Panisse kitchen. Though you’ll never see me slathering as much sodium on a chicken as the infectiously charming host wants me to, it is refreshing to see the travel/food docuseries shift emphasis from aspirational restaurant-going to making meals at home.—RDL

Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America (Nonfiction, John Higham, 1984 rev. ed.) Mostly centering on the Jewish immigrant experience, Higham lays out the historical parameters of America’s combination of welcome and nativism, often within the same writer or group. Notable for its detached tone, and for taking the time to forensically tease out the various strands of American anti-Semitism rather than simply condemning it and diving into platitudes. –KH

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (Film, US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Tells the story of Orson Welles’ last great fiasco, the making of The Other Side of the Wind (q.v.). Particularly well cut together explainer weirdly omits the final chapter in which Netflix pays to fix the seemingly intractable problems and finish the film (and create this documentary). –KH

The Trouble With You (Film, France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018) Upon discovering that her dead super-cop husband corruptly framed Antoine (Pio Marmai) for a jewel heist, Marseille police woman Yvonne (a wonderful Adele Haenel) tries to protect him from the consequences when he gets out of prison. Screwball comedy mashes up romance, crime, and philosophy as unconsidered moral choices lead to ever more ridiculous consequences, all to a fab go-go score by Camille Bazbaz. –KH

X — the eXploited (Film, Hungary, Karoly Ujj Mészáros, 2018) Brilliant detective Eva (Monika Balsai) can’t function thanks to crippling panic attacks, but still manages to link a series of seeming accidents and suicides as murders with political implications. A solid political thriller, a strong policier, and for an act or two just a very creative variation on the Nero Wolfe model, all filmed with style. –KH

Good

Duelles (Film, Belgium/France, Olivier Masset-Depasse, 2018) Story by Hitchcock, shots by Douglas Sirk: In idyllic 1960s Brussels, neighboring housewives Alice (Veerle Baetens) and Celine (Anne Coesens) succumb to paranoia and madness following a fatal accident to Celine’s son. The story moves well, and Baetens plays increasing mania wonderfully. But Masset-Depasse’s relatively conventional treatment and extremely safe and conventional choices raise the question: what is this movie doing, exactly, besides marking time for the inevitable Reese Witherspoon remake? –KH

Manborg (Film, Canada, Steven Kostanski, 2011) Soldier awakens as cyborg in a dystopian future, to do battle with Count Draculon, the fascist demon who killed his brother. Affectionate spoof of 80s straight to video schlock with impressive homebrew special effects. Two of the funniest bits, a trailer parody and the copyright warning, appear after the credits.—RDL

The Stolen Caravaggio (Film, Italy, Roberto Ando, 2018) Film company secretary Valeria (Micaela Ramazotti), who ghostwrites screenplays for blocked writer Alessandro Pes (Alessandro Gassmann), gets a lead on a story about the titular Caravaggio and to nobody’s surprise winds up inside the action. More propulsive than Ando’s Confessions, this meta-film wants to be Charade or a similarly dizzying romcom thriller, but doesn’t quite reach it. However, the ride is fun, and Maurizio Calvesi’s cinematography makes everything gorgeous. –KH

Okay

Happy as Lazzaro (Film, Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany, Alice Rohrwacher, 2018) The peasants of isolated Inviolata remain serfs in the 1980s, with the good (saintly?) worker Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) bearing his fellows’ burdens in turn. Halfway through the movie, everything changes, and the neo-medieval mise-en-scene becomes today’s urban fringe. Rohrwacher tells a timeless story of exploitation with moments of stark beauty and emotion, but her choice of “golden legend” crosses up her ideological priors to eventually strangling effect. –KH

Naples in Veils (Film, Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek, 2017) After a super-hot one-night stand with diver Andrea (Alessandro Borghi) medical examiner Adriana (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) finds herself investigating, and suspected of, his murder the next day. Then she starts seeing his ghost, or his twin, or … ? Lush and beautiful, set in Naples’ avant-garde art scene and ignoring the Camorra or any aspect of reality whatsoever, the film eventually disappears into its own sexy, gorgeously shot ass. Two thirds of a movie — even two thirds of Vertigo — is still not a movie. –KH

