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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heaven, a Hitman, and the Deadly World of Produce Sales

February 11th, 2020 | 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 Good Place Season 4 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2019-20) Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her friends find themselves responsible for saving every human on Earth from the malfunctioning points system. In its intentionally final season, the show comes in for a glide path landing by switching its philosophical center from the nature of the good to the nature of the eternal. Schur nails the landing on the greatest narrative aerial act in television history. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2018) Increasingly alienated hitman (Bill Hader) navigates an existential crisis by joining an acting class on the spur of the moment. This least likely premise for acidulous, perfect-pitch black comedy nonetheless delivers thanks to a deep bench of gifted actors and writing that tries to slip the jokes by you like curveballs. –KH

The Beach Bum (Film, US, Harmony Korine, 2019) Lovable alcoholic poet and Key West party figure (Matthew McConaughey) stays true to himself as he flees a variety of challenges to his lack of sobriety. Majestically photographed picaresque flips the bird to the redemption arc, and for that matter arcs in general. Isla Fisher, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence show up to confound their agents with outlandish roles, with Snoop Dogg playing to type in his.—RDL

Blood and Black Lace (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1964) A masked figure in a black trenchcoat wages a murder spree against women associated with a modeling agency. With its sumptuous production design, hyper-saturated colors, and twisting, protagonist-free narrative structure, this combination of horror and murder mystery launched the giallo sub-genre into a local movie industry hungry for new templates to copycat.—RDL

Thieves Highway (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1949) Returning veteran (Richard Conte) enters the cutthroat world of fruit trucking to get to the corrupt produce wholesaler (Lee J. Cobb) responsible for his father’s maiming. Adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from his own autobiographical novel, this presents as scathing a portrait of bare knuckled American business as studio-mandated happy endings will allow. Dassin leavens the proceedings with romanticism, symbolized by Valentina Cortese as the bad girl savior, clad in Hollywood’s most expressive coat.—RDL

Good

Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (Film, US, Daniel Raim, 2019) Documentary illuminates the careers of key early American D.O.P.s, including Billy Bitzer (Griffith), Roland Totheroh (Chaplin), William Daniels (Garbo and glamour photography), Gregg Toland (deep focus) and James Wong Howe (realism.) If there’s one subject matter that cries out for the documentary format, it’s this.—RDL

Judy (Film, US/UK, Rupert Goold, 2019) Out of cash and struggling with the pill addiction MGM gave her as a teenager, Judy Garland (Renée Zellwegger) hopes a long term gig in London will turn her situation around. Stylistically unadventurous biopic exists as a container for the very specific type of bravura performance awards season can’t get enough of.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Good Place, Arrow, and a Feminist UFO Cult

February 4th, 2020 | 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.

Ken is on assignment.

The Pinnacle

The Good Place Season 4 (Television, US, NBC, Mike Schur, 2019-2020) Challenged to improve the afterlife by guiding a fresh quartet of souls, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Michael (Ted Danson) discover that spotting the flaws in a system is easier than building one that works. The proof of a finale season is in the last episode, and the kicker here, a sweet and melancholy meditation on how happiness might itself be the saddest thing, concludes a remarkable series with understated brilliance.—RDL

Recommended

Arrow Season 7 (Television, US, CW, Beth Schwartz, 2019-2020) Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) says goodbye to old friends as he struggles for and against the Monitor, a cosmic entity guiding his sacrificial fate in an upcoming battle for the multiverse. It’s rare to see any season, let alone a final one, set so many hurdles for itself: welding a cosmic plotline to the show’s crime/spy baseline, putting its climactic moments in a multi-show crossover, weaving in a backdoor pilot for a spinoff, and papering over the absence of the series’ heart, Emily Bett Rickards. Yet if, as someone just said above, the proof is in the payoff, this always shaggy show in the end reaches for and once more captures the spandex-clad high emotion that made its key moments.—RDL

