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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spidey, Big Sick and the Cash That Brings Doom

July 18th, 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.

Recommended

The Big Sick (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2017) When the girlfriend (Zoe Kazan) who recently broke up with him when she realized he’d been hiding her from his traditionalist parents falls sick and is placed in a coma, comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani) awkwardly bonds with her worried parents (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano). Based on the marriage origin story of Nanjiani and co-writer Emily Gordon, this touching and funny comedy-drama holds fast to its sense of real lives lived.—RDL

Fool’s Gold (Fiction, Dolores Hitchens, 1958) A pair of young crooks in the classic sociopath plus follower pairing decide to steal a cache of money stored in an old spinster’s house, even if it was left there by a tough character from Vegas. Noirish suspenser of strongly characterized and mostly terrible people making terrible decisions, to results that spin out of control in unpredictable ways, Later adapted, all but unrecognizably, into Godard’s most entertaining film, Band of Outsiders.—RDL

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Nonfiction, Mary Roach, 2016) Survey of US military science projects that aim to protect soldiers delves into such topics as stink bombs, submarine survival, the biomechanics of heat prostration, and why shark repellent isn’t a thing. When a horrible fly creature shows up in “The Wars” segment of the Yellow King RPG, you’ll know to thank Mary Roach, who gives breezy pop-sci a good name.—RDL

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2017) The secret to a good superhero movie is to make a good movie and put a superhero in it: this is a good high-school comedy with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in it. With the addition of Michael Keaton’s blue-collar, relatable Vulture as the refreshingly not-idiotic villain, it becomes fully Recommended; Watts cheats the Marvel formula by skipping the origin and focusing on the goofy fun of web-slinging. –KH

Good

Two Bottles of Relish: The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories (Fiction, Lord Dunsany, 2016) A lovely edition of Dunsany’s 1952 collection of mystery and crime short stories starts off very, very strong with the classic title story. The rest of the tales don’t show off Dunsany’s effortless prose like his fantasies did, but are worth reading for fans of somewhat old-fashioned detective-story formalism and occasional grue. –KH

Okay

Keanu (Film, US, Peter Atencio, 2016) Surburban cousins (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) pose as murderous drug dealers in an effort to retrieve the titular adorable kitten. Puts the sensibility of the Key & Peele sketch show through the studio blanderizer, which might not be noticeable with a higher  jokes per minute ratio.—RDL

Stranger on the Third Floor (Film, US, Boris Ingster, 1940) Reporter who testifies against a young man (Elisha Cook Jr.) accused of murder falls into a doubt freak-out after his conviction, beginning to suspect the weird, murdery-seeming man with the scarf (Peter Lorre) he spots hanging around the neighborhood. Slim script both enlivened and somewhat overloaded by a feverish blast of film noir expressionism, including a dream sequence that stops just one step short of the full Caligari.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tinker, Tailor, Anarchist, Theosophist

July 11th, 2017 | Robin

Before we get to our regularly scheduled capsule reviews, let us contemplate the fact that ENnies Voting is now open. If you’d like to show your appreciation for our occasionally humble podcast in voting form, scoot on over to the ENnies voting page and take part in a free and fair election. While there one might also note the various nominations for Bubblegumshoe, which Ken worked on and Robin has his name on, plus nods for TimeWatch and other fine products from our essential sponsors at Pelgrane Press.

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

The International Spy Film Guide 1945-1989 (2 vols) (Nonfiction, Richard Rhys Davies, 2016) Two volumes, 1100 pages, 2,240 films from 65 countries. This compendium of every Cold War (by year of production, not by setting) secret agent film you’ve ever and never heard of breathes mid-century style from each beautifully designed page. Each film gets a brief review, numerical rating, bare-bones credits (director and stars), a beautiful full-color poster, and its release name in other countries: more than enough in this Google-enhanced age. –KH

Recommended

Doctor Who Season 10 (Television, UK, Stephen Moffat, BBC, 2017) Though he has promised to stay on earth to guard an imprisoned Missy, the Doctor can’t help taking the TARDIS for a spin or twelve when he takes a shine to new earth friend Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie.) Sure, there’s some duds in the middle, but this is the season where Peter Capaldi gets to truly settle into the title role, and the two Masters plus original Cybermen finale leaves on a high note. Great to see John Simm given the chance to play a truly menacing Master this time around.—RDL

GLOW Season 1 (Television, US, Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch & Jenji Kohan, Netflix, 2017) Struggling actress Ruth (Alison Brie) and friend Debbie, a soap star turned mom (Betty Gilpin) get cast in a low-budget women’s wrestling show. Complication: Debbie just found out that Ruth slept with her husband. Amiable comedy-drama pays homage to the foursquare storytelling of 80s cinema while keeping its characters real. Though this is an odd thing to say about a show with a strong, female-dominated cast, the standout performance comes from Marc Maron, hilarious and poignant as the sardonic, chronically disappointed director.—RDL

