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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

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.

Recommended

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

Good

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

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Battle of the Expository Rants

August 6th, 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

Gunman’s Walk (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1958) Prideful cattle baron (Van Heflin) protects his impulsive, narcissistic son (Tab Hunter) from a murder charge, further stoking his obsessive resentment. Western family drama of what the young’uns call toxic masculinity with a strong performance from Hunter in an uncharacteristic heel role.—RDL

The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1953) Grounded by a rocket accident, obsessed and aging “starduster” Max Andrews throws himself into Senate candidate Ellen Gallagher’s plan to launch a mission to Jupiter. Set in a by-now-alternate future (1997-2001), this novel asks and answers the question: what does a Heinlein protagonist look like in a Fredric Brown world? The substratum of Brownian bleakness provides a surprising dimension to what is, on the surface, a melodrama between expository rants.—KH

The Plague Court Murders (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1934) A locked room and a sea of footprint-free mud surround the stab-ridden corpse of a phony medium. Henry Merrivale debuts in this early ultra-Carr-ish triumph, combining an impossible crime, gothic haunted-hothouse atmosphere, voices from the past, and family drama in a classic of Golden Age mystery. –KH

RBG (Film, Betsy West & Julie Cohen, 2018) Admiring documentary portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg intersperses scenes from her daily life with recaps of her early career as a litigator of sex discrimination cases. Finds the person behind a reserved demeanor and her recent quasi-ironic icon status.—RDL

Vacationland (Nonfiction, John Hodgman, 2017) Comic memoir explores the grown-up vicissitudes of life in rural Massachusetts and Maine, as contrasted to life in Brooklyn’s hipsterized Park Slope neighborhood. It helps to keep Hodgman’s voice in your head as he regales you with anecdotes of garbage dump rule anxiety, accidental boat ownership and stoned cairn construction with Jonathan Coulton.—RDL

Veep Season 7 (Television, HBO, David Mandel, 2019) Taking on and shedding the various invective-spewing operators in her orbit, Selina Meyer makes another no-holds-barred bid for the presidency. With real politics increasingly impervious to satire, this avoids the dreaded softening of final seasons to double down on comic brutality.—RDL

Not Recommended

Rider on the Rain (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1970) Pilot’s gamin-ish wife (Marlene Jobert) kills her rapist, covers it up, and is then hounded by a mysterious American (Charles Bronson.) After an intriguing giallo-influenced first act, turns into implausible characters at an interminable impasse over a convoluted situation.—RDL

Once Upon a Time… in Ken and Robin Consuming Media

July 30th, 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

The Farewell (Film, US/China, Lulu Wang, 2019) Struggling writer (Akwafina) reluctantly goes along with a family plan to stage a fake wedding for her cousin back in China, so that everyone can gather around her grandmother, whose fatal cancer diagnosis they are keeping from her. Generous comedy drama sticks to real behavior without throwing in nonsense to heighten the stakes.–

Marjorie Prime (Film, Michael Almereyda, 2017) Worried as her mother (Lois Smith) slips into dementia, a brittle woman (Geena Davis) and her doting husband (Tim Robbins) set her up with a hologram (Jon Hamm) that simulates a younger version of her late husband. Hushed, absorbing stage play adaptation sets aside the usual and-then-everything-goes-horribly-wrong structure of AI stories for a dramatic contemplation of memory and grief.—RDL

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Film, US/UK, Quentin Tarantino, 2019) In 1969, cowboy actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo diCaprio) confronts his fading career, alongside his factotum Cliff (Brad Pitt), and next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Harnessing his meta urges (for the most part), Tarantino — along with his two leading men, who nail their roles — gives us a Western about the end of Hollywood. Only the last act is a little rushed and tight, depending too heavily on voice-over. It seems insane to say this about a 2¾-hour movie, but with an extra hour or so this would be a Pinnacle. –KH

Uptight (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1968) Days after the MLK assassination, the alcoholic associate of a fugitive revolutionary succumbs to the temptation presented by the $1000 police reward for his whereabouts. Color-saturated pressure cooker of a movie transposes The Informer to the black militant movement, with which it entirely sympathizes.—RDL

