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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sapient Dogs and a Vanishing Toyshop

September 26th, 2017 | Robin

The Pinnacle

Master of None Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang, 2017) Dev falls for an engaged friend and moves up in the food television world. The show leans even further into its innovative format, telling a story arc through episodes structured as individual short films. Its focus on representation has been widely praised already, so let’s note its phenomenal cinemascope-ratio cinematography, which gives it a visual weight rarely attempted in the comedy-drama genre.—RDL

Recommended

Fifteen Dogs (Fiction, Andre Alexis, 2015) Apollo and Hermes make a wager, granting human intelligence to a group of dogs at a downtown Toronto veterinary hospital. Works both as a fable about the relationship between awareness and happiness, and a compelling extrapolation of what the world might look like to sapient canines.–RDL

Jerry Before Seinfeld (Stand-up, Jerry Seinfeld, Netflix, 2017) Jerry Seinfeld performs his pre-1981 material in the West Side comedy dive he started out in, the Comic Strip, punctuated with (thankfully brief) reminiscences. As with virtually everything he’s done this millennium, this special shows Seinfeld’s work ethic and deep sense of his art form’s traditions while still being playful and, yes, funny. –KH

A Light Affliction: A History of Film Preservation and Restoration (Nonfiction, Michael Binder, 2014) Informed and accessible look at the field from the Lumieres to DCPs focuses as much on the quirky founding personalities of the preservation movement as on the technical challenges of keeping films alive. Fun fact: Hollywood resisted the switch from nitrate because its ultra-dangerous nature required highly trained operators, thus discouraging pirate screenings.—RDL

The Moving Toyshop (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1946) Poet Richard Cadogan stumbles onto a murder upstairs from a toyshop — which vanishes the next morning. Good thing he’s in Oxford, and friends with the detective don Gervase Fen. This assured mystery shifts between grim crime, classic detection, and giddy nigh-Wodehousian humor between breaths, while remaining tightly plotted and consistently characterized. P.D. James considered it a Pinnacle, which should tell you something. –KH

Queenpin (Fiction, Megan Abbott, 2007) Young woman groomed by a classy older mentor as a mob courier puts the mentorship in peril when she succumbs to the brutal charms of a degenerate gambler. Unlike most modern shots at period noir, Abbott gets the voice right, avoiding the competing shoals of parody and anachronism.—RDL

The Woman on the Beach (Film, US, Jean Renoir, 1947) Soon-to-retire, PTSD-haunted Coast Guard officer (Robert Ryan) falls for the restless wife (Joan Bennett) of a tormented, blind ex-painter (Charles Bickford.) Reskinned gothic in which the great French director absorbs a touch of Val Lewton strangeness from next door on the RKO backlot.—RDL

Good

The Greatest Show on Earth (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1952) Circus manager Brad (Charlton Heston) has to deal with lovestruck trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton), her rival (and his) The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), and the criminal element (Lawrence Tierney) while keeping the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus in the black. Betty Hutton is the weak link here, but you also get the wonderful Gloria Grahame as an elephant trainer, and Jimmy Stewart as an enigmatic clown. Unfairly lambasted for beating High Noon for the Best Picture Oscar — it’s no High Noon, but it’s no Crash, either — this final DeMille spectacle movie provides ample circus spectacle, a magnificent train crash, and even some intermittently excellent tension on and off the high wire. If you’re pro-circus I’d call it Recommended. For extra fun play “spot the Spielberg engrams,” as this was the first movie Spielberg remembers seeing. –KH

mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) Dutiful wife (Jennifer Lawrence) to a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) spirals into hallucinatory nightmare when he invites oddball strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) into the home she’s painstakingly renovating. Becomes less interesting as the allegory fully clunks into view, but still worth seeing for its disorienting use of sound design and handheld extreme close-ups.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Maternal Madness and Puzzle Mysteries

September 19th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Robin has been off at the Toronto Film Festival. Check out his compendium of capsule reviews. Those capsules will reappear here when films get theatrical or home video releases over the next 18 months or so.