Harold and Lillian: a Hollywood Love Story (Film, US, Daniel Raim, 2015) Documentary reveals the professional and personal lives of storyboard artist (later production designer) Harold Michelson and his wife, studio researcher Lillian Michelson. Throws light on the invisible but key contributions the two Michelsons made to dozens of classic films from the 60s to the 00s, while movingly depicting their marriage and influence on the next generation of film folk.—RDL

Inferno (Nonfiction, August Strindberg, 1897) Memoir recalls the writer’s abandonment of theater for alchemy, accompanied by a descent into a persecution mania in which he believes himself tormented by an unseen force, demons, spirits, conspirators and/or theosophists. Remarkably lucid inside view of an intensely sub-rational mental state. And yeah, the alchemy part is in Paris in 1895.—RDL. Thanks to Erik Otterberg for the recommendation.

Silicon Valley Season 4 (Television, US, Mike Judge, HBO, 2017) Setbacks in the latest iteration of Pied Piper bring out Richard’s long-latent dark side. What seems like a scattered but still hilarious set of individual episodes reveal a hidden organization behind a season that speeds the pace of the characters’ ups and downs.—RDL

Weirdos (Film, Canada, Bruce McDonald, 2016) Nova Scotian teen who hasn’t quite come out yet takes his putative girlfriend to the slightly bigger city, where he hopes to stay with his troubled mom (Molly Parker.) Sweet and determinedly unheightened, even in the bits where a spirit guide version of Andy Warhol gives advice to the hero, and drenched in 70s folk rock.—RDL

Good

American Anarchist (Film, US, Charlie Siskel, 2016) In an extended interview conducted in the subject’s home in rural France, documentarian Siskel tries to get the thoughtful, caring man who as a 19 year old wrote the bomb-making manual Anarchist’s Cookbook to fully grapple with its consequences. Interview format turns on two tensions: between filmmaker and subject, and between present-day William Powell and his radical younger self.—RDL

The Beguiled (Film, US, Sofia Coppola, 2017) Coppola’s films usually focus on a woman in an artificial society when that society faces disruption; here Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) is a spinster teacher at a girls’ school in 1864 Virginia, which faces disruption in the person of wounded Union corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell). Shooting the school as a luminous endangered vessel rather than as the Gothic hothouse of Don Siegel’s superior 1971 film of the novel, Coppola produces another oblique vision — lovely but not moving. –KH

Chicago: The Second City (Nonfiction, A.J. Liebling, 1952) In three essays in the New Yorker (collected with illustrations by Saul Steinberg) Liebling castigated Chicago as “a vast Canarsie:” provincial, defeated, and most importantly to the unhappily exiled Liebling, most definitely Not New York. Liebling’s writing remains terrific, and 1950 was in truth not a great year for the Greatest City In the World. But how do you spend a year, even 1949-50, in Chicago and never mention jazz? –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bad Batch Leads a Bumper Batch of Baby Drivin’ Reviews

July 5th, 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

The Bad Batch (Film, US, Ana Lily Amirpour, 2017) Sentenced as an undesirable to a vast, lawless Texas internment zone, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) plans vengeance against the cannibal community that cut off and ate her arm and leg. Visually bold, sometimes shocking post-apocalyptic western. With Jason Momoa as the main people-eater, Keanu Reeves as a local potentate who looks like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, and an unrecognizable Jim Carrey in the old coot role.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.

Baby Driver (Film, US, Edgar Wright, 2017) Preternaturally talented wheelman who needs tunes to keep him steady (Ansel Elgort) seeks escape from his role as a getaway driver under the command of criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) and his rotating crew of armed robbers. Leveling up in his mastery of pure cinema, Wright delivers a classic title to both the crime and the car movie canons.—RDL

Recommended

Baby Driver (Film, US, Edgar Wright, 2017) A multi-decadal blend of film style and music surrounds and carburets the propulsive story of a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort), the girl he loves (Lily James), and the One of Many Last Jobs he has to pull. As a deconstructed musical, it works even better than it does as a heist film. Wright’s setting shots vie with the stunt action for sheer beauty, with only a few tonal wobbles glitching the sweet sweet ride. –KH

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Film, South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, 2000) Flailing academic triggers a spiral misfortune when he resolves to dispose of that incessantly yapping dog from a neighboring apartment. Looser, more naturalistic, and of course less fully resourced than the films he makes now, Bong’s debut finds his themes and love of the chase already in place.—RDL

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trails (Nonfiction, Oscar Martinez, 2013) First person journalistic account depicts the hellish gauntlet Central Americans run in their bid to bypass US border controls. From the high rate of death and dismemberment dealt out by the titular freight train to the horrific predation at the hands of the Los Zetas criminal empire, Martinez shows how the last legs of the journey will always pale in comparison to the trek across Mexico.—RDL