New Eden (Television, Canada, Kayla Lorette, Evany Rosen & Alyesa Young, Crave, 2020) In a bid to keep their 80s feminist commune together, the uptight and needy Katherine (Lorette) and charismatic codependent (Rosen), transform it into a UFO cult, which only accelerates its doom spiral. In keeping with hallowed Canadian tradition, this true crime mockumentary uses a playing style rooted in sketch comedy to plumb the depths of human desperation.—RDL

San Babila-8 P.M. (Film, Italy, Carlo Lizzani, 1976) A twelve hour period of trouble-seeking for a quartet of variously neurotic neofascist youths escalates from vandalism to serious bloodshed. Tense crime docudrama foregrounds the misogyny that unites its grandiose loser protagonists.—RDL

The Two Popes (Film, UK/Italy, Fernando Meirelles, 2019) In a debate bookended by two papal conclaves, conservative Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) rebuffs the attempts of Argentinean reformist cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) to renounce his post. Meirelles pulls out the full playbook of cinematic technique to bring wit, energy and warmth to a two-hander revolving around theological debate.—RDL

Good

The Bounty Hunter (Film, US, Andre de Toth, 1954) Acerbic bounty hunter (Randolph Scott) sets a booming copper mining town on edge with his hunt for stagecoach robbers even the Pinkertons can’t catch. I enjoyed this soothingly routine Western more than I can objectively argue for, chiefly for the pleasure of seeing Scott play a hardboiled private dick in a Stetston. Watch him solve the case using the GUMSHOE abilities Intimidation, Bullshit Detector, Flattery, Reassurance (a spend), Evidence Collection, and Interrogation.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ballard, Almodovar and the Whisperer in Podcast Darkness

January 28th, 2020 | 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 Atrocity Exhibition (Fiction, J. G. Ballard, 1970) A psychiatrist, or psychiatric patient, or rogue installation artist, named Travis, or Tallis, or Traven, stages a series of ultra-disturbing demonstrations, or interventions, or hallucinations concerning celebrity, the Vietnam war, and automobile accident eroticism. Kaleidoscopic and prescient, and still truly transgressive after all these years. I’ve written before about what the Dreamhounds of Paris surrealist Dreamlands might look like in the 60s, and well, exactly like this, right down to the direct invocation of Ernst and Dali and inescapable parallels to “Repairer of Reputations.”—RDL

Pain and Glory (Film, Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2019) Sidelined by chronic pain, an acclaimed filmmaker (Antonio Banderas) remembers his childhood, reconnects with estranged figures from his past, and experiments with heroin. His color sense as expressive as ever, Almodovar frames a powerfully interiorized performance from Banderas with deceptively simple mastery.—RDL

The Whisperer in Darkness (Podcast, BBC, Julian Simpson, 2019) Following up on 2018’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the true crime “Mystery Machine” podcast ventures into the mysterious disappearance of Henry Akeley from Rendlesham Forest. Lovecraft’s tale was already the ur-UFO/contactee tale, and the addition of weird government conspiracies only juices the original story kernel. Purists may grump at the submergence of Lovecraft’s original climax, but they can’t complain about an insufficiency of audio trickery and cool stuff. –KH

Good

A Brighter Summer Day (Film, Taiwan, Edward Yang, 1991) In early 60s Taipei, a high school student flirts with street gang violence and falls for a seemingly demure girl with bad luck in boyfriends. Subtly told epic flags in its fourth and final hour, when it becomes apparent that the central character is less interesting than the piece’s overall evocation of time and place.—RDL

mid90s (Film, US, Jonah Hill, 2018) Young teen whose suffocating home life drives him to self-harm finds community by joining a band of hard-partying skateboarders. Dreamy slice-of-life drama delivers more charm than your average social drama pic, without quite managing a third act escalation.—RDL

