Abraham Lincoln

Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Besieged Fortress, a Sinister Snorkel, and Some Ghosts In Need of Busting

November 30th, 2021 | 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 Fortress (Film, South Korea, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017) When Qing forces pin down the Joseon court in a remote, wintry fortress, rival courtiers (Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yoon-seok) pull the frightened king between honorable doom and pragmatic acquiescence. Period war epic interweaves military tactics on the receiving end of a siege with the lethal intrigue of Korean royal politics.—RDL

The Shadow of the Wind (Fiction, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001) In 50s Spain, the naive son of a bookseller investigates the origins of a rare novel, stepping into the paths of a psychopathic secret policeman and the mysterious burned man determined to destroy every copy. Thrilling literary page-turner fuses mystery structure with neo-gothic elements.—RDL

The Snorkel (Film, UK, Guy Green, 1958) When her creepy sponger stepfather (Peter Van Eyck) uses the titular breathing apparatus to commit the seemingly perfect murder of her mother, a teen no one will believe (Mandy Miller) vows to expose him. Hammer Studios domestic thriller, set in an Italian resort town, takes a while to rev back up again after a supremely unnerving wordless cold open.—RDL


American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI (Nonfiction, Kate Winkler Dawson, 2020) Tormented obsessive rises from poverty to become a famed freelance criminalist, pioneering key techniques and taking part in notorious cases, including his determined participation in the railroading of Fatty Arbuckle. Biography of a prickly figure provides a detailed source on the state of forensics, and the difficulty of convincing jurors to pay attention to it, in the Call of Cthulhu era.—RDL

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Film, US, Jason Reitman, 2021) Egon Spengler’s unknowing grandkids (Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace) move into the house in rural Oklahoma where he died, and uncover a mystery. “Ghostbusters, but make it The Goonies” is perhaps the only way to properly make a sequel to the 1984 Pinnacle, and as long as the movie does that it remains a happy success. Sadly, grownup stories intervene with less uniform effect (although Carrie Coon is remarkably good in a thankless role as the mom), and even Dan Aykroyd looks a little tired of what he helped spawn. –KH

Tatja Grimm’s World (Fiction, Vernor Vinge, 1987) On a metal-poor ocean planet, a young mutant genius rises to power while searching for aliens like her. A fixup of Vinge’s first (1969) novel, itself a fixup of a 1968 novelette about Tatja manipulating the crew of a SF magazine barge (!!) to seize the throne. As a novel, it’s clunky, but as three shorts it’s pretty grand worldbuilding from probably the 1990s’ best SF author. –KH


Army of Thieves (Film, US/Germany, Matthias Schweighöfer, 2021) As an offscreen zombie plague roils financial markets, heister Gwen (Nathalie Emmanuel) recruits safecracking wannabe Sebastian (Schwieghöfer) to open three legendary safes. While one of the better sidekicks in the Army of the Dead ensemble, Schweighöfer’s Dieter (nee Sebastian) can’t particularly hold a whole movie, especially one that takes about an hour to start, you know, thieving anything. Plus, watching safes not open cannot be made interesting with more CGI of the interior of the safe: audiences need a way to judge the action, not simply wait for it to finish. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Harder They Fall, Wrath of Man, and Tolkien Landscapes

November 23rd, 2021 | 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 Harder They Fall (Film, US, Jeymes Samuel, 2021) Outlaw Nat Love’s (Jonathan Majors) quest for revenge on his father’s killer puts him athwart the scheme of said killer, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). The attempt to squish a sprawling cast of historical (if often wildly out-of-period) Black heroes and villains into the straightforward story of a Leone-style Western alternately chokes the narrative and spins entertaining diversion, but never quite settles into a hangout rhythm. The same, sadly, could be said for the ambitious final gunfight act. But there are classic Western moments aplenty, a few terrific jokes, many beautiful shots both gun- and cinematic, a reggae-infused score by Samuel (and an even better soundtrack of banger needle drops), and a mega-cool Delroy Lindo as legendary Oklahoma territorial marshal Bass Reeves, more than enough to get Recommended. –KH

The Worlds of JRR Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth (Nonfiction, John Garth, 2021) Tolkien scholar Garth breaks down the types of locations in Middle-Earth (and the larger Tolkien legendarium) and provides plausible (if a wee bit over-certain at times) inspirations from Tolkien’s life and travels: the Swiss Alps birth the Misty Mountains, rural Sarehole the Shire, the Somme’s no-mans-land the Dead Marshes, etc. Beautifully produced and illustrated, and copiously footnoted, it’s not the last word in Tolkien landscapes but it’s an excellent first word on them. –KH

