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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Golden-Eyed Vampire and a Predator

September 18th, 2018 | 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.

Robin’s media consumption this week took place at the Toronto International Film Festival. Check out his capsule reviews here. Those reviews will reappear here when titles are released theatrically or on home video.

Recommended

Predator (Film, US, John McTiernan, 1987) Tasked by CIA agent Dillon (Carl Weathers) to enter Nicaragua on an ostensible rescue mission, Special Forces major Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his squad also enter the killing ground of an alien trophy hunter. Somehow I never saw this second film of McTiernan’s mind-bogglingly good first four. This one succeeds almost entirely on the back of McTiernan’s assured direction, although both Arnold’s control of his swaggering machismo and of its transformation into animal cunning are underrated. And man, nothing blows up like an 80s Commie base. –KH

Good

Lake of Dracula (Film, Japan, Michio Yamamoto, 1971) Years after suffering a nightmarish vision of a golden-eyed vampire (Mori Kishida), Akiko (Midori Fujita) tries to paint her trauma by the side of a peaceful lake. Combining a Hitchcock-style psychoanalytic thriller with would-be Hammer Films action on a Toho Studios budget, the result comes off slightly disjointed but never boring. Watching it on the splendid, crisp Blu-Ray transfer by Arrow Films is Recommended. –KH

Operation Finale (Film, US, Chris Weitz, 2018) In 1960, Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) suffers from survivor’s guilt as he leads a team to kidnap Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) in Argentina for trial in Israel. The script, based on the memoirs of the real Israeli agents, wisely compresses historical time and offers some tasty dialogue, but doesn’t manage to fully cohere around either a heroic spycraft story a la Argo or a psychological exploration a la Munich. The implicitly promised actors’ duel between Isaac and Kingsley doesn’t quite come off, either. –KH

Not Recommended

In the Quarter (Fiction, Robert W. Chambers, 1894) As his fellow art students roister in Paris, Reginald Gethryn falls for a grisette despite the warnings of his older friend Braith. Lively and true to life in parts, this novel’s mild melodramatic joys do not make it past the two (two!!) stereotyped Jews who serve as the odious cardboard villains. At least Trilby has hypnotism to go with its anti-Semitism; Chambers just has local color, and it’s not even yellow. Some characters from this novel appear in the later stories in The King in Yellow, however. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Arch Playlets and an Investigating Organist

September 11th, 2018 | 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

Holy Disorders (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1945) Organist and composer Geoffrey Vintner faces thugs, infatuation, witches, Nazis, and murder in the cathedral town of Tolnbridge, so it’s a good thing that Gervase Fen is there to eventually solve the case. Notable for Crispin’s echoing (and name-checking) John Dickson Carr, who provides the Gothic bass to Fen’s eccentric treble. Not fully satisfying as a mystery novel, but brilliant and dark like a lightning storm at night. –KH

Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier (Play, Edward Rutherford, 2018) Louche and haunted narrator (Kevin Webb) introduces six stories by the sly master, including my favorite of Collier’s, “Thus I Refute Beelzy.” Archly played, aiming for sometimes-incompatible creepiness and irony, the playlets can get broad at times privileging denouement over character depth. But the ensemble carries the moment, ably anchored by Webb. –KH [Playing through September 15 at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago.]

Good

Frequent Hearses (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1950) Gervase Fen investigates a murder spree touched off by the suicide of up-and-coming starlet Gloria Scott. Crispin’s own career writing movie scores provides ample and interesting color to this darkish mystery. When Fen disappears from the novel leaving Inspector Humbleby center stage, the narrative slows down and marks time. –KH

Jack Ryan Season 1 (Television, US, Amazon, Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, 2018) CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) and his boss Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) uncover a terrorist plot and find themselves thrust into the field to stop it. A solid throughline and confident directing — while nothing spectacular — undergird this fast-moving, basic modern-day thriller that closely replicates the experience of reading Tom Clancy novels. The season’s sole B-plot feels as pointless as it is, but at least it doesn’t take up much of your time. –KH

Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines (Nonfiction, Nick Nolte, 2018) The star of 48 HRS and Affliction details his storied acting career and anxiety-driven battle with various addictions. Sections of ghost writerly research alternate with others that feel like Nolte’s voice.—RDL