Not Recommended

Ex-Shaman (Film, Brazil, Luiz Bolognesi, 2018) Docudrama leisurely follows Perera, the former shaman of the Paiter Surui tribe in the Brazilian interior. Bolognesi’s general melancholy tone doesn’t provide emotional insight, and the Anthro 101 subject matter doesn’t hold great interest by itself. Strong suspicion that Bolognesi staged some shots and the throughline, and certainly tinkered with the sound, leaches the film of what value it had left. –KH

Jumpman (Film, Russia/Lithuania/Ireland/France, Ivan I. Tverdovsky, 2018) After dumping him in the baby hatch of an orphanage at birth, Oksana (Anna Slyu) comes back for Denis (Denis Vlasenko) to use his congenital analgesia — inability to feel pain — for fraud. Denis becomes a jumpman, someone who jumps in front of rich people’s cars to extort them for bribes or (thanks to a deep-benched conspiracy) legal judgements. The scam is interesting, unlike the acting or camera work, but (along with a weird Jocasta-complex vibe from Oksana) never pays off because in Russia, movie ends you. Kirill Richter’s score is the only real standout, by turns brooding and atonal. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lady Gaga and the Necronomicon

October 9th, 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

A Star is Born (Film, US, Bradley Cooper, 2018) Alcoholic country-rock star (Bradley Cooper) falls for a working class waitress (Lady Gaga) who has given up on her music dreams. Cooper goes far beyond the strong performances and focus on character you expect from an actor turned director, demonstrating a full cinematic palette of composition, color, transitions and sound.—RDL

Recommended

Expect the Unexpected (Film, Hong Kong, Patrick Yau, 1998) Two HKPD cops, straight-laced Ken (Simon Yam) and loose, savvy Sam (Lau Ching-Wan) compete for the attention of a waitress (Yoyo Mung) while two gangs — one murderously competent, one bumbling — operate in her neighborhood. By turns gritty policier and amiable character piece, Yau braids the two strains, tones, and themes of his film so effortlessly that you don’t, well, expect the unexpected when they cross. –KH [Also apparently streaming now on Amazon Prime.]

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (Film, Japan, 1972, Shunya Itō) Silently defiant, ingenious inmate endures a corrupt prison system as she seeks the chance to escape and take revenge on her betraying vice cop ex. Stylistic and political radicalism justify the exploitativeness, or is it the other way around, in this lurid gut-punch of a movie. Park Chan-wook fans will recognize this as the reference point for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Caveat: If this combo of cinema’s two most problematic genres at all sounds like maybe it’s not for you, IT MOST ASSUREDLY IS NOT.—RDL

November (Film, Estonia, Rainer Sarnet, 2017) In Baroque-era rural Estonia, where the dead return periodically for dinner and farmers can turn old tools into demonic constructs, a determined peasant loves a handsome but dim neighbor who pines for a young noblewoman. Stark black and white image conjure the otherworldly quality of this earthy, eerie folk tale with touches of early Tarkovsky and the Brothers Quay.—RDL

Good

Dealt (Film, US, Luke Korem, 2017) The great risk of making a documentary about an entertainer is that the documentary pales next to the entertainment. Korem’s film about legendary card mechanic Richard Turner only really comes alive when Turner is dealing cards, or at least on screen talking about dealing cards. The human story of Turner overcoming, then accepting, his total blindness pales into conventional uplift, even with such a stubbornly individual subject. –KH

The House With a Clock in its Walls (Film, US, Eli Roth, 2018) Orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) comes to live with his eccentric magician Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in the titular house. I suspect people who haven’t read the John Bellairs masterpiece kids’ novel may enjoy this more than those of us who regret losing Bellairs’ signature childhood-fear tone for an able whack at  Amblin-meets-Harry-Potter with a side of please-let-this-be-a-franchise desperation. Cate Blanchett is a standout as the witchy neighbor Florence Zimmerman, but Kyle McLachlan sadly has less to do as revenant wizard Isaac Izard. –KH

Housewife (Film, Turkey, Can Evrenol, 2017) After her mother’s murderous rampage traumatizes her in childhood, Holly (Clementine Poidatz) finds herself a passive, frightened woman taken for granted by her artist boyfriend Tim (Ali Aksöz) and pursued by motivational cult guru Bruce (David Sakurai). This modern giallo has all the virtues (haunting score, glorious palette and production design, visceral gore) and most of the vices (misogyny (here sorta subverted) and incoherence) of that genre. –KH