Wrath of Man (Film, US, Guy Ritchie, 2021) Self-possessed crime crew boss (Jason Statham) goes undercover at an armored truck company in search of the inside man who got his son killed. Ritchie pares back his style to a Soderberghian level of formalism in this slow-burn combination of revenge thriller and upended heist flick.—RDL


The Beetle: A Mystery (Fiction, Richard Marsh, 1897) A shape- and species- and gender-shifting Egyptian sorcerer seeks revenge on rising Liberal parliamentarian Paul Lessingham. Told Wilkie Collins-style from four perspectives (terrified, ironic, earnest, and cop), this “mystery” wonderfully manages to explain almost nothing you want to know while providing eventual “solutions” for what you need to know. The result: an unsettling and uncanny novel of the unnatural foreign Other that (for 20 years) outsold Dracula. –KH

Last Night in Soho (Film, UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Psychically sensitive fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) rents a Soho bedsit, spiraling her into an initially beguiling, soon horrifying dream journey into the life of a sixties singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) exploited by a ruthless pimp (Matt Smith.) Two acts of vertiginous cinematic mastery at the intersection of style and feeling, followed by a conclusion that violates the cardinal rule of plot twists. (Pinnacle + Pinnacle + Not Recommended/ 3)  = Good.—RDL


Red Notice (Film, US, Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2021) When Interpol questions his FBI profiler cred, Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is forced to work with chatterbox narcissist thief Booth (Ryan Reynolds) who’s trying to spoil art theft mastermind The Bishop’s (Gal Gadot) plan to steal the three eggs of Cleopatra. Netflix has somehow spent $200 million re-inventing the TV movie: bland “I recognize those people” mush moving peristaltically through set-up cliche sequences, farting supposedly-arch dialogue. In 1978, it would have starred Lou Ferrigno, Robert Conrad, and Jaclyn Smith, everyone wouldn’t have daddy issues, and the location shooting wouldn’t have all been garbage CGI.  –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Music, a Mogul, Mumbai

November 16th, 2021 | 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.


Carl Laemmle (Film, US, James L. Freedman, 2019) Documentary profiles the go-getting immigrant who set up a film distribution empire, busted Thomas Edison’s goon-assisted monopoly on film production, founded Universal Studios, and devoted his later years to fighting the American government to get Jews out of Nazi Germany. Archival images and talking head interviews paint a warm portrait of the lone mensch among the hardboiled crop of first wave studio moguls.—RDL

The Devil’s Stairway (Film, South Korea, Lee Man-hui, 1964) A calculating surgeon’s thoughts turn to murder when he gets a chance to marry the boss’ daughter but the nurse he’s been secretly bedding refuses to go quietly. Corrosive domestic noir escalates into contemporary gothic horror. Also known under the less salubrious title of The Evil Stairs.—RDL

May It Last: A Portrait of The Avett Brothers  (Film, US, Judd Apatow & Michael Bonfiglio, 2017) The Americana band looks back on their lives and career so far as they record their 2016 album “True Sadness.” A rare documentary that finds profundity by pointing the camera at a deeply functional creative team and family.—RDL

Sound of Metal (Film, US, Darius Marder, 2019) After suffering severe hearing loss, an obsessive rock drummer (Riz Ahmed) joins a deaf community which has an AA program for recovering addicts like himself. Naturalistic drama driven by Ahmed’s performance and an appropriately disorienting sound design.—RDL


Sooryavanshi (Film, India, Rohit Shetty, 2021) Mumbai anti-terrorist supercop Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar) pursues a sleeper cell of Pakistani terrorists plotting a new bombing campaign. Shetty leans into his brash, patriotic high-energy style like a less-jittery Michael Bay to produce an operatic banger of an action film. The two other stars of Shetty’s “Cop Universe” franchise join Sooryavanshi for a final too-artificial act that undoes some of the sincere conviction the film depends on for effect. The screamin’ score and the eternal love of man for helicopter keeps the final rating a solid Good, though. –KH


Eternals (Film, US, Chloé Zhao, 2021) When the monstrous Deviants return after 500 years, the Eternals (Gemma Chan, et al.) must reunite to save humanity. As others have noted, this ponderous film combines the DC movies’ grandiosity with MCU flatness to no good effect. Gemma Chan is desperately unsuited to deliver Jack Kirby/Zack Snyder style dialogue, or to embody any emotion stronger than “worried about the hash browns,”  but unfortunately she’s supposed to hold the movie together. One or two good performances (Don Lee as Gilgamesh, and Harish Patel as a human POV) don’t save it. Zhao does turn in the first never-ugly Marvel film in a while though, which is something. –KH

