Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stranger Pinnacles

August 2nd, 2016 | KenH

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

The Pinnacle

Stranger Things Season 1 (TV, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2016) Boy’s disappearance sets his D&D pals, older brother, and a small town police chief on the separate paths into a mystery involving a sinister government lab, interdimensional monsters, and a psi-powered girl. With its brilliantly layered pacing, superlative kid acting and knowing mastery of early 80s stylistic gestures, this excursion into kid-friendly horror in many ways tops the King, Carpenter, and Spielberg material it pays homage to. And gosh it was right swell of Netflix to go to such expense to promote the imminent releases of Fear Itself and Bubblegumshoe.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 1 (TV, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2016) If this perfectly paced homage to 1980s horror has any real flaw, it’s that the sheer brio of its references and pastiches can obscure its masterful, disciplined plotting and even step on its superb serial evocations of paranoia, dread, and the uncanny. The almost total lack of exposition, outside Stephen-King-esque flashbacks to emotionally resonant moments, is especially brave in a show that depends on audiences “getting it” to work. Special shout-out to the Kyle Dixon/Michael Stein score, which sneakily evokes Angelo Badalamenti almost as much as it overtly does John Carpenter. –KH


I Am Providence (Fiction, Nick Mamatas, 2016) Annoying, marginal Lovecraftian who seems to live only for online disputation (remiiiiiind you of anyone?) has his face sliced off at a Providence Lovecraft convention. Narrated in parallel by the corpse and by his erstwhile con roommate Colleen Danzig, this perhaps over-elaborate exercise in piss-taking lives by Mamatas’ confident style and his subversion of the murder mystery format. It’s philosophically far less interesting than other Mamatas works (Sensation, Love is the Law), although that may be part of the joke on self-important HPL-philes. If you’re a sensitive Lovecraftian, the vitriol spat at Lovecraft and his modern acolytes will amuse you less than if you are a monster of arrogance such as myself or Nick. –KH

Train to Busan (Film, South Korea, Sang-Ho Yeon, 2016) Selfish fund manager reluctantly takes his young daughter on a birthday train trip to see her mother; as they leave the station, a nationwide fast-zombie epidemic erupts. With its tightly rendered throughline and brilliant obstacle construction, this would go in the Recommended slot even if it weren’t surprisingly moving for a zombie flick.–RDL


The Goonies (Film, US, Richard Donner, 1985) Hollering pre-teens in Oregon hunt for pirate treasure while being pursued by also-hollering criminals. Even thirty years later, the “tween Howard Hawks” feel of the first two acts is kind of jaw-dropping, but the cave-and-ship scenes slide into a by-the-numbers Spielbergian amusement park ride. All the praise for Dave Grusin’s score is merited, not least because he knew enough to lift a proper 1948 adventure score by Max Steiner. (I was 20 when this cult movie came out, so I didn’t see it then, and if I’d seen it for the first time at 12 I would have loved it, so call it Recommended for kids.) –KH

Jason Bourne (Film, US, Paul Greengrass, 2016) New revelations about his past bring super-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) back into conflict with the panoptic CIA in the persons of fresh-faced cyber division head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and folksy Agency bad guy #4 (Tommy Lee Jones). While director Greengrass and star Damon continue their top-notch performances, the script needed to be either less facile or more creative, or ideally both. As it is, when it fractures the series’ crucial facade of realism, there’s nothing to rescue the story. The result is a weirdly stand-pattish ‘reset’ on the franchise that redefined the spy thriller for the new millennium. –KH

Star Trek Beyond (Film, US, Justin Lin, 2016) What are the odds that, in the middle of an unexplored nebula, a Captain Kirk (Christopher Pine) wrestling with daddy issues should encounter a combat-techie-ninja alien (Sofia Boutella) also wrestling with daddy issues? In 2263, one assumes they’re astronomical, but in 2016 they’re even money. (Zachary Quinto’s Spock, in a change-up from the original TV character, wrestles with alternate-older-self issues.) This tired script is, however, the best of the three Abrams-verse installments, and the cast and crew by now have the TOS rhythms down. Justin Lin’s experience at directing ensemble actioners is a real plus, too. –KH


The Five Man Army (Film, Italy/US, Don Taylor & Italo Zingarelli, 1968) In turn of the century Mexico, a mastermind (Peter Graves), a bank robber, a big bruiser, an explosives expert and a samurai team up to rob a government gold train. Less awesome than this sounds, due to spiritless direction—though the heist itself is so much better than the rest of the film I want to believe co-writer Dario Argento had an uncredited hand in the second unit direction. Feels like an Ennio Morricone-scored film adaptation of that time you tried to play Boot Hill but the player who always insists on playing the samurai still insisted on playing the samurai.—RDL

Pandora’s Legions (Fiction, Christopher Anvil, 2002 ed.) From 1956 to 1969 John W. Campbell published Anvil’s series of semi-humorous short stories and novellas about the Centrans, lion-like aliens who were dumbfounded by the smarter, more inventive, more persuasive humans they had just conquered. In 1972, Anvil expanded the first of those tales into a novel, Pandora’s Planet. Editor Eric Flint combined the whole cycle (with Anvil’s rewrites and input) into this episodic omnibus novel, which retains its charms but nevertheless remains a minor work of the didactic Silver Age of SF. –KH

Not Recommended

Batman: The Killing Joke (Film, US, Sam Liu, 2016) Animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s least good major work manages to make it even worse with a tacked-on Batgirl-gets-too-emotionally-involved first act. Bruce Timm’s 90s expressionism might not have worked for an adaptation of Brian Bolland’s line art, but the DC house animation style looks extra cheesy as it sedulously apes Bolland’s panels. Mark Hamill’s Joker, however, is as richly menacing as it’s ever been, so Moore’s clever dialogue sounds great even as it signifies nothing. –KH

3 Responses to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stranger Pinnacles”

  1. Tim Emrick says:

    If I hadn’t already decided that Stranger Things was going to be next in my Netflix queue, these two Pinnacle reviews would have clinched it!

  2. Aaron says:

    Saw Stranger Things, liked it but I don’t want to get involved in another decent show that stretches itself out to 8 seasons, of which only 3 are good.

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