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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Into the Poirot-Verse

April 9th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

High Life (Film, France, Claire Denis, 2019) Death row inmates, including a monkish resister (Robert Pattinson) and a controlling scientist (Juliette Binoche) take a one-way spaceship journey beyond the solar system to send astronavigational and reproductive data back to Earth. Hypnotic and distressing, horrible and beautiful vision of hijacked fecundity.—RDL Seen at TIFF, now in US theatrical release.

Recommended

Jorge Luis Borges (Critical Lives) (Nonfiction, Jason Wilson, 2006) Concise biography of the iconic Argentine fantasist teases out the connections between the short stories and the experiences of their author. Even before becoming fully blind in 1955, Borges led a circumscribed existence, so a short bio like this is the way to reckon with the life behind the work.—RDL

Lucha Mexico (Film, US, Alex Hammon &, Ian Markiewicz, 2016) Documentary profiles the stars of the various Mexican wrestling circuits, many of them second generation performers, as bruised and battered heroes of and for the working class. Goes behind the expected layer of outlandish stagecraft to find the poignant reality outside the ring.—RDL

Swan Song (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1947) The death of odious opera star Edwin Shorthouse looks like suicide by hanging — but detective don Gervase Fen solves the locked room mystery with his customary élan, though with less of Crispin’s customary riotous humor. Here, Crispin seems to care a bit more about his side characters’ emotional lives (and about his musical setting), deepening the book nicely. –KH

Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe (Nonfiction, Adam Zamoyski, 2008) Fast-paced, stylish history of the 1920 Russo-Polish War and its climactic “Miracle on the Vistula” that saved peace and democracy in Eastern Europe for two decades. Zamoyski concentrates on the military maneuvers, sidelining the political dimension — a bit of a shame, given how readable Zamoyski can be on such topics. –KH

Good

The Highwaymen (Film, US, John Lee Hancock, 2019) Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) come out of retirement in 1934 to hunt down the killers Bonnie and Clyde. Old Costner is great in any rifle-toting squinting role, and once Harrelson shows up to rescue the script from serial cliche this Western/policier finds a rhythm, but “more historically accurate than Arthur Penn” is not in itself a reason to make a movie. –KH

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (Film, Australia, Mark Hartley, 2010) With equal parts rue and perverse pride, interviewees recount the wild period in the early 70s when Roger Corman and others took advantage of ultra-cheap conditions to make a string of boundary-trampling exploitation flicks in the Philippines. Documentary covers an understandably unheralded movie scene rife with paradox, from the films’ misogynistic feminism to a reliance on revolutionary themes made with the eager assistance of the Marcos dictatorship.—RDL

Murder on the Orient Express (Film, US/UK, Sidney Lumet, 1974) Detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) solves the murder of American thug Ratchet (Richard Widmark) on the titular train. Paul Dehn’s script highlights Christie’s mystery, and Lumet deepens characterization in the all-star cast, with excellent performances from (among others) Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, and Vanessa Redgrave. Finney, however, plays Poirot with a hunched posture and nasal Belgian accent that never seem remotely natural. –KH

Shazam! (Film, US, David F. Sandberg, 2019) Orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gains the power of the titular wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and becomes [Captain Marvel] (Zachary Levi). The strength of the film lies in its amiable nature and in the strong casting of Batson and his sidekick Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer); these carry it over a drawn-out origin story and through a too-long final showdown. –KH

Okay

Murder on the Orient Express (Film, US, Kenneth Branagh, 2017) Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solves the murder of American thug Ratchet (Johnny Depp) on the titular train. Branagh spends far more time on 65mm tracking shots and bombastic action sequences than establishing the mystery or even directing his all-star cast, who mostly fall back on their favored tics instead; Michelle Pfeiffer runs away with the story, such as it is. Branagh’s Poirot has OCD rather than merely being a fussbudget, but Branagh does intermittently channel the detective’s supreme arrogance. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: As Louise Brooks finds clues, a secret struggle to control feng shui sites rages

April 2nd, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

Buried for Pleasure (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1948) Adrift after editing Langland’s poetry, detective don Gervase Fen decides on a whim to run for Parliament. But his would-be constituency suffers not just from murders, but escaped lunatics, frustrated love, and obsessive pub renovations, leaving Crispin ample scope for his Wodehousian comic instincts. In this one, the side plots outshine the murder, but Fen makes as good a straight man as he does a sleuth. –KH