Better Call Saul Season 3 (Television, AMC, Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould, 2017) Jimmy falls into a trap his brother Chuck sets for his law license; Mike meets intimidatingly contained drug dealer Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito.) By fragmenting into two shows, one a gripping family legal drama; the other, a directionless and unnecessary prequel to “Breaking Bad”, season 3 drops from masterpiece to merely solid.—RDL

The Black Room (Fiction, Colin Wilson, 1971) Wilson again tackles his great theme, the achievement of true consciousness, this time as the great secret in a spy novel. Modernist composer Kit Butler (surely the most oddly recondite spy in British fiction) proves extraordinarily capable of withstanding the “black room” of the title, a sensory deprivation chamber, and thus travels to Prague to draw out “Station K,” a third-force conspiracy using it. Weirdly pivots from able espionage plot to frame story to philosophical discourse to peak moment in prime Wilsonian fashion. –KH

English Gothic (Nonfiction, Jonathan Rigby, 2nd ed. 2015) and Euro Gothic (Nonfiction, Jonathan Rigby, 2016) Everything you might want in a textbook approach to horror film, of Britain (since 1953) and Western Europe (mostly France, Germany, Spain, and Italy) respectively, appears herein: reasonably complete coverage, opinionated without being eccentric, and a clear narrative to accept or modify as the reader wishes. It’s a trifle conservative, but that’s no bad thing in horror or indeed in art criticism, and it means the classics get their due respect as well. Each of the 100-odd highlighted films in each book gets a period review and a brief quote from one of its makers, an excellent touch. Finally, the rich selection of stills and the superb book design make both volumes worthy objects in themselves. –KH

The Modern Russian Army 1992-2016 (Osprey Elite 217) (Nonfiction, Mark Galeotti, 2017) Galeotti provides a clear, accessible review of the revival and rise of the post-Soviet Russian Army, with an especially incisive discussion of the 2008 Georgian War as the equivalent of the Grenada invasion for the purposes of forcing much-needed reforms on the military. Syria and the Donbass receive less coverage than a contemporary reader might wish for, but the usual excellent Osprey job of illustration and comprehensiveness make this a solid volume on Europe’s once and future deadliest army. –KH

Okja (Film, US/South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, 2017) Preteen girl raised in the bucolic wilds of Korea must run to Seoul and then NYC to protect her childhood buddy, a genetically-altered, corporate-owned, hippo-like sapient “super-pig.” Satirical fantasy thriller masterfully shifts gears and genres, blending pastoral idyll, kinetic action and over-the-top-of-over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal.—RDL

Good

Quatermass in Television and Movies (Nonfiction, Mark F. Cain, 2016) After a too-short discussion of the character and influence of Nigel Kneale’s Professor Quatermass, Cain summarizes (or rather, half-summarizes, as he weirdly tries to avoid spoilers) and briefly reviews the ten appearances of the Professor in TV, film, and radio since 1956. Fine (even Good) for its length, but since it’s essentially the only book on Quatermass it should be considerably longer, with more detailed description, iconic analysis, and cultural-studies meat to it. I would have happily paid more than the $0.99 this cost me for that book. –KH

Okay

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange (Nonfiction, Adam Scovell, 2017) A fairly complete survey of the retroactive genre of “folk horror” film typified by Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man, and Blood on Satan’s Claw. (The only major omission is Bille Eltringham’s stunningly underrated survival horror film This Is Not A Love Song.) Given the asinine failure of the BBC to make their DVDs Region-1 available (many BBC teleplays are crucial genre texts), having a good British guide is more important than in other genres. Scovell knows the territory and even hazards a critical standard for the genre — but the writing is actively abysmal. Every page becomes a bear trap of tangled prose, malapropisms, and sentences that even I think go on way too long. The index is bad, too, and the footnotes risible. –KH

Not Recommended

Powerless Season 1 (Television, US, NBC, 2017) Given that “Vanessa Hudgens office comedy set in the DC Universe” is a pretty soft lob right to me, it pains me to report that despite a great supporting cast (including Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Bruce’s spoiled and envious cousin who is canon by the way) the series never recovered from the departure between pilots of its creator and first showrunner. The resulting desperately loud and tone-deaf scripts seldom relaxed into the inanity of their setting: when your comic-book show is less surreal than 30 Rock, you need to rethink. But not any more, because you got cancelled. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: We Did Not Have To Coordinate to Make It Adrienne Mayor Week

June 20th, 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.

Oh, and while we’re talking media consumption, you might be interested to hear that the Kickstarter for Robin’s The Yellow King Roleplaying Game launches tomorrow night, Wednesday June 21st, at 8 pm.