Good

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Film, US/UK, Quentin Tarantino, 2019) Buoyed by his loyal ex-stuntman (Brad Pitt), an alcoholic TV actor (Leonardo di Caprio) faces career decline; meanwhile Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) enjoys life’s everyday pleasures in 1969 L.A. Tarantino conjures magic in the first two acts, a Jacques Demy inspired tone poem of cinematic cool, before an abrupt gesture yanks us back into a greatest hits of shock flourishes past.—RDL

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Film, US, Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon, 2016) Three Mississippi 12-year-olds began filming a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1982; they finished all but one scene (the flying wing) by 1989; in 2014 they reunite (sort of) to complete the movie. Amiable and earnest documentary follows this ludicrous story, sucking the viewer into its demented gravity without ever really having much of a reason to get made — in a way, apropos. –KH

Okay

Sky On Fire (Film, HK, Ringo Lam, 2016) Security officer (Daniel Wu) working for a murderous biotech magnate goes rogue to help a farmer get his sister a revolutionary cancer cure. I’d love to be able to make an argument for Lam’s final film, and there’s something interesting going on with the staccato pacing of exposition in its first act, but it never quite gels.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Beanie Baby Heart of Darkness

July 23rd, 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 Great Beanie Baby Bubble:  Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute (Nonfiction,  Zac Bissonnette, 2015) Eccentric, broken corporate outsider Ty Warner inadvertently sparks a grassroots speculative bubble with his obsessively designed beanbag creatures. Rich with anecdote and confidently told, this would be essential reading only as business journalism dissecting a briefly omnipresent marketing phenomenon. It’s as a human story, revealing plush, as its denizens call their trade, as a well of inexpressible despair, that turns this into a foundational account of its era.—RDL

Recommended

The Chef Show Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Jon Favreau, 2019) Director Favreau and L.A. star chef Roy Choi, his advisor on Chef, cook, eat, and hang out with pals including David Chang, Robert Rodriguez, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert Downey Jr. An engagingly loose paean to food prep with a conversational energy recalling Favreau’s old “Dinner for Five” show.—RDL

The Far Cry (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1951) Recuperating in Taos from a nervous breakdown, George Weaver becomes fixated on the girl murdered in his summer home eight years previously. A pure portrait of disintegration and obsession, combined with truly frightening alcohol intake? It must be a Fredric Brown noir crime novel! Even if you figure out where this one is going, you’ll stay locked in the car waiting for the crash. –KH

Madball (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1953) Carnies scheme, kill, and betray to find the loot from a bank robbery carried out by two of their number. Brown switches viewpoint characters with each chapter, twisting his carnival crime yarn ever tighter in this tour de force noir. Almost a Pinnacle for me, and even more unjustly neglected than most of Brown’s work. –KH

La Marseillaise (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1938) During the interregnum between the storming of the Bastille and the arrest of the king, a band of comrades from Marseilles joins the revolutionary army. Panoramic, human scaled historical epic set during the confusing bit of the French Revolution most cinematic treatments snip out.—RDL

Moonrise (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1948) Man scorned all his life as the son of a hanged murderer kills a tormentor in self-defense, hides the body, and bonds with the man’s schoolteacher girlfriend. Wildly expressionistic style layers noir visual motifs onto a small town melodrama.—RDL

Sword of Trust (Film, Lynn Shelton, 2019) Exasperated pawn shop owner (Marc Maron) assists an underconfident woman (Jillian Bell) and her no-BS partner (Michaela Watkins) sell an antique sword whose provenance purports to prove that the South won the Civil War. Semi-improvised character comedy for our present period of dissolving consensus reality scores with Maron’s increasing assurance as an actor, and including one of cinema’s best monologues.—RDL

Okay

The Mourner (Fiction, Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), 1963) Master heister Parker once again finds himself on the trail of a double-crosser, this time an Eastern European spy stepping out on his masters to rip off a traitorous colleague. The fourth installment in the Parker series goes a touch off-model, with a mid-novel viewpoint switch and Cold War shenanigans.—RDL

