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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Parasite, Jojo Rabbit and a Suppressed Transmission

October 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

Parasite (Film, South Korea, Bong Joon Ho, 2019) Hardscrabble family spins a series of deceptions to win positions in a tech tycoon’s household. Deliriously unpredictable, masterfully executed thriller of slow-boiling class tension.—RDL


Buoyancy (Film, Australia, Rodd Rathjen, 2019) Impoverished teen Chakra (Sam Heng) leaves his Cambodian village for work in Thailand but gets enslaved on a fishing boat. Gripping drama of character and situation fully digs into both, becoming a modern-day Jack London story complete with the sea, exploitation, and brutal violence. Sam Petty’s sound design exacerbates and completes the experience. –KH

Jojo Rabbit (Film, US,Taika Waititi, 2019) As the Allies close in on Germany, a naively fervent ten-year-old member of the Hitler Youth (Roman Griffin Davies) whose imaginary friend (Waititi) discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johannsen) is harboring a Jewish teen (Thomasin McKenzie.) Broad, biting comedy and bubbling energy create that most unlikely of combinations—a profoundly humane satire.—RDL

Mr. Jones (Film, Poland/UK/Ukraine, Agnieszka Holland, 2019) Curious about the Soviet economy,  Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (James Norton) follows a lead to Ukraine where he witnesses Stalin’s terror-famine. After a long takeoff, the movie gets to the USSR and becomes a wild blend of Carol Reed and David Lean, going from the vile decadence surrounding the New York Times’ Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard, beautifully odious) into the white nightmare around Stalin. –KH

Monstrum (Film, South Korea, Jong-ho Huh, 2018) Exiled but loyal royal guard risks political treachery to investigate rumors of a monstrous creature. Classic adventure moments abound in a movie unabashedly intent on delivering the funnest version of every plot turn.—RDL

Once Upon A River (Film, US, Haroula Rose, 2019) In 1978 Michigan, teenage Annie Oakley-wannabe Margo Crane (Kenadi DelaCerna) heads up the Stark River to find her mother. Rose (and her cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby) pulls off a tour de force of tone, balancing and adjusting natural beauty with good and evil, growth and fear. DelaCerna commands the screen in every scene despite barely having any dialogue; John Aston makes a superb foil as a dying misanthrope. –KH

Vast of Night (Film, US, Andrew Patterson, 2019) While everyone in Cayuga, New Mexico one night in 1959 attends the high school basketball game, late night DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and precocious switchboard girl Fay (Sierra McCormick) discover a strange — dare I say suppressed — transmission. The word “bravura” could have been coined to describe this film, and so much (including the small-town dynamic) works so well that I feel like a churl kvetching about a slight misstep in the ending. –KH


Svaha: the Sixth Finger (Film, South Korea, Chae-hyŏn Chang, 2019) Opportunistic cult-busting pastor (Jung-jae Lee) investigates a Buddhist sect engaged in a covert demon hunt. Bump up the rating of this twisty supernatural thriller to Recommended if you want to see a flick that precisely parallels a GUMSHOE scenario.—RDL


8: A South African Horror Story (Film, South Africa, Harold Hölscher, 2019) When Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) shows up at the farm inherited by hapless white folks, he fixes their generator and befriends their daughter Mary (Keita Luna) so of course he’s got a demon in a bag. “Single Black Handyman” doesn’t deliver much but rote plot ratchets and gratuitous misogyny on the way to a wildly colorful but nugatory ending. Bump it up to Good if the African lore and setting really move you. –KH

The Great Green Wall (Film, UK, Jared P. Scott, 2019) Documentary follows Malian singer-songwriter Inna Modja across the Sahel collaborating with local musicians on an album to raise awareness and funds for the titular wall, a planned reforestation belt from Senegal to Djibouti. It provides a 101-level overview of the region’s various interlocked crises from an unabashedly activist point of view; those seeking a close or hard look at the challenges and promises of reforestation (or full versions of the songs) should look elsewhere. –KH

The Hypnotist (Film, Finland, Arthur Franck, 2019) Olavi Hakasalo reinvents himself as Olliver Hawk, Finland’s missionary hypnotist — but what of his relationship with longtime Finnish President Kekkonen? What of it indeed? In this mix of recreation and archive, of self-aggrandizement and shrugging guesswork, somewhere there could be a gripping documentary about the relationship between politics and hypnosis and showmanship. Not here, though, in what my friend Emily describes as “the world’s most conspiratorial ASMR video.” –KH

Integrity (Film, HK, Alan Mak, 2019) Financial crimes agent (Lau Ching-Wan) races the clock to save a case against corporate-level cigarette smugglers after his whistleblower (Nick Cheung) flees to Australia. Police procedural with an overactive soundtrack takes its time getting to the twisty bit.—RDL

The Laundromat (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2019) An insurance scam impels a determined widow (Meryl Streep) to investigate the world of shell companies, as embodied by shady Panama-based lawyers Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Fonseca (Antonio Banderas.) Soderbergh’s knack for adding magic to quotidian moments partially buoys this effort to apply The Big Short’s dramatized essay format to a parallel instance of high-level financial chicanery. Chiefly interesting as a study in contrast between two highly mannered performances: Streep, fussy and joyless, Oldman fully committed to over-the-top hilarity.—RDL