Recommended

Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World (Nonfiction, Adrienne Mayor, 2014) Combining classics, history, archaeology, and anthropology, Mayor advances on the Amazons across a broad front. Centering on the historical Scythian warrior women but reaching across the steppes both to modern eagle huntresses in Kazakhstan and to mythological armies besieging Athens, this should be anybody’s first (and almost anybody’s finest) resource on Wonder Woman’s iconic ancestresses. –KH

Beirut Noir (Fiction, ed Iman Humaydan, 2015) Character vignettes of trauma and yearning for escape predominate in short stories that paint a composite portrait of a city still devastated by war. Well-selected anthology of literary fiction culled from writers working in English, French, and Arabic. Gotta call BS on the misleading packaging though: this has nothing whatsoever to do with noir and only a couple of pieces that so much as nod to the crime genre.—RDL

Oh Hello on Broadway (Television, Netflix, Michael John Warren and Alex Timbers, 2017) Longtime NYC roommates and George St Geegland (John Mulaney) and Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) put on a play loosely based on their own unearned grandiosity, plus tuna pranks. Mulaney and Kroll spin sketch characters into new stratospheres of eccentricity. Filmed live theater usually dies on screen but Warren shows how to do it right, by shooting it like a comedy special.—RDL

The Poison King (Nonfiction, Adrienne Mayor, 2009) Historical biography of Mithradates, the alternately generous and brutal Anatolian monarch who waged multiple wars against the hated Romans and set up a toxicology lab to immunize himself from the number one cause of death among ancient royals. Scholarship and storytelling fight alongside one another like the comrades they ought to be in an account laden with enough brilliant detail to launch a dozen KARTAS segments.—RDL

Thirst For Love (Film, Japan, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1967) High-strung widow carries on an affair with her late husband’s stern father while lusting after the family’s hot but lunkheaded young gardener. Cross  A Doll’s House with Lady Chatterly’s Lover and add experimental flourishes and a touch of arterial spray and you’ve got this icy melodrama. Kurahara withholds sympathy for the protagonist until the very last moments, but those moments pay it off, making this one of those films that works better in retrospect than when you’re watching it.—RDL

Good

The World Atlas of Pirates (Nonfiction, Angus Konstam, 2009) Indefatigable pirate-ologist Konstam returns with a sound, broad primer on the topic, ranging from the Sea Peoples to Somalia but with most of the attention of course on the 1560-1720 Caribbean. The sumptuous illustrations partially compensate for the relatively few and low-bandwidth maps, and even the most devoted student of the topic will find new nuggets of information while kvetching about the absence of their favorite obscure sea rovers. (There’s nothing on the Zambos Mosquitos of the 18th-century Nicaraguan coast, just saying.) –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: In Which a Bold Claim Is Advanced Regarding the Furious Franchise

June 13th, 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.

Recommended

Fate of the Furious (Film, US, F. Gary Gray, 2017) After a terrific street race in Havana, a whirlwind of heel and face turns, and one horse-pill of a plot contrivance, we’re off on another manic spy adventure set in a world where street racers are America’s most strategic resource. Charlize Theron plays the best villain the series has had since Cole Hauser, and the Manhattan set piece manages to actually invent (and sell!) an original motif for car chases. –KH

Gotham Season 3 (TV, US, Fox, 2016-2017) Jim Gordon and young Bruce Wayne go down ever darker paths as the Penguin becomes mayor and a monster-making virus takes hold in the city. Third time’s the charm as the show’s pacing and structure finally catch up to the strength of its characterizations.—RDL

Historical Atlas of Central America (Nonfiction, Carolyn Hall and Hector Perez Brignolli, 2003) For scope and information presentation, this atlas probably can’t be beat. If you’re interested in the history of Central America, this is your atlas. If you’re not, admittedly, this may not do much to convince you otherwise. –KH

The Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War (Nonfiction, Harry G. Summers, 1995) With 100+ clear strategic and tactical maps (from the Mongol invasions to the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979) bolstered by Summers’ (mildly revisionist and heatedly anti-McNamara) text, this fine atlas doubles as a brief military history of the war. Its only real flaw is having just one map on Laos, focusing on its fall in 1975 rather than the lengthy “Secret War” we fought there from 1962 to 1972. –KH

Tunnel (Film, Korea, Kim Seong-hun, 2016) Motorist (Ha Jung-woo) waits desperately for rescue after a shoddily constructed highway tunnel collapses onto his vehicle. That great theme of contemporary Korean cinema, endemic institutional incompetence, adds an extra level of nailbiting to this rescue suspenser. —RDL

Wonder Woman (Film, US, Patty Jenkins, 2017) Well whodathunkit, when you provide believable emotional beats in a superhero film, the usually tiresome last-act fight scene actually means something! Patty Jenkins inspires Gal Gadot (Diana) and Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) to the top of their acting range and rescues the DCEU film franchise with assists from fight choreographer Ryan Watson and an intermittently excellent score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. –KH