Fengshui (Film, South Korea, Park Hee-kon, 2018?) Righteous geomancer aasists a callow king boxed in by his chief minister, who has gained a lock on the nation’s qi power by installing his ancestors in auspicious graves. Court intrigue drama tells a secret history of Korea as a fight over places of special power. –RDL

Louise Brooks: Detective (Comics, Rick Geary, 2015) Geary turns his crime-seeking eye to a fictional mystery involving washed-up actress Louise Brooks in 1942 Wichita. The actual mystery is a fine short, but Geary’s real strength as always is his strong line art and his subtle ability to evoke milieu. –KH

Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Nonfiction, Bill Bryson, 2007) Part of the short-form “Eminent Lives” series, Bryson’s mini-biography of the world’s greatest playwright happily brings speculation about the Swan of Avon back to the thin grounds of fact, while serving as a fine primer on Shakespeare’s life and work. A good-humored, but resolutely skeptical, roundup of the “anti-Stratfordian” theorists puts the perfect coda on an evening’s read. –KH

Young Törless (Film, Germany, Volker Schlöndorff, 1966) Prim new boarding school student becomes a complicit observer to the abuse of a classmate. Subtle realism and a sense of place give breathing room to this moral tale, based on a 1906 novel but suffused with consciousness of the Holocaust.—RDL

Good

Who Is Dracula’s Father? (Nonfiction, John Sutherland, 2017) Sutherland teases out some inconsistencies and mysteries in Bram Stoker’s masterpiece novel, but never drills very deep into any of them. Still, a handy resource for Dracula Dossier players or Directors. –KH

Okay

Us (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2019) On a visit to their summer home, a prosperous black family meets their monstrous doppelgangers. What begins as a superbly uncanny “underclass horror” film suddenly lurches tonally into fightemups and narratively into incoherence. Lupita Nyong’o is wonderful in both roles in every moment, but without a meaningful throughline, even she can’t save the film from its, er, monstrous doppelganger. –KH

Venom (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2018) Maverick reporter (Tom Hardy) screws up his relationship with his lawyer fiancée (Michelle Williams) while investigating her science mogul client (Riz Ahmed) but gets a shot at redemption through his merger with a murderous alien parasite. Tongue-in-cheek CGI fest plays with the werewolf motif and intermittently achieves dumb fun.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: An Iceman, a Cartoonist and Shipboard Hijinks

March 19th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Film, US, Gus van Sant, 2017) After a motorized wheelchair wipeout attracts curious skateboard kids to his sketchbook, cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) recalls his accident and journey through 12-step. Achronological biopic filled with the director’s love for the scruffy and scrappy inhabitants of his Portland milieu.—RDL

Iceman (Film, Germany/Italy/Austria, Felix Randau, 2017) This biopic of Ötzi (d. 3300 BCE) casts him as Kelab (Jürgen Vogel), shaman for a small proto-Rhaetian settlement, who sets out to avenge his family’s murder and the theft of the holy Tineka. Jakub Bejnarowicz’ gorgeous wide-angle shots of the Alps firmly establish the Neolithic Western vibe. Randau’s decision to leave the proto-Rhaetian dialogue unsubtitled builds immersion but (along with everyone being a mass of fur and hair) means characters remain distant. –KH

Romance on the High Seas (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1948) Vivacious singer (Doris Day) on a Caribbean cruise falls for the detective (Jack Carson) hired to follow the woman she has been hired to impersonate. Top talents, including the Epstein brothers and I. A. L. Diamond at at the typewriter, elevate a musical comedy trifle in zowie Technicolor.—RDL

Good

Better Call Saul Season 4 (Television, US, AMC, Vince Gilligan, 2018) A frustrated Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) struggles for self-respect without his law license as Mike (Jonathan Banks) supervises a secret construction project for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito.) With every season, the divide between the fresh and emotionally acute main plotline, and the unnecessary prequelizing of the routine crime drama off to the side, grows more glaring.—RDL

Cat Sense (Nonfiction, John Bradshaw, 2013) Anthrozoologist Bradshaw tilts at the windmill of figuring out cats, from the direction of genetics and kitten development. Nothing super new here if you’ve read other cat-science books, and if not this makes a fine overview, but don’t be misled by the subtitle: only one chapter in eleven deals at all with human-feline relationships. –KH