The Mysterious Island (Film, UK, Cy Endfield, 1961) Blown far over the Pacific during an attempted escape by balloon from Confederate prison, Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) and his men land on the titular island. It’s kind of surprising how much of Verne’s original novel survives the addition of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion giant animals and shipwrecked ladies, even managing a sort of “heroic engineering” solution to the final crisis. But high points come a little too far apart, and Herbert Lom’s Nemo is only saved from anticlimax by the fact that nothing except the monster attacks has had much tension to begin with. Bernard Herrmann probably didn’t work too hard on his score, either. –KH

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021) San Francisco-based underachiever (Simi Liu) embraces his martial arts mastery when his immortal father sends goons to retrieve him. Marvel’s latest tussle with the limitations of origin story structure has Tony Leung Chiu Wai but lacks tension and momentum. You’d think that the MCU’s homage to Hong Kong cinema would end with a thrillingly executed martial arts sequence but of course not it’s the algorithms fighting again.—RDL

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Last Night in Soho, The French Dispatch, and Minor Romantic Disasters

November 9th, 2021 | 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.


All Hands on Deck (Film, France, Guillaume Brac, 2020) Entranced after a one-night encounter with a charming redhead, a brash but needy home nurse (Eric Nantchouang) makes a 600 km journey to surprise her during her countryside family vacation, roping in his reserved best buddy and their nebbishy ride sharer. Sun-dappled comedy of romantic negotiation and minor disasters in a Rohmeresque vein.—RDL

The French Dispatch (Film, US/Germany, Wes Anderson, 2021) Upon the death of founding editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) the staff of the French Dispatch magazine assemble a final “best-of” issue; anthology film ensues. Dense yet light like the perfect meringue, these comic vignettes examine the inability of art to remain separate from life and (ideally) vice versa. Almost a self-parodic ode to fussy perfection amid chaos, it always charms and in two out of three cases (the comic turn on the Mai ‘68 ironically lacks engagement) absolutely lands perfectly. –KH

Last Night in Soho (Film, UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Country mouse Eloise (Thomasin Mackenzie) moves to London to study fashion design, and finds herself mystically intertwined with Soho ‘60s girl Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Although the fourth act drops the film from magnificent urban genius-loci folk-horror into a more conventional register, Wright’s commitment to old-fashioned virtues like color, sound, music, editing, and lighting more than complements his interrogation of the dangers and sins of nostalgia; if he’d stuck the landing this would be up there in counterpoint with Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood as an urban symphony. –KH

Runaway Train (Film, US, Andre Konchalovsky, 1985) Hardened bank robber (Jon Voight) and chatterbox tagalong (Eric Roberts) bust out of an Alaska maximum security facility only to wind up on the titular out-of-control vehicle. Though based on an unproduced Akira Kurosawa screenplay, the guiding ethos of this gritty, frozen actioner is that of co-writer Edward Bunker, America’s great writer of prison life.—RDL

The Sicilian Clan (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1968) Hardened bank robber (Alain Delon) brings the criminal family who helped him bust out of prison, as headed by no-nonsense patriarch Jean Gabin, into a mid-air jewel heist. Lino Ventura also stars as the cop on their trail. Caper with noir motifs oozes vintage cool. Verneuil shot English and French versions simultaneously; you want the International cut, on disc in North America but not on streaming.—RDL


Whipsaw (Film, US, Sam Wood, 1935) Federal agent (Spencer Tracy) goes undercover as the self-appointed bodyguard to a good-hearted jewel thief (Myrna Loy) on the run from her partners’ rivals. The script of this crime romcom spends more time on plot than character, but it’s still fun to see the leads together.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dune, Squid Game, and That Meddling Tree

November 2nd, 2021 | 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 B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (Film, US, Errol Morris, 2016) Documentary profiles a photographer who went from documenting Beat poets, particularly her longtime pal Allen Ginsburg to specializing in deceptively ordinary large format Polaroid portraits. Morris’ style, primarily consisting of a long interview with Dorfman in her archive, mirrors the radical simplicity of her images.—RDL

Dune: Part One (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) When his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) receives the poisoned governorship of the planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) awakens to his messianic destiny. Perhaps worthy of Robin’s controversial Incomplete rating, this pounding visual-sonic epic nevertheless captures the feel (or a feel, anyhow, I do miss Lynch’s crazitude) of Frank Herbert’s thudding masterwork. Much credit goes to production designer Patrice Vermette, with special shout-outs to the ornithopters. Rebecca Ferguson kills it as Lady Jessica, vitally centering the film amid Villeneuve’s eager aping of everyone else’s epics from Ford to Lean to Coppola. –KH