Good

Furious 7 (Film, US, Justin Lin, 2015) Playing more as a series of meticulous action set pieces than a fully realized story (likely as a result of star Paul Walker’s death mid-filming) Furious 7 nonetheless successfully shifts what is arguably the best overall* movie franchise** of all time from heist films to spy-fi, much as its fifth installment graduated a “killer B” street-racing series to the big leagues. Kurt Russell plays the crucial role of “guy you like watching so much you follow him into the entirely different movie without a qualm.” –KH

Okay

Funeral Parade of Roses (Film, Japan, Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) Hostess at drag bar carries on with its owner and aspires to displace her aging madam. Experimental, gender-bent retelling of Oedipus could do with more Fassbinder and less Godard, which would require it to have been made about three years later.—RDL


* All meat, no sawdust: no Phantom Menace, no Star Trek V, no Harry Potter 2, no Thor 2, no Thin Man Goes Home, no Skyfall.

** Multiple directors + more than a trilogy, so shut yer pie holes you lovable Buzz Lightyear/Sergio Leone/Mad Max scamps

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wonder Woman, Alien, Pirates and Way Way More

June 6th, 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

The Girl With All the Gifts (Film, UK, Colm McCarthy, 2016) Preteen girl (Sennia Nanua) whose version of the fungal infection that has triggered a zombie apocalypse flees the base where she was about to be vivisected along with a sympathetic teacher (Gemma Arterton), gruff sergeant (Paddy Considine) and the single-minded researcher who still regards her as a vital biological sample (Glenn Close.) Would be worth a recommend strictly for its well-extrapolated fungal undead rules; the emotional journey of its unique protagonist makes it an instant add to the zombie canon.—RDL

Recommended

The Americans Season 5 (TV, FX, 2016-2017) The best show on television takes an inward turn this season, focusing on the human costs of — and the surprising potential for trust within — the spy careers of KGB sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, whose tremendous acting gets even stronger). Because it drives me absolutely bananas when people say things like “you really need to have watched the first four seasons to get how truly great this one was” I just docked it a level for slackening its narrative momentum, but if you watched the first four seasons you likely know why I put it on my personal Pinnacle. –KH

Headshot (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, 2016) Bullet fragment lodged in the brain of a battle-scarred hospital patient (Iko Uwais) prevent him from remembering that he was raised to be one of several super-henchmen serving a legendary gangster—but his former allies haven’t forgotten. Stylish, ultra-hard martial arts extravaganza will revise whatever mental image you currently associate with paper-cutters.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now on Netflix.

Nazi Agent (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1942) German emigre bookseller (Conrad Veidt), fiercely loyal to his new American home, discovers to his horror that the head of the Reich’s spy network in the US is his estranged twin (also Veidt.) Rousing little gem from Hollywood’s propatainment era,  anchored by a subtle, affecting performance from Veidt.—RDL

The Real Spy World (Nonfiction, Miles Copeland, 1978) Only slightly changed from its 1974 incarnation Beyond Cloak and Dagger, CIA agent Copeland’s wry, engaging description of the espionage and intelligence business may still remain the best in its breed. Like Copeland’s own career it focuses on case officer and analyst work more than straight tradecraft, but provides a few pointers in such things as home cryptography and how to recognize spies in a club (they’re on tight expense accounts so they stick to beer instead of fancy cocktails). –KH

Secrets of the French Police (Film, US, A. Edward Sutherland, 1932) Sûreté inspector (Frank Morgan) employs forensics, disguise and an alliance with a witty jewel thief to investigate a murder case involving hypnotism and the Princess Anastasia. Packed with pulpy flourishes and begging to be ported into your next Trail of Cthulhu scenario.—RDL

Wonder Woman (Film, US, Patty Jenkins, 2017) Last child of the Amazons (Gal Gadot) grows up to rescue a downed pilot (Chris Pine) and follow him into WWI so she can find and slay the war god Ares. With its tight throughline, classic take on an iconic character, clear and rousing action choreography, and a star-making performance from Gadot, Wonder Woman shield-leaps over most pitfalls of the modern superhero flick.–RDL

Good

Lovecraft Country (Fiction, Matt Ruff, 2016) A secret heritage pulls a family living in Chicago’s south side into a weird struggle within a network of sorcerous lodges. Short stories linked by a story arc view classic horror and SF tropes through the lens of the mid-century black experience in America. I hope that in its upcoming HBO adaptation the story editor prunes out its many verbal anachronisms.–RDL

Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery (Stand-up, Netflix, 2017) MacDonald’s ultimate gift is delivery, which means any hour of material from him will land better than it reasonably should. This routine covers some familiar ground (getting old, things these days) and some less familiar (auto-erotic asphyxiation). Very little of it ascends to the epic, manic level of the moth joke but very little of it is unfunny. –KH