Midsommar (Film, US, Ari Aster, 2019) Grief-stricken young woman (Florence Pugh) accompanies her feckless grad student boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his pals to visit an insular community in rural Sweden, whose charming folk rituals take a turn for the sacrificial. Holds interest with slow burn pacing and Kubrickian compositions but ultimately proves a long walk around the block for a cover version of The Wicker Man.—RDL

Okay

No Blade of Grass (Film, UK, Cornel Wilde, 1970) When a grain-killing virus plunges the world into starvation and Britain into anarchy, a stentorian architect (Nigel Davenport) and his family flee London for the north, descending almost immediately into murder hoboism. Brutal, crudely executed stewpot of social conscience and exploitation gives voice to the misanthropic strain of environmentalism. While the text laments humanity’s downfall, the subtext says the bastards had it coming.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Chernobyl, Little Women, and the Birth of Modern Luxury

January 21st, 2020 | 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

Chernobyl (Television, US/UK, HBO/Sky, Craig Mazin, 2019) Faced with the unimaginable catastrophe of the 1986 nuclear disaster, a politically naive nuclear physicist (Jared Harris) and bluff party official (Stellan Skarsgård) battle obstacles both logistical and systemic. Speaking of logistical challenges, it’s a miracle anyone got this made this at all, let alone executed it on the highest level of writing, cinema, acting, music and production design.—RDL

Recommended

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Film, US, Eva Orner, 2019) Outlandishly wealthy yoga entrepreneur eludes justice for sex offenses against his trainees. Documentary presents yet another case study of a remorseless, charismatic fabulist who uses his intrinsic clownishness to bypass the logic circuits of his prey, supporters, and adversaries.—RDL

Cash On Demand (Film, UK, Quentin Lawrence, 1962) A bullying fussbudget of a branch manager (Peter Cushing) becomes an unwilling accomplice to the robbery of his own bank, at the hands of a bluff mastermind (Andre Morell) threatening his wife and son. Real-time, constrained location crime thriller from Hammer Studios is a model of tension-building from a tightly limited palette of elements—and an unconventional Christmas movie to boot.—RDL

Little Women (Film, US, Greta Gerwig, 2019) Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her sisters (Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen) grow up in Civil War-era Concord, Mass. Gerwig’s script depicts the shift from warm yet rambunctious adolescence to sudden, constraining maturity with wit and generosity to her characters (and to the Alcott novel) but its flashback structure somewhat jumbles the arc. Gerwig again proves herself to be a real actor’s director, and with this standout ensemble cast (especially including Laura Dern as Marmee) she creates a thoroughly, continuously satisfying film. –KH

Ritz & Escoffier: The Hotelier, The Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class (Nonfiction, Luke Barr, 2018) At the close of the 19th century, in London and elsewhere, the team of hotel manager Cesar Ritz and innovative chef Auguste Escoffier establishes conceptions of luxury and fine dining that still prevail today. A double biography cemented by strong character portraiture, social observation, and vivid food prose.—RDL

Good

Us (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2019) Scissor-wielding doppelgangers attack a family at their summer house, awakening dark memories for mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o.) I wouldn’t have guessed that Peele would follow up Get Out with a movie about the dispossessed rising up to murder us in our homes, but he sure does demonstrate his mastery of horror-action staging.—RDL

Not Recommended

Overlord (Film, US, Julius Avery, 2018) American paratroopers assaulting on a Nazi radio tower discover that the base also houses monstrous super-soldier experiments. Spends too much time as a derivative war movie to develop its horror aspect.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Food Court Megalomania and Cross-Canada Spring Rolls

January 14th, 2020 | 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

Chop Suey Nation (Nonfiction, Ann Hui, 2019) Food writer’s coast-to-coast tour of small town Chinese restaurants in restaurants leads her to the surprise story of her own parents. Sometimes droll, often moving, always keenly observed blend of travelogue, food diffusion study, and family memoir makes a convincing argument that the quintessential Canadian dish is ginger beef.—RDL