The Moneychanger (Film, Uruguay/Argentina, Federico Vieroj, 2019) Somewhat ambitious and totally venal, Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler) oozes to the top of 1970s Uruguay’s money laundering and offshoring business. Somewhat ambition isn’t enough to drive this lackluster film, though, despite a game cast and a suitably grainy color palette. Like its main character it gets partway somewhere but doesn’t have nearly enough fun along the way. –KH

Paradise Next (Film, Japan, Yoshihiro Hanno, 2019) Two gangsters — taciturn, cool Shima (Etsushi Toyokawa) and smirking punk Makino (Satoshi Tsumabuki) — hide out in rural Taiwan with bartender Xiao En (Nikki Hsieh), who eerily resembles a dead girl linked to both. Look, I’m as fond of beautiful yet oblique emotional collage as the next Taiwanese director, but you’ve got to give me something we can agree is a plot before you’re getting out of Okay. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Carmilla, Capra, and CIFF

October 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.


Bring Me Home (Film, South Korea, Kim Seung-woo, 2019) Nurse and mother Jung Yae-on (Lee Young-ae) searches for her son, who went missing six years ago, following a lead to a fishing station and its corrupt cop enforcer Sgt. Hong (Yoo Jae-myung). Korean films do not generally soften their blows, and this genuinely harrowing psychological thriller is no exception. Even the inevitable violent climax avoids Western-style catharsis, becoming yet more chaotic horror leaving unease behind. Just another powerful triumph from by far the best national film culture on the planet. –KH

Carmilla (Film, UK, Emily Harris, 2019) Isolated in rural Sussex, young Lara (Hanna Rae) welcomes the presence of the mysterious Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) although her upright governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine) has her doubts. Harris soft-pedals the supernatural elements of LeFanu’s source novel almost into invisibility, playing up Lara’s naive excitement and love for the new girl. Although the script wavers between murk and didacticism, the strong acting and Michael Wood’s eager camera work (much of it in candle-lit night interiors) keep it on the Recommended side of the bubble. –KH

Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Film, US, Sasha Waters Freyer, 2018) Critical and biographical documentary profile of archetypal street photographer Garry Winogrand, who famously left mountains of his images unprocessed at the time of his death. Poignant testimony from his colleagues brings emotional impact to the arts doc format.—RDL

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (Film, Spain/Estonia/Ethiopia/Latvia/Romania, Miguel Llanso, 2019) CIA agents DT Gargano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo) must enter the Psychobook cyberspace to defeat the Soviet virus “Stalin” (and the Beta-Ethiopian dictator Batfro, who yes dresses as Batman) in this gonzo mashup of spy-fi, martial arts, cyberpunk, lucha, and every other genre with “-sploitation” added to it. Shot in three different formats plus stop-motion, Llanso’s inspired PKD-WSB bricolage somehow hangs together around its many many curves and triumphs, backed by a killer free-jazz soundtrack by Bill Dixon. –KH

Ladies of Leisure (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1930) Cracks appear in the hardboiled veneer of a mercenary party girl (Barbara Stanwyck) when a brusque but handsome railroad heir (Ralph Graves) hires her as an artist’s model. Surprisingly uncreaky pre-Code stage play adaptation elevated by Stanwyck’s affecting, quicksilver performance.—RDL

Varda by Agnés (Film, France, Agnés Varda, 2019) The beloved filmmaker assembled this documentary montage of her lectures on (and excerpts of) her own work just before her death this March, and the portion of it that unpacks her cinematic creation does so with the genius and generosity that became her trademarks. Most of the last half of the film deals with her post-2000 career as a digital installation artist, a less interesting and more remote body of work that leaves you wanting more of the first half. –KH


Gambling Lady (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1934) When she falls for a naive but handsome socialite (Joel McCrea) an honest gambler (Barbara Stanwyck) learns that the upper crust contains sharper characters than the underworld. Star power wins the day in a typically veering early 30s script.—RDL

Knives and Skin (Film, US, Jennifer Reeder, 2019) After teenage Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) disappears in Big River, Illinois, her mother and schoolmates remain haunted. Very ambitious blend of David Lynch and Richard Linklater ultimately drowns in a too-large cast of characters, most written in the same voice; intriguing story notes appear only to vanish like Carolyn. But the luminous color-high cinematography by Christopher Rejano, Badalamenti-esque score by Nick Zinner, and compellingly sharp edits by Mike Olenik enhance your experience throughout. –KH

Miyamoto (Film, Japan, Tetsuya Mariko, 2019) Young schlemiel with anger issues Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu) hits the rapids in his relationship with Yasuko (Yu Aoi) as we follow two halves of their story to inevitable confrontation. Ambitious plotting and roller-coaster emotion (and a viscerally unsettling fight scene) almost distract from what a drip the main character is throughout, but help drive the endings to almost inevitable anticlimax. –KH