Sharp Objects (Television, HBO, Jean-Marc Vallée, 2018) Tailspinning reporter (Amy Adams) returns to her small Missouri town to cover a serial murder case, prompting a dark reckoning with her control-obsessed mother (Patricia Clarkson.) Ethereal imagery, impressionistic editing and committed performances lend realism to a crime novel plot driven by behavior engaged in by no humans ever.—RDL

Okay

Great Directors (Film, UK/France/Italy, Angela Ismailos) Documentarian interviews a roster of directors including Agnes Varda, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Todd Lynch, Ken Loach and Liliana Cavani, with reverent but unfocused results. Bump up to Good if watched as an unchallenging appetizer to an upcoming 45-movie jaunt to one’s local international film festival.—RDL

Never So Few (Film, US, John Sturges, 1959) When not leading a liaison unit embedded with local Kachin forces in Burma, hardbitten army captain (Frank Sinatra) woos a shadowy profiteer’s worldly girlfriend (Gina Lollobrigida.) Two films with largely unrelated throughlines, a glossy romance and a fatalistic war epic, keep interrupting each other, leaving as the piece’s main virtue Sturges’ mastery of the Cinemascope frame and vivid 50s color palette. Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson appear in early supporting roles.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Neo-Poliziotteschi and Devonshire Rustication

September 4th, 2018 | 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 Glimpses of the Moon (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1977) Rusticating and procrastinating among eccentric neighbors in Devonshire, detective don Gervase Fen pokes into a local case of decapitation and mutilation. Crispin’s last novel was published posthumously, and given that Crispin himself had been rusticating in Devonshire for 20 years and retained his somewhat acidic irony throughout, it’s probably for the best that he escaped his neighbors’ discovery of his opinion of them. Like Crispin’s other works, it’s a classic mystery complete with locked room (or tent) and the occasional Wodehousian detour into minor characters’ manias. –KH

Let the Corpses Tan (Film, France, Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Armored car robbers shoot it out with a motorcycle cop in the ruined seaside villa of an eccentric artist (Elina Lowensohn.) Tribute to 70s Italian poliziotteschi in which every shot is an ostentatiously perfect image further amped by slamming sound design.—RDL, Seen at TIFF ‘17, Now in US theatrical release.

Sami Blood (Film, Sweden, Amanda Kernell, 2016) Sent to a residential school to become Swedish—but not too Swedish—a Sami teenager (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) runs off to the city, hellbent on full assimilation. Social realist drama draws its power from the performance of its young lead, who plays a swirling mix of rage, shame, vulnerability and determination while always ringing true.—RDL

Good

Desperate (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1947) Young newlyweds go into hiding to escape the vengeance of a grudge-holding warehouse heister (Raymond Burr.) In his first in a classic cycle of crime dramas, Mann applies a heady layer of noir style to a straightforward tale of good pursued by evil.—RDL

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (Fiction, P.W. Singer and August Cole, 2015) In around 2026, China and Russia team up to decapitate America’s tech advantage, and (non-nuclear) war ensues. Technothrillers must contain tech and thrills, and Ghost Fleet contains heaps of both in spades. Cyberwar expert Singer and defense journalist Cole stick to their fields of expertise (and grind a few axes) to good effect, wisely sticking to bold, uncomplicated characters to carry the plentiful action. –KH

The Prime Ministers Who Never Were (Nonfiction, Francis Beckett, ed., 2011) Collection of alternate histories of alternate Prime Ministers running from Austen Chamberlain (leads the Tories out of coalition in 1922) to David Miliband (edges out Gordon Brown for Labour Party leadership in 2007). Although the two WWII-era guys we all want to read about show up (Oswald Mosley comes off, of all things, as more relatable and successful than Lord Halifax), many of the essays repeatedly if understandably alter the Thatcher and Blair eras, reinforcing a rather samey repertory theatre effect. (Nobody likes Peter Mandelson, apparently.) British readers with an ironic political appetite might even Recommend the collection; they will surely get more of the in-jokes than I did. –KH

Psychokinesis (Film, South Korea, Yeon Sang-ho, 2018) Loser security guard tries to use his new telekinetic abilities to reestablish a relationship with the daughter he abandoned, as she battles crooked developers intent on destroying her restaurant and neighboring businesses. Jab at endemic corruption in South Korea disarmingly wrapped as a broad, crowd-pleasing mix of comedy, sentiment and super powered action.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hybrid Nomads, Jane Birkin and Loads More Noir