A Simple Favor (Film, US, Paul Feig, 2018) Straight-laced vlogger (Anna Kendrick) falls under the spell of a glamorous, devil-may-care fellow mom (Blake Lively), who then disappears, leaving her to care for a bereft son and stunned husband. This is at its most fun when it’s a stylish contemporary gothic, but jeez, pick a tone.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Pagan Fertility vs. Eurotechnocrats

July 16th, 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

DIE Volume 1 (Graphic Novel, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, 2019) Former RPG group, scarred by an event from 1991, reluctantly reunites, casting them once again into a realization of the dark fantasy setting they used to game in. From its familiar player types to the heroes’ conscious immersion in a meta-text, presents a shock of familiarity by depicting the culture from within,—RDL (Full disclosure: the fifth chapter is named after a Thing I Always Say.)

Monsoon Diary (Nonfiction, Shoba Narayan, 2003) Memoir explores the role of food in the author’s life, from childhood in Kerala to university and marriage in the US. Sparkling, unfussy style evokes the rhythms of family life and the delights of cooking and eating.—RDL

Picnic on the Grass (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1959) When the handlers of an artificial insemination proponent eyeing a post as European President (Paul Meurisse) turn his engagement to a stern Girl Scout leader into a rustic photo op, the primal forces of fertility send him into the arms of a vivacious vintner’s daughter (Catherine Rouvel.)  Satirical magic-realist romcom finds Renoir once again sending up the French aristocracy, now in its postwar technocratic guise.—RDL

Where I Was From (Nonfiction, Joan Didion, 2003) Blending social history with family memoir, Didion trains her distinctive asperity on her home state of California, placing its many transformations within a long tradition of rugged federal subsidy acquisition.—RDL

Good

Booksmart (Film, US, Olivia Wilde, 2019) On the night before high school graduation, inseparable pals (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever) decide to make up for lost partying time and embark on a quest to find the hot bash all the cool kids are at. Gender-reversed answer to Superbad concentrates on affirming its leads, giving the choice comic business to a cast of adult sharpshooters (Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien.)—RDL

Chef (Film, US, Jon Favreau, 2014) In the wake of a viral meltdown, a stifled chef (Jon Favreau) rediscovers his love of cooking on a food truck road trip. A barely-sketched family bonding arc acts as the serving platter for a tribute to professional food service.—RDL

Nine Wrong Answers (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1952) A chance meeting impels Bill Dawson to impersonate the nephew of a rich sadist; true love, radio drama, and a deadly wrestler are only some of the curves in wait. In lieu of a series detective, Dawson becomes the Hitchcock-style protagonist of this thriller mystery. Carr occasionally footnotes likely wrong answers by the reader to keep the mystery boiling, but he’s just not comfortable enough in the thriller vein to skate past the “wait what” questions. –KH

A Woman’s Face (Film, US, George Cukor, 1941) A cynical blackmailer (Joan Crawford) undergoes treatment from a dashing plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) to repair her lifelong facial burns, then finds that her aristocratic lover (Conrad Veidt) expects her to bump off an inconvenient young heir for him. Cukor classes up a script several shades more lurid than his usual assignments.—RDL

Okay

Stranger Things Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2019) As Hopper (David Harbour) makes himself an obstacle to the young love of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Elle (Millie Bobby Brown), the Mindflayer assembles a gooey new weapon against them. The pastiche becomes broader and more intrusive as it embraces the corny side of 80s mainstream moviemaking, devaluing the characters.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spider-Mans, Spider-Mans (and Midsommar Too)

July 9th, 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

Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World (Nonfiction, Gary Indiana, 2010) Critical, biographical and political examination of Warhol’s Soup Cans series as a pivot point in American culture, woven together with a novelist’s knack for narrative. Particularly strong on the cultural contrasts between the Abstract Expressionist claque and the pop artists who displaced them.—RDL

Frankenstein in Baghdad (Fiction, Ahmed Saadawi, 2013) During the American occupation of Baghdad, an antiques merchant, in an act of obscure protest, sews together a corpse from the parts of many car bomb victims, only to see it animate into a superhuman avenger. Magic realist ensemble novel uses horror imagery to map the bloody chaos spiral of the post-invasion period.—RDL