Recommended

Logan Lucky (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2017) In its essentials a country & western Ocean’s 11, like every great cover version this film shows the core strengths of the original while reveling in the joy of a new riff. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver head a low-key superb ensemble cast, outshone only by David Holmes’ incongruous yet satisfying score and Soderbergh’s butter-smooth direction. A less confident director could have turned the comedy into condescension; it’s to Soderbergh’s great credit that instead the West Virginia milieu plays the hero. –KH

Mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) A poet (Javier Bardem) seeking a creative spark and his young wife and muse (Jennifer Lawrence) dwell in Edenic isolation until … Beginning as Polanski-esque psychological thriller and veering into full-blown Gnostic Buñuel in the third act, this is an almost paradigmatically Aronofsky film: shot with power and control, about a disintegrating character and the nature of inspiration, and likely to piss off at least half its audience. –KH

Night in Alachua County (Play, Jennifer Rumberger, 2017) Southern Gothic meets necromancy in this tale of three generations of Florida women (there are no male speaking parts) abandoned, abused, and trying to survive on their own terms. The cicada-toned dread builds strong through dark revelations, not all of them magical. — KH (Runs through October 7 in an intimate, eerie production by Chicago’s WildClaw Theatre.)

Good

The Spy and the Thief (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1971) Fourteen Silver-Age mystery stories by the king of the puzzle-story, seven starring British crytpanalyst Jeffery Rand, seven starring smooth “thief of the worthless” Nick Velvet. The Velvet stories are always good, since they usually have a heist to go with the puzzle, and Hoch’s invention gets freer play. The Rand stories remain a mixed bag, although some of them show nice period detail. –KH

Okay

The Spy Who Read Latin (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1990) This collection of seven Hoch puzzle mystery stories about British cryptanalyst Jeffery Rand doesn’t show Hoch at his best. The puzzles, which should be naturals for a cryptographer detective, are by and large too simple, and the spy atmosphere is less than convincing. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Damn Fine Cup of [REDACTED]

September 5th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Twin Peaks: The Return (Television, US, David Lynch, 2018) Grotesque, otherworldly servitors of good engineer earthly events to awaken FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) from a false existence his evil doppelganger has spun him into to prevent his full emergence from a generation-long stint in the pocket universe known as the Black Lodge. Gobsmacking phantasmagoria of narrative, genre, dream, nostalgia, aging, America dualism, and the myth of [REDACTED.]—RDL

Recommended

The Brink’s Job (Film, US, William Friedkin, 1978) Played by a posse of magnificent character actors led by Peter Falk, a gang of two-bit lugs stumbles into a perfect crime in 1950 Boston: heisting $2 million from the Brink’s headquarters office. Friedkin manages not just the tightrope of comedy and heist thriller, but also of making working-class dingbats his main characters without condescension. Special mention must be made of Warren Oates’ manic turn as an unstable ordnance expert. –KH

Charlie Varrick (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1973) Small-time bank robber Varrick (Walter Matthau) accidentally steals $750,000 in mob money from a small-time bank in New Mexico, and has to stay two steps ahead of the cops, the Mafia, and his wild-eyed partner (Andy Robinson). A prime example of the surprisingly sparse “actually intelligent protagonist” genre. I’ve already seen this film, which I just watched again on the big screen, but I’m breaking the implied KARCM rules and posting here because it’s one of the best crime films ever made and you, our beloved backers, deserve to know that. –KH

Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (Nonfiction, Maurice Lévy, 1972 (trans. 1988)) In this short work, Lévy prefigures almost every major critical view of Lovecraft that would follow, from the psychoanalytic to the mythopoetic to the antimodernist. Lévy is especially good on the symbol-concept of the Lovecraftian abyss, which encompasses both the underground and outer space. –KH

Personal Shopper (Film, France, Olivier Assayas, 2017) Young woman with mediumistic powers (Kristen Stewart) works as stylist to a temperamental celebrity while waiting for her dead twin brother to send her a message from beyond. Stewart pushes her mannerisms to the limit in this enigmatic supernatural drama about temptation and loss.—RDL

Six Bridges to Cross (Film, US, Joseph Pevney, 1955) When thief and racketeer Jerry Florea (Tony Curtis) uses Boston cop Ed Gallagher (George Nader) as his alibi for an armored car company robbery, their lifelong friendship gets put to the test. Based on the 1950 Brink’s job but more concerned with emotion than criminology, Pevney’s film wins with Curtis’ strong, many-hued performance. –KH