August 28th, 2018 | 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

Keep On Keeping On (Nonfiction, Alan Bennett, 2016) The latest collection of diary entries from lauded playwright Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) covers 2005-2015, including historic church visits, the perils of privatization, funerals for lost colleagues, crap architectural renovations, bad reviews, aging, and what various birds are up to. The best two anecdotes feature Bennett’s fellow Beyond the Fringe alum Jonathan Miller’s quixotic stands against public urination.—RDL

Jane B. by Agnes V. (Film, France, Agnès Varda, 1988) Deconstructed documentary profile of actress and singer Jane Birkin interweaves quasi-conventional interviews with clips from hypothetical films ranging from a western and an art heist thriller to a Joan of Arc biopic. A visually lush exploration of star charisma from cinema’s most playful formalist.—RDL

Pickup (Film, US, Hugo Haas, 1951) Elderly railroad dispatcher Jan Horak (Haas) meets gold-digger Betty (Beverly Michaels), who plays him for a sap, of course. Or worse, if she can get Horak’s co-worker Steve (Allan Nixon) to do her dirty work. Often derided as a kind of 1950s Russ Meyer, Haas was actually a great actor and director in Prague before the Nazi takeover; both qualities show here in this stark moral fable. Beverly Michaels’ marvelous disdain helps power the film past its Poverty Row budget. –KH

The Scarlet Hour (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1956) After overhearing a planned jewel theft, adulterous lovers Marsh (Tom Tryon) and Paulie (Carol Ohmart) plot to hijack it to fund their escape from her husband (James Gregory). Curtiz peppers this capable noir with some simply amazing shots; based on her wonderfully feral performance, Ohmart deserves more fame than she got then or now. Elaine Stritch is only the best of the stalwart supporting players. –KH

The Turning Point (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1952) Naïve crusading special prosecutor John Conroy (Edmond O’Brien) needs help from cynical reporter Jerry McKibbon (William Holden) to bring down racketeer Neil Eichelberger (Ed Begley, Sr.). Superb noir narrative punishes feckless good and ironic detachment, along with the regular sins of corruption and cheating, amidst great LA location shots. Well worth seeing. –KH

Good

Empires of the Silk Road (Nonfiction, Christopher Beckwith, 2009) This enthralling narrative history of Central Eurasia from the proto-Indo-Europeans to the War on Terror fills notable gaps in world historiography, not least by its sympathy with the hybrid nomad-sedentary cultures of the area often libeled as “barbarians.” Beckwith is a Tibetologist and linguist, so while the book is cranky, it is not a crank book. That said, two whole chapters fulminating against Modernism (basically the post-1900 section) stand out as particularly weak regardless of one’s sympathies, and even I know you can’t just posit that Old Chinese began as an Indo-European language and expect to get away with footnoting your own work. –KH

I Was a Shoplifter (Film, US, Charles Lamont, 1950) Judge’s klepto daughter Faye Burton (boring Mona Freeman) gets pinched for shoplifting, drawing her into a ring of thieves headed by Ina Perdue (Andrea King). King runs this movie like she runs her criminal enterprise, with raised eyebrows and clever patter; her sizzling repartee with detective Scott Brady is what the Breen Office should have been concerned with, not the nugatory shoplifting advice. –KH

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Film, US, Felix Feist, 1950) When rich Lois Frazier (Jane Wyatt) kills her husband, her cop boyfriend Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) helps her cover her tracks while his brother (John Dall) investigates the crime. Cobb and Dall and some terrific San Francisco location shots make this film worth watching despite the casting misfire of Wyatt as the femme fatale. –KH

The People Against O’Hara (Film, US, John Sturges, 1951) Shortly after recovering from a stress-related alcoholic breakdown, attorney James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy) takes a murder case defending Johnny O’Hara (James Arness). Despite noirish lensing by John Alton, its domestic subplot lumbers this fully conventional courtroom drama, which gains tension only when it becomes a policier in the last act. Future squire of Gothos William Campbell has a star turn as an improbably Czech hoodlum. –KH

The Spiritualist (Film, US, Bernard Vorhaus, 1948) Pining for her dead husband, Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) proves an easy mark for fake spiritualist Alexis (Turhan Bey). Bey gives good charming weasel, and the script and John Alton’s cinematography go the extra mile despite the limitations of the budget and Bari (cast at literally the last minute). Worth extra notice for genuine magician Harry Mendoza as a detective, and the attention to the details of Alexis’ racket. –KH