The Whistlers (Film, Romania/France/Germany, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019) Femme fatale Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) inveigles corrupt Bucharest cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) into learning the whistling language of the Canary Islanders to break her partner out of jail, and no it doesn’t make a lot more sense than that after you’ve watched it either. Porumboiu’s deadpan style blends unevenly with the crime thriller genre, and Cristi (and the viewer) only learn he’s not the protagonist far too late in the proceedings. But it still racks up plenty of great sequences on the way to not at all being Charley Varrick with whistling. –KH


Blue My Mind (Film, Sweden, Lisa Brühlmann, 2015) 15 year old arriving mid-term at a new school throws in with the fast kids while coping with a weird bodily transformation that fuses her toes and gets her hungering for raw fish. Hews so utterly to the distressing teens realist template that it plays as an earnest plea to understand the important social problem of turning into a mythical sea creature.—RDL

La Llorona (Film, Guatemala/France, Jayro Bustamante, 2019) Mobs of protesters besiege the house of elderly, genocidal general Enrique (Julio Diaz), while the vengeful spirit La Llorona (Maria Mercedes Coroy) infiltrates it. Regardless of its virtues as indictment of Guatemala’s actual past genocidaires, it fails as a horror film because the contemptible General never has the remotest audience sympathy and La Llorona (a beautifully creepy portrayal by director and actor wasted) never really threatens anyone else. Promising threads about the General’s Alzheimer’s and elderly weakness drop unused. –KH

T2 Trainspotting (Film, UK, Danny Boyle, 2017) Twenty years after stealing his mates’ drug deal proceeds, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh to face his reckoning. Fun but inessential sequel serves as a reunion tour for the cast, with touches of sentimentality the original bracingly avoided.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hot Priests

October 15th, 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

Fleabag Season 2 (Television, UK, BBC/Amazon, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2019) A yen for the priest (Andrew Scott) who will officiate the wedding of her father (Bill Paterson) to his dreadful partner (Olivia Colman) threatens Fleabag’s (Waller-Bridge) newfound equilibrium. In a rare recent instance of a second season building on and topping the first, Waller-Bridge deepens her already rich characters and brings the proceedings to a satisfying unresolved resolution.—RDL


The Devils (Film, UK, Ken Russell, 1971) Accusations of sorcery from a sexually frustrated abbess (Vanessa Redgrave) provide the pretext for Cardinal Richelieu’s allies to rid themselves of a politically inconvenient, hot-blooded priest (Oliver Reed.) Only in the topsy-turvy film world of the early seventies could this wildly theatrical, and wildly everything else as well, phantasmagoria of a satirical historical drama appear on the Warner Brothers release slate.—RDL

Exhibition (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2013) The marriage of two artists, one (Viv Albertine) in preemptive mourning over the striking modernist house she does not want to sell, the other (Liam Gillick) cerebral and unresponsive, hits a rough patch. Austere, minutely-observed, (mostly) naturalistic drama will induce squirms of pained sympathy from anyone who hates to be interrupted while working at home.—RDL

Joker (Film, US, Todd Phillips, 2019) Failed by everyone including himself, party clown Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) embraces nihilism in a broken Gotham City. Phoenix’ gripping physical performance carries the film over its two main structural problems: origin stories aren’t stories, and even the best pastiche (which this is) only reminds viewers of the better originals (in this case, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy). However, within those limits, Phillips and his team (especially production designer Mark Friedberg) make a really great movie nobody really needs. –KH

On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (Nonfiction, C.S. Lewis, 1982) In a series of essays (mostly published between 1944 and 1960) Lewis justifies the Romance and explains, as best he can, his own works in that broad country. Mostly minor pieces, a few of them (“On Stories” and “On Criticism” especially) sparkle as critical gems. Lovers of Lewis’ stately arguments, and of that breed of fiction concerned with Story, can find plenty to chew over, although readers already familiar with Lewis will find plenty that’s familiar here as well. –KH


1637: The Polish Maelstrom (Fiction, Eric Flint, 2019) Book 27 (!!) in the “Ring of Fire” series finds the time-slipped Americans at war with the Ottoman Empire and deniably undermining the Polish kingdom. Nothing much happens in the big picture, but at least it happens fast this time around, thanks to Flint authoring solo and attempting to advance his unwieldy alternate timeline by main force. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s Recommended for this refreshing pacing change. –KH

Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils (Nonfiction, Richard Crouse, 2012) Until Criterion releases the deluxe disc edition they’re clearly hankering to make, this thorough, occasionally hyperbolic,  look at Russell’s best and most doomed film serves as a commentary track in prose. Covering everything from the historical case of the Loudun possessions to the myriad censored cuts of the film, this dangles the ironic likelihood that Warners only greenlit it because studio execs can’t read stage directions.—RDL


The Curse of the Werewolf (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1961) Spanish nobleman (Clifford Evans) tries to shield his adopted son (Oliver Reed) from the lycanthropic curse caused by the violent circumstances of his conception. Structural problems are the bane of werewolf movies, and this Hammer effort, memorable for the intensity of Reed’s performance, has them in spades: he doesn’t even appear until halfway through the runtime. Fun fact: producer Michael Carreras forced the filmmakers to switch the setting to Spain to reuse sets from another production. The resulting movie so offended Spanish officials that all Hammer films were banned there until the end of the Franco regime.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Brides of Dracula (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1960) Vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing (Peter Cushing) heads to Transylvania to mop up the vampire cult Dracula left behind, encountering a fanged baron and the women he’s turned. Rote, listless stab at spinning off the Hammer franchise without Christopher Lee. Lovely sets though.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Weighs in on Color Out of Space

October 8th, 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.


