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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Mind Paradox

March 21st, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Guess which of us was in Vegas this week and which of us wasn’t.


After the Storm (Film, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, 2016) Perpetually broke failing novelist sidelines as a private investigator and tries to be a better son and father and ex-husband. Well, kinda tries. Wry, beautifully portrayed family drama.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in US theatrical release.

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (Nonfiction, Robert A. Burton, 2013) Exploration of the many daunting obstacles standing in the way of an accurate understanding of how the brain creates the mind. Engagingly argues that many exciting theories in the field are rife with unverifiable circular reasoning and magical thinking, as you have to use the mind to study the mind, and that’s how minds roll.—RDL


Mystery Team (Film, US, Dan Eckman, 2009) Former child detectives who refuse to grow up (Donald Glover, DC Pierson, DominIc Dierkes) get a taste of hard-R rated reality when they agree to investigate a double murder. Although a less than tight edit leaves some of the jokes gasping for air, there are a lot of them, and Glover has charm to spare and the backing of able comedy pinch-hitters including Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Matt Walsh and Jon Daly.—RDL


Time Without Pity (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1957) Fresh from sequestration in an overseas alcohol clinic, a writer (Michael Redgrave) arrives back in London to discover that his son is about to hang for murder, triggering a frantic last ditch investigation to exonerate him. Feverish juggernaut of 50s hysteria in which the expat US director drives his British cast to out-emote his Method-acting countrymen.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Lure (Film, Poland, Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015) Mermaid sisters, one more aggressive in pursuit of human flesh than the other, cross the boundary into the human world as stripper-singers at a sleazy nightclub. If you understand me at all, you know that I go to a Polish killer mermaid sexploitation musical wanting to like it, but the basic building blocks needed to establish and develop an engaging story are just plain absent.—RDL

The Silenced (Film, South Korea, Lee Hae-young, 2015) Consumptive girl sent to a Japanese-run sanatorium school during the Occupation faces bullying and a rash of mysterious departures. Gorgeously photographed mix of horror and superhero tropes packs together so many elementary storytelling errors that it’s hard to single out just one. Oh, let’s say: if you’re going to have a central mystery, don’t make it also your premise, and especially don’t telegraph it so heavily that the audience remains way ahead of the characters.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Long in the Tooth (and/or Claw)

March 14th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


The Body in the Library (Fiction, Agatha Christie, 1942) Not flawless by any means, but a nicely paradigmatic Miss Marple mystery. The best thing about the Marple stories is that they force Christie to at least pretend to consider real human personalities, as opposed to moving cutouts around on a railway timetable. Miss Marple’s bleak view of humanity is refreshing, too. –KH

Logan (Film, US, James Mangold, 2017) In a welcome franchise turn away from endless world-saving, Mangold helms a dusty, character-driven Western set in a darkening, mutant-free future. The hyperviolence is just as wrenching as the emotional torsion of the dying Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Xavier (Patrick Stewart); this is a grown-up movie in more senses than its R rating. –KH

Mr. Nobody (Film, Belgium, Jaco Van Dormael, 2009) In a glossy near-future, the last man who will die of old age (Jared Leto) recounts the story of his life—or rather the stories of his many possible yet contradictory lives. Arrestingly designed existential mystery maintains emotional engagement with its many-versioned protagonist even as it constantly questions the reality of what we’re seeing.—RDL


The Dam Busters (Film, UK, Michael Anderson, 1954) Self-effacing engineer (Michael Redgrave) and jut-jawed bomber commander (Richard Todd) lead the effort to destroy key German dams in 1943. Chiefly remembered as a key visual reference for Star Wars, this paean to technical expertise and heroically contained emotion pushed the limits of miniatures effects but creaks just a touch today. If you’re planning to show this to kids, brace yourself to deliver the How It Used To Be Normal To Name Beloved Pets After Vicious Racial Epithets talk.—RDL

Generation Loss (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2008) Photographer who experienced a flicker of notoriety during the punk era takes a reluctant trip to a remote Maine island to interview an older counterpart. Crime novel with horror motifs boasts enviable prose and a rich sense of place, but suffers the momentum issues that come when the protagonist doesn’t actively investigate the mystery until the upshift to the climax.—RDL