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Bullied high schooler becomes passively complicit when his tormentors, forced to hang out with him, capture a CHUD-like cannibal humanoid who used to be a young girl. Less a scary movie than a grim parable of power and cruelty filled with gore and horror motifs.—RDL

Necronomicon: The Book of Hell (Film, Argentina, Marcelo Schapces, 2018) When his neighbor the immortal protector of the Necronomicon dies, Buenos Aires National Library librarian Luis (Diego Velazquez) gets pulled into the resulting apocalypse. Individual shots and scenes work well, but the plot loses its thread early and never recovers; a clever invocation of Borges barely transcribes this film into Good. –KH

Okay

Corpse (Film, US, Christopher Ernst, 2018) Jealous cousin of a reality star Hillary Castaigne (Cara Loften) seeks fame while her model girlfriend Tess (Marion Le Coguic) falls victim to DNA rewritten by bioinformatician Boris (Doug Goldring) in this melange of Chambers’ Carcosa Mythos stories. I truly admire the notion of turning The King in Yellow into an art film, but Ernst’s reach pretty clearly exceeds his grasp here. The juxtapositions don’t create, they only confuse, and the story threads remain both uneven and unfinished. If you are a Carcosaholic, call it Worth Watching While Doing Something Else. –KH

Rules of Ruin (Film, Mexico, Victor Osuna, 2018) Workaholic translator Minerva (Yunuen Pardo) takes on the job of translating the titular grimoire, and invites possession and haunting by the Ancients. The human core story and Pardo’s dedicated performance keep you invested through a by-the-numbers plot, but the film doesn’t do what it could with the horror element, settling for by-the-numbers menace. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Haunting Docs and Shambolic Talk

October 2nd, 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

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Canada, Jennifer Baichwal & Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky, 2018) Documentary prowls the world depicting the massive scale of Homo sapiens’ alterations to the planetary environment. Titanic in its scope and paradoxical in the beauty of its hellishness—though the narration does not grapple with the way its visual language portrays humanity as a destructive invasive species in need of dramatic culling.—RDL. Seen at TIFF; now in limited theatrical release.

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Film, Canada, Bill Morrison, 2016) Collage technique uses archival footage, mostly from a recovered trove of silent films found buried in the Yukon permafrost, to tell the wild story of Dawson City and its early experience of cinema culture. A haunting ambient score turns what could be a quotidian tale of film preservation into a haunting meditation on images as messages from the past.—RDL

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Film, UK, Paul McGuigan, 2017) Young Liverpudlian actor (Jamie Bell) has a romance with film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) two decades after the peak of her career, only to discover that she’s been concealing a grave health problem. Bening, probably wisely, comes off more as a generalized fading movie icon than a likeness of Grahame. She and Bell deliver affecting performances and McGuigan adds a dash of style to what could have been a talky biopic.—RDL

The Good Place Season 2 (Television, NBC, Michael Schur, 2017) Having discovered that they are in the [[SPOILER]] Place, Eleanor and the gang reluctantly accept Michael’s help in avoiding the attentions of his fellow [[SPOILERS.]] Counters the dread sophomore slump with a significant change-up to its core formula, breaking new ground for the serialized sitcom.—RDL

Quincy (Film, US, Rashida Jones & Alan Hicks, 2018) Documentary interweaves chronological bio segments presenting the many careers and accomplishments of music legend Quincy Jones with an intimate present-day portrait of a hard-partying workaholic’s confrontation with the limitations of an aging body.—RDL

Good

Norm Macdonald Has a Show Season 1 (Television, Netflix, 2018) It seems odd to think that an intentionally meandering, offputting, deconstructed talk show should be longer, but it should. Following the format of his old podcast, Norm takes his habitual talk-show-derailing affect to his own show with predictable consequences: when the guest can hang (like Michael Keaton or Jane Fonda) or fight back (David Spade, David Letterman) it’s great. When they can’t (Lorne Michaels), it’s shambolic. Most times, it’s kind of both. Recommended for full-tilt Macdonaldphiles, but the Norm sauce may be a bit too reduced for everyone to like the taste. –KH

The Tag-Along (Film, Taiwan, Cheng Wei-hao, 2015) Callow realtor, along with his girlfriend and grandma, run afoul of mosien, child-goblin-insect spirits who, after habitat encroachment on their mountainous forest homes, have expanded their range to prey on urbanites. Sublimation of Alzheimer’s fears overcomes the common stumbling block of ghost movies by having somewhere to escalate to in its third act.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nic Cage Agonistes