Color Out of Space (Film, US, Richard Stanley, 2019) When a meteorite strikes the Gardner family farm outside Arkham, failed patriarch Nathan’s (Nicolas Cage) is only the loudest of the resulting disintegrations. Stanley provides a multiply layered and blackly funny look at destruction, from cancer to alpacas, while still retaining the cosmic core of Lovecraft’s story. Masterful sound design and Colin Stetson’s powerful score amplify the horror. –KH

Death-Watch (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1935) When a man is found fatally stabbed with the minute hand of a clock in a tense London house, Dr. Fell must solve the crime. Not an impossible murder (except for the impossibility of keeping the house layout straight) but an interesting puzzle that also prefigures the post-Golden Age mystery by turning on the psychology of the household rather than the minutiae of method on which Carr usually focuses. –KH

Graveyard of Honor (Film, Takashi Miike, 2002) Dishwasher proves to be a rampaging liability to his yakuza clan after a swift rise through their ranks. Remake of Kinji Fukasaku’s scabrous 1975 film encourages us to feel empathy for a protagonist who is himself incapable of it, compelled by his limited emotional range to destroy others and ultimately himself.—RDL

Hustlers (Film, US, Lorene Scarfaria, 2019) When 2008 dries up the wallets of their Wall Street clientele, a single mom stripper (Constance Wu) and her pole artiste mentor (Jennifer Lopez) hatch a scheme to drug marks and max out their credit cards. Transposes the Scorsese/Pileggi first-person sociological crime drama template to a non-murderous scheme run by women, where even the betrayals remain supportive.—RDL

Tom Jones: the Director’s Cut (Film, UK, Tony Richardson, 1963) Charming adoptee (Albert Finney) loves a country squire’s daughter (Susannah York), with his pleasure-loving ways and apparent low birth standing as obstacles between them. Today it takes a bit of context about Britain in 1963 to see why its cheeky use of anti-realist cinematic devices and hipsters vs squares rebellion into the period literary adaptation hit like lightning, but still amiable fun.—RDL

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Television, Japan, Amazon, Sion Sono, 2018) Trad and neo vampire clans vie to possess a young woman raised as the vessel for ancient Dracula blood, leading to ultra-violence and weird regret at the titular establishment. Sono spends his Amazon money on a structurally daring chimera of a horror-action mini-series, featuring mode shifts, eye-popping colors, precision fight choreography, campy yet appropriately awful vampires, and an aesthetic that crosses the streams  between Jean Rollin and Frank Tashlin.—RDL

Yella (Film, Germany, Christian Petzold, 2007) After her ex drives them off a bridge and into a river, an accountant (Nina Hoss) travels to Hanover, where a promised job leads to an unmoored, subtly unnerving professional life. Demythologized riff on Carnival of Souls, anchored by Hoss’ quietly riveting screen presence, posits that in the German Bardo Thodol you still have to study spreadsheets and face the moral disequilibrium of nagging procedural irregularities.—RDL


The Ikon (Film, Canada, Nathan Saliwonchyk, 2019) Animated rotoscope depicts the discovery of a blasphemous ikon by two Russians, in 1942 and 1992. Beautiful animation and fairy tale narration layer a tight, if familiar, Lovecraftian tale with a bit of political bite. –KH


Lost Island (Film, Russia, Denis Silyakov, 2018) When his boss exiles him to a remote island in the Kuriles, reporter Ivan Voevodin (Daniil Maslennikov) discovers weird amnesia, healing algae, and a beautiful marine biologist. Voevodin never interests the viewer, so even the most beautiful of islands doesn’t hold your attention, and nor does the desultory mystery. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wendigo Spoor

October 1st, 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

The Rim of the Pit (Fiction, Hake Talbot, 1944) “I came up here to make a dead man change his mind.” Maybe the best opening line in mystery fiction introduces this locked room novel set in the Maine north woods. The solution exhausts and gratifies, but what elevates this superb novel above all but the best of Carr is the same thing that elevates the best of Carr: supernatural atmosphere. Talbot surrounds the crime with a séance, Algernon Blackwood wendigo spoor, and fresh snowfall. Don’t read it during a blizzard. –KH


The Headless Lady (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1940) When a mysterious woman steals the Headless Lady illusion from the Great Merlini, he tracks her to the circus and discovers murder afoot! Rawson buries the reader in circus details, especially including slang, before adding a couple more plot rings to watch. I am a giant sucker for this whole milieu, but I stand by the Recommendation if only for the sheer brio of Rawson introducing one of his own pseudonyms as a suspect. –KH