Tickled (Film, NZ, David Farrier & Dylan Reeve, 2016) TV reporter’s attempt to do a story on an ostensibly comical competitive men’s tickling league leads to an international web of gobsmacking harassment, with a shadowy, Wall Street-fattened kinkster at its center. Investigative documentary in the Nick Broomfield mode unravels a surprisingly relevant tale of our ever-weirdening times, but goes overboard in hyping a standard ambush interview as a sequence of white-knuckle suspense.—RDL

The White Mandarin (Fiction, Dan Sherman, 1982) In 1948 Shanghai, CIA officer John Polly kills a gangster and flees north to join the Communists — but as a mole at Mao’s side. The tradecraft and setting are great, but the distanced tone and lack of tension keep it from full success as a thriller. A deniable undercurrent of the supernatural remains symbolic, adding to the tone but not to the mystery. –KH


The Magnificent Seven (Film, US, Antoine Fuqua, 2016) In a world with the 1960 John Sturges original, this film is completely unnecessary, and Fuqua brings very little except pointless backstory to this racially balanced but gassily bloated remake. (Vincent D’Onofrio’s mountain man is pretty great, though.) The moral, the story, and the dialogue are all watered down; Fuqua has gotten better at filming action but no better at explaining it cinematically. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Double Pinnacle Week

March 7th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Ghettoside (Nonfiction, Jill Leovy, 2015) Amid a murder epidemic, LAPD detectives fight through widespread institutional neglect to find and convict the killers of a fellow cop’s son. Powerfully observed fly-on-the-wall journalism argues that failure to prioritize murder investigation in high-crime, segregated neighborhoods ensures the continuance of a vendetta culture that keeps the bodies dropping. Belongs on your true crime shelf right next to Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.—RDL

Zodiac (Director’s Cut) (Film, US, David Fincher, 2007) One of the three best movies in a stellar film year reached almost Lovecraftian depths, showing how even glancing encounters with merely human evil deranged or destroyed almost everyone involved in the investigation of the Zodiac killer. Fortunately, the real case history allowed a somewhat more upbeat ending. The Director’s Cut expands the running time by 5 minutes (to 2hrs 43mins) and adds one good character scene and one magnificent procedural scene, as SFPD detectives try to convince an unseen DA over a speakerphone to seek a search warrant. –KH


The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Film, West Germany, Fritz Lang, 1960) Commissioner Kras (Gert Fröbe) is out of his depth when a new series of crimes committed by Dr. Mabuse — the long-dead mastermind from Lang’s earlier films — roils Berlin, centered around the weird Hotel Luxor. Lang’s last film trusts a dizzying overlay of eye imagery, antiphonal dialogue, and dissembling characters to exalt a B-movie plot and scanty postwar budget. Its themes of surveillance paranoia and manipulation remain current even though its style can seem flat and outmoded. –KH

Korengal (Film, US, Sebastian Junger, 2014) Three years after their deployment to Afghanistan’s Korengal valley, current and former members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade reflect on their war experiences. Revisits the events of the director’s 2010 doc Restrepo by shifting the focus to the personalities and responses of the people inside the uniforms.—RDL

The Lego Batman Movie (Film, US, Chris McKay, 2017) As more super-villains than you can fit in a single toybox attack Gotham City, a solipsistic Batman (Will Arnett) discovers that the only butt he can’t kick is that of his own loneliness. A hilarious examination of the Batman mythos for deep-dive comic fans in the guise of a frenetic, color-saturated kiddie extravaganza. Most recondite insider reference, narrowly beating out the shark repellent gag: casting Doug Benson as Bane. The kids in the audience really wanted to help Batman when he had trouble saying the word “sorry.”—RDL


The Final Girls (Film, US, Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015) Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends find themselves trapped in the 1986 slasher film her mom (Malin Akerman) starred in. Strong performances by Farmiga and Akerman power an engaging meta roller coaster, but the story and production design aren’t as tight as they might be. Gregory James Jenkins does right by the “ode to ‘80s soundtracks” score, though. –KH

Room (Film, Canada/Ireland, Lenny Abrahamson, 2015) When her son (Jacob Tremblay) turns five, a desperate mother (Brie Larson) imprisoned in a shed for seven years by a sexual predator plots their escape. Intense performances an acute directorial sense for spaces large and small stand out, even if its handling of the final story escalation lacks the care and credibility that characterizes the rest of the script.—RDL


Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons (Nonfiction, Jeffro Johnson, 2017) Compilation of game-advice, critical, and ludohistorical blog entries inspired by or reacting to titles and authors in Gary Gygax’ ‘Appendix N’ to the AD&D DMG. I’m broadly sympathetic to Johnson’s grumpy conservatism, and likely guilty of the same structural sins in my own lit-crit-book-from-blog, so I won’t address those. It does need a stronger edit for misprints and malapropisms, but its real value depends on where you are in your own reading. If, like they were for Johnson, Fritz Leiber and Tarzan are unexplored country for you, this is Recommended; for me, it was Okay. –KH


Sherlock Season 4 (TV, BBC, Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss, 2017) Overlong, overwritten, overclever, and just generally over. Moffat & Gatiss split this season between trying to undo the damage they inflicted on the iconic characters in previous seasons and opening new wounds. Even more than in earlier seasons, the mysteries take a distant back seat to cheap character tricks, ever-lazier scripting, showy SFX, and pointless reveals; only Benedict Cumberbatch’s mulish dedication to the Holmes part keeps the show watchable at all. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Insane Wainscot Murderverse

February 28th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


John Wick: Chapter Two (Film, US, Chad Stahelski, 2017) The latest in the operatic-action franchise pits decreasingly reluctant hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) against the Camorra and every other hitman in New York. Expands the original’s insane wainscot murderverse without breaking it, and adds the two best set-piece gunfights in the series. –KH

Kilo Two Bravo (Film, UK, Paul Katis, 2014) British soldiers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province face an escalating horror show after one of them steps on a landmine in a dried-up river bed. Utterly naturalistic treatment heightens the situation’s harrowing suspense and physical suffering. Based on a real incident. Also known as Kajaki.—RDL

The Queen Pedauque (Fiction, Anatole France, 1893) Unworldly cook’s son follows his tutor, a bibulous, womanizing priest, into the service of an aristocratic alchemist who wants him to mate with a fire elemental. Saucy satire skewers occultists, atheists and Catholics. —RDL


I Live in Fear (Film, Japan, Akira Kurosawa, 1955) Blustering foundry owner terrified by the H-Bomb (Toshiro Mifune) informs his family he’s moving them to Brazil, prompting them to go to court to have him declared mentally incompetent. Social drama about irreconcilably stalemated characters lets Mifune, then 35, act a big old-age transformation and gives Kurosawa a reason to explore the compositional possibilities of cramped, over-populated spaces.—RDL

The Sand-Reckoner (Fiction, Gillian Bradshaw, 2000) Engaging novel centers on Archimedes’ return to a thinly sketched Syracuse from an offstage Alexandria, and the beginnings of his career as engineer (and would-be in-law) to King Hieron II. For a novel of the First Punic War there’s a lot of flute-playing and precious little conflict, save within the breast of Archimedes’ Roman slave Marcus. –KH


The Atlas of Cursed Places (Nonfiction, Oliver Le Carrer, 2015) Ranging from the archaeological (the tophet of Carthage) to the supernatural (the door to Hell in Stull, Kansas) to the environmental (the subterranean coal fires in Jharia, India) to the political (Gaza) to the natural (Sable Island) this compendium of 40 “bad places” should be much better than it is. The maps are reprinted 19th-century work and usually at far too small a scale; the scanty text is slightly woo-woo Wikipediac prose. –KH

Not Recommended

Captain Fantastic (Film, US, Matt Ross, 2016) When his wife dies, a driven idealist (Viggo Mortensen) who has been home-schooling their large brood as forest-dwelling, adorably radical ubermenschen must take them into the fallen world of strip malls and smartphones. Spends two acts developing a thorny dramatic conflict, and the third act wheeling out an array of writing cheats to avoid having to really reckon with it.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Batman and Bohemians

February 21st, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Beware the Slenderman (Film, US, Irene Taylor Brodsky, 2016) Eerie calm pervades this documentary exploration of the 2014 incident in which two 12-year-old girls tried to murder a classmate in the belief that this would protect them from the Internet horror character Slender Man. This story becomes a little more explicable but all the more unsettling as Brodsky fills in the complicated human stories behind the initial news accounts.—RDL

Bohemian Paris of Today (Nonfiction, William Chambers Morrow, 1899) Daily life in Belle Epoque Paris as experienced by American art students, from hazing rituals at the École des Beaux Arts to a pub crawl through such classic Montmartre haunts as the Moulin Rouge, Mirliton, Hell, and Tavern of the Dead. Penned with a raconteur’s aplomb, this is a sourcebook for players of my forthcoming Yellow King RPG, from the point of view of the characters. Don’t you think beating your deadline by 118 years is just a tad show-offy, William Chambers Morrow?—RDL