Good

The Steel Trap (Film, US, Andrew L. Stone, 1952) Devoted family man (Joseph Cotten) decides to rob the bank where he works and escape to extradition-free Brazil with his unknowing wife (Teresa Wright) before his employers discover the theft. Part of a cycle of 50s noirs about squarejohn citizens spiraling into criminality, this is at its best when cranking suspense from a succession of tiny logistical hang-ups.—RDL

Okay

A Royal Affair (Film, Denmark, Nikolaj Arcel, 2012) English princess (Alicia Vikander) marries the Danish king Christian VII, an unstable twit whose charms dim compared to to their intense, Voltaire-loving court physician (Mads Mikkelsen.) Lushly appointed, often obvious historical drama kept alive by Mikkelsen’s star charisma.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Defenders (Television, Netflix, Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, 2017) Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage team up to keep Iron Fist out of the clutches of an ancient international conspiracy. Coasts for a while on the winning characterizations and performances established in Netflix’s first three Marvel shows before it becomes evident that the script needs every writing crutch in the book to fit two hours of story into an eight hour bag.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heists New and Noir

August 29th, 2017 | 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 our occasional podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Drive a Crooked Road (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1954) A femme fatale (Barbara Matthews) lures a lonely race car driver (Mickey Rooney) into being the wheelman for a robbery. Although the tension remains more theoretical than actual, Rooney’s wounded, stoic performance (and a strong villain turn by Kevin McCarthy) carries the film around the corners and down the stretch. –KH

Dunkirk (Film, UK, Christopher Nolan, 2017) Trapped British soldiers evacuate the beach at Mole as civilian boaters cross the Channel in an improvised rescue attempt. Experiential war epic composed almost entirely of suspense beats.–RDL

Kansas City Confidential (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1952) A perfect crime goes awry when the designated patsy (John Payne) begins to track down the four masked perpetrators. Taut script ratchets the tension steadily demonstrating the power of a strong story and supporting cast (Lee Van Cleef and Preston Foster especially)  even with workmanlike direction on a shoestring budget. –KH

Logan Lucky (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2017) Working class West Virginian brothers (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver) stage an ingenious, low-tech race track heist. Soderbergh ends filmdom’s least plausible retirement with this cheerfully loose, country ham variant on the Ocean’s series. I won’t spoil the comic riff aimed straight at the geek funnybone.–RDL

Plunder Road (Film, US, Hubert Cornfield, 1957) Five men rob a gold shipment from a government train in a pouring rainstorm and 13 taut, dialogue-free minutes of film. As in many great noirs, the camera lovingly fixates on the mechanism of the crime, in this case on the trucks used to heist the bullion and to try and run it from Utah to California. A veteran cast including Gene Raymond and Elisha Cook, Jr. drives the heist-realité scenario to a strong finish. –KH

Good

Classe Tous Risques (Film, France/Italy, Claude Sautet, 1960) After his escape from a robbery goes wrong, gangster Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) turns to his former Vichyite partners for assistance, triggering the slow-motion destruction of their comfortable postwar lives. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a young driver and hood who for reasons that remain opaque becomes Davos’ friend. After a high-test first act, the rest of the film settles into a more contemplative slow burn. –KH

Game of Thrones Season 7 (Television, US, HBO, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, 2017) With the board swept of minor players, factions vying for control of Westeros prepare to square off—but the White Walkers have other ideas. An admirable shift to brisker pacing, plus the show’s most thrilling set piece sequence, give way to a final two episodes that will stand forever in the annals of idiot plotting.—RDL

Okay

Dragnet (Film, US, Jack Webb, 1954) Full-color spinoff of the long-running police procedural TV show, playing like a somewhat more violent two-hour episode. Most interesting as camp fodder or as a look into Webb’s idea of what a cop movie should be, with a few wild swerves but (aside from an affecting but incongruous scene with Virginia Gregg as the victim’s widow) not much meat. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Zombies, Mutants and a Post-Con Nap

August 22nd, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

GenCon (Convention, US, Peter Adkison, Adrian Swartout, et al., 2017) shhh … don’t wake the podcasters … they’re very very tired … shhh –KH & RDL