No Coffin for the Corpse (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1942) The Great Merlini’s Watson, Ross Harte, has fallen in love with the daughter of an angry, and poltergeist-plagued, millionaire. Rawson’s final Merlini novel provides the requisite impossible killings and magical misdirection — plus ghost-breaking! — while pushing the boundaries of the fair-play mystery. Again, even as smitten with digression and showing off as Rawson is, he still revs up the pacing while keeping sure-handed control of his story. –KH

Off the Rails (Film, US, Adam Irving, 2016) Documentary profile of Darius McCollum, who attributes to his Asperger’s his compulsion to impersonate NYC transit employees, taking control of trains and buses, which kept him in prison for half of the last thirty years. Warm and heartbreaking portrait of a man who can’t help but mire himself in a system that can’t even contemplate connecting him to the help he so evidently needs.—RDL

Toni (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1935) Fickle quarryman’s love for a vintner’s niece turns disastrous after she instead agrees to marry his loutish foreman. Rural melodrama finds Renoir turning his sociological eye to migrant workers in the south of France.—RDL


The Twenty Year Death (Fiction, Ariel S. Winter, 2012) A novelist on a slow but inexorable downward spiral becomes a peripheral figure in murder cases in 1930s France and 1940s L.A. before becoming the alcohol-sodden perpetrator of a killing in the 1950s. Three standalone novels, in the respective styles of George Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, constitute a prodigious feat of literary mimicry, though the Thompson, the hardest voice to nail, isn’t quite as bang-on a pastiche.—RDL


Between Two Ferns: the Movie (Film, US, Scott Aukerman, 2019) Reflexively insulting public access talk show host (Zach Galifinakis) goes on the road with his partially loyal crew in search of the celebrity interviews that will earn him a prime time show contract from the cruel, click-seeking Will Ferrell (himself). Expansion of the ongoing Funny or Die spot to feature-length has both the comic highs and dead spots typical of a sketch comedy movie.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Come For the Tacos, Stay for the Criminal Profiling

September 24th, 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.


Boom Town (Nonfiction, Sam Anderson, 2018) Subtitled “The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis,” Anderson’s book tells the story of my quondam hometown through the lens of its NBA team and its meteorologist hero Gary England, with sidelights into its disastrous I.M. Pei-designed “urban renewal,” the Oklahoma Land Run, the Murrah building bombing, and OKC’s memory-holed role in the civil rights era. In this stress test of the principle “there are no dull topics, only dull authors,” Anderson triumphs, striking gushers of weirdness and truth in a place allergic to both. –KH

The Chase (Film, US, Arthur Ripley, 1946) Down-on-his-luck veteran (Robert Cummings), chauffeur to a brutal criminal (Steve Cochrane), rescues his wife (Michele Morgan) from his controlling clutches. This haunted, dreamlike noir B-movie has it all: weird atmosphere, an odd automativd gimmick, sudden love, gay subtext, Peter Lorre, reality shifts, and a recursive structure that loops back on itself.—RDL

Death From a Top Hat (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1938) Two murders of two magicians (well, an occultist and a magician) in two locked rooms, both bodies strangled in a pentacle for the demon Surgat, who opens all locks. This being a Golden Age mystery, not a fantasy novel, the Great Merlini solves the case using his knowledge of stage magic (and magicians) and the requisite annoying showmanship. For a first novel, the plot and puzzle work amazingly well, and despite literal pages of exposition at some points, it never drags. –KH

Mindhunter Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Donen & Courtenay Miles & David Fincher, 2019) Now working under an enthusiastic boss, Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) interview Berkowitz and Manson, then butt up against local political hurdles when assigned to the ongoing Atlanta Child Murders. A subtle protagonist switch puts the more likeable Tench in the viewpoint role as Fincher’s chilly crime world gives way to director Carl Franklin’s acute portrait of a steamy, stymied Atlanta. The killer roles are always a meal for this show’s guest actors; here Christopher Livingston brilliantly captures Wayne Williams as an impertinent goober.—RDL

The Praise Singer (Fiction, Mary Renault, 1978) While not as thunderous as her Alexander trilogy or as glorious as her Theseus books, this brief novel — told as a reminiscence by the 6th-century BC lyric poet Simonides of Keos — still grabs the reader with its natural, albeit un-lyrical, voice and engaging eye for character. A kind of backstage-showbiz novel less about art than patronage, it also provides plenty of interesting historical filips that leave you wanting more, a maxim Simonides would surely have endorsed. –KH

Taco Chronicles (Television, Mexico, Carlos Perez Osorio, Netflix, 2019) Documentary series examines the origins, production methods, and enthusiastic clientele of six classic taco varieties, from the shawarma-derived pastor to the portable, fat-drenched canasta, or basket taco.. Edifying and mouth-watering, if you can get past the whimsy of having each episode narrated in the voice of a particular taco.—RDL


