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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Unkillable Samurai, Vengeful Ghost

October 17th, 2017 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Baking With Kafka (Comics, Tom Gauld, 2017) Writer jokes and strong line art, have I ever asked for anything more? The only problem with this goofy-under-staid collection is that if you have a Twitter feed full of bookish British lefties like I do, you’ve already seen about a third of them. –KH

Blade of the Immortal (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2017) Unkillable samurai Manji battles the weapon masters of the antinomian Itto-ryu fencing school (and hordes of mooks) in one of the best superhero films I’ve seen since Winter Soldier. Bloody carnage, moral nuance, chambara action, nods to Leone, and did I mention bloody carnage build to a magnificent elegy for the age of heroes. Miike continues his art’s laudable climb out of nihilism in this, his 100th film. –KH

Chasing the Blues (Film, Chicago, Scott Smith, 2017) Record collector (Grant Rosenmeyer) resumes his quest for a legendary blues album the instant he gets out of prison. Likeable shaggy dog comedy gets good value from brief appearances by Jon Lovitz and Steve Guttenberg, but it’s really a fun excuse to make up a blues legend and riff on it. –KH

Faces/Places (Film, France, Agnes Varda and J.R., 2017) Famed director Varda and hipster poster artist J.R. team up and hit the road to capture and depict the stories of ordinary French people. Sweet and nice as French pastry, and nourishing as French bread, this celebration of la joie de vie makes a virtue of its fabrication, much as do the artists involved. –KH

Ghost of Yotsuya (Film, Japan, Nabuo Nakagawa, 1959) Feckless ronin’s trail of murder leads to a confrontation with vengeful ghosts. Adaptation of an oft-filmed kabuki play shifts from stately samurai drama to Hammer-like literary horror with gruesome, theatrical effects. —RDL

The Merciless (Film, South Korea, Byun Sung-hyun, 2017) Undercover cop infiltrates a smuggling ring in Busan, but this being an Asian film, finds himself ever-closer friends with his gangster target. Tiny script wobble in the last act can’t erase the control and ease of the direction, or the power of the acting. –KH

Thoroughbreds (Film, US, Cory Finley, 2017) Teenage Connecticut rich girls Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) find friendship in sociopathy and plot the murder of Lily’s odious stepfather. Finley’s playwriting experience pays off in a taut script perfectly played by his two leads and Anton Yelchin as a lower-class drug dealer whose moral compass maybe hasn’t corroded completely. –KH

The Weird and the Eerie (Nonfiction, Mark Fisher, 2016) Fisher’s last book is a brief introduction-by-case-study to the concepts of the weird (“that which does not belong”) and the eerie (“a failure of absence or a failure of presence”), running from their exemplars (Lovecraft and M.R. James) through H.G. Wells, The Fall, Dick, and Lynch and through Kneale, du Maurier, Atwood, and Joan Lindsay, among others. Clear if far from complete, it stakes interesting theoretical and critical ground that sadly Fisher won’t be able to explore. –KH


Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) The heavy hand of coincidence puts replicant cop K (Ryan Gosling) on the trail of former blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford). The banal artificiality of the plot is actually pretty Dickian, but PKD usually had something else going on. What this film has going on is 2 hours and 40 minutes of gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography and another low-key great performance by Robin Wright as K’s boss. –KH

The Foreigner (Film, UK/China, Martin Campbell, 2017) After a rogue IRA bombing kills his daughter, former Vietnam War special forces asset Quan (Jackie Chan) carries out a one-man terror campaign against former IRA commander and current British cabinet minister Liam (Pierce Brosnan) to get the names of the bombers. The commendable decision to accurately depict a competent British security state sidelines Quan’s vendetta, leaving the film somewhat adrift, but seeing Chan and Brosnan in action bumps it up from Okay. –KH

The Purge: Election Year (Film, US, James DeMonaco, 2016) On the annual night when all criminal laws are suspended, the presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge flees assassins aided by her bodyguard (Frank Grillo) and a group of righteous neighborhood folk led by deli owner Mykelti Williamson. The political themes underlying the series come to the fore for this horror-flavored action thriller.—RDL

Progeny of the Adder (Fiction, Leslie H. Whitten, 1965) Washington DC homicide cop Harry Picard hunts a serial killer — who turns out to be a vampire — in this solid police procedural. While the vampire element is handled well (and is considerably ahead of its time) the police aspects are resolutely of their time, both the novel’s strength and weakness. –KH

Reconciliation (Film, Poland, Maciej Sobieszczański, 2017) In 1945, Silesian farm boy Franek becomes a guard at a Communist labor camp to rescue an inmate: Anna, the Polish girl he loves. Her lover Erwin, a German, is also interned there, and the tragic drama builds from there. A little slow and a lot brutal, the film distances itself from the characters in the interest of universality, but at the expense of involvement. –KH

Sicilian Ghost Story (Film, France/Italy/Switzerland, Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza, 2017) Middle-school girl Luna becomes increasingly obsessed, suffering nightmares and waking dreams after her true love Giuseppe is abducted by the Mafia. Based on a real 1993 kidnap-murder, the directors cast Sicilian unknowns as the children to quite frankly amazing effect. The dream, fairy tale, and mythic elements don’t quite blend with the crime and love stories, which is the only reason this ambitious film (barely) misses the Recommended mark. –KH


Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Teen bullies and their sullen target capture a c.h.u.d. and slowly weaponize it between bouts of torture — while its sister searches for her lost sibling. Gets points for a good monster and a properly decrepit mise en scene, but I remain of the opinion that having a completely unsympathetic protagonist is usually a mistake. –KH

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2017) If Sono had made this as a standalone film rather than recutting 2 hours and 22 minutes from his Amazon Japan miniseries, it would likely rank much higher. Sono’s trademark combination of stunningly beautiful images and hyperviolence adds two feuding clans of vampires, but his wild inventiveness seems more like flailing at TV sprawl lengths. –KH

Not Recommended

Cult of Chucky (Film, US, Don Mancini, 2017) Past victim of animate killer doll Chucky, confined to an psychiatric facility for the murders he committed, tries in vain to convince the staff that he’s coming for her again. Until it tosses it all away by not having a third act, is a surprisingly solid continuation of the series, explicitly about a gaslighting male establishment that refuses to believe a woman’s warnings about a misogynistic predator.—RDL

Gold is Where You Find It (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1938) In 1877 California, a hydraulic strip-mining engineer (George Brent) and an orchard-loving young woman (Olivia de Havilland) fall in love, to the increasing dismay of her wheat magnate father (Claude Rains.) That this is still kinda watchable, despite the low-wattage Brent in the lead, and a script in which he does next to nothing until the end and then does something ridiculous, stands as a tribute to Curtiz and his ineluctable mastery of filmic momentum. Maintains some historical interest as an early example of Hollywood environmentalism.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deckard, Cronenberg, Owlman

October 10th, 2017 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) Replicant cop (Ryan Gosling) who pursues older androids capable of rebellion works a case that puts him on the trail of long-missing predecessor Deckard (Harrison Ford.) Visually stunning in a way that evokes Kubrick chill more than Ridley Scott flash, set in  an ultra-dystopia where evidence of basic human connection has been shipped off-world.—RDL

Fighter Squadron (Film, US, Raoul Walsh, 1947) As the burgeoning US Air Force’s latest assignments take it ever closer to Berlin, a maverick pilot who wins by his own rules (Edmond O’Brien) must shoulder the straight-laced responsibilities of higher command. Walsh’s eye for the rituals of masculinity and typical focus on doomed individuality infuse this rousing, overtly jocular Technicolor war flick with a darker undercurrent.—RDL

Maps to the Stars (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 2014) Young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in L.A., becoming a personal assistant to a distraught actress (Julianne Moore) and triggering a series of Sophoclean events involving the family of a cruel, freshly-rehabbed child star. Never has Cronenberg’s camera been this icy and clinical, or his characters more universally monstrous—and that’s saying a bunch.—RDL

They Remain (Film, US, Philip Gelatt, 2017) Two scientists (William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson) investigating anomalous animal behavior on the wilderness site of an infamous cult killing slowly degenerate in this moody, slightly surreal adaptation of a Laird Barron novella. If Polanski made Repulsion in a forest in upstate New York, it might look like this. –KH

They Return at Evening (Fiction, H.R. Wakefield, 1928) Nine supernatural stories including at least four small masterpieces: the shuddery “The Red Lodge” and the dizzying “Professor Pownall’s Oversight” are probably the best. Both harder edged and more glib than M.R. James (the overt James pastiche is enjoyable but a bit sloppy), Wakefield incorporates elements of detective fiction along with towering cynicism about women and publishing. –KH


The Black Gloves (Film, Scotland, Lawrie Brewster, 2017) The prequel to Brewster’s terrific 2013 creeper The Lord of Tears follows a psychiatrist (Nicholas Vince) seeking redemption to the estate of a ballerina (Alexandra Nicole Hulme) in seclusion — and all three are haunted by the Owlman. The magnificent climax comes an act too early, and the black and white doesn’t quite match the warmth of 1940s film, but strong acting and writing keep it watchable. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Now Ken’s in the Black Lodge

October 3rd, 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

Twin Peaks: The Return (TV, Showtime, David Lynch, 2017) Picking up 25 years after Lynch’s seminal oneiric soap opera murder mystery ended, it is more of some of those things, most especially “Lynch’s.” I love that I could never see ahead down Lynch’s road, and also: Robert Forster. Penderecki’s “Threnody.” Magic and romance just out of frame. Bzzzkkkzztt (and all the rest of Lynch’s amazing sound design) That shot of NYC. Trees. Coffee! Charred men. “The Nine Inch Nails.” //erusolC// –KH


Call Me Lucky (Film, US, Bobcat Goldthwait, 2015) Documentary profile of radical comedian’s comedian Barry Crimmins explores the origins of his righteous rage as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Loving portrait of a many-faceted man, made by a longtime friend.—RDL

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her (Nonfiction, Joanna Connors, 2016) A generation after her brutal rape by a stranger, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter seeks context by researching the life of the now-deceased perpetrator. Unsparing work of personal journalism finds answers to the literal questions if not the teleological ones, but mostly a deep well of unspeakable, cyclic suffering.—RDL


The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) A relatively enjoyable “impossible crime” outing for Carr’s second-tier detective Sir Henry Merrivale, who is more annoying than Gideon Fell. Remarkable for solving the locked room (actually a locked castle) two different ways, because Carr is a showoff; the Egyptian color ticks it up from Okay. –KH

Giant Days, Vols. 1-3 (Comics, John Allison, 2015-6) Compilations of Allison’s comic about three girls and their travails in university, mostly involving idiotic romantic partners. As warm and sweetly human as Allison’s work elsewhere (one character, Esther de Groot, carries over from his Bad Machinery/Bobbinsverse) but without the overt weirdness (here calmed into eccentricity) and frenetic storytelling. –KH

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Film, UK/US, Matthew Vaughn, 2017) Proletarian gentleman superspy Eggsy (Taron Egerton) returns to battle a drug lord (Julianne Moore) with the help of the American superspy group Statesman (Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal). Too much bad, unnecessary CGI (and some over-obvious direction) obscures a surprisingly not-terrible script; still, worth seeing for those seeking the thrills James Bond once provided. –KH

Night’s Master (Fiction, Tanith Lee, 1978) Linked short stories of innocence corrupted or maintained lay out an eon in the existence of a seductive demon lord. Lapidary prose and 70s sex abound in this neo-Symbolist outing in the Dunsany tradition.—RDL

A Report on the Party and the Guests (Film, Czechoslovakia, Jan Němec, 1966) Cosmopolitan guests at an influential figure’s country banquet are subjected to subtly menacing power games. Absurdist drama looks at how quickly the comfortable rationalize their own oppression. But even in this relatively free period of cinema in the Soviet satellite nations, it has to rely on the viewer to infer the dark conclusion it’s so clearly setting up.—RDL

The Transfiguration (Film, US, Michael O’Shea, 2016) Affectless, vampire-obsessed, neglected, and bullied African-American teen Milo (Eric Ruffin) eventually befriends his abused, self-destructive white neighbor Sophie (Chloe Levine). Essentially a loose remake of Romero’s Martin set in the Brooklyn projects, it suffers by comparison (its slow burn goes down to embers more than once) but on its own merits adds a few liters of AB+ to the vampire genre. –KH


Chasing the Dragon (Film, HK, Wong Jing & Jason Kwan, 2017) Loyal gangster Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen) and honorable corrupt cop Lee Rock (Andy Lau) rise together in the British-managed Hong Kong crime world of the late 60s and early 70s. Mythologized crime biopic maintains an unusually consistent tone for a Wong Jing effort, but is overloaded with plot points—because, weirdly, this is a remake of two previously unrelated films: the caustic, greatly superior To Be Number One and Lee Rock, featuring Andy Lau in the same role he plays here. Scored a big mainland release usually denied to violent HK gang pictures by dialing up the anti-colonial angle.—RDL

Preacher Season 2 (Television, US, AMC, Sam Catlin, 2017) With the Saint of Killers on his heels, Jesse drags Tulip and Cassidy to New Orleans in search of God, who has gone AWOL from heaven. Bursts of bravura weirdness can’t conceal the momentum stall of a season in which the protagonist makes zero progress toward his goal.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sapient Dogs and a Vanishing Toyshop

September 26th, 2017 | Robin

The Pinnacle

Master of None Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang, 2017) Dev falls for an engaged friend and moves up in the food television world. The show leans even further into its innovative format, telling a story arc through episodes structured as individual short films. Its focus on representation has been widely praised already, so let’s note its phenomenal cinemascope-ratio cinematography, which gives it a visual weight rarely attempted in the comedy-drama genre.—RDL


Fifteen Dogs (Fiction, Andre Alexis, 2015) Apollo and Hermes make a wager, granting human intelligence to a group of dogs at a downtown Toronto veterinary hospital. Works both as a fable about the relationship between awareness and happiness, and a compelling extrapolation of what the world might look like to sapient canines.–RDL

Jerry Before Seinfeld (Stand-up, Jerry Seinfeld, Netflix, 2017) Jerry Seinfeld performs his pre-1981 material in the West Side comedy dive he started out in, the Comic Strip, punctuated with (thankfully brief) reminiscences. As with virtually everything he’s done this millennium, this special shows Seinfeld’s work ethic and deep sense of his art form’s traditions while still being playful and, yes, funny. –KH

A Light Affliction: A History of Film Preservation and Restoration (Nonfiction, Michael Binder, 2014) Informed and accessible look at the field from the Lumieres to DCPs focuses as much on the quirky founding personalities of the preservation movement as on the technical challenges of keeping films alive. Fun fact: Hollywood resisted the switch from nitrate because its ultra-dangerous nature required highly trained operators, thus discouraging pirate screenings.—RDL

The Moving Toyshop (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1946) Poet Richard Cadogan stumbles onto a murder upstairs from a toyshop — which vanishes the next morning. Good thing he’s in Oxford, and friends with the detective don Gervase Fen. This assured mystery shifts between grim crime, classic detection, and giddy nigh-Wodehousian humor between breaths, while remaining tightly plotted and consistently characterized. P.D. James considered it a Pinnacle, which should tell you something. –KH

Queenpin (Fiction, Megan Abbott, 2007) Young woman groomed by a classy older mentor as a mob courier puts the mentorship in peril when she succumbs to the brutal charms of a degenerate gambler. Unlike most modern shots at period noir, Abbott gets the voice right, avoiding the competing shoals of parody and anachronism.—RDL

The Woman on the Beach (Film, US, Jean Renoir, 1947) Soon-to-retire, PTSD-haunted Coast Guard officer (Robert Ryan) falls for the restless wife (Joan Bennett) of a tormented, blind ex-painter (Charles Bickford.) Reskinned gothic in which the great French director absorbs a touch of Val Lewton strangeness from next door on the RKO backlot.—RDL


The Greatest Show on Earth (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1952) Circus manager Brad (Charlton Heston) has to deal with lovestruck trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton), her rival (and his) The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), and the criminal element (Lawrence Tierney) while keeping the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus in the black. Betty Hutton is the weak link here, but you also get the wonderful Gloria Grahame as an elephant trainer, and Jimmy Stewart as an enigmatic clown. Unfairly lambasted for beating High Noon for the Best Picture Oscar — it’s no High Noon, but it’s no Crash, either — this final DeMille spectacle movie provides ample circus spectacle, a magnificent train crash, and even some intermittently excellent tension on and off the high wire. If you’re pro-circus I’d call it Recommended. For extra fun play “spot the Spielberg engrams,” as this was the first movie Spielberg remembers seeing. –KH

mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) Dutiful wife (Jennifer Lawrence) to a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) spirals into hallucinatory nightmare when he invites oddball strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) into the home she’s painstakingly renovating. Becomes less interesting as the allegory fully clunks into view, but still worth seeing for its disorienting use of sound design and handheld extreme close-ups.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Maternal Madness and Puzzle Mysteries

September 19th, 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.

Robin has been off at the Toronto Film Festival. Check out his compendium of capsule reviews. Those capsules will reappear here when films get theatrical or home video releases over the next 18 months or so.