First Man (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2018) Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) takes his grief over his young daughter’s cancer death and stuffs it deep inside the shell of stoicism that will take him through the rattletrap dangers of NASA’s mission to the moon. Working from a screenplay by Josh Singer, Chazelle trains his jittery verve on material that takes a giant leap past the callowness of his previous self-penned celebrations of greatness-at-any-cost.—RDL

Gone With the Mind (Fiction, Mark Leyner, 2016) After an extended introduction from his doting, oversharing mother, obliviously self-obsessed author Mark Leyner introduces a reading of his latest work to a mall food court populated only by a pair of disinterested workers on break. Leyner gets as personal as absurdist, stream-of-consciousness presentation allows in this hilarious anti-autobiography.—RDL

Wild Nights With Emily (Film, US, Madeleine Olnek, 2018) As the late Emily Dickinson’s (Molly Shannon) self-appointed literary guardian (Amy Seimetz) tells her censored, condescending version of the poet’s life, we see a truer version that includes her decades-long affair with the childhood friend (Susan Zeigler) who became her sister-in-law. Respectful of the poetry but irreverent toward the once-prevailing official story, this busts stuffy biopic convention with a deceptively light sketch comedy playing style.—RDL

Okay

Murder! (Film, UK, Alfred Hitchcock, 1930) Suffering second thoughts after serving on a jury that condemned a young colleague to death, an esteemed actor (Herbert Marshall) commences his own investigation of the murder in question. A chance for Hitchcock completists to watch him try to experiment his way past the limitations of early sound cinema.—RDL

Rush (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2013) Two drivers with contrastingly arrogant personalities, hard-partying, swaggering James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and brusque and calculating Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) bitterly vie for the 1976 Formula One championship. As it’s unusual for a Peter Morgan script to have no apparent point of view until a final scene of obvious dialogue spells it all out, I’m guessing that a wheel came off in production, sending the film to the voice-over pit stop.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ip Man, Dracula, and the Sack Lunch Bunch

January 7th, 2020 | 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 Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Fiction, Georges Simenon, 1931) A pair of dissolute teens mix themselves up in the murder of a foreign businessman visiting Liege, Belgium, as Inspector Maigret takes his sweet time showing up and putting everything right. A piquant example of Simenon’s use of the mystery format as a frame for brisk social observation.—RDL

Ip Man 4: The Finale (Film, HK, Wilson Yip; action direction Yuen Woo-Ping, 2019) Diagnosed with cancer, legendary Kung fu instructor Ip Man (Donnie Yen) travels to San Francisco to find a school for his recalcitrant son, encountering injustice in the form of a vindictive INS agent and brutal marines intent on keeping Chinese martial arts out of their training. Returns to the structure of the original—as a melodrama advanced by fights rather than an action thriller—with this outing’s evil karate masters American instead of Japanese. A square-off featuring Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruce Lee satisfyingly homages his fighting style, though Lee might not approve of the wire work. Toronto fu fans, note the first name of the secondary villain and the surname of the main baddie.—RDL

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch (Television, US, Netflix, John Mulaney, 2019) Mulaney’s latest presents a one-off episode of an ever-so-slightly-skewed kids’ show (think an episode of Zoom or Electric Company, fellow Gen-Xers) ever-so-slightly nihilist in tone. Highlights include David Byrne joining a musical number on the theme “Pay Attention!” and a catastrophically over the top Jake Gyllenhaal as an under-rehearsed “Mister Music.” Leitmotifs of death and failure link what might otherwise just be over-clever irony in kid sketch format. –KH

Knives Out (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2019) The chronically honest nurse (Ana de Armas) to a relative-plagued author (Christopher Plummer) finds herself in the hot seat when sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the details of his apparent suicide. Mustering skilled plotting rare for a Hollywood script in these darkling times, Johnson takes makes one of the season’s freshest entertainments out of the unlikeliest of vehicles, the cozy mystery.—RDL