The Girl With All the Gifts (Film, UK, Colm McCarthy, 2016) The titular girl is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) and among her gifts are politeness, eidetic memory, and symbiosis with the zombie plague. What could have gone wrong or remained routine with a lazier treatment becomes a mythic journey worthy of Matheson and Romero. Gorgeously lensed by Simon Dennis, and surgically scripted by M.R. Carey, this is easily the best zombie film since 28 Days Later. –KH

Recommended

Logan (Film, US, James Mangold, 2017) An aging Wolverine intent on protecting an ailing Professor X becomes grudging protector to a young girl whose healing powers, and claws, echo his own. To make an elegiac super-hero movie, Mangold looks to the elegiac western for a story dense with parental bonds, few of them literal.—RDL

Orphan Black Season 5 (Television, Canada, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, BBC America) As the supposedly immortal founder of Neolution (Stephen McHattie) steps from the shadows, the clones (Tatiana Maslany) make a final bid for freedom. In a great example of a concluding season done right, the show narrows the focus of its conspiracy plotline and saves plenty of room for character beats.–RDL

Good

By the Gun (Fiction, Richard Matheson, 1993) Reprinting four of Matheson’s Western tales from the 1950s magazines with two more recent stories, this collection shows off a sure hand with plot and character, but without the startling originality of Matheson’s horror and SF. Even in the 1950s, the prose Western was descending into kabuki, though, and these still perform well. –KH

Folktales of Brittany (Nonfiction, Elsie Masson, 1929) Quest and faerie motifs predominate in this selection of folk stories from France’s most distinctively haunted region. Packed with bizarre imagery, told in an accessible if sometimes twee fairy tale voice. If Gary had read this in 1977 we’d all own miniatures of snake-maned lions.—RDL

The Republic of Cthulhu (Nonfiction, Eric Wilson, 2016) Wilson applies somewhat jargon-y theory to Lovecraft, seeing in HPL’s anti-Kantian marriage of the sublime and the grotesque a model or precursor poetics of parapolitics; the recognition that humanism is as dead in political theory as it is in science and art. One doesn’t have to follow Wilson all the way to any of his conclusions (and his gibbering about 9/11 is particularly unproductive) to find valuable insights into Lovecraft’s aesthetics and its commonalities with both clandestine politics and conspiracist poetics. –KH

Engagingly Terrible

The Return of Dr. X (Film, US, Vincent Sherman, 1939) Maverick reporter stumbles onto the trail of a death-reversing doctor and his monstrous first subject (Humphrey Bogart), who happens to be the madder of the two scientists. Wisecracking journalist mystery that takes a swerve into sci-horror is infamous for the worst miscasting in cinema history, saddling Bogey with a role that should have gone to Lorre or Lugosi. It also shows how much assured direction, here from undersung stylist Sherman, can do to turn a nonsense pile of script pages into something watchable.—RDL

Count Your Hyenas or Declare Your Insufferability with New KARTAS Shirts

August 9th, 2017 | Robin

Ken and Robin are proud to announce the latest additions to their TeePublic merchandise store.

Wear these new designs as nature intended, or emblazon them on mugs, notebooks or phone cases.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Blonde, Some Apes, and Boccaccio

August 8th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Atomic Blonde (Film, US, David Leitch, 2017) Taking the neon gloss from Drive, the brutalist violence from Oldboy, the action tracking shot from Children of Men, the soundtrack from my mixtape circa 1988, and the plot from a random jar of jellybeans, Leitch’s first solo film makes a virtue of its amphigorous nature. Without Charlize Theron’s literally long-suffering performance, this would be shiny but forgettable; with her anchoring it, it leaves a deeper bruise. –KH

Detroit (Film, US, Kathryn Bigelow, 2017) A dozen characters’ lives cross at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit riots. The first three acts, filmed in verite Steadicam, build toward an intensely horrifying scenario that the more impressionistic finale doesn’t really pay off, but not every true story ends in catharsis … which is kind of the point. –KH

Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth 1961 to 1971 (Nonfiction, S.T. Joshi, ed., 2014) Painfully adolescent horror nerd Campbell writes to his hero’s publisher, and a strange friendship develops, ended only by Derleth’s death. You can almost taste Derleth’s seemingly instant decision to pay Lovecraft’s kindness to him forward, and his reward for his decency was the blossoming of the true successor to HPL that Derleth could never become. Poignant and revealing, with an affecting afterword by Campbell. –KH