Okay

Suspiria (Film, Italy, Dario Argento, 1977) American dancer (Jessica Harper) newly enrolled at a strange German dance academy suspects a malign connection between the murder of her predecessor and various ominous manifestations. Commanding soundtrack and visuals, including a super-saturated color scheme, overshadow a rudimentary script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media Takes a Turn For the Noir

August 21st, 2018 | 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

Conflict (Film, US, Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) In love with her sister, Richard Mason (Humphrey Bogart) murders his wife — or does he? Sydney Greenstreet is the suspicious psychiatrist in this unique role-switch that screws tension and interest to a fever pitch for 98 percent of its length. Bogart plays Mason’s disintegrating self so well that the noir script holes just flit past unremarked. –KH

Devil in a Blue Dress (Film, US, Carl Franklin, 1995) Unemployed black veteran “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington) stumbles into detective work, and into murders, when white fixer Albright (Tom Sizemore) hires him to find the missing Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals). Excellent transposition of Walter Mosley’s novel to film relies equally on Washington’s intelligence, Tak Fujimoto’s expertly sun-faded camera work, and a manic turn by Don Cheadle as Rawlins’ psycho ace in the hole, “Mouse.” –KH

I Walk Alone (Film, US, Byron Haskin, 1948) Released from prison after fourteen years, gangster Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster) seeks a reckoning with his old partner Noll Turner (Kirk Douglas), but finds that times have changed. Come for the Lancaster-Douglas showdown, but stay for the jaw-dropping set piece in which Frankie discovers the real crime of business accounting. –KH

Love Education (Film, Taiwan, Sylvia Chang, 2017) After her mother’s death, a stubborn schoolteacher (Sylvia Chang) launches a campaign to relocate her father’s grave, over the objections of his equally indomitable first wife, the ear-grabbing honorary granny of a close-knit rural community. Moving and funny drama with a wry eye for character observation.—RDL

Love Season 2 (Television, Lesley Arfin & Paul Rust & Judd Apatow, 2017) Despite her resolve to keep her distance, and his inability to navigate her boundaries, love addict Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and awkward Gus circle ever closer to official relationship status. In an era of sophomore slumps, it’s exciting to see a series, especially one so dependent on a keen balance between sharp comedy and real behavior, understand and deliver on what made it great in the first place.—RDL

One False Move (Film, US, Carl Franklin, 1992) Three crooks (Michael Beach, Cynda Williams, and Billy Bob Thornton) fleeing a multiple murder in LA bring big-city cops and gritty violence to the cornpone flyspeck of Star City, Arkansas, and its exuberant police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton). Franklin blends the crime film and the Western better than most directors handle either genre. Williams’ character anchors the movie, allowing Paxton and Thornton to blow up their parts gloriously. –KH

Understudy For Death (Fiction, Charles Willeford, 1961) When a well-to-do housewife in a small Florida town kills herself and her children, the cynical local reporter assigned to pry into the case stumbles into infidelity. Revived after half a century and still mis-marketed as a crime novel, this features Willeford’s unsparing hardboiled voice but is really an exercise in mid-century American alienation. As if a typical noir cast decided to set aside mystery and murder and stick to the behavior of Cheever or Yates characters. If you don’t know Willeford, start with Cockfighter.—RDL

The Unsuspected (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1947) A seeming suicide, a return from the dead, and a mysterious marriage throw the household of radio true-crime host Victor Grandison (Claude Rains) into dramatic disarray. Although Rains oils and conspires beautifully, if Curtiz had gotten his first casting choices (Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine) this would have been another of his Pinnacles. The dialogue crackles, the cameras zoom and float, and shadows loom and stab in this not-quite-flawless thriller. –KH

Good

Blind Spot (Film, US, Robert Gordon, 1947) A drunk writer (Chester Morris) may have murdered his publisher in a locked room right after coming up with a locked-room mystery plot. Strong viewer identification and the beautiful Constance Dowling (as the publisher’s pawed-at secretary) push this light work up to Good for me, but Morris’ ridiculous “drunk” performance in the first act and the lack of true mystery may drop it to Okay for others. –KH

Bodyguard (Film, US, Richard Fleischer, 1948) Dismissed from the LAPD, maverick cop Mike Carter (Lawrence Tierney) finds bodyguard work, and skullduggery afoot, in the Dyson meat-packing clan. Either you want to see Lawrence Tierney bully, slink, and growl his way through plenty of vital, interesting Los Angeles location shots or you don’t. –KH