The Drummer (Film, HK, Kenneth Bi, 2007) A heedless young man (Jaycee Chan), sent to Taiwan to by his triad boss dad (Tony Leung Ka Fai) to escape a rival gangster’s vengeance, seeks belonging with a group of Zen drummers. Leung’s star charisma supplies the memorable moments in this fusion of crime flick and moral homily.—RDL

Okay

The Lodgers (Film, Ireland, Brian O’Malley, 2017) An ancestral curse, complete with bad nursery rhyme, traps twin siblings Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) in their moldering mansion in 1920 Ireland. This watery Gothic barely lives up to its premise, and never to its promise, despite one or two flashes of weirdness and intermittent effort from the stars. A potentially interesting subtext about the English presence in Ireland remains slack.–KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Brie Goes Kree

March 12th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Russian Doll Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler & Leslye Headland, 2019) After Nadia (Lyonne) dies on her birthday, she enters a time loop, and what’s worse, her cat is missing. So New York you can smell the urine, this amazingly deft comedy assembles influences, music cues, and incisive, natural performances (especially Elizabeth Ashley as Nadia’s surrogate mother figure) into a story about human damage that (almost) never kills its own buzz. –KH

Recommended

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Nonfiction, Gerard Russell, 2014) A survey of minority religions in the Middle East and Central Asia looks at offshoots from the big three (Samaritans, Copts), esoteric faiths (Mandaeans, Yazidis, Druze), the monotheistic Zoroastrians and the polytheistic Kalasha. Scholarship and first person reportage illuminates details of theology and daily life that news stories of sectarian conflict can’t help but gloss over.—RDL

The Laughing Heirs (Film, Germany, Max Ophuls, 1933) Misunderstandings proliferate as the young inheritor to a Rhine Valley winery, commanded by the will to abstain for a month, woos the daughter of its main competitor. Fizzy ode to German wine culture and the joy of living, rendered retrospectively poignant by its release date.

Who is Harry Nilsson? (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (Film, US, John Scheinfeld, 2010) Documentary profiles the beloved singer-songwriter, whose life heartbreakingly follows the all too familiar pattern of self-destructive genius. Formally straightforward but delivers the emotion of Nilsson’s life with access to both the superstar friends who accompanied him on his wild sprees and an audio memoir he recorded prior to his death.—RDL

Good

The Blue Gardenia (Film, US, Fritz Lang, 1953) With a conflicted newspaper columnist (Richard Conte) on her trail, a jilted switchboard operator (Ann Baxter) fears arrest after an encounter with a creepy date (Raymond Burr) ends in his death. Uneven mix of light business and noir, with Lang bringing his full attention to the latter and indifferently staging the former.—RDL

Captain Marvel (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019) Alien warrior (Brie Larson) crashes on grunge-era earth in pursuit of enemies, teams with SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson.) Script blunts its emotional arc by hiding its setup from both hero and audience. Kicks up a notch whenever Larson and Jackson get to play buddy cop beats.—RDL

Dave Made a Maze (Film, US, Bill Watterson, 2017) Woman returns from business trip to find that her creatively blocked boyfriend (Nick Thune) has trapped himself in a cardboard labyrinth/pocket dimension he built in their living room. Whimsical horror-comedy plays as a Gondryesque remake of Cube. No, not that Bill Watterson.—RDL

Okay

Captain Marvel (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019) Kree super-weapon Vers (Brie Larson) flees the shapeshifting Skrull general Talos (“Mendo” (are you happy now Travis Johnson)) to Nineties Earth where she meets Nick Fury (CGI and Samuel L. Jackson) and discovers her true past. Cookie-cutter Marvel origin flick saddled with truly awful, choppy, murky fight scenes criminally wastes Annette Bening, but sporadically comes to life when Larson gets to play a human. –KH

Odd Thomas (Film, US, Stephen Sommers, 2013) The ominous appearance of spectral fear-eaters puts a small town psychic detective (Anton Yelchin) on the trail of an imminent massacre. Hyped up direction merely emphasizes the flaws of a script weighed down by the expository demands of its source material, a series novel by Dean R. Koontz.—RDL

Not Recommended

Occult Features of Anarchism (Nonfiction, Erica Lagalisse, 2019) Intended as a (needed) corrective to the hyper-materialist secular consensus of left-anarchism, this slim tract shies away from specifics and (as in the case of the witchcraft trials) sometimes gets the generalities embarrassingly wrong. (Lagalisse at least cites James Webb’s The Occult Underground, which did all this much better, in 1974 no less.) There’s the germ of a good long-read in the concluding essay, on the notion of conspiracy theories as revolutionary consciousness in ovo, but it feels tacked on. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: New York Time Loops and Celery Destruction