Squid Game (Television, South Korea, Netflix, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021) Along with hundreds of other desperately indebted people, a compulsively life-wrecking gambler (Lee Jung-jae) joins an illicit tournament of children’s games where the survivor earns a massive payout and everyone else dies. A superstar cast, indelible production design and ingeniously thrown narrative curveballs propel a triumph of the Korean cult cinema sensibility.—RDL

Tommaso (Film, US, Abel Ferrara, 2019) Director living in Italy (Willem Dafoe) with his young wife and toddler struggles for serenity and wisdom as the demons that once drove him to drink continue to gnaw at him after six years in AA. Ferrara escalates from slice-of-life to hallucinatory reality in this sobriety drama,  a counterpoint to his classic addiction films,—RDL


The Tree, the Mayor, and the Mediatheque (Film, France, Eric Rohmer, 1993) Ambitious mayor of a country village (Pascal Greggory) secures federal funding for a sports and culture complex but finds that everyone has an opinion about it, including his dotty novelist girlfriend (Arielle Dombasle) and a bloviating school principal (Fabrice Luchini.) Affectionate satire, unusually for a political film, delves into very real governance nitty-gritty. Not the place to start with Rohmer but a charming rarity for completists.—RDL

The Witches (Film, UK, Cyril Frankel, 1966) Traumatized by an escape from a witch-doctor driven rebellion in Africa, Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) takes a job as a schoolteacher in the too-idyllic English village of Heddaby. Despite a standout performance from Kay Walsh as a no-nonsense bluestocking lady of the manor, this mid-period Hammer outing just goes to show that you can in fact suck the life out of a Nigel Kneale script if you try. The final coven scene avoids even Hammer sensuality, becoming more modern dance recital than orgy. Still interesting as a precursor folk horror. –KH


A Quiet Place Part II (Film,US  John Krasinski, 2020) Armed with the frequency that weakens the death angels, the Abbott family sets out from their ruined hideout to spread the word, reluctantly aided by a traumatized family friend (Cillian Murphy.) The brilliantly calibrated suspense of the original turns out to be an unrepeatable trick in this well-executed rendition of a dutiful  script.—RDL

Not Recommended

Never Cry Werewolf (Film, Canada, John Sheppard, 2008) Teenaged Loren (Nina Dobrev) discovers that her neighbor Jared (Peter Stebbings) is a werewolf, but the only person she can turn to for help is late-night TV big-game personality Redd Tucker (Kevin Sorbo). Look, if it were just me, “beat-for-beat uncredited Fright Night remake with a werewolf and Nina Dobrev” would at least be a high Okay. But I can’t in good conscience recommend this mostly joyless galumph: the dimestore budget prevents any of the horror moments from clicking, and Peter Stebbings is no Chris Sarandon. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Card Counter, Secret Origins of the Afterlife, and Gems from the Chicago Film Fest

October 26th, 2021 | 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

Petite Maman (Film, France, Céline Sciamma, 2021) While her parents clean out her recently-dead grandmother’s house, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) meets another eight-year-old girl (Gabrielle Sanz) in the woods behind. This note-perfect fairy tale exactly blends seriousness and magic, emotion and consideration. Superb child acting vivifies the trunk of the film, and Sciamma’s remarkable use of music again surprises and exalts. –KH


Captain Volkonogov Escaped (Film, Russia/Estonia/France, Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov, 2021) In 1937 Leningrad, NKVD secret policeman Volkonogov (Yuriy Borisov) gets wind of his upcoming purging and sprints out into the city — where his problems get weirder, if not precisely worse. Borisov’s athletic, energetic acting carries us through a story by turns an acid satire, a tight thriller, and a dark Dostoevsky-meets-Gogol absurdist morality play. Notes of anachronism only heighten the themes and the off-kilter neo-Constructivist feel, like a really good graphic novel; cinematographer Mart Taniel also masterfully plays these shifting tones. –KH

The Card Counter (Film, US, Paul Schrader, 2021) In hopes of helping a lost young dude (Tye Sheridan) with a tie to his horrific past, a compulsively regimented gambler (Oscar Isaac) signs on with the supportive manager of a pro poker stable (Tiffany Haddish.) Cinema’s obsessive chronicler of expiation-seeking obsessives adds another notch to his gun belt, this time by giving his protagonist a choice of which movie to be in.—RDL

Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (Nonfiction, Bart D. Ehrman, 2020) Biblical historian traces the rapid evolution of Christian beliefs about the afterlife, especially the burning eternally in Hell part, from the already disparate metaphysics of Jesus and Paul. Concise analysis of a complex topic stays admirably on point as it balances accessibility and erudition.—RDL