The Little Hours (Film, US, Jeff Baena, 2017) In medieval Italy, a fugitive from his cuckolded master’s justice (Dave Franco) poses as a convent’s new deaf mute handyman, arousing the ardor of a trio of less than dedicated young nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci). Boccaccio adaptation uses contemporary dialogue and cadence to keep period fustiness at bay. John C. Reilly stands out among a strong comedy cast as a lax, befuddled priest.—RDL

War For the Planet of the Apes (Film, US, Matt Reeves, 2017) Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) forsakes his people for a quest of personal vengeance against megalomaniacal human military commander (Woody Harrelson.) Although John Ford leads the pack as a reference point here, you could structure an entire undergrad course around this fantasy action thriller’s densely layered selection of historical, cinematic and biblical allusions.—RDL

Good

The Graveyard Apartment (Fiction, Mariko Koike, 1993) Supernatural manifestations slowly escalate after a Tokyo couple with a young daughter moves into an apartment in an oddly under-occupied new building overlooking a cemetery and crematorium. Follows the current fashion of undergirding the haunted house tale with real estate anxiety and the J-horror technique of mixing the horrifying with the mundane. Finds an array of novel ways for ghosts to torment the living.—RDL

The Trip to Spain (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2017) Somewhat fictionalized versions of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again use a restaurant tour, this time of Spain, as an opportunity to riff, needle one another, and one-up each other’s impressions. The badinage never quite explodes into a comic set piece this time, leaving room for a heightened dose of the melancholy strain found in the series’ previous installments.—RDL

Quiet Please, Murder! (Film, US, John Larkin, 1942) While trying to tie off loose ends from a sale of a forged Shakespeare folio to a Nazi agent, a fence (Gail Patrick) gets trapped in a public library between her lover the forger (a super-oily George Sanders), the Nazis, and a private eye (Richard Denning). Weirdly zippy proto-noir rockets along on bottle drama and book-stack chases with the occasional languorous pause to discuss Freud and masochism. –KH

Okay

The Alexander Inheritance (Fiction, Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, and Paula Goodlett, 2017) A top-of-the-line cruise ship is somehow teleported back in time to the Mediterranean in 321 BC and gets involved in the wranglings of Alexander the Great’s successors. Flint’s collaborators haven’t got his bravura ability to bang out prose that keeps the pulse and pages racing, so the lack of real characters (aside perhaps from Queen Roxane) or dramatic payoff is much more noticeable here; the too-numerous points of view and the abrupt ending imply this is intended as the first in an endless 1632-style series. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: French Murder, American Bunco

August 1st, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Deadlier Than the Male (aka A Time for Murder) (Film, France, Jean Duvivier, 1956) Beloved chef (Jean Gabin) fails to suspect a grift when he welcomes his ex-wife’s daughter (Danièle Delorme) into his home. Gallic noir builds to some sharply lurid sequences while giving its femme fatale greater complexity than the archetype generally affords.—RDL

Denial (Film, UK, Mick Jackson, 2016) When holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sues her for libel in a British court, American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) finds it hard to trust her legal team’s buttoned-down strategy. David Hare’s script finds the throughline for this real-life legal procedural in the clash between passionate truth-telling and dispassionate pursuit of victory.—RDL

The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con (Nonfiction, Amy Reading, 2012) In the late teens and early 20s, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet, swindled by a team of confidence men in a classic big con, fills his holsters with guns and embarks on an epic quest to find them and put them all away. Reading separates truth from embellishment in this engaging historical account, which widens out as needed to tell the story of American swindling from Ben Franklin’s day to the opening decades of the 20th century.—RDL

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2017) Peter Parker’s efforts to prove himself to newfound father figure Tony Stark get him in over his head with a crew of super-tech hijackers led by a disgruntled small businessman (Michael Keaton.) Have to admire a take on a mega-tentpole franchise that says, “You know what this property really needs? A smaller scale and lower stakes,” and then delivers on precisely that.—RDL

Things Fall Apart (Fiction, Chinua Achebe, 1958) Bullying Igbo patriarch’s determination to prove himself unlike his feckless father faces the ultimate obstacle when white men arrive to introduce their religion and impose their law. Complicates its narrative of cultural dissolution under colonialism by presenting it through the perspective of a profoundly flawed protagonist.—RDL