March 5th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Russian Doll Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler & Leslye Headland, 2019) Hard-living video game coder (Lyonne) gets caught in a timeloop that begins in a bathroom at her birthday party and ends in a variety of sudden demises. From its burnished look to the sublimity of its soundtrack needle drops to Lyonne’s revelatory performance, this is one of those first seasons so galvanizingly perfect that you fear they’ll make a second.—RDL

Recommended

Because of the Cats (Fiction, Nicolas Freeling, 1964) Inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam police investigates a gang of spoiled rich kids and finds something darker at work. Barely a mystery, more a study of motive than a policier, it offers the satisfactions of both in a slightly off-kilter way. –KH

High Flying Bird (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2019) Wily agent (André Holland) squeezed by an NBA lockout uses a naive rookie (Melvin Gregg) as leverage in a bigger game. Fast-talking business procedural questions the power imbalances between young athletes and the big money structure that surrounds them. Looks surprisingly sleek and gorgeous for a flick shot on an iPhone.—RDL

Magnificent Obsession with Alicia Malone ,Episode 6: Alyson Dee Moore (Podcast, 2019) Malone, ex of Filmstruck and now of TCM, brings deep knowledge and love of all cinema eras to her new podcast. Here she interviews a longtime Foley artist, who shares surprising secrets of sound effects recording, from the field’s relatively young pedigree to the centrality of walking noises.—RDL

Startup (Fiction, Doree Shafrir, 2017) A wayward dick pic interweaves the lives of five denizens of NYC’s tech scene. Comic novel of douchebag men and the women who tolerate them treats the mores of its social layer with the precision of gaze Edith Wharton trained on the city’s gilded age.—RDL

Good

Mad Monkey Kung Fu (Film, HK, Lau Kar-leung, 1979) Impulsive petty thief (Hou Hsiao) convinces maimed ex-martial artist (Chia-Liang Liu) to train him, so he can take on town crooks. Athletic clowning and brutal plot turns meet up on the Shaw Brothers standing sets.—RDL

The Spook Who Sat By The Door (Fiction, Sam Greenlee, 1969) Hired as the token first black CIA officer, Dan Freeman uses his intelligence and insurgency training to mount a Black revolution in Chicago. Didactic and angry it may be (but no more so than any average Jerry Pournelle novel), but the bald narrative builds to an effective revolutionary thriller. –KH [Note: The Kindle version overwrites several pages with pages from another book entirely, as does at least one recent reprint.]

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rigors of Space and Faith

February 19th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

At Balthazar: The New York Brasserie at the Center of the World (Nonfiction, Reggie Nadelson, 2017) Portrait of iconic NYC brasserie uses the conceit of a day’s service, from breakfast to late night drinks, to reveal the many levels of its organization, including decor, sourcing, staffing, and, of course, cooking. Beguiling food journalism shows the stunning scale of an operation that thrives on attention to detail.—RDL

Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) After the apparent closure of the previous installment and Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) in jail writing his memoirs, a new rift opens in the Hiroshima mob between old-school hotheads and a legitimacy seeking, corporate-style leader. The long-running series ends with a jolt of manic energy, largely injected by the introduction of crime flick icon Jo Shiseido as a splenetic senior yakuza.—RDL

First Man (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2018) Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) seals himself off from tragedy over the decade he spends in NASA’s astronaut program before walking on the Moon. One wonders what film Clint Eastwood (originally tabbed to direct) would have made of a stoic hero whose only antagonist is physics, but Chazelle seems as obsessively focused as his subject on getting to the Moon. Gosling and Claire Foy (who plays Janet Armstrong) refuse each other so intensely it’s almost a relief to strap into a tin can riveted to high explosives. Cool, almost elliptical editing by Tom Cross performs silent miracles here. –KH

First Reformed (Film, US, Paul Schrader, 2018) Pastor of an ill-attended, historic church (Ethan Hawke) struggles with despair after a failed attempt to counsel a depressed environmental activist. Schrader’s admiration for Bresson has never been more apparent than in this austerely masterful recapitulation of his core motifs, weighted by affecting portrayals from Hawke, Amanda Seyfried as the activist’s wife and Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as a sympathetic mega-church leader.—RDL