In Front of Your Face (Film, South Korea, Hong Sangsoo, 2021) A day in the life of long-retired actress Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung), visiting from the US to Seoul to meet with a director (Kwon Haehyo). If hangout neo-Realism were a thing, this would be it, as deft character studies interchange with moments of social unease. Hong shoots, writes, and scores this film with deceptive lightness, never overstaying a scene’s drama, almost tempting the viewer to foolishly discard it as a trifle. –KH

The Last Execution (Film, Germany, Franziska Stünkel, 2021) Eager for advancement, scientist Franz Walter (Lars Eidinger) joins the East German intelligence service (HVA) only to recoil at the inhumanity of his job. Based on the story (and on the trial transcript) of Werner Teske, the last official execution in East Germany, it builds tension by steady reveals of new moral brutalities all coated in bland careerism; Eidinger convincingly conveys Walter’s ongoing disintegration against DDR-era backdrops and bougie-Marxist beige decor. –KH

Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter (Film, US, Rebecca Halpern, 2021) Charlie Trotter brought specifically American fine dining, the degustation menu, and high-end vegetarian dishes to Chicago in 1987 and in the 1990s ran the best restaurant in the world. (I ate there once in 2001, when it was probably still the best restaurant in America.) This documentary, built out of his voluminous correspondence and friendship circle, conveys something of the driven human behind the achievement. Like most biodocs, and unlike Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, it leaves you wanting more, but it’s still a very good plate. –KH

Mad God (Film, US, Phil Tippett, 2021) A steampunk-ish soldier travels to the deepest layer of Hell (or is it Creation) on a doomed mission. This is not a narrative film so much as it is a dark ride through a series of biotech grotesques (mostly) stop-motion animated from whatever Tippett had lying around for 30 years in his “most disturbing” box. (The occasional live-actor intercuts do not really work.) Appalling images and sounds from this movie will doubtless remain with me forever. It’s not mandatory for GMs running The Wars in the Yellow King RPG, but those that do see it won’t be able to run The Wars without it. –KH

Memoria (Film, Colombia/France/Germany/Mexico/China, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021) Living in Colombia, British botanist Jessica (Tilda Swinton) hears a mysterious burst of sound that nobody else does. Existential mystery meets weird tale meets slow cinema in a movie that confounds Goethe’s critical criteria: What is it doing? God only knows, but it’s doing it with meticulous perfection. Is it worth doing? Perhaps, unlike Jessica, those that hear it know the answer to that question. Swinton’s acting job in this unknowable circumstance is more than enough reason to Recommend it, though. –KH

Paris, 13th District (Film, France, Jacques Audiard, 2021) The lives of underachieving user Emilie (Lucie Zhang), emotionally stunted dudeprof Camille (Makita Samba), wallflower Nora (Noemie Merlant), and camgirl Amber (Jehnny Beth) intertwine in the titular neighborhood. Paul Guilhaume shoots the lovers in New Wave-style black and white, and the performances keep the actors mostly sympathetic while the script (partially by Céline Sciamma) supplies the needful romantic twists. All love stories (all stories) are both arbitrary and artificial, the trick is to make them look real in the moment; in an understated way this is the Bourne Identity of romantic comedies. –KH

The Story of Film: A New Generation (Film, UK, Mark Cousins, 2021) Cousins extends his 2011 Story of Film series by another 160 minutes, in theory to examine the state of film in the 21st century (or really c. 2009-2020) but mostly to provide eclectic examples of film at its best now. Almost completely abandoning his previous geographical framework for a clearly ad hoc formal framework, Cousins turns his hand to picking the movies some future Mark Cousins will mention in fifty years when the conventional wisdom about this era hardens. Really, this is just a very well-financed Cinema Hut, and who doesn’t want more of those? –KH

Sundown (Film, Mexico/France/Sweden, Michel Franco, 2021) When his family hastily ends their Acapulco vacation after his mother dies, Neil (Tim Roth) stays in Mexico and does — nothing. A tour de force of existentialist drama anchored by Roth’s placid, almost flaccid, Bartleby-esque portrayal does sadly eventually offer an explanation of sorts. When the answers you were baying at the screen for in the first act anger you by appearing in the fourth, that’s a sign of a movie that (mostly) nailed it. –KH


Demons (Film, Italy, Lamberto Bava, 1985) Moviegoers trapped inside cursed cinema become the prey of zombie-like demon possession victims. High 80s kitsch complete with MTV soundtrack meets disgust-loving gore effects in a gonzo post-giallo outing that is not as much fun as the semiotics paper it might inspire.—RDL