The Lady Hermit (Film, HK, Ho Meng-Hua, 1971) Seeking a sifu to train her to take on the cruel martial artist Black Demon, a brash would-be hero (Szu Shih) searches for missing legendary fighter Lady Hermit (Cheng Pei-Pei.) Classically told actioner varies a favorite motif by assigning the mentor-student relationship at the heart of martial arts cinema to women.—RDL

Letterkenny Seasons 1 & 2 (Television, Canada, Crave, Jacob Tierney & Jared Keeso, 2016) Hunky-awkward farmer Wayne (Keeso), a man of firm opinions and semi-reluctant fists, hangs out with his sidekicks and self-possessed sister (Michelle Mylett) in a rural community divided between the three basic social groups: hicks, skids, and hockey players. Offbeat comedy combines the camaraderie and rapidfire dialogue of Howard Hawks with the raunch of Kevin Smith and the backwater social comedy of The Trailer Park Boys.—RDL

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Nonfiction, David Grann, 2017) In 1920s Oklahoma a conspiracy of respectable white citizens forms to systematically kill off members of the Osage tribe, stripping them of their sudden oil wealth. Gripping investigative true crime account exposes a shocking, buried history. Currently being prepped as Martin Scorsese’s next film, to star Robert De Niro and Leonardo di Caprio as key figures in the murder gang.—RDL

Richard Jewell (Film, US, Clint Eastwood, 2019) When schlubby security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) finds a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the FBI (Jon Hamm) and media (Olivia Wilde) railroad him as the bombing suspect. Eastwood’s remarkably minimalist direction and tame palette accentuate the standout acting of Hauser, Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mom, and Sam Rockwell as his lawyer. The result: A film that feels strangely like a 1940s melodrama without the melos. –KH

Veronica Mars Season 4 (Television, US, Hulu, Rob Thomas, 2019) Worried about her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and resisting her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring), Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigates a string of bombings on Neptune’s beachfront. The show had mostly abandoned its perfect structure by Season 3, but fortunately the characters and writing remain strong. Izabela Vidovic steals the series as Veronica’s protege Matty, not easy to do in a show with strong turns from Patton Oswalt, JK Simmons, and deputy, now FBI guy, Leo (Max Greenfield). –KH

Okay

Dracula (Television, UK, Netflix/BBC, Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffatt, 2020) Three episodes build increasingly vaguely on the novel: Harker in Transylvania, the voyage of the Demeter, and the turning of Lucy. The casting of Dracula (Claes Band) and Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) works, but the talky, stagy script defeats both of them. As depressingly always with this team, a few good (even startling) ideas at the outset eventually drown under self-indulgence, pointlessness, and sheer idiocy. Points, however, for shooting at Orava Castle and Bray Studios. –KH

The Kid Who Would Be King (Film, UK, Joe Cornish, 2019) After pulling Excalibur from a stone in a construction site, a bullied schoolkid enlists his tormenters to help him fight Morgan LeFay and her flaming skeleton army. Dour kids’ adventure struggles to tries to bend Arthurian myth into a vehicle for contemporary liberalism.—RDL

The Verdict (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1946) Aided by a bon vivant illustrator (Peter Lorre), a disgraced Scotland Yard superintendent (Sydney Greenstreet) investigates a locked-room murder. Siegel directs the hell out of an unambitious script, shooting backlot Victorian London with expressionistic angles, lighting, and dread.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, Uncut Gems, and Marriage Story

December 31st, 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

Marriage Story (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2019) Hopes for an amicable, lawyer-free divorce for a stifled actress (Scarlett Johansson) and a wunderkind theatrical director (Adam Driver) blow up when she wants to move their son with her to L.A. Driven by poignant performances, this subtle drama delivers one standout scene after another without ever cheating its emotional realism.—RDL

Uncut Gems (Film, US, Josh & Benny Safdie, 2019) Heavily indebted to his increasingly impatient bookie, NYC jeweler and all-around risk junkie Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) keeps finding new ways to dig his hole deeper. In a marvel of presence and performance, Sandler keeps you riveted with concern for a messed-up antihero who is not only doomed but has it coming. Daniel Lopatin’s bubbling score plays the role of Ratner’s jacked-up neurochemistry.—RDL