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Film, US, RaMell Moore, 2018) Impressionist, verite documentary seeks sublimity in the quotidian as it reveals the lives of a young black family living in impoverished rural Alabama. Makes its way to an emotional punch that justifies the occasional shot of not much going on. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this weekend’s Academy Awards.—RDL

The Tale (Film, US, Jennifer Fox, 2018) When her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote as a 13-year-old, a documentary filmmaker (Laura Dern) re-examines the childhood sexual abuse she has mentally remythologized as a relationship with an older boyfriend. Innovative storytelling techniques capture the gulf between carefully constructed memory and retrospectively revealed reality.—RDL

Good

Paradox (Film, HK, Wilson Yip, 2017) Overprotective Hong Kong cop (Louis Koo) goes to Thailand in search of his missing daughter, where he teams up with a local detective (Yue Wu) against a highly connected conspiracy. The latest in the SPL series is more grim than romantically fatalistic, leaving  the Sammo Hung action direction as the main point of attraction. Note the distinct combat styles he gives each principal, including and Tony Jaa, who shows up just long enough for a special guest fight scene.—RDL

The Wandering Earth (Film, China, Frant Gwo, 2019) Disaffected youth Liu Qi’s (Qu Chuxiao) joyride on the Earth’s frozen surface coincides with a Jovian gravity spike that endangers the “Wandering Earth” mission — to fly the planet to Alpha Centauri to escape the Sun going nova. Based on the Cixin Liu story, this film combines SF blockbuster and disaster-movie tropes with general success, aided by Roc Chen’s metal-fatigue score. Thinly sketched characters emoting amid CGI maybe won’t grab you, but the spectacle provides plenty sense of wonder. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ghoul Thieves, Black Horror and Joseph Kennedy

February 12th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

Chappaquiddick (Film, US, John Curran, 2018) Cowardly weasel Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) allows his family fixers to save his political future following his negligent homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Ordinarily a film with a weakling protagonist goes slack, but this one motors on thanks to the just-the-facts script by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. Also crucial: strong turns from foil Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and gothic monster Joseph Kennedy (Bruce Dern), and most of all Clarke’s puffy, inverted Hamlet. –KH

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (Film, US, Xavier Burgin, 2019) Documentary surveys the depiction of the African-Americans in cinematic horror, culminating in Get Out and starting with the terrors in Birth of a Nation. Aptly for a piece so centered around questions of observing and being observed, the interviews are mostly staged with subjects sitting in cinema chairs, often together, discussing what they’re seeing up on the big screen. Interviewees include Robin Means Coleman, author of the namesake book it adapts.—RDL

The Gutter Prayer (Fiction, Gareth Hanrahan, 2019) A heist gone wrong thrusts a ghoul, a petrifying man and a young woman too tied to the gods into sweeping events in a fantastical industrial city. Throws a lot of balls into the air and deftly keeps them there as it inverts the standard Arthurian myth-pattern into a tale of escape from destiny. Gar of course is a boon friend and longtime collaborator, making this a plug and not a review. Though if I hadn’t found it Recommendation-worthy I wouldn’t be telling you or him about that.—RDL

John Mulaney: New in Town (Stand-up, John Mulaney, 2012) Back when we unknowingly loved John Mulaney for Stefon alone, the self-proclaimed “grown child” remained grateful for a lack of quicksand and eager to play with vocal intonations, a technique probably best abandoned now but still pretty funny. As he says about some “good-natured light anti-Semitism” in the show, “Go ahead and laugh, I’m the one who will get in trouble.” –KH

Merrily We Go to Hell (Film, US, Dorothy Arzner, 1932) Sheltered heiress (Sylvia Sidney) falls hard for charming drunk newspaper columnist (Fredric March). Swank-set melodrama offers an unsparing portrait of codependence, half a century before anyone used that word.—RDL

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Film, US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Documentary profile of pioneering children’s television creator Fred Rogers zeroes in on the fundamental seriousness underlying his work. Radical empathy, it turns out, requires a steely core. I’m a Mr. Dressup man myself, so if you want to get me all verklempt, make an Ernie Coombs documentary.—RDL

Good

Three Identical Strangers (Film, UK, Tim Wardle, 2018) Three young men accidentally discover that they are triplets, separated by their adoption agency, leading at first to NYC tabloid celeb status, then to revelations of experimental malfeasance. Formally straightforward documentary uncovers the dark scandal behind a once-seeming feel-good story.—RDL

You Were Never Really Here (Film, US/UK, Lynne Ramsay, 2018) Scarred, brooding killer Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers from PTSD and suicidal ideations in between murdering pedophile brothel keepers with a hammer. Phoenix inhabits the part, and Jonny Greenwood’s score is another triumph, but Ramsay confuses art-house oblique for original or interesting in this cut-space between Taxi Driver and Sin City. –KH

Okay

Apostle (Film, UK, Gareth Evans, 2018) His faith replaced with opium after torture during the Boxer Rebellion, lapsed missionary Thomas (Dan Stevens) travels incognito to the remote island run by cult leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen) to rescue his kidnapped sister. This overcrowded, dank riff on The Wicker Man spends its first two acts building atmosphere and frittering away narrative urgency and its last act bloodily expiating its first two acts. –KH

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Film, US, Felix E. Feist, 1950) When his rich lover (Jane Wyatt) guns down her husband, a gruff homicide lieutenant (Lee J. Cobb) covers it up, then works the case, with his overly keen new partner, who is also his kid brother. Workmanlike direction focuses on plot over theme or mood, but does summon up some noir atmosphere for the climactic sequence, staged at Fort Point, San Francisco.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lee, Jenkins, Mulaney, and Joaquin Phoenix with a Ball-Peen Hammer

February 5th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

BlacKkKlansman (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2018) While still a rookie, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs (John David Washington)  picks up the phone to initiate an investigation into a local KKK chapter, enlisting a colleague (Adam Driver) to adopt his persona for face-to-face encounters. Lee harnesses the pleasures and forward-moving structure of the undercover cop film to the essay style he previously explored in the underrated Bamboozled.—RDL

If Beale Street Could Talk (Film, US, Barry Jenkins, 2018) Young woman in 70s Harlem (Kiki Layne) discovers she is pregnant as she tries to get her man (Stephan James) exonerated on a false rape charge. Measured, reverent adaptation of a James Baldwin novel focuses on the suffocating pressure of lives lived under omnipresent oppression.—RDL

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City (Stand-up, John Mulaney, 2018) The man who made self-effacing Midwestern-ness funny again, John Mulaney kills in a series of beautifully constructed, dizzyingly cantilevered metaphors and sketches from a horse in a hospital to the uselessness of college (“a hundred … and twenty … thousand … dollars”) to the immortal “Street Smarts” stranger-danger lectures of the Chicago PD’s own J.J. Bittenbinder. Architecturally laughing at crime, that’s the Chicago way. –KH

You Were Never Really Here (Film, US/UK, Lynne Ramsay, 2018) Suicidal skullcracker (Joaquin Phoenix) faces deadly blowback when he accepts an assignment to rescue a politician’s underage daughter from a brothel. Arthouse take on the urban avenger genre featuring an intense performance from Phoenix and subjective visuals from an unreliable point of view.—RDL

Good

Glass (Film, US, M. Night Shyamalan, 2019) Mastermind Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) orchestrates the showdown between David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and the Horde (James McAvoy). Unifying the casts and storylines of his two most recent successes, Unbreakable and Split, Shyamalan turns his gift for gorgeous lensing and piebald scripting to lo-fi superheroics. We were never going to get a Marvel super-fight on a Blumhouse budget, but so much of the buildup works that — as usual for MNS — it would have been nice if someone had thought all the way through the ending. –KH

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (Film, India, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut, 2019) Hagiographic biopic of Rani Laxmibai (a fierce Kangana Ranaut) and her heroic fight against the hated British delivers as patriotism and spectacle, although the whole CGI budget got blown on a tiger leaving very little for artillery barrages. But with little complexity in characterization, script, or direction, it stops there. –KH

Okay

City of the Dead (Film, UK, John Llewellyn Moxey, 1960) Prompted by her professor (Christopher Lee), an inquisitive history major (Venetia Stevenson) investigates witch lore in an isolated Massachusetts town. This offbeat British production set in gothic America offers dynamic direction but blows its protagonist switch by subbing in a way less engaging second lead. AKA Horror Hotel. —RDL

Ocean’s 8 (Film, US, Gary Ross, 2018) Paroled convict Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) assembles a team of charming criminal specialists to execute a jewel heist at the Met Gala. The casting is the best part of this flat franchise extension, showing how much of the Clooney/Pitt trilogy’s buoyancy depended on Steven Soderbergh’s ineffable stylistic verve.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Robert Redford Then and Now

January 29th, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Cold War (Film, Poland/France/UK, Pawel Pawlikowsky, 2018) Communism and insecurity endanger and deform the love between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig), as well as the rest of art, music, and humanity. Lukasz Zal’s transcendent black-and-white cinematography and a cascade of period and source music carry us around Europe from 1949 to 1964, invoking without aping the Golden Age of film romance. Kot has trouble breaching Wiktor’s ironic distance, but Joanna Kulig should be a global star after this. –KH

Downhill Racer (Film, US, Michael Ritchie, 1969) Skier ruled by his ambitions (Robert Redford) pursues Olympic glory, as his tough coach (Gene Hackman) strives to keep his ego in check. Brilliant exponent of the American New Wave with thrilling skiing sequences, stunning photography, laconic script and verite editing style.—RDL

John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid (Stand-up, John Mulaney, 2015) Live at the Chicago Theater, Mulaney demonstrates the power of just the right word (“a rich man’s game of dice and small binoculars”) combined with years-in-the-making perfect timing. And call-backs. And character bits. And politics and observational humor and wife and parents and dog and all the other things you think can never be truly funny again until oh yeah a genius does them. –KH

Recommended

Burning (Film, South Korea, Lee Chang-Dong, 2018) Rusticating, unemployed shlemiel Jongsu (Yoon Ahin) meets cute Haemi (Jeon Jongseo) who claims he called her ugly as a child — after they hook up, he meets her rich playboy friend (lover?) Ben (Steven Yuen) who claims he burns greenhouses. Lee spends the next two-plus hours gradually simmering unease and uncertainty from these ingredients, Mowg’s mosquito-jazz score, and Murakami’s short story “Burning Barns.” Yuen conveys menace with offhand affability better than anyone since George Sanders. –KH

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (Film, US, Ireneusz Dobrowolski, 2018) Documenting the art and eliptonic theories of their late, eccentric friend Stanislaw Szukalski, a group of comix scene fixtures uncovers more than they bargained for. Touches lightly on Szukalski’s crank counter-history, as covered in KARTAS 179, while mostly focusing on his personality and the puzzle of his place in art history.—RDL

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Film, US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Mostly amazed by, and somewhat interested in, Fred Rogers’ legendary commitment to love and caring about children as people, Neville’s catholic retrospective becomes the equivalent of a documentary on how great butter is on bread. But oh my God have you had butter on bread? It’s great! –KH

Good

American Gods Season 1 (Television US, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green) Released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is swept along on a bizarre road trip by his garrulous, raven-assisted new employer (Ian McShane.) Applies the lush, hypnotic style of Fuller’s  “Hannibal” to the mythic riffing of Neil Gaiman’s novel, with a leisurely pace that uses the entire first season as set-up.—RDL

The Old Man & the Gun (Film, US, David Lowery, 2018) Even in his golden years, specifically 1981, bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) just can’t seem to stop robbing banks despite the horsey allure of widow Sissy Spacek and a dogged pursuit by cop Casey Affleck, both kind of wasted as foils. The very 70s-film vibe resonates down to the pre-faded palette on 16mm, and in the intentional avoidance of any moment that might be action. Occurring in the negative space around about five hundred crime films and Westerns, it’s mostly redeemed by Redford’s charm and Lowery’s man crush on those movies and their star of stars. –KH

Okay

No Questions Asked (Film, US, 1951) Jilted lawyer (Barry Sullivan) develops a lucrative business as middleman between insurance companies and robbers, until he gets mixed up in a case involving cross-dressing stick-up artists. Comes to life in spots but isn’t as much lurid fun as the previous sentence indicates. You know the hero’s a chump because he prefers Arlene Dahl to Jean Hagen.—RDL

Not Recommended

Moon Child (Film, Spain, Agustí Villaronga, 1989) Telekinetic orphan is adopted by a pseudoscientific cult, discovering their murderous plot to birth a magical being. Lays down an odd but kind of interesting stylized vibe, with acting technique straight out of Dreyer’s Vampyr—until the third act, when the characters journey to Africa and the price of adapting an Aleister Crowley novel comes due.—RDL

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

January 22nd, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

Good

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

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

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

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

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

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