Midsommar (Film, US/Sweden, Ari Aster, 2019) Reeling from personal tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) accompanies her weaksauce boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a once-a-lifetime midsummer festival in remotest Sweden. Aster’s bag of camera tricks doesn’t quite compensate for a third act that mistakes inevitability for momentum, but Pugh’s committed, powerful acting and Bobby Krlic’s score carry this Sweaboo Wicker Man home. –KH

Shrill Season 1 (Television, US, Alexandra Rushfield, 2019) Novice reporter at a Portland alt weekly (Aidy Bryant) learns to stick up for herself while dealing with an emotionally maladroit almost-boyfriend (Luka Jones) and fat-shaming editor (John Cameron Mitchell, playing a fictionalized Dan Savage.) Dramedy gives Bryant a chance to shine in a sustained performance as a fully realized character; Jones achieves new dimensions in comic gormlessness.—RDL

The Souvenir (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2019) Privileged film student (Honor Swinton Byrne), lacking the radar to sense that something is amiss, becomes embroiled with a languorous, sophisticated older man (Tom Burke.) Elliptical autobiographical drama observed with a quiet lushness, centred by Swinton Byrne’s breakout performance.—RDL

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) A new threat brings Tony Stark’s reluctant successor Peter Parker (Tom Holland) back into action with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie has so much lumber to clear from previous films that it’s a small miracle it succeeds as well as it does, despite mostly abandoning the frothy teen movie-superhero flick blend of its precursor. Holland’s charm and an extremely cool fight scene keep it up there and swinging. –KH

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijacks Peter Parker (Tom Holland) from the European class trip where he hopes to woo MJ (Zendaya), enlisting him in a battle against elementals waged by bubble-helmeted warrior Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal.) Light-hearted super-romp plays as the cinematic version of a regular comic book yanking itself back on track after the disruptions of a massive crossover event.—RDL

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, 2018) Reluctant magnet school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) succeeds the deceased Peter Parker as Spider-Man and teams with extra-dimensional counterparts to save the multiverse from Kingpin’s reality-shattering machine. A companion piece in deep-dive nerdery and bullet-train pacing to the Lord & MIller producing team’s Lego Batman, but with heart instead of gags.—RDL

Good

A Legacy of Spies (Fiction, John LeCarré, 2017) The Circus drags an aged Peter Guillam out of retirement to hang the 1962 deaths of Alec Leamas and Liz Gold on him, in this prequel-sequel to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Although LeCarré remains effortless reading, this is not his strongest plot by any stretch, and at the end the book just deflates. I should ding it another rank for putting a piece of arrant sloganeering into the mouth of George Smiley of all people. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bukowski Without the Sentimentality

July 2nd, 2019 | Robin

The Pinnacle

And Hope To Die (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1972) On the run from mysterious knifemen, a chameleonic pilot (Jean-Louis Trigtinant) becomes first the prisoner and then the accomplice of a heist gang led by a hardbitten mastermind (Robert Ryan.) Ineffably compelling, culturally displaced hangout movie escalates into a romantic fatalism that wouldn’t be out of place in a heroic bloodshed flick. Based on the David Goodis novel The Burglar and set in and around Montreal.—RDL

Recommended

Filmworker (Film, US, Tony Zierra, 2017) Documentary portrait of Leon Vitali, who after an unforgettable performance as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, gave up acting to serve as indispensable factotum to Stanley Kubrick. Tale of epic self-sacrifice to another’s vision rendered all the more fascinating by its subject’s cheery refusal to feel the regrets everyone else has on his behalf.—RDL

Fleabag Season 1 (Television, UK, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2016) Struggling cafe owner (Waller-Bridge) cycles through variously unfortunate men and tries to patch up her shaky relationship with her control freak sister (Sian Clifford) and distant dad (Bill Paterson.) Bruisingly funny dramedy employs direct address to establish sympathy for its anti-heroine and complicity with her messed-up decisions.—RDL

The Moon in the Gutter (Fiction, David Goodis, 1953) Stevedore scarred by his sister’s suicide is pulled between two women, his brutish almost-step-sister and a stylish pursuer from the right side of the tracks. Literary fiction with noir overtones radiates heat, blood, and booze sweat. Bukowski without the sentimentality.—RDL