House of Snails (Film, Spain/Peru/Mexico, Macarena Astorga, 2021) Looking for solitude to finish his novel, writer Antonio (Javier Rey) rents the titular house in a remote Spanish town with a hidden horror legend. The movie head-fakes around a lot of horror tropes in the general lycanthropic space, and although the story I wanted wasn’t the story I guessed (and got) it wasn’t a bad time in the woods all considered, mostly thanks to Paz Vega, in there winningly as the realtor. Note to Darcy Ross: the snails play at best only a symbolic role, and this is not a Patricia Highsmith adaptation. –KH

One Second (Film, China, Zhang Yimou, 2021) A nameless fugitive (Zhang Li) from a labor camp and plucky orphan girl Liu (Liu Haocun) compete to steal a reel of film from “Mr. Movie” (Fan Wei) the projectionist-commissar in an Inner Mongolian town. Set at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, and for that reason butchered to mush by Chinese government censors in 2019, this final cut keeps the Cinema Paradiso-style movie mooning (complete with cringe Maoist singalong) and the often sublime Buster-Keaton-style hijinks between the three main characters, but very much loses any edge or moral weight it ever had. –KH

Whether the Weather is Fine (Film, Philippines/France/Singapore/Indonesia/Germany/Qatar, Carlo Francisco Manatad, 2021) After Typhoon Haiyan destroys their hometown of Tacloban, ambitious Andrea (Rans Rifol), her schlemiel boyfriend Miguel (Daniel Padilla), and his dozy mom Norma (Charo Santos-Concio) haltingly decide to evacuate to Manila. Manatad depicts the post-disaster (probably accurately) as a surreal space where decisions make no sense, but at the cost of robbing any actions of consequences. Andrew Florentino’s spiky electronic music does a better job of thematic unity, and until Rifol’s character arbitrarily changes her personality she’s a joy to watch. –KH


Fabian: Going to the Dogs (Film, Germany, Dominik Graf, 2021) Bored advertising writer and wannabe novelist Fabian (Tom Schilling) bops through 1931 Weimar Berlin with his rich socialist friend and wannabe professor Stephan (Albrecht Schuch) until he meets his true love the wannabe actress Cornelia (Saskia Rosendahl). About 45 minutes in, Graf pretty much abandons the first act’s inventive multiple jump cuts, interwoven with historical footage and weird-angled shots, for cheap-looking digital video walks in suspiciously empty streets. Which might be forgivable if there weren’t over two hours left to go. Making both love and Weimar boring should be a shooting offence. –KH

Not Recommended

Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmaking (Film, Italy, Francesco Zippel, 2021) A resoundingly under-utilized John Singleton is only one of the many talking heads contributing surprisingly little to this empty documentary about the pioneering Black filmmaker. Neither critiquing Micheaux’ films nor really analyzing his reception and film career, this doc would have been better and more informative if it had just been Morgan Freeman (who also appears to scant effect) reading the Wikipedia entry. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Halloween Kills, The Story of Film, and a Mindblowing Hidden Gem From Japan

October 19th, 2021 | 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.


Annette (Film, France, Leo Carax, 2021) A provocative comedian (Adam Driver) and sylph-like opera singer (Marion Cotillard) fall in love and marry, but his self-loathing foretells a dark fate for them and their daughter. The accent is on the opera in this original surrealist pop opera written by the Mael brothers and directed by Carax to play with the relationship between emotion and high artifice.—RDL

Being Natural (Film, Japan, Tadashi Nagayama, 2019) The placid existence of a kindly loner who works as a fish pond attendant is threatened by the arrival of big city health food zealots who want his the old house he lives in as the site of their macrobiotic cafe. Ideally I would describe this as an offbeat observational comedy tuned to the rhythm of rural life and leave it at that, but to get you to watch it I have to inform you that it takes a final veer into utter whatthefuckery.—RDL

Buddha Mountain (Film, China, Li Yu, 2010) Trio of rough-edged early twentysomethings rent rooms from a crabby former Peking Opera performer (Sylvia Chang.) Multiple melodramatic plotlines stacked upon each other and interwoven, but presented in an immediate, naturalistic style.—RDL

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Television, UK, More4, Mark Cousins, 2011) Covering 115 years of film history on six continents in 915 minutes, even these 1000+ film clips and talking filmmaker heads could never truly map the country of film. The route Cousins chooses relentlessly charts conventional film-school wisdom, with a few idiosyncratic choices getting (slightly) loopier as presentism sets in. Beware of a few factual bloopers, and shout angrily at your own pet omissions, but you probably won’t find a better global film 101 course … unless Robin and I assemble one. –KH