The Footprints on the Ceiling (Fiction, Clayton Rawson, 1939) Stage magician and amateur sleuth the Great Merlini visits Skelton Island (in the East River) to expose a phony medium and discovers a phony suicide complete with footprints on the ceiling. Rawson throws even more stuff into his second novel, from pirates to blue men, but in fine misdirection style it mostly distracts from the business at hand, and not entirely to the book’s benefit. Still, the strong setting of this installment and the fun meta qualities of this series remain engaging. –KH

Glow Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch, 2019) The wrestlers find an audience with their show in Vegas, leaving them to wonder what they really wanted in the first place. The ennui that follows success provides a fresh theme for the series, though in practice this means splitting the ensemble into individual soapy plotlines, without sufficient run time to develop them.—RDL

Mindhunter Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Donen & Courtenay Miles & David Fincher, 2019) The problems of success begin to rear their heads as the nascent Behavioral Sciences Unit weathers new pressure to look good first and do good second. The choice of director Carl Franklin, and the Atlanta child killings, for the core of the season hit pay dirt narratively. It’s a shame that pointless, padded subplots about two agents’ personal lives wrap around and muffle that core. Holt McCallany remains the key performer of the series, even as the show vigorously embraces its “serial killer interview as actor’s workshop” leitmotif. –KH

Twilight (Film, US, Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) When teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to cloudy Forks, Washington she attracts the romantic attentions of local vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), endangering the supernatural balance of power. Hardwicke’s explicit fairy-tale direction and compassion for the characters create probably the best film that could faithfully adapt the mawkishly adolescent source novel. The vampire baseball scene, insane as it is, remains an example of cinema’s full potential to show something no other medium can. –KH


The Editor (Film, Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada, 2014) Film editor (Brooks) with a dissatisfied wife (Paz de la Huerta) becomes the chief suspect in a series of brutal murders at his film studio, as investigated by a randy police inspector (Kennedy.) Giallo spoof minutely pastiches the genre, including not only egregious pseudo-dubbing and a shambolic plot, but also paper-thin characterization, which wears poorly at feature length.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spiraling Ever Deeper Into Noir

September 17th, 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.

For Robin’s capsule reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival, hop on over here. They’ll reappear in Ken and Robin Consume Media as titles receive wider distribution in theaters or streaming platforms.


The Lineup (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1958) San Francisco cops trace a heroin ring as hired killer Dancer (Eli Wallach) murders the unwitting couriers. Siegel ratchets up the tension from routine cop-procedural to manhunt to a full-on car chase, drinking in the San Francisco location shots along the way. Special shout-out to Robert Keith as Dancer’s manager, who manages to somehow out-creepy Eli Wallach. –KH

Odds Against Tomorrow (Film, US, Robert Wise, 1959) Bitter ex-cop Burke (Ed Begley) masterminds a bank robbery with racist ex-con Slater (Robert Ryan) and hotheaded gambler Ingram (Harry Belafonte). Wise shoots a stark, dispassionate noir fronted by three terrific actors (plus Shelley Winters, outstanding as Slater’s too-sympathetic girl) and backed by John Lewis’ insistent jazz score. The climax drains out rather too slowly, but you can see why Jean-Pierre Melville watched it 120 times. –KH

Pushover (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1954) Assigned to cozy up to bank robber’s girlfriend Lona (Kim Novak), aging cop Paul (Fred MacMurray) falls for her instead. Although its themes of corrupt love and voyeurism echo other, better movies, its tight clockwork timing and professionalism demand respect in their own right. Plus, early Kim Novak is always Recommended. –KH


Killer’s Kiss (Film, US, Stanley Kubrick, 1955) Washed-up boxer Davie (Jamie Smith) tries to rescue dance-hall girl Gloria (Irene Kane) from her sweaty boss Vincent (Frank Silvera). Kubrick’s second film, shot for $75,000 on location in New York, shows flashes of brilliance throughout. The polearm-mannequin fight scene has to be seen to be believed. –KH [Also available as an extra on the Criterion Blu-Ray of Kubrick’s The Killing, itself highly Recommended.]

Nightfall (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1957) On the run from murderous bank robbers, Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray) runs into model Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft). Beautiful Burnett Guffey lensing and Tourneur’s restrained direction can’t save the idiot plot, and insurance investigator Fraser (James Gregory) damps down the tension at every turn. But Aldo Ray is something to watch as an almost passive noir hero in a world where existential pain or willful blindness seem the only two choices. –KH


The Garment Jungle (Film, US, Vincent Sherman, 1957) Garment company owner Walter Roxton (Lee J. Cobb) deals with gangster Ravidge (Richard Boone) to keep the union out of his shop. Original director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a pro-union film about a reluctantly brutal small businessman, but interference from Cobb and studio boss Harry Cohn stopped him; Sherman made “guy and girl fall in love in a dress factory” instead. The result: an overcrowded, incoherent movie with a few glorious character bits in it: Robert Loggia as a union organizer and Wesley Addy as a knife artist stand out. –KH