Okay

The Berlin Project (Fiction, Gregory Benford, 2017) In this alternate history, chemist Karl Cohen (Benford’s father-in-law, as it happens) pushes centrifuge diffusion into the mainstream of the Manhattan Project, so the A-bomb is ready for D-Day. Benford’s prose is workmanlike, but his speculative energies balk and shy once we leave the lab for the battle front. The editing is spotty, missing errors of fact and consistency, and allowing lots of repetition; all disappointing, as only Benford (who knew most of the Project scientists personally) could have written this novel at all and he could have written a much better one. –KH

Not Recommended

Alien: Covenant (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2017) Weyland-Yutani has changed their crew mix to about 70-30 twitchy-idiotic in this sequel to Prometheus that leans further into the previous Alien films, complete with a Ripleyesque hairdo for xenomorph-killer Daniels (Katherine Waterston). (The Alien-phile I’m married to thought it was Okay.) Scott frames some jaw-droppingly gorgeous shots and intermittently attempts a newly overt Frankenstein theme with a dash of Milton. Sadly, the script takes an endless time killing characters we don’t care about and then hammers suspense flat in the last act. –KH

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Film, US, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, 2017) Apparently I am under a pirate curse of some kind forcing me to see these. Shiploads of daddy issues collide in murky, unchoreographed battle scenes that waste Javier Bardem and some cool zombie sharks. Golshifteh Farahani’s witch Shansa likewise belongs in a better film, and given the lack of setup or payoff her character receives, may well have teleported in from one. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Resistance Thriller Mastery & Formative Korean Exploitation

May 30th, 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.

Recommended

Devil! Take the Train to Hell (Film, South Korea, No-Shik Park, 1977) Blind man whose weapons include his spear-like cane and highly effective throwing walnuts teams up with woman who commands snakes and spits needles like a human blowdart; together they hunt the Japanese crooks who killed their fathers in a Korean Manchurian village at the end of the occupation. Crazy exploitation revenger features crime jazz, groovy dance sequences, eye-popping colors, a lead actor twice the age of his character, an array of mod fashions, and monumental melodrama. Do not expect the pacing and technical polish of a contemporary Korean flick. This title, available on the official Korean Film Archive YouTube channel, could easily play in the influences sidebar of a Chan-wook Park retrospective.—RDL

A Hero of France (Fiction, Alan Furst, 2016) Furst’s latest spy novel about decent Europeans defending civilization against Naziism follows Mathieu, the leader of an early Resistance network in 1941 Paris. Furst is so good at this by now that he almost seems lazy, relaxed as he paints in the scenery and the quotidian heroism of rescuing pilots and dodging surveillance. In the last act, Furst pays it all off in a riveting 70 pages of cat-and-mouse that reminds you why he’s simply unbeatable on his chosen ground. –KH

Good

The Flash Season 3 (Television, US, CW, 2016-2017) Barry faces repercussions for time meddling in the form of Savitar, an armored speedster who in the future will kill Iris. Three-peat on the motif of the big bad who is the perverse reflection of the hero builds to a climax that doesn’t pay off the season’s investment in it.—RDL

Hell to Eternity (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1960) Orphaned Angeleno raised by a Japanese-American family finds an unexpected use for his language skills when, as an adult (Jeffrey Hunter), he fights as a marine in the Battle of Saipan. Compelling if sometimes heavy-handed film starts as earnest social drama and takes a side quest into overheated 50s sexuality before getting down to the question of whether one can fight a war while recognizing your enemy’s humanity. George Takei briefly appears as Hunter’s adopted brother.—RDL

Narcos Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, 2016) A season that relies correctly, if too heavily, on Wagner Moura’s mesmerizing performance as Pablo Escobar (and Paulina Gaitán, increasingly compelling as his wife Tata) lets itself drift narratively, padded and meandering through the end of Escobar’s career. When you can’t make a death squad interesting, it’s time for a rethink. –KH

Okay

Arrow Season 5 (Television, US, CW, 2016-2017) Oliver assembles a new team of vigilantes as a mysterious enemy who is, guess what, his perverse reflection, wages a murderous vendetta against him. Relentlessly chumps its heroes in a get-back-to-basics season that forgets the basics weren’t that great in the first place, with a dreary dud of a Big Bad and an ultra-lame cliffhanger. Now if Dolph Lundgren, as recurring flashback villain, had been the current day villain…—RDL

Get Me Roger Stone (Film, US, Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, 2017) Documentary profile of pioneering chaos agent Stone traces his career in talking heads and archival footage format. Though this will serve as a useful backgrounder when the congressional testimony starts, the filmmakers bring a marshmallow to a gunfight and get thoroughly outfoxed by their subject, who never lets the mask of his cartoon persona slip. It’s safe to say that your critique of a political figure has failed when he relentlessly promotes it on Twitter.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Korean Exorcism and Tweaking Nazis

May 23rd, 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.