Strange Impersonation (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1946) Biochemist Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) experiments on herself with a new anesthetic, sending the viewer on a thrill ride of blackmail, identity theft, alembics, and post-surgery cigarettes, with a terrific Anthony Mann shot every so often to goose the emotional stakes. Even William Gargan as the inexplicable bone of romantic contention can’t stop things dead. –KH

Okay

Escape in the Fog (Film, US, Budd Boetticher, 1945) Recuperating nurse Eilene (Nina Foch) has a nightmare of seeing a man stabbed on the Golden Gate Bridge — and then meets him when her waking screams bring him running. Budget limits and a hack script waste the appealing Foch and a great premise on a rote spy-smashing B-picture. Boetticher doesn’t really bother trying here. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Aquatic Humanoids and the New Tim Powers

August 14th, 2018 | 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

Alternate Routes (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2018) A former Secret Service agent who now works for a ghost-proof courier service in LA collides with an ongoing government program that’s weakening the walls between worlds. This is a very Powers-y novel, albeit one more rooted in the present than his usual. The ghost cosmology bubbles inventively, a blend of Expiration Date and “Down and Out in Purgatory,” with a few new wrinkles. Although the action seldom lets up, it’s not quite the barn-burner that the Powers Pinnacles are, with only one truly vertiginous revelation. –KH

Black is the Color (Graphic Novel, Julia Gfrörer, 2013) Sailor set adrift by his desperate shipmates attracts the attentions of an affectionate but sinister mermaid. Deadpan, haunting weird tale told in spare, almost monoplanar line art.—RDL

Cold Skin (Film, France/Spain, Xavier Jens, 2017) Weather station operator (David Oakes) newly arrived on a remote, barren island joins with its only other human inhabitant, a truculent lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson) to fend off nightly attacks from aquatic humanoids. Stark, beautifully shot period horror reminiscent of William Hope Hodgson.—RDL

Good

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (Film, US, Lou Adler, 1982) After minor celebrity makes Corinne “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) unemployable in her small town, she talks her (awful) band The Stains (Lane, Marin Kanter, and Laura Dern) onto the tour of the Metal Corpses (various Tubes) and the Looters (Ray Winstone fronting various Clash and Sex Pistols). What ensues, murkily directed and recorded, is the origin myth of the Riot Grrrl movement via All About Eve. Nancy Dowd took her name off the script, which as shot and cut can’t figure out if it’s indicting the Spectacle or Burns or both. Lane and Winstone are great, though. –KH

Ken Pulls Off His Rubber Mask, Revealing Robin With His Detective Dee Review

July 31st, 2018 | 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

Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story (Film, US, Alexandra Dean, 2017) Documentary recounts the life of the Hollywood star whose beauty eclipsed the quality of her roles, and whose efforts as an inventor led to the frequency-hopping technology underlying wi-fi and GPS. Inspiring and sad in equal measure.—RDL

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Affair with a Famous Cartoonist (Graphic Novel, Bill Griffith, 2015) The opportunity to look through a trove of family documents sends the author down a research rabbit hole into his deceased mother’s secret romantic life. Autobiography becomes a web of hidden and unknowable adjacent biographies, with the comics medium heightening interior drama as no other form could.—RDL

Mission: Impossible — Fallout (Film, US, Christopher McQuarrie, 2018) Superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, effortlessly effortful) must deal with the titular fallout from the previous film while being saddled with a thuggish CIA observer (Henry Cavill). Cavill (perhaps on purpose) plays it as Dark Peter Lupus, as this installment homages the TV show repeatedly and well. Of course it still finds room for three insane chase sequences and the by-now-expected sudden but inevitable betrayal. –KH

Ugly Delicious (Television, Netflix, David Chang and Peter Meehan, 2018) Iconoclastic restaurateur Chang brings in a dream team of food writers and fellow chefs to look at of change and tradition in food culture. Refreshingly takes the piss out of hagiographical food TV cliches while still getting the salivary glands vicariously flowing. If you’re going to watch out of order, start with the episode on the African American food experience and the fraughtness of fried chicken.—RDL

Good

Conflict (Film, US, Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) Engineer with a yen for his sister-in-law (Humphrey Bogart) thinks he’s successfully bumped off his wife, until a trail of strange clues starts to indicate otherwise. Exercise in pseudo-Freudian paranoia delivers the noir mood through the perspective of a then-unusual anti-hero protagonist.—RDL