Uncut Gems (Film, US, Josh & Benny Safdie, 2019) Jeweller and compulsive gambler Howie (Adam Sandler) launches a dizzying series of schemes around an uncut black opal and Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett (playing his 2012 self) to stay out of the clutches of angry bookie Arno (Eric Bogosian). A literally manic scammer thrill ride, a sheer heart attack of a movie that never lets up on the viewer, a virtuoso plot that seems to spring naturally from the Manhattan gem world setting and dysfunctional humanity alike. Sandler is unsurprisingly (to those of us who remember Punch Drunk Love) terrific in a straight part as a broken man, but this one draws more from his comedian’s stores of ego, timing, and loathing. –KH

Recommended

1917 (Film, UK, Sam Mendes, 2019) In April 1917, Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George Mackay) must get an urgent message to another unit to prevent a slaughter. Mendes’ man-on-a-mission script is nothing special, but it’s not his usual junk, either, presenting World War I as a haunted house built around intermittent metaphors. His “one continuous take” affect throughout cheats, and is merely clever. The Recommendation comes from Roger Deakins’ supernatural cinematographic art; the starshell sequence finds pure rapture in nightmare, but it’s only the best of many. –KH

Carmine Street Guitars (Film, Canada, Ron Mann, 2019) Musicians ranging from Lenny Kaye to Bill Frisell to the Sadies drop into the Greenwich Village shop of Rick Kelly, who makes guitars from reclaimed wood taken from demolished 19th century New York buildings. A comforting, contemplative study of the quiet craftsmanship that goes into the tools for rocking out.—RDL

Dinosaurs Rediscovered (Nonfiction, Michael J. Benton, 2019) Roundup of developments in the last two decades of paleontology depict a revolution in understanding driven by computer modeling. Clear and engaging practitioner’s account sparingly deploys the now-obligatory pop science personal anecdotes.—RDL

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird (Film, US, Steven-Charles Jaffe, 2013) Arts profile documentary looks at the work and mordant vision of cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Aside from learning that Wilson is not as I had pictured him but as I should have been picturing him, the key bit here is watching the extremely humble method he used to produce his intricate, inimitable pieces.—RDL

Knives Out (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2019) When mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) seemingly commits suicide on the night of his 85th birthday, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play in a houseful of suspects. Wonderfully structured riff on the classic star-stuffed mystery movie provides comic and suspense turns in abundance. –KH

The Mandalorian Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Jon Favreau, 2019) In the opening years of the new Republic, a Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) finds a target he cannot ethically take, and rebels against the Guild to protect it. Combining Lone Wolf & Cub with (mostly spaghetti) Westerns, Favreau builds strong episodic television while infusing the series with the true Star Wars spice. Special shout-outs to the production design and guest casting. –KH

Shooting Script (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1966) Charter pilot Keith Carr gets tangled up with the Caribbean Republica Libre (sort-of Dominican Republic) and with movie star Walt Whitmore (sort-of John Wayne) in another taut aviation thriller. The brutal hero, kerosene realism, and riveting aerial detail (including a dogfight between Carr’s unarmed cargo plane and a jet fighter) elevate it above all but Lyall’s best. –KH

Veronica Mars Season 4 (Television, US, Hulu, Rob Thomas, 2019) With her dad (Enrico Colantoni) losing a step and Logan surprising her with an unwanted proposal, Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigates a series of spring break bombings. Seamless revival proves that a show can ditch both its original premise and structure if the attitude and relationships remain intact. In the writers room this time out: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!—RDL