Recommended

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (Nonfiction, Norman Ohler, 2016) Novelist Ohler’s chatty history attempts to cover the whole field of drug use in the Third Reich but winds up only really focused on two areas: methamphetamine use by the Wehrmacht and other branches, and cocaine and opioid (Eukodal) use by Hitler at the behest of his Dr. Feelgood, Theo Morrell. Ohler outruns his research in a few places, mostly signposted, but the great virtue of this book is finding something new to say about WWII. –KH

Supernatural Season 12 (Television, US, Robert Singer and Andrew Dabb, 2016-2017) Sam and Dean get used to having their mom back from the dead as they deal with an incursion from ruthless British monster hunters and the return of Lucifer. The Gunsmoke of horror adventure shows freshens up its formula by layering two competing big bads into its continuity arc.—RDL

The Wailing (Film, South Korea, Hong-jin Na, 2016) When it begins to ensnare his own family, a doltish police sergeant (Do-Won Kwak) has all the more reason to investigate the connection between a rash of weird murders and the strange Japanese man who lives out in the woods (Jun Kunimura.) Spins that South Korean staple, the police incompetence drama, into epic-length exorcism horror that keeps the twists and ambiguities coming.—RDL

Good

Armies of the Volga Bulgars & Khanate of Kazan: 9th-16th Centuries (Nonfiction, Viacheslav Shpakovsky and David Nicolle, 2013) Perhaps every known fact (and plenty of speculation) about the Volga Bulgars’ military is in here and it’s still visibly stretched thin; besides the lovely plates, half the illustrations depict non-Bulgar weapons or fighters. That said, these 64 pages may be the best, i.e., only, book on the Volga Bulgars in English. –KH

Okay

Thunder Road (Film, US, Arthur Ripley, 1958) Kentucky moonshine runner (Robert Mitchum) puts his driving skills to use against federal agents and a murderous gangster out to seize his community’s booze production. This milestone in the development of the car chase action movie, a passion project of Mitchum’s, plays as an artifact today due to poky pacing in the dramatic scenes and a supporting cast that just can’t hold the screen with him.—RDL

Not Recommended

Mystery Team (Film, US, Dan Eckman, 2009) Kid detectives uncover a murder plot, except they’re all seniors in high school who still think they’re kid detectives. Even with Donald Glover and Aubrey Plaza in it these 94 minutes are interminable; if it had been a 9-minute comedy sketch, the single joke might have worked. –KH

The Salvation (Film, Denmark, Kristian Levring, 2014) After killing the men who murdered his freshly-arrived wife and son, a Schleswig war vet turned old West homesteader (Mads Mikkelsen) becomes the target of a land-grabbing bandit (Jeffrey Dean Morgan.) Taking the Mannerist sensibility of the spaghetti western and swapping out the black humor for unremitting Nordic grimness is not a compelling trade, it turns out. If this was a thing we could call it a frikadeller western but sadly it’s not.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Officials vs Godzilla and Death Up a Tree

May 16th, 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.

Recommended

Shin Godzilla (Film, Japan, Hideaki Anno, & Shinji Higuchi, 2016) Government officials struggle for a response when a gigantic, mutating sea dinosaur attacks Tokyo. Reimagines the ‘54 original as taking place in a world where anti-kaiju efforts are hampered by realistically drawn political impediments.—RDL

Good

All Honourable Men (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1997) Lyall’s very occasional prose fireworks are not really on display in this fine spy thriller set in the pre-WWI era. Lyall’s late series character Matthew Ranklin attempts to do the right thing in a hostage standoff on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. Probably worth reading, but only the locations provide the glimmer of Lyall’s potential; that said, the setting is still top notch. –KH

Hearts of the West (Film, US, Howard Zieff, 1975) Prolix bumpkin with dreams of publication as a Western novelist (Jeff Bridges) becomes a B-movie cowboy actor in 1930s Hollywood. Gently comic entry in the 70s nostalgia wave also stars Blythe Danner, Andy Griffith and Alan Arkin. Declaring influences can be tricky, but if there was a book called Roots of the Big Lebowski this film would definitely rate a section.—RDL

On Borrowed Time (Film, US, Harold S. Bucquet, 1939) After Death (Cedric Hardwicke) takes his parents and then his grandmother, an irrepressible tyke and his adorably irascible grandpa (Lionel Barrymore) trap him in a tree. Sass and sentimentality abound in this folksy comedic fantasy.–RDL

Okay

Gangster Squad (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2013) Fleischer makes a C-grade B-movie with an A-list cast and from pieces of better flicks. He casts the LAPD vs Mickey Cohen as two warring visions of Los Angeles, but aside from Cohen (Sean Penn) loudly insisting he means “progress” Fleischer leaves that theme undeveloped. Even the location shots seem thin, as do the characters; some of the many fight scenes approach vividness and even originality. –KH