Hell or High Water (Film, US, David Mackenzie) West Texas brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) go on a bank robbing spree to prevent foreclosure on their late mother’s underwater mortgage, pursued by a pain-in-the-ass Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his long-suffering partner (Gil Birmingham.) Elegiac contemporary oater pushes the Death of the West all the way to up the Great Recession.—RDL

The Lego Batman Movie (Film, US, Chris McKay, 2017) Riotous mayhem in the Lego movie tradition suffuses every frame (pixel? stud?) and lets the kid-friendly message (“Even Batman needs friends and family!”) go down easy. You’ll probably wind up buying the Blu-Ray and freeze-framing every 20 seconds to get all the visual jokes; not all the verbal jokes work but their sheer number, speed, and scope ensure plenty of hits anyway. Will Arnett’s childlike badass continues to climb the all-time Batman rankings, and wonder of wonders Michael Cera keeps up as Robin. –KH

The OA (Television, US, Netflix, Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij, 2016) Returning to her suburban home seven years after her disappearance, no longer blind, an enigmatic young woman (Marling) gathers a group of high school misfits to hear her story of strange captivity. Contemporary mad science fantasy shows formal audacity in both its rigorous fidelity to a searching, straight-faced emotional tone and in its readiness to explode viewer expectations.—RDL


The Arrows of Hercules (Fiction, L. Sprague de Camp, 1965) De Camp’s breezy historical novel stars Zopyros of Tarentum, who may or may not have invented the catapult for Dionysios I of Syracuse around 397 BC. Flat prose and thin characters notwithstanding, first-rate research and cribs from Greek poetry ballast the book. One wishes de Camp had expanded on the bureaucratic plots possible in the world’s first weapons research laboratory. –KH

Slow Horses (Fiction, Mick Herron, 2010) MI5 screwups banished to busywork at “Slough House” get sucked (and suckered) into an ongoing operation and of course discover their inner strengths, humiliate their snooty rivals, and save the day (sort of) through teamwork. Engaging if paper-thin read, with a fun habit of constantly seeding misdirection throughout the narrative to keep the reader on their toes. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Crime, Guilt and Troglodytes

February 7th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Manchester By the Sea (Film, US, Kenneth Lonergan, 2016) After his brother dies, a closed-off custodian (Casey Affleck) discovers he’s been appointed guardian of his teenage nephew, which would require him to move back to the town that suffocates him with the guilt of his tragic past. Powerfully rendered drama without a frame of sentimental fakery.—RDL


3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man (Comics, Matt Kindt, 2009) The stories of the “World’s Tallest Man” told (in Kindt’s loose watercolor) by his mother, wife, and daughter — including his brief career with the CIA. The result is a weird cross between Roald Dahl and Graham Greene. –KH

Black Dahlia (Comics, Rick Geary, 2016) The latest in Geary’s precise, controlled evocations of famous crimes reconstructs Elizabeth Short’s life and the investigation of her death. While the words give “just the facts,” Geary’s art bursts with life and emotion. –KH

Bone Tomahawk (Film, US, S. Craig Zahler, 2015) When troglodytes abduct a woman (Lili Simmons) and a deputy from the town jail, her injured husband (Patrick Wilson), a taciturn sheriff (Kurt Russell), an arrogant Indian killer (Matthew Fox) and a talkative old-timer (Richard Jenkins) head into the wilderness to effect a rescue. Nerdtroped men-on-a-mission Western ably combines, in a sentence I do not believe I am writing, Charles Portis-style dialogue and cannibal horror.—RDL

Very Semi-Serious (Film, US, Leah Wolchok, 2015) Documentary profiles Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, and its roster of cartoonists, from still-active nonagenarian George Booth to the latest up-and-comers. Informative look inside the creative and professional process of the nichiest of niche markets.—RDL


The Book of Negroes (TV mini-series, Canada, Clement Virgo, 2015) Former slave Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis) recounts the events of her life, from capture as a child in Africa, to servitude in the US south and quasi-freedom in New York City and Nova Scotia, to a group of English abolitionists. Solid if inevitably softened adaptation of the Lawrence Hill novel, which you may know by its former US title, Somebody Knows My Name.—RDL