Good

Told After Supper (Fiction, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891) Short linked collection of comic ghost stories that mostly exist to subvert the stereotypical Victorian “Christmas ghost story” narrative. Jerome’s prose bounces along and it’s a rapid, short read, but I suspect most people haven’t read enough bad Victorian ghost tales to get much charge from his gentle parody. –KH

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Film, France, Luc Besson, 2017) Based on a comic I haven’t read, Besson’s bright, optimistic SFstravaganza stars Cara Delevingne (surprisingly good in the role) and Dane DeHaan (thickly unappealing) as agents of the Human Federation drawn into a nefarious, and somewhat over-exposited, plot. Very much the successor of Besson’s zany and underrated Fifth Element, Valerian has much the same energy and momentum, though slightly less anarchic freedom. If you love Besson’s vision like I do, call it Recommended, but Dane DeHaan is sadly no Bruce Willis. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Quatermass Evacuation

July 25th, 2017 | KenH

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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Dunkirk (Film, UK/US, Christopher Nolan, 2017) Expertly and constantly building tension for 100 minutes across three braided timelines moving at different speeds, Nolan uses minimal dialogue and Hans Zimmer’s overwhelming score to tell three men’s stories as synecdoche for the whole evacuation. Everything about the film is technically masterful, but I could single out Mark Rylance’s performance and the air combat scenes, starring a restored Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IA that Nolan loves like no man has ever loved an airplane. –KH

Recommended

Curry; A Global History (Nonfiction, Colleen Taylor Sen, 2012) Mouth-watering in its concision, this account shows how an infinitely adaptable meal concept, formed by conquest and propelled by diaspora diffused through most of the world. Of the foods mentioned here I was pleased to see that about the only one I can’t hunt down and eat here in Toronto would be the Africaner  variety.—RDL

The Eternal Champion (Fiction, Michael Moorcock, 1970) John Daker, the iteration of an eternally extant, thousand-faced hero who apprehends his true nature, is drawn to a war-ravaged earth to once more become Erekosë, a death-dealing champion who’s maybe a touch slow to recognize the genocidal intention of his royal summoner. This is the book in which Moorcock grapples most directly with the contradictions of his antinomian perspective and his interest in Campbellian heroism. All of us working in the fantasy genre could stand a refresher look at his ability to blend heightened language with storytelling concision.—RDL

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies (Nonfiction, Ileana Douglas, 2015) Mentioning her personal life only to the extent necessary to make the stories work, the always-memorable character actress cues up her best anecdotes. Covers her bond with movie star grandfather Melvyn, numinous encounters with Peter Sellers, Lee Marvin and Roddy McDowall, and the professional side of her long relationship with Martin Scorsese.—RDL

Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale (Nonfiction, Andy Murray, rev ed 2017) A biography nearly worthy of its subject, perhaps the greatest TV writer of the 20th century. Murray provides as much insight into Kneale the man as he can, but focuses (as Kneale would not have) on the scripts that shaped two genres on small screens and large. Future biographers may be able to go deeper into the toxic bureaucracy of the BBC, but Murray gets extra points for lengthy summaries and discussion of now-lost masterpieces such as The Road and The Year of the Sex Olympics. –KH

Quatermass and the Pit (Nonfiction, Kim Newman, 2014) In this volume of the BFI Film Classics series, Kim Newman provides his customary detailed and discursive attention to Roy Ward Baker’s 1967 triumph. After a thorough breakdown of the earlier incarnations of Nigel Kneale’s hero, Newman follows the film scene by scene, pointing out good work by director, actors, and Kneale’s script, reinforcing its position as the best of the Quatermass films, and perhaps the Professor’s best single outing. –KH

Saving Mr. Wu (Film, China, Ding Sheng, 2015) Beijing police scramble to locate and rescue a Hong Kong movie star (Andy Lau) from ruthless kidnappers. Fractured chronology and a visual style inspired by latter-day Michael Mann add layers to this police procedural thriller.  The role of stalwart police captain hunting the bad guys is played by the victim in the real case that inspired the film! —RDL