The Maltese Falcon (Film, US, Roy Del Ruth, 1931) Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) investigates a case involving a legendary statuette and the murder of his detective agency partner. Much more faithful to the novel, and thus the classic ‘41 version, than film lore would lead you to expect, but greatly undercut by Cortez’s portrayal of Spade as a grinning lech.—RDL

Vampire: A Wild Story in Scraps and Colors (Fiction, Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1921; trans. Joe Bandel, 2016) German scholar-adventurer Frank Braun washes up in New York on the outbreak of WW1. He becomes an agent of the Kaiser and embroiled with an exotic Jewish-German adventuress — even as he feels a strange anemia … Braun may be the only major vampire novel protagonist to get less emo when he discovers his condition. Ewers’ prose is lurid and highly colored even for 1921 and yes the blood libel makes an appearance but by and large this weirdly compelling read confounds expectations while not quite fulfilling its promise. –KH

Not Recommended

Broadchurch Season 2 (Television, UK, Chris Chibnall, 2015) As the trial of Miller’s husband for child murder tears the town apart, Hardy (David Tennant) renews his effort to crack the cold case that destroyed his life. Deprecates the investigative aspect of the far superior debut season to trowel on the implausible, overwrought melodrama.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Kung Fu Rio Bravo and the Gun-Toting Raccoon

May 9th, 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.

Recommended

Call of Heroes (Film, HK / China, Benny Chang, 2016) Principled sheriff (Lau Ching Wan) and scruffy martial artist tempted by altruism (Eddie Peng) await the arrival of warriors intent on freeing their warlord boss’ sadistic son (Louis Koo) from the village jail. When you hear “martial arts riff on Rio Bravo from the director of The White Storm, with action direction by Sammo Hung, featuring the aforementioned cast plus Wu Jing,” the only sensible question is, “They don’t screw it up somehow do they?” And I am here to tell you, no, they do not screw it up.–RDL

Colossal (Film, US/Canada, Nacho Vigalondo, 2017) Alcoholic, unemployed, and kicked out by her boyfriend, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown and discovers that she is somehow linked to a kaiju suddenly materializing in Seoul. A well-crafted, if not very subtle, film about alcoholism gets points for metaphorical boldness, and for the performances by Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, who plays her childhood friend turned helpful bartender. –KH

Don’t Breathe (Film, US, Fede Alvarez, 2016) Trio of young robbers gets more than it bargained for when its target, a blind army vet (Stephen Lang) living in an otherwise abandoned Detroit neighborhood, turns out to be a terrifyingly buff and competent defender of his hoarded cash. Taut and shudder-inducing inversion of Wait Until Dark has much more going for it than its generic horror marketing campaign wanted to let on.—RDL

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Film, US, James Gunn, 2017) Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) saves the gang from mercenaries in order to reveal himself as Starlord’s absent father. Comic set-pieces and stylistic verve sub in for plot momentum within a structure that has the heroes discovering their procedural goal only at the top of the final act.—RDL

Judas Country (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1975) The civil-air-transportation thriller maybe never had a heyday, but if it did it was right around when Lyall wrote them. Cargo pilots Cavitt and Case get themselves tangled up in gunrunning, fraud, murder, and artifact smuggling in this assured novel that hops from Nicosia to Beirut and Jerusalem. Lyall evokes an almost vanished milieu along with the smell of jet fuel and his trademark flashes of breathtakingly good prose. –KH

Our Little Sister (Film, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015) After the death of their estranged father, a trio of sisters meet their teen step-sister and invite her to live with them. Visually and emotionally beautiful drama realizes its suppressed conflicts with warmth and a masterful lightness of touch.—RDL

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story (Fiction, Susan Hill, 2010) A wrong turn down a country lane leads a London bookhound to a prolonged haunting by a young boy’s ghost. Ably paced novella marries contemporary characterization to the M. R. James school of subtle terror.—RDL

Good

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (Nonfiction, Andrea Mays, 2015) Biographical account of the genial, secretive Standard Oil exec who, in tandem with scholarly spouse Emily, amassed the book collection that formed the basis of their Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Breathes life into the story of the most unassuming super-rich couple ever, injecting suspense into the essentially repetitive rhythm of narrow-field collecting. The dismissive insistence that the Standard Oil breakup was inarguably bad for consumers may send you a-Googling for a fairly rendered opposing view.—RDL

Okay

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Film, US, James Gunn, 2017) Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the gang are back, and more laboriously scripted than ever! Gunn’s film works best when it just relaxes into being a big damn pretty comic book, switching between slapstick and music video and shootemups and exasperated space raccoons. It’s when it tries for meaning that it’s undercut, by the enjoyable irony of the rest of the film as much as by the rote dialogue. Gunn also dusts and dulls his magnificent Seventies palette for the last act, which doesn’t help. –KH

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