A Little Chaos (Film, UK, Alan Rickman, 2014) A woman working in the man’s field of landscape architecture (Kate Winslet) gets a rare opportunity to design an innovative fountain for Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) at Versailles. Although this period drama’s unfocused script fails to properly establish and develop the protagonist’s dramatic conflict, it does turn suddenly magical whenever Winslet and Rickman share a scene together.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Courtesan and the Gigolo: The Murders in the Rue Montaigne and the Dark Side of Empire in Nineteenth-Century Paris (Nonfiction, Aaron Freundschuh, 2017) Account of a sensational 1887 murder trial that sent a handsome foreigner to the guillotine, probably unjustly, for the murder of a prosperous demimondaine. Awkward hybrid of historical true crime and boilerplate academic analysis.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Post With Three Hands

January 31st, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

Wylding Hall (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2015) Another (and one of the best) of Hand’s effortless blendings of art and the uncanny, in this case a folk-rock band encountering a faerie in 1972 during a lengthy summer stay at the titular Hall. There is nothing twee or forced about this short novel, and everything horripilating and oblique and terrible and wonderful: think Fairport Convention opening for Arthur Machen. –KH


The Abominable Mr. Seabrook (Comics, Joe Ollmann, 2017) Canadian cartoonist Ollmann wields a deft, dark brush and a disapproving, dour view of William Seabrook in this thorough biography of the once-famous bestselling travel writer, drunkard, sadist, psychic experimenter, and cannibal who hung out with Aleister Crowley, Aldous Huxley, Man Ray, James Joyce, and J.B. Rhine, to hit just the highlights. Ollmann can’t quite bring himself to like Seabrook, but his Can-conventionality winds up giving the biography a needed backstop for Willie’s weirdness to bounce off of. –KH

Death of a Cyclist (Film, Spain, Juan Antonio Bardem, 1958) Guilt grips a mathematician and his married lover after they kill a cyclist in a hit and run incident. Jagged cutting, compelling compositions and sleek 50s modernist design energize this taut existential noir.—RDL

Girl in a Band (Nonfiction, Kim Gordon, 2015) Memoir from Sonic Youth singer/bassist covers a childhood overshadowed by a taxing older brother, her art and music, and the divorce that broke apart her family and band. While the breakup album is a rock n roll tradition, Gordon’s established writing chops make the memoir format an even sharper stake to drive through the heart of cheating rat Thurston Moore.—RDL

Hello My Name is Doris (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2016)  Left with possibilities on her hands after the death of her mother, an eccentric woman (Sally Field) conceives an infatuation for a much younger co-worker (Max Greenfield.) Mix of drama and cringe comedy challenges our willingness to identify with a character whose objectives can only end in disaster, instead of merely feeling sorry for her.—RDL

Illyria (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2007) Cousins Madeline and Rogan Tierney, scions of a theatrical lineage, fall in love in 1970s Yonkers. In this tight, intense novella the only magic is that of love and the theater, although little touches of “the fey” lurk in the wainscoting. –KH

Jackie (Film, US, Pablo Larraín, 2016) In a series of flashbacks framed by Theodore White’s (Billy Crudup) post-assassination interview, Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) arranges her husband’s funeral and his legacy. Larraín’s protean direction and Portman’s superb performance pull what began as a squishy-safe HBO biopic up into Recommended country despite the tinny dialogue. Somehow Larraín has made a hagiography about the cynical work of making a hagiography. –KH

Marina Abramovic: the Artist is Present (Film, US, Matthew Akers, 2012) Documentary reviews the career of groundbreaking performance artist as she undertakes a marathon event involving prolonged silent eye contact with volunteer participants at her MOMA retrospective. At times moving, occasionally funny and sweet, with more focus on Abramovic’s surprisingly accessible backstage personality than on abstract artspeak.—RDL

Radiant Days (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2012) Time-shifting story (written for YA?) of a graffiti artist in 1978 Washington DC meeting Arthur Rimbaud in 1870 lives and dies by Hand’s gorgeous language. Not quite enough myth or secret history for hard-core Powersians, but plenty of art and setting for Hand-philes. –KH


The Ghost Ship (Film, US, Mark Robson, 1943) Junior officer’s first assignment aboard a freighter discovers that his captain’s mania for authority extends to murder. Val Lewton-produced nautical thriller imports the weird atmosphere of his non-supernatural horror films but suffers from a couple of classic script issues, including characters who bang on and on explaining its theme.—RDL