Good

The Fate of the Furious (Film, US, F. Gary Gray, 2017) In a turn smacking of a need to separate openly feuding cast members, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue, turning his back on family, to assist blond-dreadlocked cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) in a nuke acquisition scheme. Dials back from the last installment’s inspired lunacy to routine lunacy, leaving the chief pleasure Theron’s measured downplaying of the exposition and protagonist psychoanalysis that comprise her role.—RDL

Night at the Crossroads (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1932) Inspector Maigret (Philippe Renoir) dodges the advances of a lissome suspect (Winna Winifred) as he investigates the shotgun slaying of a jewel merchant at a lonely crossroads. Renoir’s uses a Simenon novel as a vehicle for social observation and his pioneering location work.—RDL

Triple Frontier (Film, US, J.C. Chandor, 2019) Tempted by ringleader Pope (Oscar Isaac) and led by old dog Redfly (Ben Affleck), five former Special Ops soldiers team up for one last job — to murder and rob a South American narcotraficante. Of course, the heist turns out to be more complicated, and the getaway more brutal, than the plan in this update of Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the post-Black Hawk Down era. Disasterpeace (with Lars Ulrich on drums) contributes an interesting score, when the movie bothers to let you hear it. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spies, Zombies and Financial Criminals

June 25th, 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

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (Nonfiction, Sheelah Kolhatkar, 2017) FBI and SEC investigators pursue an insider trading case against obsessive hedge fund mogul, whose company structure seems engineered for endemic hanky-panky. Riveting legal/financial procedural where the crime scenes are email servers.—RDL

Craig’s Wife (Film, US, Dorothy Arzner, 1936) Compulsively controlling woman (Rosalind Russell) tips her besotted husband (John Boles) to her subtly abusive behavior after he becomes a tangential witness in a criminal case. Arzner’s flair for incisive observation of unconventional characters animates this family melodrama, which if remade today would psychologize the heroine’s tragic flaw.—RDL

The Dead Don’t Die (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2019) When the dead rise in Pennsylvania, the Centerville Police Department (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny) cannot hold. Jarmusch takes a rare turn into nihilism with this deliberately down-beat, beautiful comedy; to see him produce rhythm and signifiers without meaning is scarier than anything in the film itself. –KH

Killing Eve Season 2 (Television, UK, Emerald Fennell, 2019) Villanelle’s new freelance gig leads her to an espionage-op team up with crush object Eve, but you can’t take the murder out of the murdergirl. The series premise clarifies itself from cat-and-mouse to Silence of the Lambs minus horror plus spies, romance and fashion. Though cheerfully upfront about its idiot plotting, sticklers on that front may downgrade it a notch or two.—RDL

The Little Drummer Girl (Television, UK, BBC, Park Chan-Wook, 2018) Recruited by Mossad in the person of handler Gadi (Alexander Skarsgård), English actress Charlie (Florence Pugh) rewrites her past and infiltrates a Palestinian terrorist cell in 1979 Europe. Weird core story about the fluidity of personhood peeks out of this Le Carré spy policier (espionier?) but the real stars are Michael Shannon’s blustery spymaster Kurtz and Park’s Seventies-adoring location scout. –KH

The Problem of the Green Capsule (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1939) Dr. Fell and Inspector Elliott grapple with a poisoning, one deliberately filmed by the victim. All Carr’s gifts for plot, puzzle, and creepy atmosphere connect here; the only thing missing is a locked room.–KH

Good

Through the Stars By Hard Ways (Film, Russia, Richard and Nikolay Viktorov, 1981) After an experimental sojourn on Earth with a host family of scientists, an orphaned alien artificial human (Yelena Metyolkina) accompanies an interstellar rescue mission. Often eerie, occasionally goofy adaptation of a Kir Bulychev story affords the chance to see stock space opera elements filtered through the distinct and now-vanished aesthetic of Soviet SF. AKA Through the Thorns to the Stars, Per Aspera Ad Astra, or Humanoid Woman.—RDL