Deadline at Dawn (Film, US, Harold Clurman, 1946) When a good-hearted but slow-thinking sailor (Bill Williams) gets mixed up with a blackmailer’s murder, a dance-hall girl (an unusually restrained Susan Hayward) and a philosophical cabbie (Paul Lukas) team up to find the real killer. Clifford Odets script, based on a Cornell Woolrich story, elevates an unmemorable storyline with pearls of hardboiled dialogue and a knack for quickly drawn, unexpected characterizations.—RDL

Detective Dee: the Four Heavenly Kings (Film, China, Tsui Hark, 2018) When the nation’s chief investigator (Mark Chao) is entrusted with the all-powerful Dragon Taming Mace, the ambitious Empress Wu (Carina Lau) schemes with sorcerers of the martial arts world to reclaim it from him. The plotting that connects the delirious action set pieces is on the labored side this time out, making this the slightest of the series. But, hey, we’re not here for the plot, and this does offer up the best, nuttiest “and now the CGI characters fight” sequence ever.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Pandemic Panic and a Regenerating Ronin

July 24th, 2018 | 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 Bar (Film, Spain, Álex de la Iglesia, 2017) Fear reveals who people really are when the government’s lethal suppression of a potential pandemic traps patrons and staff in a downtown cafe. De la Iglesia attacks the confined space thriller with his hallmark black humor and mastery of escalation.—RDL

Blade of the Immortal (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2017) Weary ronin (Takuya Kimura), rendered unkillable by magic bloodworms that grant him regeneration powers, reluctantly agrees to assist a girl (Hana Sugisaki) in her quest for vengeance against the murderous dojo responsible for the deaths of her parents. Miike treats the original manga’s string of martial arts duels as a formal exercise in varying each fight and investing it with its own distinct emotional hook. Which is to say, many people in this movie need killing and and/or do not know who they are fucking with.—RDL

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (Film, US, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, 2015) Newly rediscovered interview audio tapes form the nucleus of this bio-documentary of the legendary art collector and patron pivotal to the reception of both the surrealists and the American abstract expressionists. Having researched the indomitable, canny Guggenheim of the 30s and 40s, I found the portrait of her reserved, melancholy later self particularly moving.—RDL

Resurrection Science: : Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things (Nonfiction, M. R. O’Connor, 2015) Examines the ever-expanding technical, economic and philosophical obstacles arising from efforts to preserve, protect and perhaps revive extinct and dwindling species, from fast-evolving pupfish to war-depleted rhinos to the passenger pigeon.—RDL

Sorry to Bother You (Film, US, Boots Riley, 2018) Broke and searching for meaning, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) hits the fast track to capitalist telemarketing success when he unleashes his “white voice” (David Cross), but discovers a conspiracy. Funny and unsettling in equal measure, this surrealist (or perhaps magic-realist) comedy holds its own with John Dies at the End or even Gremlins 2, combining the former’s studied weirdness with the latter’s political bite. –KH

Talking from 9 to 5: Men and Women at Work (Nonfiction, Deborah Tannen, 1994) Linguist examines the contrasting conversational styles of men and women and the pitfalls they introduce in the workplace, from who gets credit for ideas to participation in meetings. Way better written than most business/pop science books, providing insights usable by anyone employed at any occupation more social than woodland hermit.—RDL

Good

Neal Brennan 3 MICS (Stand-up, Netflix, 2017) Most famous for being Dave Chappelle’s writing partner (“like being on a basketball team with Michael Jordan. You just win more.”), Brennan tries out stand-up, or rather a combination of stand-up, one-liners, and deeper “emotional stuff,” each delivered at one of the titular three mics. Brennan’s attempted deconstruction of comedy succeeds on its merits (although only the stand-up bit about testosterone being like having a prison inmate in your head really killed for me) but doesn’t get inventive or playful enough to break out of what’s essentially three one-third-length comedy shows. –KH

Okay

War Plan Red (Non-fiction, Kevin Lippert, 2015) The subtitle says it all: “The United States’ Secret Plan to Invade Canada and Canada’s Secret Plan to Invade the United States.” Unfortunately, a slapdash treatment of the War of 1812 and various cross-border ructions since in the first two chapters only highlights the superficiality of Lippert’s research when he gets to his main topic. Both the initial brief for U.S. “War Plan RED” and Canada’s “Defence Scheme No. 1” (what’s left of it after the Canadian General Staff ordered it destroyed) appear in an Appendix in the back, at least. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Vietnamese Mole and the Dread Secrets of Telemarketing