The Love Witch (Film, US, Anna Biller, 2016) In her narcissistic quest for the ideal lover, a foxy witch combines Helen Gurley Brown’s philosophy of man-catching with overly potent love potions. Obsessively detailed pastiche captures early 70s exploitation movie style from film stock to the era’s very specific sort of stilted acting. At two hours, this is overlong for what it is, and there are 20-30 minutes of easy cuts here.—RDL

Moana (Film, US, Ron Clements & John Musker, 2016) The ocean sends Polynesian Disney princess Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) on a quest to save her people by finding the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and, of course, herself. As is standard, the villainous Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) has by far the best song. Visually lush and narratively undistinguished, this rote Disney self-actualization flick does at least demonstrate how high the “average” bar is set by the studio now. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tree Ninjas are the Worst

January 24th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Five Element Ninjas (Film, HK, Chang Cheh, 1982) Martial artist vows revenge after invading ninjas use their elusive weapons to slaughter his master and comrades. Cheh, the Paul Schrader of the Shaw Brothers directing stable, takes overtly silly subject matter, with gold lamé ninjas and ninjas in tree costumes, and, aided by gallons of bright red stage blood, infuses it with his trademark doom, rage, and bodily mortification. Showcases top-notch acrobatics work with a hint here and there of the wire fu era that is just about to dawn.—RDL

It’s Love I’m After (Film, US, Archie Mayo, 1937) Caddish stage star (Leslie Howard) risks his fiery relationship with his leading lady (Bette Davis) by agreeing to disabuse a flighty heiress (Olivia de Havilland) of her infatuation with him. Witty dialogue delivered at requisite rattling speed by a cast you don’t associate with screwball comedy.—RDL

Girlfriends (Film, US, Claudia Weil, 1978) Aspiring photographer (Melanie Mayron) sinks into a funk when her best friend moves out of their shared apartment to get married. A winning slice of life that finds its charm in the real rather than the cute and quirky. Remains hugely influential on the indie movie style.–RDL

Leviathan (Film, Russia, Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)  Hard-drinking mechanic fights to stop corrupt mayor from expropriating his home—but forget it, Jake, it’s northern Russia. Majestically shot telling of the Job set story in a moral universe where God either doesn’t exist or has been bought off by the authorities. Though it doesn’t remotely smack of horror or the supernatural, H. P. Lovecraft would nod his head at the cosmic proportion of its bleakness.—RDL

Luke Cage Season 1 (TV, US, Netflix, 2016) Bulletproof dishwasher just wants to mind his own business in his new Harlem digs, but steps up to embrace his inner hero against the politically connected gangsters keeping the people down. Most of the nods to black history and culture that lend this its own distinct vibe among Marvel shows appear right in the text, but the biggest influence can be found in its adoption of the color palette, foregrounded music score and floaty pacing of early Spike Lee. I kept waiting for the tracking shot where Luke and Misty stand on the moving dolly while they trade information about Diamondback.—RDL

Silence (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2016) Two Jesuit priests, Frs. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) go to Japan in 1640, during the Tokugawa persecution of Christians, to discover the truth about Fr. Ferrera (Liam Neeson), who has reportedly renounced Christ. For a film called Silence there’s a whole lot of voiceover, and Andrew Garfield is so much weaker than Adam Driver as an actor that even Scorsese can’t entirely save him. But when Liam Neeson reappears we get a glimpse of the Pinnacle this film could have been, and regardless of its flaws, it’s not a film you’ll forget any time soon. –KH

Silence (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2016) 17th century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) smuggle themselves into Japan at height of a murderous anti-Christian persecution campaign, in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson.) Based on a Shusaku Endo novel, this battle between faith and survival offers up one of the more overtly idea-driven, and thus stylistically classical, entries in the Scorsese canon.–RDL

Theeb (Film, Jordan, Naji Abu Nowar, 2014) In 1916 Theeb (Jacir Eid al-Hwietat), a young Bedouin boy, follows his brother and a mysterious English soldier into the desert and into danger. Deliberately recalling the stark, character-focused Westerns of Anthony Mann and the iconic imagery of John Ford, this Bedouin Western focuses on Theeb’s coming of age against a hazy backdrop of world war and technological change. Fortunately, Eid carries the film like a tiny Robert Duvall; the result is personal crisis made mythic. –KH