WTF

The Apple (Film, US/West Germany, Menahem Golan, 1980) In the dystopic future of 1994, where Canadians enter the Eurovision Song Contest, a Mephistophelean empresario lures the female half of a romantic singing duo into decadent stardom. Rock musical passion project from the producer of Cobra, Cyborg and The Delta Force takes as its seeming thesis that Rocky Horror should have been three times gayer yet also a painfully sincere Biblical allegory. Legendary cult film, staged with the utter confidence in gobsmackingly awful material that comes only from owning a mini-studio.—RDL

Not Recommended

Jessica Jones Season 3 (Television, US, Melissa Rosenberg, 2019) As Jessica (Kristen Ritter) runs afoul of a serial killer (Jeremy Bobb), Patsy (Rachael Taylor) completes her transformation into a violent masked vigilante. Rife with skewed emotional logic, the show’s final season–at Netflix, anyway–curdles into sourness and cruelty.—RDL

Wine Country (Film, US, Amy Poehler, 2019) A troupe of longtime pals (Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell & Emily Spivey) descends on Napa Valley to celebrate a 50th birthday and renew old bonds. Cast of killer SNL alums struggle to energize a script without a compelling comic premise or much in the way of jokes.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Critics are Wrong About The Dead Don’t Die, Which is Why You Rely On Us

June 18th, 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 Dead Don’t Die (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2019) Small town cops (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny) try to keep it together when polar fracking unleashes a global zombie epidemic. In the future, if we have one, this deceptively ramshackle zom-com will be recognized as an essential document of the first-stage Trump era.—RDL

Recommended

Barry Season 2 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2019) Assassin-turned-acting student (Hader) tries to cleave to the latter and forget the former, but his ex-partner (Stephen Root) and gregarious Chechen client (Anthony Carrigan) have other ideas. As second seasons that live up to a great debut grow rarer, this drives deeper  into bananastown while still maintaining its balance between laughs and moral horror.—RDL

Bolshoi Babylon (Film, UK, Nick Read, 2015) Documentary goes behind the scenes at Russia’s mythically central Bolshoi Ballet Theater in the aftermath of an incident in which one of its dancers ordered an acid attack on its artistic director. It sounds odd to say this about a documentary, but this does a lot of early, methodical worldbuilding to contextualize its fly-on-the-wall institutional power struggle.—RDL

Justified Season 1 (Television, US, FX, Graham Yost, 2010) Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) receives an unwelcome transfer to his Kentucky stomping grounds, where he navigates between his ex-wife (Natalie Zea) and a witness he shouldn’t be sleeping with (Joelle Carter) and contends with the hillbilly mafia. Police procedural partners up with the contemporary western, with fine black hattery from Walton Goggins and M. C. Gainey.—RDL

Salt Fat Acid Heat (Television, Netflix, Samin Nosrat, 2018) Chef Nosrat travels the world explicating the four core concepts of cooking, generally with two or three dishes cooked in between excitement at a salt pan or olive grove. Nosrat’s educitement is infectious, and there’s nothing more deeply lush than food documentary vegetable photography. Also, she’s right about the salt, people. –KH

Good

Gonza the Spearman (Film, Japan, Masahiro Shinoda, 1985)  In an era where years of internal peace have tightened the social constraints on samurai, a marriage negotiation gone awry brings dishonor and doom to a rising court attendant and the wife of his mentor. Stately adaptation of a 17th century kabuki drama is your reference point if you’re looking for a clear cinematic explication of the tea ceremony in its political context. Suffers from a notably egregious case of that longstanding bane of the samurai genre, Unconvincing Bald Cap Syndrome.—RDL

Roughly Speaking (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1945) Determined New Englander (Rosalind Russell), her brood of kids and her ex-pilot second husband (Jack Carson) push through the wild ups and downs of early 20th century American life. Curtiz’s mastery of momentum finds a cohesion few other directors would manage in this episodic memoir adaptation.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fantasy Heartbreaker and a Golden Bough Mystery

June 11th, 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

Leave No Trace (Film, US, Debra Granik, 2018) Traumatized veteran (Ben Foster) tries to keep his thirteen year old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) by his side as he lives the nomadic, forest-dwelling existence that will hold any other contact with society at bay. Exquisitely shot, perfectly modulated naturalistic drama featuring the expected brilliant performance from Foster and a revelatory one from McKenzie.—RDL