Unstoppable (Film, US, Tony Scott, 2010) Hard-ass veteran railroad engineer (Denzel Washington) and distracted new guy conductor (Chris Pine) improvise a solution when a pilotless train packed with explosive chemicals barrels toward a mid-size Pennsylvania town. Hyper-paced docu-thriller that harkens back to the labor hazards genre of the 30s is underappreciated in Scott’s ouvre. Part of me wants to ding it a notch for the over-the-top cheerleading for the heroes, but then I don’t downgrade Leone or Fuller for lack of subtlety and it seems inconsistent to do it for Scott.—RDL


Broadcast Signal Intrusion (Film, US, Jacob Gentry, 2021) In 1999 Chicago, video archivist James (Harry Shum, Jr.) follows his increasing obsession with a masked figure that hijacked TV signals years ago. Gentry’s palpable love for 70s conspiracy thrillers, excellent location work, and a superbly crumpled neo-noir score by Ben Lovett almost conceal the linear script; Shum can’t quite pull off the depth of performance needed to compensate. –KH

Free Guy (Film, US, Shawn Levy, 2021) Unreflectively optimistic bank teller (Ryan Reynolds) realizes he’s an NPC in a video game and self-actualizes with the aid of a disgruntled game designer (Jodie Comer.) Lighthearted entry in the existential mystery/virtual headtrip subgenre eschews the muddy, interchangeable look of current CGI spectacles for crisp cinematography and gorgeous, evocative production design.—RDL

Not Recommended

Halloween Kills (Film, US, David Gordon Green, 2021) Picking up immediately after Green’s 2018 Halloween, firemen unwisely rescue Michael Myers from Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) burning deathtrap and we’re off again. Literally, off — Michael suddenly kills like Jason, characters shout subtext to each other, and Green squanders everything good about his previous venture as the story collapses. Anthony Michael Hall’s superbly fierce but entirely pointless turn as 1978 survivor-kid Tommy turned modern vigilante makes you weep for what could have been. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bond, Dracula, Matt Helm, and a Surprising Master Forger

October 12th, 2021 | 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.


Art and Craft (Film, US, Sam Cullman & Jennifer Grausman, 2014) Documentary profiles Mark Landis, a soft-spoken loner who, using materials purchased from Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart, forged works in styles from old masters to Dr. Seuss and gifted them to dozens of unsuspecting art museums throughout the US. Droll, poignant outsider portrait takes the expectations you might have formed when you read about the case and turns them on their head.—RDL

Cuadecuc, Vampir (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Using footage acquired under the pretence of shooting a behind-the-scenes doc about Jess Franco’s version of Dracula, Portabella assembles an experimental, wordless gloss on the Bram Stoker tale in blown-out black and white. Attests to the power of narrative, and this narrative especially, by showing how it stands up to an array of aural and filmic distancing effects.—RDL

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Film, US, Jim Cummings, 2020) The stress of a serial killing case that some blame on a werewolf drives an tightly wound, alcoholic sheriff’s deputy (Cummings) to the brink and beyond. Horror-tinged crime flick with a streak of black comedy zeroes in on male rage as the animating force behind the wolfman myth.—RDL


The 8th Night (Film, Korea, Kim Tae-hyoung, 2021) An axe-wielding exorcist monk and surly cop, each accompanied by a contrasting sidekick, work at cross purposes as they separately pursue a demonic eyeball that kills by hopping from victim to victim in pursuit of hellish apocalypse. Investigative religious horror conjures a creepy vibe when it isn’t tripping on the exposition required by its overly complicated plotting.—RDL

Every Matt Helm Novel (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1960-1993) Ignore the Dean Martin movies. Matt Helm, a counter-espionage assassin for an unnamed US agency, prefers mordancy to humor, and although he does sleep with many women in his novels he usually understands that they have non-lascivious motives for approaching him. The Helm novels remain grounded, if not precisely realistic, but they never bore and often surprise a bit. Book 14 in the series has a cruelly wily edge to it that the better ones share. –KH

No Time to Die (Film, US/UK, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021) Retired (again) after Spectre (the film), James Bond (Daniel Craig) comes back in when SPECTRE (the group) seems to have stolen a bioweapon. A pretty fun Bond movie (with a bright color palette and everything!) hits a wall of script shrugging about two hours in, the last act having the grinding inanity of re-clearing a video game level. But Fukunaga’s direction and a fantastic 20-minute Cuba sequence in Act 2 featuring CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) pull an unwilling Bond just barely over Okay. –KH