The Fan-Shaped Destiny of William Seabrook (Fiction, Paul Pipkin, 2001) Aging SF fan obsessed with his lost love and William Seabrook meets a beautiful girl at WorldCon 1997 who turns out to be Seabrook’s lost love reincarnated and then it gets super weird. The hyper-fizzy potency of the high concept, and my sheer delight at someone having written a (footnoted!) literary thriller about William Seabrook and the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, keep the rating at Good. That said, it’s almost deathly talky, the Seabrook pastiches don’t really work, and the sex scenes are more than a little embarrassing. But if this is the kind of thing you like, you won’t be able to help liking this thing. –KH

Hidden Figures (Film, US, Theodore Melfi, 2016) Braided biopic follows three African-American women — math genius Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), computer pioneer Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — as they win key jobs at NASA’s Langley Research Center, overcome racism (Kirsten Dunst) and sexism (Jim Parsons), and oh yeah help John Glenn orbit the Earth. The acting is almost all top-notch (especially Monáe who more than holds her own), the score effective, and the orgy of midcentury design and space-race nostalgia everything an early-Gen-X boy could wish for. Sadly, it suffers from the set-em-up-knock-em-down rote that most biopics do, and as a triple biopic there’s no room for twists or even depth. You might say the script was pretty much … by the numbers. –KH


Furious Seven (Film, US, James Wan, 2015) Dom and the gang are back, and because Jason Statham wants to fight them, they have to get a McGuffin, requiring them to also fight Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou. Over-the-top stuntfest misses just two ingredients to fully emulate the Hong Kong action aesthetic: a Faye Wong song playing under the Paul Walker tribute montage, and actual emotion in the melodramatic bits.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rats, Djinn, and the Vampyre

January 17th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


A Crack in the Wall (Fiction, Claudia Piñeiro, 2009)  Thwarted, middle-aged architect falls for a young woman who drops by his office to ask about a man he and his superiors at the firm buried in the foundations of an apartment building three years previous. Sharply conceived literary crime novel provides a master class in setting up expectations and then going somewhere more interesting.—RDL

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film (Nonfiction, Phil Hardy, 1998) Sadly the last in Overlook’s exceptional series, this massive crime-film reference covers 1,500+ films from Gang War (Bert Glennon, 1928) to Underworld (Roger Christian, 1997), including plenty of French and Hong Kong classics alongside the caper films, policiers, Mafia movies, and other subtypes of this fuzzy genre. (It excludes some “individualist” crime and noir films, which Hardy was saving for a sadly never-completed detective film encyclopedia.) Entries’ critical judgements are a little wonkier than in Hardy’s horror and Western compendia, but you can’t beat the scope. –KH

The Poet and the Vampyre (Nonfiction, Andrew McConnell Stott, 2014) Gossipy, divagatory, and hence entertaining, discussion of the menage (Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin, John Polidori, and Claire Clairmont) that briefly met in the Villa Diodati in June 1816 and galvanized the horror genre in between bouts of fornication, bickering, and laudanum. Not quite the hour-by-hour blow-by-blow I was looking for, but I found lots of other good stuff in it nonetheless. –KH

Rats (Film, US, Morgan Spurlock, 2016) From the hardboiled exterminators of NYC to pathologists in New Orleans, from the restaurant tables of Vietnam to a Hindu temple in India, humans confront the ingenious, disease-ridden, ever-multiplying rodent that swarms wherever we do. Urban nature documentary jazzed up by horror movie techniques revels in unflinching gross-out. I sure was surprised by the moment where about a dozen rats rise up on their haunches to chitter, “Your friee-e-e-ee-end Ke-e-e-e-enne-e-e-e-th, we are coming for him, we are coming for Ke-e-e-e-enne-e-e-e-th…”—RDL

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Film, US, Joseph Sargent, 1974) Mister Blue (Robert Shaw) leads a fractious team of criminals in the hijacking of a New York City subway car, locking horns with coarse improviser Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) of the NYC Transit Police. A profane, ironic tribute to New York City, its infrastructure, and its irritated, wiseass officials and citizenry, it’s now a period piece that doesn’t seem dated. David Shire’s score likewise nails it, a 70s jazz groove veering between atonalism and funk. –KH

Under the Shadow (Film, UK/Qatar/Jordan/Iran, Babak Anvari, 2016) As missiles rain down on Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, a woman whose career ambitions have been stifled by the regime reluctantly concludes that maybe her preschool daughter and her neighbors are right to say that djinn have invaded their apartment building. Lays down a baseline of naturalism that makes its ever so incremental shift into jump scares and supernatural imagery all the more unsettling.—RDL