September 25th, 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

Mandy (Film, US, Panos Cosmatos, 2018) A Manson-like cult leader (Linus Roache) allied with weird mutated bikers intrudes into the ominous forest idyll of an illustrator (Andrea Riseborough) and her lumberjack boyfriend (Nicolas Cage), prompting a mission of apocalyptic revenge. A doom-laden slow burn sets the stage for a upshift into ultraviolent Nic Cagery in this commanding, lysergic artsploitation flick.—RDL

Recommended

BlacKkKlansman (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2018) In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, wisely underplaying the role), the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, talks himself (literally) into the assignment of infiltrating the KKK. Lee’s didactic tendencies mar a movie that absolutely doesn’t need over-explaining, but the underlying power of the historical story, Lee’s indictment of cinema (specifically Birth of a Nation but also blaxploitation), and his presentation of varieties of black political action and life provide plenty of juice and body. Standout supporting performances from Adam Driver (as the Jewish officer who impersonates the “white Ron Stallworth”), Topher Grace (as a nebbishy David Duke), and Harry Belafonte (as lynching witness Jerome Turner) help it across the Recommended line. –KH

The Dream Years (Fiction, Lisa Goldstein, 1985) A Surrealist writer in 1920s Paris falls in love with a radical singer from forty years in the future. More a light fable than a full novelistic feast, and not as intense as some of her other work, but a lovely variation on themes of love, revolution, art, and temporality. –KH

Ex Libris: the New York Public Library (Film, US, Frederick Wiseman, 2017) Three and a half hour documentary presents an impressionistic portrait of the NYPL system, from after school programs at local branches to high-profile author appearances to executive meetings grappling with its changing mission in an e-information era. Wiseman uses his hallmark epic-length verite technique to compose a quietly compelling paean to vital social services.—RDL

Good

Hell Baby (Film, US, Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon, 2013) Expectant parents (Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb) move into a decrepit New Orleans manor, the Maison de Sang, unaware that one of the twins in her womb is the spawn of Satan. Horror comedy packed with actors mostly from “The State” and “Childrens Hospital” knows its exorcism movie tropes and is always gleefully prepared to kill momentum to extend the premise of a scene beyond its limits. Keegan-Michael Key is particularly hilarious as an affable squatter with strong opinions about ghost dogs.—RDL

Predator 2 (Film, US, Stephen Hopkins, 1990) In the gang-plagued future Los Angeles of 1997, maverick cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) takes the presence of a Predator (and a bigfooting federal task force headed by Gary Busey) personally. About half of this film is kind of brilliant, and half is kind of idiotic (including a sorta racist parallel between the Predator and Jamaican “Killer Voodoo” gangbangers) but on balance Glover keeps enough of the human shock and anger real to remain engaging throughout. RIP, Bill Paxton. –KH

Second Skin (Play, Kristin Idaszak, 2018) Three women tell their interlocking monologues on stage: a daughter (Stephanie Shum), her mother (Paula Ramirez), and a selkie (Hilary Williams). Idaszak’s stories and their tellers (especially Ramirez) compel in the moment, and the production design is first-rate, but the play — possibly because the characters never directly interact — doesn’t screw down the uncanny the way it could have. [Disclosure, ad, and brag: Runs through October 18 at the Den Theater in Chicago in a production by WildClaw Theatre, where I am an Artistic Associate.]

Okay

Lifeline (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To, 1997) Firefighters, led by soft-hearted maverick Lau Ching-Wan, perform rescues during a rough patch that has colleagues from other stations treating them as as ill-starred jinxes. To musters his mastery of space and movement to deliver thrilling firefighting sequences, particularly the final act set piece. Too bad no one rescued him from the emotionally off-key scripting of its irrelevant soap opera scenes.—RDL

The Predator (Film, US, Shane Black, 2018) Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) stumbles onto Predator-on-Predator conflict in Mexico but still manages to endanger his son because the first Predator’s ship crash landed near his house in America or something? I got nothing. The game cast (especially Keegan-Michael Key) doing their best “direct to video 80s movie” bits drag this squib up to Okay, but the muddled (and re-shot) script, murky fight direction, and unthinkable waste of Jake Busey do not help. –KH

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
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Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister