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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Literary Paranoia, Inspirational Wrestling, and a Flat Circle in Afghanistan

June 15th, 2021 | Robin

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

Recommended

The Afghan Campaign (Fiction, Steven Pressfield, 2006) Grunt’s-eye view of Alexander the Great’s three-year campaign in what would become (but is always called in the book) Afghanistan deliberately blends modern language rhythms and sensibilities with classical history to create a “time is a flat circle” effect around Western warfighting in Afghanistan. Pressfield’s story somehow never drags or even much suffers from the weight of his quasi-historical consciousness. –KH

Be Natural: The Untold Story  of Alice Guy-Blaché (Film, US, Pamela B. Green, 2018) Documentary profile of a director/producer who made films in France and then the US in cinema’s infancy, with a prodigious output ranging from comedies to message pictures to melodramas to westerns and biblical epics. Research becomes a detective quest rescuing its subject from a memory hole created by sexism and the volatility of silver nitrate film stock,—RDL

Fighting with My Family (Film, US, Stephen Merchant, 2019) Cheered on by her irrepressible family of regional wrestlers, a young Norwich woman (Florence Pugh) pursues her dreams of WWE stardom—even after her brother fails to make the cut. Merchant’s finely judged observational comedy keeps the warmth of this inspirational backstage docudrama from curdling into sentimentality. With Nick Frost, Lena Headey, and, as himself, executive producer Dwayne Johnson.—RDL

The Judge and the Assassin (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1976) In Belle Époque France, a hardline magistrate (Philippe Noiret) interrogates a vagrant serial killer who proclaims himself God’s anarchist, hoping to implicate him without allowing grounds for an insanity defense. Historical drama lightly fictionalizes the Joseph Vacher case, counterpointed by its Dreyfus-era political context.—RDL

The Mercenary (Film, Italy, Sergio Corbucci, 1970) A self-satisfied Polish gunslinger (Franco Nero) offers his expensive services as a tactical consultant to an easily swayed Mexican miner turned revolutionary (Tony Musante.) Dialectic-questioning team-up is more of a romp than Corbucci’s other Spaghetti Westerns. Jack Palance steals the film as a smirking, hateworthy villain named Curly. Aka A Professional Gun.—RDL

The Names (Fiction, Don DeLillo, 1982) American expat “risk analyst” James Axton has lost his wife to divorce and maybe his livelihood to the CIA and can’t really believe either in a tour de force of interior monologue that sometimes becomes brittle dialogue while a strange cult is killing people for linguistic reasons, maybe. DeLillo puts aphorism and analysis and epistemology together with some remarkably true-seeming but literary-sounding characters, resulting in a surface all halts and half-admissions. The cult, I should emphasize, takes up remarkably little word count, so don’t go in expecting Lavie Tidhar avant la lettre. –KH

Good

The Spiders (Film, Germany, Fritz Lang, 1919-1920) Adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl DeVogt) incurs the enmity of adventuress Lio Sha (Ressel Orla), the field commander of the secret society The Spiders, when he investigates a surviving Inca city in Part One of this silent pulp serial. In Part Two Hoog and the Spiders duel to find the Buddha’s Head Diamond. The sets and set pieces in Part One amaze, while Part Two must make do with an arbitrary plot and some rousing action traps. Little of what we think of as characteristic Lang appears in this, his first surviving work. –KH

Okay

5 Card Stud (Film, US, Henry Hathaway, 1968 ) Laidback gambler (Dean Martin) tries to figure out who’s bumping off the poker players who lynched a card cheat, with suspects including a psychopathic cattle heir (Roddy McDowall) and the town’s enigmatic new preacher (Robert Mitchum.) Oddball mix of western and murder mystery with the ambling pace of the late studio era.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Booze, Gambling, and Crime

June 8th, 2021 | 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

Bloody Nose Empty Pockets (FIlm, US, Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross, 2020) Longtime habitues of a Vegas dive bar mark its last day in business with a marathon drinking session. Poignant fly-on-the-wall pseudodocumentary shows the mutual caretaking, as addictive as booze itself, that binds together a community of lushes. Joins the works of O’Neill, Goodis, Bukowski and Waits in the grand canon of American alcoholism.—RDL

The Gambler (Film, US, Karel Reisz, 1974) A massive debt to the mob prompts a gambling-addicted college professor (James Caan) to double down on self-destruction. You won’t find a clearer depiction of compulsive gambling as death wish than this unsparing American New Wave character study,—RDL

Pale Gray for Guilt (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1968) When his college buddy Tush Bannon gets in the way of a land deal, “salvage artist” Travis McGee deals himself in. There may yet be a Consume Media entry for “all the Travis McGee novels” but this one deserves to be singled out. Not only is the story a thoroughly satisfying double con squeeze play, but McGee’s self-image takes a few well-deserved knocks. This novel essentially spawned the whole “Florida crime fiction” subgenre despite being the ninth in the series. –KH

Philly D.A. (Television, US, PBS, Ted Passon & Yoni Brook & Nicola Salazar, 2021) Determined, data-quoting Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his idealistic team attempt to use the substantial but limited powers of his newly won office to enact progressive reforms in a city accustomed to incarceration and extended supervision. In-the-room documentary roots for its subject as it reveals the exacting grind of confronting entrenched institutional power. Mine it for rhetorical strategies your GMCs can use when shutting down player character proposals that threaten their power. —RDL

Unbelievable (Television, US, Netflix, Susannah Grant & Ayelet Waldman & Michael Chabon, 2019) In Washington state, detectives browbeat a vulnerable young woman (Kaitlyin Dever) into recanting her account of an intruder rape; years later in Colorado, two cops, one (Merritt Weaver) empathetic, the other (Toni Colette) abrasive, team up across jurisdictions to investigate attacks with the same M.O. Dual chronology crime docudrama mixes social realist observation with a compelling deep dive into real-world investigative technique.—RDL

Good

Escapes (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2016) Blade Runner screenwriter, ex-actor and former child flamenco dancer Hampton Fancher retells his life as a series of self-lacerating anecdotes. Minimalist documentary profile of the man who saw that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? should be a movie conveys the feeling of hanging out in a bar for a night with a fascinating, rueful raconteur.—RDL

Okay

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Film, US, Patrick Hughes, 2017) Disgraced but top-notch bodyguard Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) must protect free-spirited hit man Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) before he testifies at the war crimes trial of the dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman). Triple threat talent squandered on desperately routinized action-comedy, with half a good chase scene and a joyous near-cartoon-violence flashback celebrating Salma Hayek, the only person who actually bothered to show up for the filming. –KH

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy (Film, HK, Jazz Boon, 2019) Two cops, one (Louis Koo) tightly wound, the other (Nick Cheung) also tightly wound, fight an international shadowy conspiracy that abducts children to train as sleeper agents. Handsomely mounted, overcomplicated globe-hopping technothriller partially redeems itself when it stages a gunfight and car chase during the running of the bulls at Pamplona and remembers what Hong Kong action movies are like. A thematic sequel to 2016’s also mediocre Line Walker, meaning that both have Koo and Cheung in them  —RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Capes, Cops, Copperfield

June 1st, 2021 | Robin

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

Recommended

The Boys Season 1 (Television, US, Prime, Eric Kripke, 2019) When a corporate superhero’s homicidal negligence kills his girlfriend, a nebbishy electronics retailer (Jack Quaid) is drawn into a cell of operatives, led by a ruthless wetworker (Karl Urban), that fights to shut them down—while at the same time falling for the super team’s light-powered new ingenue (Erin Moriarty.) Unlike other revisionist superhero takes, this adaptation of the Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson keeps a moral compass or two in its tool kit. Antony Starr plays its psychopathic Superman/Captain America figure with multi-layered brilliance.—RDL

The Personal History of David Copperfield (Film, UK, Armando Iannucci, 2019) Twists of fortune pull a studious young man (Dev Patel) up and down a social ladder populated by lovable eccentrics and contemptible villains. Sunny, mad dash through the Dickens novel, performed with brio by Patel and a supporting cast including Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton.—RDL

The Multiversity (Comics, DC, Grant Morrison & divers hands, 2015) Under attack by extracosmic embodiments of fear, the heroes of various Earths of the DC Universe investigate and fight back, alone and in concert. A classic Grant Morrison high concept riff on the Silver Age DCU, in which each Earth was another Earth’s comic books. Occasionally reaches true peaks of genius homage, especially in the Charlton-Watchmen story, the Earth-Prime Ultra Comics comic, and the Shazam! tale, but never dull or easily anticipated. A little too in the weeds for casual fans, maybe. –KH

Peaky Blinders Season 3 (Television, BBC, Steven Knight, 2016) As Arthur (Paul Anderson) looks for redemption and a way out, a sinister priest/spy (Paddy Considine) squeezes Tommy (Cillian Murphy) into a double game involving White Russian emigres. False suspense and other series-extending tricks start to creep in around the edges of the show’s narrative compression and big finish suspense.—RDL

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption (Nonfiction, Justin Fenton, 2021) As the doomed effort to prosecute police officers for the death of Freddie Gray grinds through Baltimore courts, a much-lauded anti-gun squad boldly steals a staggering quantity of cash and drugs from the city’s dealers. Journalistic true crime saga exposes the lack of accountability at the heart of America’s policing meltdown, with a command of storytelling that more than withstands the inevitable comparisons to the genre-defining books of David Simon.—RDL

Good

The Burnt Orange Heresy (Film, US/Italy, Giuseppe Capotondi, 2020) Glib art critic (Claes Bang) brings his self-possessed new inamorata (Elizabeth Debicki) to the villa of a collector (Mick Jagger) who wants him to steal a painting from the legendarily reclusive artist (Donald Sutherland) living in his guest house. Crisp dialogue and characterizations elevate this art-world noir, though the script misses the point of the Charles Willeford novel it adapts, downgrading its anti-hero’s perverse intellectual motivation tof standard issue weaselry.—RDL

Let’s Not Meet (Film, US, Ryan Callaway, 2018) Pizza delivery girl Aya (Breanna Engle) gets drawn into bad doings in the woods, along with five campers she didn’t much like in high school. On its zero budget, this film accomplishes a lot: introduces a raft of characters you believe in and sort of care about, spins a creepy backstory with perhaps too much exposition, provides good slow-burn scares in places. The acting and lighting punch considerably above their weight; the editing and camera setups a little less so. Not quite Owlman great, but well above the microbudget horror average. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Zombies and Cocktails (But Not the Zombie Cocktail)

May 25th, 2021 | 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

Peaky Blinders Season 2 (Television, UK, BBC, Stephen Knight, 2014) As the Shelby Company mounts a violent incursion into the London gang scene, Campbell (Sam Neill) returns to squeeze Tommy into a covert mission against Irish nationalists. Scripts show just how tight serialized ensemble storytelling can be, always jumping forward to the next big plot point, culminating in a bravura suspense episode.—RDL

Recommended

Imbibe! (Nonfiction, David Wondrich, 2007/2015) 19th century America’s invention of the cocktail as we know it kicks off with the advent of the ice industry, flows through San Francisco, and winds up in New York, topped up with showmanship and heaps of muddled sugar. Obsessive research and lively prose mixes food, history, and giddy anecdote.—RDL

Good

The Conjuring (Film, US, James Wan, 2013) After moving into a super-haunted house, the Perrons (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) call in demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). Wan puts together an update of the Amityville Horror style haunting movie from a hundred other films, getting nothing particularly wrong but achieving nothing particularly unique either. Wan plays it entirely straight, which feeds into the strong 1970s vibe he establishes — but squelches any brio anyone might have brought to this ghostly hotdish. –KH

Zombieland: Double Tap (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2019) Six years after the first film, domestic frustrations send Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) on the road, and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) ride to the rescue. Achieves the medium bar of “The first film, but not surprising in any way,” while not precisely squandering Zoey Deutsch and Luke Wilson among other guest stars. Stay for the post-credits Bill Murray sequence though! –KH

Okay

Army of the Dead (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2021) Billionaire hires badass Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to assemble a team to heist his own vault, left behind in zombie-plagued Las Vegas, just before the government nukes the city. After a traditionally superb Snyderian opening credits/exposition sequence, Snyder settles down to chew this terrific high concept to mush with too many cartoonish characters in too many subplots. I can certainly understand Snyder’s desire to make father-daughter reconciliation the emotional hook of the film, but I can’t forgive his willingness to make both of them dumb as rocks. Someone somewhere will unlock the secret of strong performances from Bautista, but not this time. On the other hand, zombie white tiger! –KH

Crazed Fruit (Film, Japan, Kō Nakahira, 1956) A naive teen (Masahiko Tsugawa) who looks to his faster older brother (Yujiro Ishihara) to lead him into the world of girls and parties falls for a self-possessed young woman (Mie Kitahara) who meets questions about her home life with cagy deflection. An obvious, drawn-out conclusion deflates an alluring look at emerging teen culture, bursting with pressure cooker fifties eroticism.—RDL

Tesla (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2020) Visionary electrical engineer Nikolai Tesla (Ethan Hawke) spars with self-satisfied rival Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and is pursued by determined heiress Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson.) Formally unconventional biopic uses anachronism and info slides similar to the ones Spike Lee has taken up lately to overcome the hurdle of an utterly withdrawn central figure. Doesn’t quite work, but in its experimentation is more interesting than less ambitious films that do.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wrath of Man, Succession, Kong

May 18th, 2021 | 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

Succession Season 1 (Television, US, HBO, Jesse Armstrong, 2018) When a cerebral event sidelines a domineering media mogul (Brian Cox), his esteem-deprived heir apparent (Jeremy Strong) makes a bid for control, variously abetted and thwarted by his siblings, a cynical political consultant (Sarah Snook), a scenester jackanape (Keiran Culkin) and a granola libertarian (Alan Ruck.) Slashing wit is the elevating factor of a Sirkian business melodrama that revels in the awfulness of its characters while finding pathos in, well, some of them.—RDL

Recommended

Awaara (Film, India, Raj Kapoor, 1956) Happenstance reunites a charming petty criminal (Raj Kapoor) with his childhood sweetheart (Nargis), now a law student whose pathologically judgmental magistrate guardian (Prithviraj Kapoor) is determined to keep them apart. And also, unbeknown to either, the disadvantaged suitor’s father. Foundational Bollywood musical melodrama features social conscience, expressionist visuals, and a surreal, mythic dream sequence dance number full of gods and demons.—RDL

Wrath of Man (Film, US/UK, Guy Ritchie, 2021) Robbery-plagued armored car company hires new  guard H (Jason Statham) but it seems he has another agenda. Remaking a French armored-car-heist version of High Plains Drifter with lashings of Seijun Suzuki and Heat seems to have given Guy Ritchie enough to do that he tones his manic style way down, matching the overlapping menace that Statham and composer Christopher Benstead bring. Jeffrey Donovan is a joy as the main heister, while Scott Eastwood seems to delight in playing the negative space around his dad. –KH

Good

The End of the F***ing World Season 1 (Television, UK, Channel 4, Charlie Covell, 2017) Alienated by her family situation, a stroppy teen (Jessica Barden) runs away with an introverted classmate who fancies himself a budding serial killer. Supplies the chemistry needed for an entry in the couple on the lam sub-genre, but with a structure that lands it in the nether zone between feature film and serialized TV.—RDL

The Servant (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1963) A manservant who is both more and less than he appears (Dirk Bogarde) insinuates himself into the life and psyche of his callow aristocratic employer (James Fox.) Chilly portrayal of the English class system as a study in codependency which, perhaps because it has to subtextualize its characters’ sexuality, executes its spiral into madness a shade abruptly.—RDL

Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Zeman, 2021) Journalist Maury Terry uncovered evidence that David Berkowitz did not commit the Son of Sam killings alone, and spun that out into a sprawling Satanic-cult narrative that eventually broke his life. Essentially four overlapping and under-argued docs, this series throws the usual Netflix quality at the wall but Zeman (who was friends with Terry in his later years) can’t really make it stick. –KH

Okay

Kong: Skull Island (Film, US, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) In 1973, frustrated air-cav Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) escorts a team of geologists exploring the newly-discovered Skull Island. If you’re going to insist on making your giant ape movie a Vietnam War metaphor, try not to do it so heavy-handedly. Kong vs. Huey gunships is a truly great sequence, but there’s another 90 minutes of sententious blather after that. Johns Goodman and C. Reilly try to infuse the needed manic weirdness into this wannabe Apocalypse Kong but fail for lack of support and overall vision. Hey, it is a Vietnam War metaphor! –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Godzilla vs. Kong, Tenet, and the King of Ontario Bootleggers

May 11th, 2021 | 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 New Leaf (Film, US, Elaine May, 1971) Having burned through his own fortune, a haughty idler (Walter Matthau) woos a mousy, rich botanist (Elaine May), planning to murder her after the wedding. Witty dialogue and a hilarious Matthau turn are the obvious pleasures of this black romantic comedy, but it’s the tightrope tonal balance between jaundice and warmth that justly earns its cult fave status.—RDL

Recommended

Colonia (Film. Germany, Florian Gallenberger, 2015) English flight attendant (Emma Watson) joins a cult that, among other crimes, tortures dissidents for the freshly installed Pinochet regime, in hopes of finding and freeing her German activist boyfriend (Daniel Bruhl.) Nail-biting suspense flick places an appalling real-life horror in a genre package.—RDL

Godzilla vs. Kong (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2021) After Godzilla mysteriously attacks an Apex Corp research station, Apex recruits geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead an expedition to the Hollow Earth and he convinces Kong’s handler Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) to bring Kong as their guide. I have just spent almost as much time setting this up as the film does, getting us into the monster fights and hollow earth tourism efficiently. Script and direction embrace the operatic nonsense that is the other way (besides, you know, genuine horror or pathos) to make a great kaiju film, wisely sidelining human characters as often as possible. –KH

Tenet (Film, US, Christopher Nolan, 2020) Ultra-competent CIA operative (John David Washington) draws the abused ex-wife (Elzabeth Debicki)  of a psychopathic oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) into his bid to capture reality-shattering devices from the future. Nolan once again pits a thriller protagonist against the forces of Borgesian unknowability, with gob-smacking action set pieces and inverted exposition meant not to explain, but to baffle.—RDL

Whisky King (Nonfiction, Trevor Cole, 2017) Armed with a mastery of gangland diplomacy and a common law wife who acts as his full co-equal in crime, Rocco Perri runs bootlegging in Prohibition-era Ontario, with undercover RCMP investigator and fellow Italian immigrant Frank Zaneth on his trail. Rich portrayal of a murder-strewn history belies my province’s myth of beatific dullness. If you like historical true crime, you’ll dig this, even if none of the crime scenes are within walking distance of your apartment.—RDL

Good

Mandalay (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1934) After the gun runner she loves (Ricardo Cortez)  sells her to a Rangoon nightclub, a glamorous White Russian refugee (Kay Francis) gains power over men and seeks a new life. Atmospheric melodrama with a decidedly pre-Code approach to its protagonist’s feminist liberation..—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Without Remorse, the Bulgarian Front, and the Impossible Middle-Deck Deal

May 4th, 2021 | 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

Captain Conan (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1996) The aggression and disdain for authority that makes the leader of a ragtag shock troop on WWI’s Bulgarian front (Philippe Torreton) a hero on the battlefield turns him into a loose cannon after the Armistice. Experiential novel adaptation with energetic, chaotic combat sequences centers on the relationship between the hardnosed protagonist and his intellectual right hand man (Samuel Le Bihan.)—RDL

The Ghost of Peter Sellers (Film, UK, Peter Medak, 2018) The director of The Ruling Class and The Changeling recounts the nightmare of making an ultimately shelved pirate comedy a) without a polished script, b) shot largely on the water, c) with notoriously recalcitrant superstar Sellers. Documentary examines an emotional wound that still eats at Medak half a lifetime later, when other surviving participants have long since written off the debacle as the cost of doing show business.—RDL

The Friend of the Desert (Fiction, Pablo d’Ors, 2009) Czech office worker joins an eccentric society whose members share a fascination with the mysteries of the desert. Spare, absurdist-adjacent novella of achieving selfhood through the abandonment of identity.—RDL

The Magician and the Cardsharp (Nonfiction, Karl Johnson, 2005) In 1932, close-up magician supreme Dai Vernon tracked down card mechanic Allen Kennedy to learn the secret of the impossible center-deck deal. Johnson’s indefatigable research provides ample background to both men and their milieus: Pendergast’s Kansas City, small-town Missouri, and Vernon’s stage-magic subculture. Infectious, fascinating, and earnest, like all the best magic tricks. –KH [Note: The link goes to the hardback; the paperback is cheap POD that shames the good name of Henry Holt.]

Woman of Water (Film, South Korea, Kim Ki-young, 1979) To qualify for a land grant, a wounded Vietnam vet (Kim Chung-chul) marries a lonely young woman (Kim Ja-ok) whose shame over her speech impediment prevents her from speaking in public. Subtlety is for the weak in this scathing domestic melodrama with elements of rural noir.—RDL

Good

Buffaloed (Film, US, Tanya Wexler, 2020) Blue-collar hustler Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutsch) picks herself up after a prison sentence by climbing to the top of Buffalo’s debt collection racket. Manic wing-eating riff on The Wolf of Wall Street takes the easy way out too many times for me to give it a Recommendation, but Deutsch’s shining energy dominates the screen in a way that makes me wish for about a thousand more comedies — ideally comedies that decide whether they want to be screwball, caper, or social-problem pieces — she could run roughshod through. Also noteworthy for never condescending to Peg, and for Judy Greer’s terrific performance as Peg’s mom. –KH

Okay

Without Remorse (Film, US, Stefano Sollima, 2021) Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) pursues his wife’s killers and uncovers a nefarious plot. Literally none of this film’s story was surprising in any way (except that it’s surprising that a Taylor Sheridan script could be so dull), and very little of it was particularly thrilling. A seeming commitment to realism (which renders many of its gunfights murky) disintegrates when plot contrivances require it; Sollima wastes Jordan’s charisma by likewise enmeshing it in dim murk. The high point by far is Jónsi’s discordant score, which deserved a better movie. –KH

Not Recommended

Time to Hunt (Film, South Korea, Yoon Sung-Hyun, 2020) Trio of young small time crooks seeks to escape the hopelessness of an economic collapse by knocking off a gambling den, attracting the attention of a determined assassin who likes to toy with his prey. A brilliant formal device—action thriller scenes shot and edited with horror techniques—drowns in an undisciplined hodgepodge of a script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Q: Into the Storm & 30 Coins

April 27th, 2021 | 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

30 Coins Season 1 (Television, Spain, HBO Europe, Álex de la Iglesia, 2021) Small town mayor (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and veterinarian (Megan Montaner) become reluctant occult investigators when demons, witches, and a Gnostic conspiracy pressure the weird new priest (Eduard Fernández) to surrender an unholy relic in his possession. Though its cosmology is pure horror Catholicism, the spirit, as befits the author of a recent Call of Cthulhu campaign, is weird pulp adventure, with Iglesia’s zest for big cinematic suspense beats, huge visual spaces, and actorly physicality cranked to the max.—RDL

Forbidden Science 2: California Hermetica, The Journals of Jacques Vallee 1970-1979 (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 2008) From the heart of the eliptonic 70s comes a motherlode of contemporary observations covering UFOlogy and those who spied on it, with an added ground zero view of the Silicon Valley revolution. What really surprised me is that the computer science projects that became the Internet didn’t just develop in parallel to the Bay Area’s occult, cult and psychic scene, but were absolutely intertwined with it.—RDL

I was going to class both of the above as Recommended, with a bump up if you’re into the subject matter, momentarily forgetting just which audience I was addressing.

Recommended

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, 2021) Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) clash with the government’s unsuitable new Captain America (Wyatt Russell) as they track the leader (Erin Kellyman) of a displaced persons terror group. The Captain America thread of MCU movies already took its structural cues from television, so it makes sense that this extension of it plays as an engaging gumbo of callbacks and serial elements. Then it succumbs to the emerging pattern of this wave of Marvel shows with a muddled finale, in this case one that fails to grapple with the implications of its sympathy for the antagonist.—RDL

Q: Into the Storm (Television, US, HBO, Cullen Hoback, 2021) Hoback explores the Q conspiracy theory with special attention to the creator of Q host site 8chan, Frederick Brennan, and its later owner and admin, Jim and Ron Watkins. By focusing on process (and on the question of Q’s identity) rather than hair-on-fire moral panicking, Hoback adds a measure of value and clarity to the discussion, while illuminating the consequences of this particular LARP gone amuck. –KH

Good

Love and Monsters (Film, US, Michael Matthews, 2020) Feeling useless in the underground bunker that protects his small community from a world of mutated beasties, a young man (Dylan O’Brien) decides to undertake the deadly overland journey to the bunker run by his high school girlfriend (Jessica Henwick.) Amiable, initially over-explanatory mash-up of A Quiet Place and Zombieland finds the emotional space for themes of isolation and survivor guilt. Wait a few years and you’ll be able to well actually people who confuse their dates and take this for an allegory of the pandemic.—RDL

Okay

The China Governess (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1962) Timothy Kinnit, adopted child of privilege, finds his elopement complicated by the question of his true parentage; Campion and Inspector Luke investigate the crimes seemingly connected to that question. The novel begins with its most interesting setting demolished by the Blitz, leaving a not-particularly-involving protagonist stuffily annoying his betrothed in the near-vacuum of his caricatured family. The murder, when it eventually happens, seems more like an afterthought than a consequence. –KH

HyperNormalisation (Film, UK, Adam Curtis, 2016) Tracks the rise of financialized government in the US and suicide bombing in the Middle East from 1975 to 2016, mildly hectoring politicians and cyber-utopians who avoid the complexities that both mask. Something of a dorm-room bong rip after a Poli Sci 102 class, Curtis’ neo-Situationist collage film avoids plenty of complexities in its own right despite spending nearly three hours talking. Curtis does find the time to express his distaste for Patti Smith, Jane Fonda’s aerobics, tween girls on Vine, and Kim Kardashian. –KH

Minari (Film, US, Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) Seeking a new start, dream-chasing immigrant dad (Steven Yeun) moves his wife and small kids to Arkansas to start a Korean vegetable farm. Visually and sonically pretty family drama uses a sudden melodramatic event to cheat its way to character resolution.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nobody, Another Round, Let Them All Talk

April 20th, 2021 | 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

12 Hour Shift (Film, US, Brea Grant, 2020) Arkansas night nurse Mandy (Angela Bettis) hits an ever-mounting series of complications to her organ-legging sideline during the titular shift. Aiming for screwball neo-noir and achieving black situation comedy, Grant’s film never quite hits the savagely awful momentum it craves. But Bettis’ glowering performance (and the casting in general), along with effective lensing and a lively, jazzy score both by Matt Glass, power it across the Recommended line. –KH

Accident (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1967) Doom portends when an Oxford tutor (Dirk Bogarde) sublimates his desire for an aristocratic student (Jacqueline Sassard) by setting her up with an age-appropriate  suitor (MIchael York) and inviting them to spend time with his family. Subtly disturbing, stylized domestic drama written by Harold Pinter, based on a novel by Nicholas Mosley.—RDL

Another Round (Film, Denmark/Netherlands/Sweden, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020) High school history teacher Martin (a terrific, underplayed Mads Mikkelsen) and three fellow teachers (and sufferers of male midlife crises) impulsively decide to test the theory of philosopher Finn Skårderud that mankind suffers from a blood alcohol deficit. What the inevitable American remake will inevitably turn into a preachy message movie Vinterberg mixes into a full portrait of drinking: its alchemy, its mystery, its terrors and disasters, and finally its joys. –KH

Bacurau (Film, Brazil/France, Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles, 2020) Cut off by governmental indifference, a small Brazilian town discovers even worse things happening. Part social sci-fi, part anti-imperialist Western, a little bit magical realism, this movie exists to confound viewer expectations — among them, who precisely counts as a protagonist here (although that’s part of the explicit political point). The downside of this diffuse focus is very little in the way of character emerging, not counting the villainous Michael (Udo Kier, making his own gravy). –KH

Let Them All Talk (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2020) Aging literary lioness Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) inveigles her agency into paying for her (and her mere mortal friends Susan (Dianne Wiest) and Roberta (Candice Bergen))  to cross the Atlantic in the Queen Mary 2 to receive a UK literary prize. A somewhat improv script shot in two weeks during an actual ocean crossing, it can’t really compare with Soderbergh’s more polished pieces, but man it is such a delight to watch, part hangout film and part actors’ duel. –KH

Madeline’s Madeline (Film, US, Josephine Decker, 2018) Bright teen with serious mental health issues (Helena Howard) escapes from her anxiously protective mom (Miranda July) by joining an intense experimental theater troupe run by a charismatic director (Molly Parker) who may have boundary issues of her own. Jagged cutting and aggressive close-ups infuse this drama of personal discovery with nail-biting emotional peril.—RDL

Nobody (Film, US, Ilya Naishuller, 2021) A hapless home invasion attempt awakens the top-secret, ultraviolent past of a plodding, gray-faced family man (Bob Odenkirk.) Driven by a standout performance from Odenkirk as an unlikely killing machine, this tongue-in-cheek actioner delivers the cleverest, tightest variation on its classic premise since John Wick.—RDL

Tommaso (Film, Italy/US/Greece, Abel Ferrara, 2020) Film director Tommaso (Willem Dafoe), living in Rome with his much-younger wife Nikki (Cristina Chiriac), struggles with his past as an addict and with his present-day frustrations and temptations. Dafoe’s expressive face and movements, and Ferrara’s repeated intercuts of dreams, fantasies, imaginations, and temptations, illuminate the war within every man in this deep, slow dive into a broken soul. There is no closure, because to recovering addict (and Catholic) Ferrara, none exists in life, either. If there’s such a thing as slice-of-life unrealism, this is it. –KH