Inspector Pancakes Helps the President of France* (Fiction, Karla Pacheco, 2014) Presented as a charming kids’ board book with fun illustrations by Maren Marmulla, this tale of a dog in a little hat finding a stolen croissant conceals a mystery! Specifically, a brutal, hardboiled mystery full of very bad words, told in tiny print throughout the book, which I am not kidding you do not want your kids to read. The joke is funny and carried off well, but I don’t envy any parents who forget to filch this from the nursery once little Abigail learns to sound out words. –KH   *solve the white orchid murders


The Limits of Control (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2009) Taciturn assassin (Isaach de Bankolé) travels through Spain, making a series of rendezvous with mysterious messengers (Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, John Hurt, Paz de la Huerta) on his way to a  hit. Jarmusch’s most experimental feature mostly cares about beautiful compositions, the feeling that comes when you’re waiting to act, and paying homage to fellow director Claire Denis.—RDL

The Outfit (Film, US, John Flynn, 1973) Flynn’s adaptation of my favorite Richard Stark novel is great when it sticks to its source material, which sadly it only does intermittently. Watching Robert Duvall care about people and laugh and discuss his backstory badly damages what could have been a really great Parker performance, because hey Robert Duvall. Joe Don Baker, on the other hand, exceeds himself as a composite Parker sidekick; the all-hey-it’s-that-guy cast is the other reason to watch. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: It’s Recommendations All the Way Down

January 10th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


1636: The Ottoman Onslaught (Fiction, Eric Flint, 2017) The latest installment in the Ring of Fire series returns to the main line of German history following the 1632 appearance of a 20th-century West Virginia town in Thuringia. Murad IV and his up-gunned Ottoman hordes (complete with airships and flame-tanks) blitz Vienna in what I suspect is really the first half of a long novel; fans of the series like myself have little to complain about once the action starts. –KH

Anomalisa (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015) Star business writer headed for a breakdown (voiced by David Thewlis) instead embarks on a hotel room affair with an awkward fan (Jennifer Jason Leigh.) Carveresque tale of quotidian despond rendered surreal by depicting the action with stop-motion puppets.–RDL

Arrival (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2016) Persuasive linguist (Amy Adams) joins a joint military-CIA effort seeking to communicate with alien beings inside one of twelve spacecraft to land across the globe. Atmospheric realization of a script that brilliantly fuses its hero’s external problem solving and inner transformation. Folks watching this in the future will think, “Well, that sure was a product of the Obama era.”–RDL

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 1 (Television, Starz, 2015-2016) After 30 years of relative quiet, badass butthead Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) once again reads from the Necronomicon, summoning Deadites and prompting an alliance with two young proteges. Gleefully spins the gore, cartoonishness and frights of the second movie, plus the characterization of Ash from the third, into the series format.–RDL

The Ghost Army of World War II (Nonfiction, Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, 2015) History of the US Army’s WWII deception unit, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troop, which recruited artists, engineers and audio experts to trick the Germans into attacking imaginary units represented by inflatable tanks, recordings, and other camouflage techniques. Hybrid of art book and military history beautifully showcases the drawings and watercolors the unit’s many inveterate sketchers, including Ellsworth Kelly, Art Singer and even some comic artists, made during the conflict.–RDL

The Incendiary: the Misadventures of John the Painter, the First Modern Terrorist (Nonfiction, Jessica Warner, 2005) Reconstruction of the life and crimes of James Aitken, a young Scottish loner who in 1776 and 1777 set fires in the naval yards of Plymouth and Portsmouth in solidarity with the hated Americans. Convincingly researched account of a drift into ideological violence driven by a still-familiar psych profile, told with refreshing spareness.–RDL

The Interestings (Fiction, Meg Wolitzer, 2013) Friendships formed at an arts summer camp set a woman on a path balanced between love and envy, from Watergate to Facebook. Bullseye social details and authentic characterizations tied together by a narrative voice that isn’t afraid to be either omniscient or acerbic.—RDL

Jackie (Film, Chile/France/US, Pablo Larrain, 2016) Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), furious with grief in the hours and days after her husband’s assassination, plans his funeral. An affecting emotional trajectory, driven by a tour de force performance, becomes an origin story of American myth-making.–RDL

Zootopia (Film, US, Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016) First rabbit cop on the force (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) teams with smooth-talking fox con artist (Jason Bateman) to crack a missing otter case. Cleverly applies world-building principles to a Carl Barksian funny animal setting as it delivers a surprisingly layered take on bigotry.–RDL

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