Recommended

Archipelago (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2010) A stay in a holiday rental home in the Scilly Isles becomes the stage for sublimated conflict between a passive-aggressive mom (Kate Fahy) and her  painfully empathetic son (Tom Hiddleston) and brittle daughter (Lydia Leonard). Minimalist inquiry into the exquisite torment of upper class English interpersonal communication.—RDL

Death by Water (Fiction, Kenzaburo Oe, 2009) Encouraged by an experimental theater troupe, an aging novelist investigates his father’s long-ago drowning death, only to find that a trunk supposedly full of crucial documents contains nothing more remarkable than three volumes of The Golden Bough. Discursive, autobiographical novel of repressed family turmoil and dark political undercurrents.—RDL

Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker (Comics, Image, Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans, 2019) After barely returning from a fantasy world years ago, an RPG group finds themselves once more in the gameworld of Die. Gillen somehow makes the oldest, tiredest story in fantasy both fresh and original, while staying true to the dynamics of game groups and adulthood. Hans’ art provides both wonder and terror. –KH [Gillen has also released a beta version of the RPG of his comic]

The Judas Window (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1938) When Avory Hume is found dead in a locked room with an arrow in his chest, Sir Henry Merrivale defends the man found in the room with him in court. Carr takes the unusual step of telling almost the whole story through court transcripts, which has the salutary effect of taming the self-indulgent Sir Henry and allowing evidence for the defense to legitimately appear as a surprise. –KH

The South vs. The South (Nonfiction, William W. Freehling, 2001) Only half the South fought for the Confederacy — the other half (border-state whites and Southern blacks) fought for the Union. Freehling argues that the rifle’s defensive advantage counterbalanced the Union’s railroad advantage, leaving a war of numbers that only half the South could never win. –KH

Under the Silver Lake (Film, US, David Robert Mitchell, 2019) Skeevy layabout Sam (Andrew Garfield) passes through the LA looking glass when a blonde he liked (Riley Keough) disappears. Beautifully shot existential slacker daylight-noir conspiracy film plays wonderfully with Garfield’s slack uselessness and with the inherent weirdness of LA; the heavy-noir score by Disasterspace kills as well. With a better ending, it would achieve Pinnacle; as it is, it will achieve hipster cult status, deservedly. –KH

Good

Around the World in 80 Days (Film, US, Michael Anderson, 1956) Phileas Fogg (David Niven) and his valet Passepartout (the superb Cantinflas) set out to win a circumnavigatory wager. Part of the old school of cinema as magic-lantern show and ViewMaster, this film mostly shows off landscapes and cameos by old school actors to the detriment of pacing or tension. However, it is gorgeous and remarkably faithful (modulo a balloon ride) to the Verne novel. –KH

Two-Faced Woman (Film, US, George Cukor, 1941) Clean-living ski instructor (Greta Garbo) fears she’s losing her new magazine mogul husband (Melvyn Douglas), so she goes to New York to get him and naturally winds up posing as her nonexistent, gold-digging twin sister. Late-cycle screwball comedy reteaming the leads from Ninotchka runs entirely on their charm, bolstered by classic studio glamor cinematography.—RDL

Okay

Jubal (Film, US, Delmer Daves, 1956) Rootless cowhand (Glenn Ford) signs on with a good-hearted but oafish rancher (Ernest Borgnine) whose wife (Valerie French) fixes him in her wandering gaze. Western tropes make way for 50s psychosexual melodrama. Marred by a deeply mannered performance from Rod Steiger as an antagonistic ranch hand.—RDL

Trapped Season 1 (Television, Iceland, Baltasar Kormakur, 2015) The washing up of a limbless torso roils a small Icelandic fishing town socked in by a storm, leaving the police chief (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) a former Reykjavik hotshot, to handle a high-profile murder case aided only by his local staff. Sober Nordic crime drama keeps its intrigue (with a key exception) in the realm of the real, though perhaps not without a payoff worth a 10 hour runtime.—RDL

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