Good

6 Underground (Film, US, Michael Bay, 2019) Led by tech billionaire “One” (Ryan Reynolds), a team of experts fakes their own deaths to take down a dictator. I think Michael Bay may actually have read and internalized Charlie Jane Anders’ famous 2009 review in which she (jokingly?) called Bay the world’s most successful auteur of art film — of film that discards (or transcends) narrative for image and emotion. In his newest opus, more than ever, Bay’s frenetic but surgical cuts and increasingly jaw-dropping stylized shots convey pure feeling and adrenaline, jerking (and lifting) us away from mere plot. –KH

Okay

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Film, US, J.J. Abrams, 2019) The dead speak! Mostly about how mad they are at Rian Johnson! Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was secretly alive all this time, and he wants Rey (Daisy Ridley) dead or alive or something, while Finn (John Boyega) yells. Adam Driver (great but alone) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) do essentially the only acting in the movie, which resolves into a cloud of empty, stakes-free, mawkish, half-baked action set pieces that go nowhere. But Richard E. Grant chews on a star destroyer and there’s a pretty good lightsaber fight on a stormy ocean moon. –KH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Film, US, J.J. Abrams, 2019) The return of Emperor Palpatine prompts a search for the hidden planet of the Sith—and the true secret of Rey’s parentage. Half an hour of moving tribute to the original trilogy packaged inside an hour-forty worth of time-killing plot gyrations.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ford v. Ferrari, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Young Twits vs Old Bats

December 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.

Recommended

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 3 (Television, US/New Zealand, Starz, Rob Tapert, 2018) Evil comes after the daughter Ash (Bruce Campbell) never knew he had, presaging an apocalyptic showdown between rebel demon Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and the Dark Ones. In its final season, the show goes out big, escalating a unified narrative until it feels like the franchise’s fourth movie.—RDL

Ford v. Ferrari (Film, US, James Mangold, 2019) Brilliant auto designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and maverick driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) partner to win the 1966 Le Mans for Ford against reigning sports car champions Ferrari. The over-eager script doesn’t always fire on all cylinders: It’s a love story between Miles and Shelby, it’s actually Ford v Shelby American v Ferrari as suits (Josh Lucas) interfere with genius, it’s a period piece with motor oil instead of perfume. But mostly it’s a big loud car-racing movie, and a pretty good, very pretty one. –KH

High Life, Low Morals: The duel that shook Stuart society (Nonfiction, Victor Stater, 1999) In the fiercely partisan reign of Queen Anne, a legal dispute over a lucrative estate prompts swordplay between a status-hungry Scottish Tory and a dissolute but diligent Whig. Narrative history at its finest, providing telling social and economic context while never losing touch with its human throughline.—RDL

Highland Fling (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1931) Quartet of adorable upper class twits accepts an emergency request to host a hunting party of fusty old counterparts at a Scottish castle. Mitford’s first novel is jokier and less concerned about structure than her best-known works, making it ideal laugh-out-loud holiday reading.—RDL

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Film, UK, Albert Lewin, 1951) American singer Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner), who breaks men’s hearts just by existing, falls prey to her own romantic obsession, in the person of a mysterious yachtsman (James Mason) connected to a legendary curse. Occasionally stodgy but ultimately haunting weird romance explores the cruelty of star charisma. No one has ever embodied otherworldly beauty more than Gardner as shot here by color cinematography master Jack Cardiff.—RDL

Not Recommended

When You’re In Love (Film, US, Robert Riskin, 1935) Visa-seeking opera star (Grace Moore) enters into marriage of convenience with creditor-dodging painter (Cary Grant.) Creaky time capsule from a moment in cinema history when the affected, now forgotten singer Moore was a bigger draw than Grant.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dumb Nose, Fake Beard

December 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.