July 17th, 2018 | 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 Sympathizer (Fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015) An erudite revolutionary mole inside the South Vietnamese secret police flees the fall of Saigon with his boss/target, adding American to his list of confusing opposed identities. A big, ambitious, funny and horrifying wallop of a novel, haunted by ghosts and vodka.—RDL

Recommended

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Film, US, Peyton Reed, 2018) Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) risks another prison sentence to help Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) rescue her mother from the quantum zone. It’s not Reed’s fault that the trailers gave away most of the fun, creative impact that shrinking has on chase and fight scenes, but it’s a good thing he has believable, strong villains in illicit supertech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and desperate quantum victim Ghost (Hannah-John Kamen). Charming actors playing good dialogue well in between original, interesting super-fights: what’s not to love? –KH

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook (Nonfiction, Alice Waters with Christina Mueller & Bob Carras, 2017) Autobiography follows the future epigone of the local ingredients movement from a buttoned-down 50s upbringing, to Berkeley during the Free Speech movement and the opening of her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. Unusually readable for a book assembled in the  “as told to” format uses plentiful flash-forwards to show us our hero after she becomes the person we’re interested in. Most startling takeaway: Waters’s approach to food happens after she opens Chez Panisse!—RDL

The Good Place Season 2 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2018) Not-Good Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her confused sort-of-torturer Michael (Ted Danson) zip through afterlife whack-a-mole in a giddy comedy that makes premise threat its premise. If every episode were as glorious as “The Trolley Problem” this would be a solid Pinnacle, but like Eleanor, we must accept its merely being much better than it should be. –KH

The Hardliners (Fiction, William Haggard, 1970) Now retired from the Security Executive, Colonel Russell gets involved when a friend’s father threatens to publish memoirs that could turn Czechoslovakia (never named as such) into a gulag. Personalities, pacing, and a lot of detail about shoes — this is a quintessential Haggard novel complete with ever-tautening plot. Except there is, in fact, some (tsk!) physical action. –KH

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2017) A lifetime’s tsuris dealing with their oblivious, narcissist artist father (Dustin Hoffman) comes to a head for half-brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matt (Ben Stiller) when they, along with quietly desperate sister Jean try to care for him after a mishap. Funny, unsparing character piece recognizes the fundamental unresolvability of most family conflict.—RDL

Sorry To Bother You (Film, US, Boots Riley, 2018) Skint Oaklander (Lakeith Stanfield) prospers at his new telemarketing job by affecting a white voice, leading him to a bizarre conspiracy. Hilariously biting satire with an initially stoned and dreamy vibe is relevant to KARTAS listener interests in a way the publicity campaign takes care not to spoil.—RDL

Good

The Bad Batch (Film, US, Ana Lily Amanpour, 2017) Exiled into a Mad Max LARP for no discernible reason, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) loses an arm and a leg to cannibals led by the Miami Man (Jason Momoa) and embarks on a journey to … something? Beautiful and dreamlike (Lyle Vincent’s cinematography kills throughout), but sadly aimless (just like its protagonist) this film succeeds more as an inchoate succession of vivid images, soundscapes, and emotional moments than as, say, a story. –KH

The Revenant (Film, US, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015) Frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives a bear mauling to pursue the truculent expedition member (Tom Hardy) who murdered his son. Visually and aurally awe-inspiring, unnecessarily long parable of religious redemption through mortification of the flesh.—RDL

Okay

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Film, Japan, Toshiya Fujita, 1974) Weary assassin (Meiko Kaji) is saved from the gallows by the secret police and sent to spy on a handsy anarchist (Juzo Itami), but the spirit of righteous vengeance needs only a fresh whiff of gore to reawaken. In lieu of plot obstacles, sidelines its iconic heroine for a very long and unnecessary torture-filled second act.—RDL

The Saint (Film, US, Ernie Barbarash, 2017) Partners in crime Simon Templar (Adam Rayner) and Patricia Holm (Eliza Dushku) chase down a kidnapper (Ian Ogilvy) and $2.5 billion in stolen charity money. Man, did I want to like this, not least for rescuing Patricia Holm from the forgotten pages of Leslie Charteris’ early novels. And man, was this a TV pilot shot in 2013 and not picked up, so nope. Some nice fight choreography and a good heist density can’t rescue clunky delivery, cheap production, and the overstuffed, underwritten cast. –KH