Good

Requiem at Rogano (Fiction, Stephen Knight, 1979) Conspiracy theorist Knight’s only novel is a murder mystery set in 1902. A retired Scotland Yard inspector and his historian nephew discover eerie links between the ongoing Deptford Strangler murders and a series of stranglings in Rogano, Italy in 1454. And then things get downright weird. Alternating between the hoariest of Edwardian detections and po-faced occultism shouldn’t work, and for patches it doesn’t, but it pulls together at last in a denouement that weirdly plays fair with the reader despite all the hugger-mugger. –KH

Under the Shadow (Film, UK/Qatar/Jordan/Iran, Babak Anvari, 2016) This psychological ghost (or technically, djinn) story mirrors the internal disintegration of frustrated mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) with the external terror of wartime 1988 Tehran under the Ayatollah. Excellent sound design and cinematography only go so far, and the elongated ending dissipates much of the tension the naturalist first two acts builds up. –KH

Okay

Vir Das: Abroad Understanding (Stand-up, Netflix, 2017) Intercuts Indian comedian/actor Das performing the same act for a stadium in Delhi and a basement comedy club in New York: like much of Das’ material, better in concept than delivery. Occasional chuckles marble the earnestness; Das is best in his moments of wry irony. –KH

Not Recommended

Child 44 (Film, US/UK, Daniel Espinosa, 2015) Very loosely based on the Andrei Chikatilo murders, this sort-of detective sort-of thriller admirably drowns us in Stalinist murk but by about the 90-minute mark woolen aesthetics and ridiculous Russian accents smother what little life or momentum the film possesses. Tom Hardy mostly stares uncomprehendingly throughout, not a good look for a detective. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spidey, Big Sick and the Cash That Brings Doom

July 18th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

The Big Sick (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2017) When the girlfriend (Zoe Kazan) who recently broke up with him when she realized he’d been hiding her from his traditionalist parents falls sick and is placed in a coma, comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani) awkwardly bonds with her worried parents (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano). Based on the marriage origin story of Nanjiani and co-writer Emily Gordon, this touching and funny comedy-drama holds fast to its sense of real lives lived.—RDL

Fool’s Gold (Fiction, Dolores Hitchens, 1958) A pair of young crooks in the classic sociopath plus follower pairing decide to steal a cache of money stored in an old spinster’s house, even if it was left there by a tough character from Vegas. Noirish suspenser of strongly characterized and mostly terrible people making terrible decisions, to results that spin out of control in unpredictable ways, Later adapted, all but unrecognizably, into Godard’s most entertaining film, Band of Outsiders.—RDL

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Nonfiction, Mary Roach, 2016) Survey of US military science projects that aim to protect soldiers delves into such topics as stink bombs, submarine survival, the biomechanics of heat prostration, and why shark repellent isn’t a thing. When a horrible fly creature shows up in “The Wars” segment of the Yellow King RPG, you’ll know to thank Mary Roach, who gives breezy pop-sci a good name.—RDL

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2017) The secret to a good superhero movie is to make a good movie and put a superhero in it: this is a good high-school comedy with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in it. With the addition of Michael Keaton’s blue-collar, relatable Vulture as the refreshingly not-idiotic villain, it becomes fully Recommended; Watts cheats the Marvel formula by skipping the origin and focusing on the goofy fun of web-slinging. –KH

Good

Two Bottles of Relish: The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories (Fiction, Lord Dunsany, 2016) A lovely edition of Dunsany’s 1952 collection of mystery and crime short stories starts off very, very strong with the classic title story. The rest of the tales don’t show off Dunsany’s effortless prose like his fantasies did, but are worth reading for fans of somewhat old-fashioned detective-story formalism and occasional grue. –KH

Okay

Keanu (Film, US, Peter Atencio, 2016) Surburban cousins (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) pose as murderous drug dealers in an effort to retrieve the titular adorable kitten. Puts the sensibility of the Key & Peele sketch show through the studio blanderizer, which might not be noticeable with a higher  jokes per minute ratio.—RDL

Stranger on the Third Floor (Film, US, Boris Ingster, 1940) Reporter who testifies against a young man (Elisha Cook Jr.) accused of murder falls into a doubt freak-out after his conviction, beginning to suspect the weird, murdery-seeming man with the scarf (Peter Lorre) he spots hanging around the neighborhood. Slim script both enlivened and somewhat overloaded by a feverish blast of film noir expressionism, including a dream sequence that stops just one step short of the full Caligari.—RDL

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Flying Clock
Robin
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