Not Recommended

Big Brother (Film, HK, Kam Ka-wai, 2018) Ex-US Marine (Donnie Yen) returns to his hard-luck Hong Kong high school to aggressively inspire its most challenged students. Has enough action to cut into a trailer but is otherwise an inspirational teacher flick that tackles the genre’s inherent sentimentality with all the feeling of an Excel worksheet. Yen has hit the point in his career where he has to rely almost entirely on stunt doubles, meaning that the fights have to be created in editing, American style.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Midnight Mass, Cinematographer Friendship, and a Brilliant Social Realist Procedural

October 5th, 2021 | 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

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Film, US, Eliza HIttman, 2020) To evade Pennsylvania’s parental consent laws, a high schooler (Sidney Flanagan) and her cousin (Talia Ryder) travel to NYC, where she can have an abortion. Social realist procedural where the tightening suspense is driven by the question of whether she can navigate the many obstacles between the protagonist and the procedure she needs.—RDL


Midnight Mass (Television, US, Netflix, Mike Flanagan, 2021) Communion takes on a new meaning when a young substitute priest (Hamish Linklater) arrives in a dying island fishing town, bringing with him a monstrous secret. Expansively paced creature feature, as hyperverbal as a bullshitting youth pastor, drinks from the cup of Stephen King.—RDL

No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos (Film, US, James Chressanthis, 2008) Dual documentary profile of fast friends László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond, who escaped the 1956 Soviet crackdown on Hungary to come to America and redefine the look of American films with their poetic realist style. Ably weaves together the personal, historical and aesthetic threads of its story. Key Kovacs titles: Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon, Ghostbusters. Zsigmond: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.—RDL

Queen of Hearts (Film, Denmark, May el-Toukhy, 2019) Uncompromising lawyer (Trine Dryholm) loses her self-control when her wayward teenage stepson (Gustav Lindh) comes to live with the family. Drama of threatened bourgeois  domesticity, directed with subtle authority, showcases a brilliant performance from its lead.—RDL


The Killing of the Tinkers (Fiction, Ken Bruen, 2002) Cokehound ex-cop returns home to Galway and takes an assignment investigating the murders of tinkers, mostly by getting blitzed and waiting for secondary characters to swing by and give him information. Crime series authors often get bored with mystery construction to concentrate instead on open-ended character development, but it doesn’t usually set in during the second book in a series.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Suicide Squad, Norm Macdonald, Werner Herzog

September 28th, 2021 | 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.


Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir (Fiction, Norm Macdonald, 2016) Burying its emotional truth amid packs of lies, Macdonald’s deconstructed celebrity memoir calls to mind influences as varied as Hunter S. Thompson, Nabokov, and Alice Munro, while also being intermittently hilarious. Those who know Macdonald’s standup will recognize some recycled bits, and those who followed his career will see a kind of funhouse reflection of it, all in his inimitable voice. –KH

Family Romance LLC (Film, US, Werner Herzog, 2019) Sensitive entrepreneur (Ishii Yuichi) who runs an agency allowing people to hire actors to pose as their family members connects with a preteen (Mahiro Tanimoto) whose mother has hired him to stand in for her father. Serene, semi-improvised drama complete with the discursions Herzogians will recognize from his recent documentary work.—RDL

Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema (Film, Taiwan, 2014) Documentary survey of the eighties cinematic movement focuses mostly on its influence on filmmakers and critics around the world, which makes sense when it gets to the end and one discovers how little Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien wish to say about it. My favorite interview snippet is Apichatpong Weerasethakul praises the way these movies put him to sleep, and inspired him to make films that have the same effect.—RDL

Invisible Life (Film, Brazil, James Chressanthis, 2019) In 1950s Rio, two sisters suffer separation when their father casts one of them out for coming home pregnant without the husband, telling the other that she’s vanished. Visceral, moving novel adaptation interweaves parallel storylines of women confronting patriarchal attitudes and the demands and betrayals of the body.—RDL

La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) (Film, France, Jacques Deray, 1969) The arrival of a libertinish old mutual and his lissome daughter (Jane Birkin) interrupts the St. Tropez villa idyll of a failed novelist (Alain Delon) and a languid journalist (Romy Schneider.) Sun-soaked quadrangle of envy and lust treats the extreme hotness of Delon and Schneider as a formalist challenge.—RDL

The Suicide Squad (Film, US, James Gunn, 2021) Weapons master Bloodsport (Idris Elba) leads a crew of convict supervillains including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to attack a secret installation on a Latin American nation now in the hands of an anti-American junta. Kudos to Gunn for convincing an entertainment megaconglomerate to underwrite the most lavish, gleefully nihilistic midnight cult flick ever.—RDL

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