Private Hell 36 (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1954) Cop partners Farnham (Howard Duff) and Bruner (Steve Cochrane) track down a robbery jackpot with the reluctant help of nightclub singer Lily (Ida Lupino). Although Cochrane’s oily corruption is a joy to watch, any film that depends on Howard Duff’s internalized acting has two strikes against it. As always, hardcore Lupino-philes should kick this up to Good. –KH

The Vengeance of She (Fiction, Peter Tremayne, 1978) H. Rider Haggard’s immortal villain-priestess Ayesha returns, in the body of a psychiatric patient in Guildford. Tremayne doesn’t do much with this premise besides re-run Haggard’s novel, but in dull England rather than exotic Africa or Tibet. A promising theme of Ayesha as the id of everyone involved remains barely invoked. –KH

Not Recommended

Cry Tough (Film, US, Paul Stanley, 1959) Young Puerto Rican Miguel Estrada (John Saxon) tries to go straight after a year in prison, but the temptations of gang life and Sarita (Linda Cristal) pull him back in. Is it a social-problem film? A melodrama? A gangster film? A movie that never decides what it wants to do? No location shots (all backlot stuff) and only intermittently sympathetic characters complete the “don’t bother” package. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Goes Noir

September 10th, 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

Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Spirit, US, 2018) Smooth and immediately rich, this is one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted. If it came from Kentucky it would fetch quadruple the price.—RDL


Creatures of Will and Temper (Fiction, Molly Tanzer, 2017) Did you know you wanted to read a gender-flipped Dorian Gray with fencing and demons? Well, you do. Tanzer keeps her characters flawed and appealing, and the action twisty and surprising, and the demons intriguing and weird, all as they should be, with graceful prose and just a soupcon of (important) earnestness. Best of all, she resists the temptation to pastiche Wilde. –KH

Forever and a Death (Fiction, Donald E. Westlake, 2017) Construction magnate Richard Curtis decides to take revenge on Hong Kong with a soliton device, and only the engineer who designed it for him can stop his plan! This posthumously published thriller began life as a Westlake treatment for a James Bond movie, but it reads like a grittier-than-normal (and better-than-normal) airport thriller. –KH

In a Lonely Place (Film, US, Nicholas Ray, 1950) Violent screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) falls for his alibi (Gloria Grahame) in the murder of a hat check girl. Although the viewer is never in real suspense about Steele’s guilt, Bogart’s brutally honest (and brutal) performance, and Ray’s direction of a disastrous love affair paralleling his own with Grahame, captivate throughout. –KH

The Nosferatu Story (Nonfiction, Rolf Giesen, 2019) Exploring the sources and the legacy of Murnau’s film as much as it does the more standard filmography, Giesen’s work occasionally veers into stodginess or irrelevancy but still provides the best one-stop treatment of this Pinnacle available. Could more be said? Of course it can, Murnau made a masterpiece. Pair the book with a viewing of the Kino Lorber restored film. –KH

Pickup on South Street (Film, US, Sam Fuller, 1953) When Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) lifts a wallet from Candy (Jean Peters) on the subway, he finds himself in the middle of a Commie spy plot. Thelma Ritter completely steals the show as a stool pigeon. Fuller layers so much character into his New York and his cop story and his lovers that it satisfies all the way down. –KH [I’ve actually already seen this one, but not on the big screen and not since we started publicly Consuming our Media, so I’m posting it.]

Sudden Fear (Film, US, David Miller, 1952) Playwright and heiress Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) fires impoverished actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), but there’s no hard feelings, right? Surely not — they meet a month later on the train, she falls in love, and then we remember oh yeah Jack Palance. A taut game of cat-and-also-cat ensues, featuring yet another Crawford master class in pre-Method acting, much of it without dialogue. –KH


Appointment With Danger (Film, US, Lewis Allen, 1950) When a postal inspector is murdered in Gary, Indiana, tough-as-nails postal detective Al Goddard (Alan Ladd) takes the case. Basically ridiculous crime film at least features loads of fun dialogue, including perhaps the only Lutheran zinger in the history of noir. It also nails its supporting cast: Phyllis Calvert as an eyewitness nun, Paul Stewart as the gravel-voiced lug du jour, queen of tarts Jan Sterling, and Jack Webb and Henry Morgan as partners in crime. –KH

The File on Thelma Jordon (Film, US, Robert Siodmak, 1950) Impecunious adventuress Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck in top-notch fettle) seduces assistant D.A. Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) but falls for him while playing him for the sap he is. Weird, gorgeous minor-key version of Double Indemnity won’t head anyone’s list of Siodmak films, or even Stanwyck performances, but the bravura, near-farce murder coverup scene is a minor masterpiece of black humor. –KH


White Dragon Season 1 (Television, UK, Mark Denton & Johnny Stockwood, 2019) English lecturer (John Simm) discovers not only that his wife was murdered in Hong Kong, but that she had a daughter (Katie Leung) and another husband, a disgraced ex-cop (Anthony Wong.) The chief pleasure of this anodyne, padded crime thriller is watching Wong act Simm off the screen with one language tied behind his back.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Gothic Hugger-Mugger