Spielberg (Film, US, Susan Lacy, 2017) Interviews new and archival, plus the requisite beautifully presented film clips, trace the life and filmography of director Steven Spielberg. A film made with the full cooperation of its subject can gesture toward, but not really grapple with, the central question of his wildly inconsistent output.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Incredibles, Ant-Man and Southern Werewolves

July 10th, 2018 | 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

Incredibles 2 (Film, US, Brad Bird, 2018) Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter) and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) switch domestic roles when she becomes the face of a tech mogul’s (Bob Odenkirk) attempt to restore the public image of superheroes. Literally everything works here, from Bird’s writing to the beyond-state-of-the-art action sequences, but special kudos to Michael Giacchino’s score, which perfectly homages spy-fi soundtracks of yore while kicking the animation into over-overdrive. Maybe it doesn’t aim super-high, but replicating a Pinnacle fourteen years later remains pretty incredible. –KH

Recommended

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Film, US, Peyton Reed, 2017) With hours left in his house arrest, Scott (Paul Rudd) agrees to help erstwhile partner Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and ever-truculent quasi-mentor Hank (Michael Douglas) recover her mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum zone. The comic banter between the engaging cast of this warm and generous romp is so deceptively loose and fun—which is to say, precisely and painstakingly timed—that it’s almost a drag when the plot galumphs in to interrupt it.—RDL

The Endless (Film, US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2018) Two brothers (Benson and Moorhead) who escaped from a “UFO death cult” a decade ago return to it after receiving a mysterious videotape. Slow (but never easy) burn starts with family drama, escalates to weirdness, and achieves cosmic horror by the end, ably abetted by Jimmy Lavalle’s creepy electronic score. –KH

GLOW Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, 2018) Ruth’s eagerness to add her input to the show bruises her friendship with Sam; Debbie channels divorce rage into her new role as producer. Nary a sophomore season slackening in sight as the the writing swerves around obvious choices as expands its always-sympathetic attention to the rich cast of supporting characters.—RDL

The King and the Chorus Girl (Film, US, Mervyn LeRoy, 1937) The aunt (Mary Nash) and chief aristocratic attendant (Edward Everett Horton) to a young deposed king encourage an American showgirl (Joan Blondell) to rouse him from his alcoholic despond by resisting his romantic overtures. Charming light romantic comedy gains extra crackle from a script by Norman Krasna and Groucho Marx.—RDL

Mongrels (Fiction, Stephen Graham Jones, 2016) Teen grows up on the run in the hardscrabble rural south, protected by his impulsive uncle and survival-hardened aunt, both werewolves. Rich, evocative family story told with the structures and techniques of literary fiction in which an extensively extrapolated set of lycanthrope rules becomes part of the realist texture .—RDL

Good

Archer: Danger Island (Television, US, FXX, Adam Reed, 2018) The latest run of Archer seasons swaps in multi-episode story arcs for the procedural nonsense that marked earlier years, to the general detriment of comedic density: time spent advancing a plot is time not spent making drunken sex jokes. This season sets the show’s cast, suitably rejiggered, in a 1938 Pacific air adventure serial that shows Reed’s love for the material, but again shorts the rapid-fire comedy. –KH

Okay

Legion Season 2 (Television, US, FX, Noah Hawley, 2018) As David Haller (Dan Stevens) sort-of races the Shadow King (Navid Negahban) to the latter’s body, he questions everything about his quest. If anything the shots this season are more gorgeously inventive than ever, so it’s a shame Hawley lards the season with story side trails and literally sophomoric explorations into pop cogsci and pop ethics. Maybe “we know nothing” isn’t the best spine for a series narrative, especially when almost nobody can act well enough to earn viewer sympathy. The show quotes The Who a lot, so I will, too: “Why should I care?” –KH

Not Recommended

RocknRolla (Film, UK, Guy Ritchie, 2008) Betrayals, scams and side hustles ripple outward from a crooked real estate deal brokered by a bullying thug (Tom Wilkinson.) Without a throughline a screenplay is just a series of incidents, in this case not especially compelling ones. Kudos to the casting director; you sure couldn’t assemble this cast on crime flick budget today.—RDL

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