Good

Synchronic (Film, US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2020) New Orleans paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) pick up after the detritus wreaked by an experimental designer drug that unmoors the user in time. A strong high concept and winning performances on the one hand, Benson & Moorhead’s least oblique and least multidimensional (excuse the pun) script on the other. The oddly toothless nature of the threat wins the coin toss, dropping this to Good. –KH

Zombi Child (Film, France, Bertrand Bonello, 2020) At an exclusive girls’ boarding school, lovelorn Fanny (Louise Labeque) connects with Haitian girl Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat); their lives eventually intersect with the 1962 Clairvius Narcisse zombie case. Essentially missing a fourth act, it’s thus at heart an uncomplicated story of teen heartbreak and despair, which somewhat diminishes both its ostensible theme and its respectful and riveting exploration of Vodou. –KH

Not Recommended

The Belko Experiment (Film, US, Greg McLean, 2016) Employees in a remote office tower must kill one another to survive. Cruel slaughterfest guised as social commentary. Beware the scripts a writer-director, in this case James Gunn, hands off to someone else.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tulpa Investigation, Cubist Crime, and Dirty Energy Deeds

April 13th, 2021 | Robin

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

Recommended

The Empty Man (Film, US, David Prior, 2020) Following a taut prologue in the mountains of Bhutan, we meet traumatized former cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale), investigating disappeared high-schooler Amanda (Sasha Frolova) and discovering the urban legend/cult of the Empty Man. Not quite as clever as it thinks it is (especially to anyone who was watching similar films in 1987, he said obliquely to avoid spoilers), but still very effective at deepening atmosphere and spiraling mystery. Prior repeatedly, ably deploys the shocking-but-not-jump-scare techniques of his mentor David Fincher to borderline Lovecraftian ends. Plus vanished Amanda wrote the word “tulpa” on a flyer so you know I recommend it. –KH

Hide My Eyes (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1958) Chief Inspector Luke suspects a killer operates from the London backwater of Garden Green; Campion agrees. After a riveting prologue, Allingham reveals the killer cubist-fashion from multiple perspectives over the course of one day’s investigation. Superbly constructed crime thriller with Allingham’s gifts for character and observation (especially of the grimier parts of London) tuned to perfect pitch.–KH

The Mattei Affair (Film, Italy, Francesco Rosi, 1973) Former partisan (Gian Maria Volontè) becomes a thorn in the side of colonialists and oil multinationals while running Italy’s nationalized energy company with hard-charging disregard for convention or political consequences. Polemical docudrama morphs into full on documentary as it examines Mattei’s aviation crash death, a likely assassination with a long list of suspects. What it doesn’t entirely spell out is that the journalist murdered by the Mafia while investigating the case was doing research for Rosi’s film!—RDL

Mississippi Grind (Film, US, Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, 2015) Woebegone gambling addict (Ben Mendelson) latches onto a poker road trip with a younger, more confident loser (Ryan Reynolds) as his ticket out of suffocating debt. Mendelson brings heartbreaking depth and sympathy to a character you’d back away from at top speed in real life, in this moody evocation of the American New Wave.—RDL

My Last Supper: One Meal, a Lifetime in the Making (Nonfiction, Jay Rayner, 2019) Using as a conceit the thought experiment of planning one’s final dinner, food critic Rayner examines foods from oysters to pork to the elusive Mont Blanc, with digressions autobiographical, musical and medical along the way.—RDL.

Slings & Arrows Season 3 (Television, Canada, The Movie Network, Susan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinney, 2006) Naive CFO Richard (Mark McKinney) turns into a monster when he gets a whiff of creative input; Geoffery (Paul Gross) coaxes a retired, mercurial Shakespearean (William Hutt) out of retirement to play Lear. The show goes out with a touching valedictory showcase for Hutt, a titan of the Canadian classical stage who almost never appeared on screen.—RDL

Good

The Beckoning Lady (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1955) Rusticating in Suffolk with eccentric friends, Campion suspects a recent murder is linked to another friend’s seemingly natural death. Allingham’s reach exceeds even her considerable grasp, as she attempts to cast a detective novel in the shadows of a Shakespearean comedy. Sporadic authorial attention to key emotional and plot beats, and a truly annoying supposedly sympathetic character, bounced me out of tune with the work even as Allingham’s descriptive and inventive gifts kept me eagerly turning pages. A near and beautiful miss from Recommended, but a miss all the same. –KH

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