Recommended

She Died a Lady (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1943) An apparent suicide pact in a small Devonshire village reveals itself as murder — or does it? Sir Henry Merrivale investigates, but the narrator, the elderly town doctor, has his own ideas. Carr’s slow burn and oblique narration prefigures P.D. James’ humane mysteries, while still providing plenty of clues and actually amusing Merrivale hijinks this time out. –KH

The White Priory Murders (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1934) A classic Carr impossible crime — how could movie starlet Marcia Tate have been killed in the pavilion house in the middle of a frozen pond covered with unmarked snow? Henry Merrivale in pre-slapstick mode, a classic Old Dark House cast, and a sheerly terrific solution make this a neglected near-top-tier Carr. –KH

Good

Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (Film, Australia, Serge Ou, 2019) Clips and talking head interviews survey martial arts cinema as an irresistible force for cultural diffusion. This thesis results in a highly selective history, for example spending a segment on Bruce Lee imitators while failing to mention King Hu by name, so treat as a starting point rather than a comprehensive treatment.—RDL

Stars in My Crown (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1950) Affable but tough-minded Civil War vet turned preacher (Joel McCrea) clashes with a rigid young doctor (James Mitchell) and stands up to the Klan. Slice of small town Americana, based on a novel, represents an unusual example of explicitly Christian liberalism in Hollywood, and a stylistic departure from a director better known for noir and his horror collaborations with Val Lewton.—RDL

Unstoppable (Film, South Korea, Kim Min-ho, 2018) Former gangster (Dong-seok Ma) calls on his indomitable punching skills when a maniacal sex trafficker (Seong-oh Kim) kidnaps his wife (Ji-Hyo Song.) Tackles the time-honored tropes of the messed-with-the-wrong-guy sub-genre with energetic brio.—RDL

Okay

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Film, US, Simon Kinberg, 2019) When a strange energy enters mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) on a mission in space, it unleashes her full potential and reveals Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) shenanigans. Splosions ensue. Cue a bunch of adequate mutant fights, hampered by everyone involved being kind of tired and one of those “explain your emotions again” scripts. I’m still angry at Bryan Singer for not making this movie in 2006 when he could have; this classic comics arc deserves much better. –KH

Not Recommended

All is True (Film, UK, Kenneth Branagh, 2018) After the Globe Theatre burns down, Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh in a dumb nose and fake beard) returns home to Stratford and his neglected wife (Judi Dench cashing a check) and daughters. This is the kind of movie where Branagh holds lovingly on a shot of a swan swimming up the Avon. On the (ridiculous, false) nose, in other words. Ben Elton’s “today is trauma discussion day” script insults the very idea of Shakespeare with double, no, triple daddy issues. A scene where the now too old to be sonneted Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) recites the sonnet Shakespeare wrote for him as a kissoff is the only good thing in the movie. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Trouble by the Sea

November 26th, 2019 | Robin

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

Recommended

I Hear She’s a Real Bitch (Nonfiction, Jen Agg, 2017) Founder of wildly influential, now-defunct, Toronto charcuterie destination The Black Hoof recounts the building of her bars and dining spots, sex life, and the challenges confronting women in the bro-centric food biz. A rare look at such insider details as service, interior design, lighting and staff relations from a restaurant creator who isn’t a chef.—RDL

The Lighthouse (Film, US, Robert Eggers, 2019) Two men (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) spiral into madness while tending a remote Maine lighthouse in the 1880s. Decades of Guy Maddin films prepared me somewhat for this ferociously earthy sea story, shot in 35mm black-and-white in a 1920s aspect ratio, that hits more as a series of fabulous grimy images and scenes than as a narrative per se. Add to that a ferocious, top-notch actor’s duel and a foghorn-fueled Mark Korven score and sound design, and you’ve got yourself a film. –KH

Okay

Tiger Shark (Film, US, Howard Hawks, 1932) Lovable brute Mike Mascarenhas (Edward G. Robinson) marries the straight-talking daughter (Zita Johann) of a casualty from his tuna boat, who catches feelings for his loyal first mate (Richard Arlen.) Early Hawks outing features his key theme of camaraderie between men who perform dangerous labor, but also the over-the-top melodrama and big acting he will quickly toss overboard. Documentary footage of 30s fishing techniques would prove invaluable to anyone writing a tuna-themed Trail of Cthulhu scenario.—RDL

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