August 27th, 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 Deadly Trap (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1971) A bipolar mom (Faye Dunaway) loses her grip on reality; meanwhile, a shadowy conspiracy pressures her husband (Frank Langella) to return to his former physics career. A basic paranoia thriller on a textual level, shot and staged with a subjective, gauzy menace that wouldn’t be at all out of place in a work of weird horror.—RDL

Hag’s Nook (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1933) The Starberth heir must spend the night in the haunted prison where his ancestor Governor Starberth died of a broken neck — and guess what happens to him! In this first Doctor Fell mystery, Carr unleashes all his love of Gothic hugger-mugger while keeping the plot and the detection under fine control. Although he would get even better in the next decade, this established Carr as the last great Golden Age detective author. –KH


Occult (Film, Japan, Koji Shiraishi, 2009) Faux documentary follows Shiraishi’s investigation of a seemingly random resort stabbing and the web of paranormal reality behind it. Influenced by Lovecraft (especially “From Beyond”) its mix of weird and mundane horror would probably work more effectively with better special effects in one or two key scenes, but still ambitious, personal, and strange, all good things. –KH

That Guy Dick Miller (Film, US, Elijah Drenner, 2014) Loving documentary portrait of iconic genre character actor, who brought a unique mix of energy and authenticity to the films of Roger Corman and his directorial proteges.—RDL

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2019) Agoraphobic, misanthropic, blocked architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) jumps out a window rather than face her life; her husband (Billy Crudup) and daughter (Emma Nelson) try to find her. Whipsaws tonally between an interesting take on “naturalist Wes Anderson film” and standard-issue family dramedy. Blanchett’s big, loud performance doesn’t really join the disparate bits, but her and Nelson’s chemistry keep you invested. –KH


The Scapegoat (Film, UK, Robert Hamer, 1959) Despondent university professor (Alec Guinness) meets an identical stranger, a cash-strapped French count, who tricks him into assuming his identity and carrying on his complicated family life. Unhurried pacing and Guinness’ unflappable persona dull the suspense in a contemporary gothic adapted from a Daphne DuMaurier novel.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2019) The dirty Russkies have re-opened the gate to the Upside Down, as the Mind Flayer recuperates in Hawkins and our heroes get weirdly adolescent-looking all of a sudden. The Duffers badly endanger one of the two strongest features of the series — its tone — in this all-over-the-map tribute to 1985. Directing David Harbour to shout 85% of his lines is only the biggest offender as the series also plays fast and loose with its other strength, its characters. It’s still a high Okay, but like most 80s franchises, the third installment markedly suffers by comparison to its progenitors. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fast and Furious Spins Off

August 13th, 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.


Daredevil Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, Erik Olesen, 2019) A physically and emotionally shattered Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) reverts to his proto-costumed persona to battle Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’onofrio), who has suborned the FBI into releasing him from prison. Hits Pinnacle status whenever D’onofrio’s amazing multi-layered Kingpin is on screen; drops to Okay at best when the writers are sticking to their conception of Matt as a petulant mope.—RDL

Forbidden (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1932) Staid small town librarian (Barbara Stanwyck) throws it all aside for a Caribbean cruise, where her encounter with a charming attorney (Adolphe Menjou) leads to a lifelong affair. Moving performance from Stanwyck abetted by snappy direction from Capra, who at this point in his career has yet to mask his essential bleakness with a thick layer of treacle.—RDL

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) (Nonfiction, Jeff Tweedy, 2018) The Wilco frontman recounts his Southern Illinois upbringing, work as a musician and songwriter, painkiller addiction and tight-knit family life. Stays out of the weeds of individual recording projects, instead telling its anecdotes with humility and often a sharp comic vision.—RDL


Hobbs & Shaw (Film, US, David Leitch, 2019) Alpha badasses Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) must team up to save Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirby) from killer cyborg Brixton (Idris Elba). A film directed by a John Wick alumnus set in the Fast & Furious universe should have better fight scenes and car chases — with the exception of the truly spectacular helicopter vs. truck chase, this doesn’t hit the best-of-breed level. But there’s something to be said for good-humored testosterone by the bucketful, joined to earnest sentimentality about family. –KH

May the Devil Take You (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto, 2018) Young woman whose estranged father’s pact with demonic forces has come due heads to her childhood home in the forest, where she must protect her half-siblings from their mother, now inhabited by a Deadite. Inventive scares liven up a fun fright flick that invites the gonzo brio of The Evil Dead into the south Asian exorcism sub-genre.—RDL

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Film, US, Allan Arkush, 1979) Rebellious music fan (P. J. Soles) and her science-loving pal (Dey Young) run afoul of their school’s new authoritarian principal (Mary Woronov) in the run-up to a Ramones concert. Like a zine come to life, this scrappy product of the Roger Corman system celebrates female friendship and takes the rebellion of the teen flick to a cheerily explosive extreme. I put this on for a rewatch only to discover that I, bizarrely, had never seen it. Owned the soundtrack record and everything!—RDL

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Flying Clock
Film Cannister