Logan Lucky (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2017) In its essentials a country & western Ocean’s 11, like every great cover version this film shows the core strengths of the original while reveling in the joy of a new riff. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver head a low-key superb ensemble cast, outshone only by David Holmes’ incongruous yet satisfying score and Soderbergh’s butter-smooth direction. A less confident director could have turned the comedy into condescension; it’s to Soderbergh’s great credit that instead the West Virginia milieu plays the hero. –KH

Mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) A poet (Javier Bardem) seeking a creative spark and his young wife and muse (Jennifer Lawrence) dwell in Edenic isolation until … Beginning as Polanski-esque psychological thriller and veering into full-blown Gnostic Buñuel in the third act, this is an almost paradigmatically Aronofsky film: shot with power and control, about a disintegrating character and the nature of inspiration, and likely to piss off at least half its audience. –KH

Night in Alachua County (Play, Jennifer Rumberger, 2017) Southern Gothic meets necromancy in this tale of three generations of Florida women (there are no male speaking parts) abandoned, abused, and trying to survive on their own terms. The cicada-toned dread builds strong through dark revelations, not all of them magical. — KH (Runs through October 7 in an intimate, eerie production by Chicago’s WildClaw Theatre.)


The Spy and the Thief (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1971) Fourteen Silver-Age mystery stories by the king of the puzzle-story, seven starring British crytpanalyst Jeffery Rand, seven starring smooth “thief of the worthless” Nick Velvet. The Velvet stories are always good, since they usually have a heist to go with the puzzle, and Hoch’s invention gets freer play. The Rand stories remain a mixed bag, although some of them show nice period detail. –KH


The Spy Who Read Latin (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1990) This collection of seven Hoch puzzle mystery stories about British cryptanalyst Jeffery Rand doesn’t show Hoch at his best. The puzzles, which should be naturals for a cryptographer detective, are by and large too simple, and the spy atmosphere is less than convincing. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Damn Fine Cup of [REDACTED]

September 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

Twin Peaks: The Return (Television, US, David Lynch, 2018) Grotesque, otherworldly servitors of good engineer earthly events to awaken FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) from a false existence his evil doppelganger has spun him into to prevent his full emergence from a generation-long stint in the pocket universe known as the Black Lodge. Gobsmacking phantasmagoria of narrative, genre, dream, nostalgia, aging, America dualism, and the myth of [REDACTED.]—RDL


The Brink’s Job (Film, US, William Friedkin, 1978) Played by a posse of magnificent character actors led by Peter Falk, a gang of two-bit lugs stumbles into a perfect crime in 1950 Boston: heisting $2 million from the Brink’s headquarters office. Friedkin manages not just the tightrope of comedy and heist thriller, but also of making working-class dingbats his main characters without condescension. Special mention must be made of Warren Oates’ manic turn as an unstable ordnance expert. –KH

Charlie Varrick (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1973) Small-time bank robber Varrick (Walter Matthau) accidentally steals $750,000 in mob money from a small-time bank in New Mexico, and has to stay two steps ahead of the cops, the Mafia, and his wild-eyed partner (Andy Robinson). A prime example of the surprisingly sparse “actually intelligent protagonist” genre. I’ve already seen this film, which I just watched again on the big screen, but I’m breaking the implied KARCM rules and posting here because it’s one of the best crime films ever made and you, our beloved backers, deserve to know that. –KH

Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (Nonfiction, Maurice Lévy, 1972 (trans. 1988)) In this short work, Lévy prefigures almost every major critical view of Lovecraft that would follow, from the psychoanalytic to the mythopoetic to the antimodernist. Lévy is especially good on the symbol-concept of the Lovecraftian abyss, which encompasses both the underground and outer space. –KH

Personal Shopper (Film, France, Olivier Assayas, 2017) Young woman with mediumistic powers (Kristen Stewart) works as stylist to a temperamental celebrity while waiting for her dead twin brother to send her a message from beyond. Stewart pushes her mannerisms to the limit in this enigmatic supernatural drama about temptation and loss.—RDL

Six Bridges to Cross (Film, US, Joseph Pevney, 1955) When thief and racketeer Jerry Florea (Tony Curtis) uses Boston cop Ed Gallagher (George Nader) as his alibi for an armored car company robbery, their lifelong friendship gets put to the test. Based on the 1950 Brink’s job but more concerned with emotion than criminology, Pevney’s film wins with Curtis’ strong, many-hued performance. –KH


The Steel Trap (Film, US, Andrew L. Stone, 1952) Devoted family man (Joseph Cotten) decides to rob the bank where he works and escape to extradition-free Brazil with his unknowing wife (Teresa Wright) before his employers discover the theft. Part of a cycle of 50s noirs about squarejohn citizens spiraling into criminality, this is at its best when cranking suspense from a succession of tiny logistical hang-ups.—RDL


A Royal Affair (Film, Denmark, Nikolaj Arcel, 2012) English princess (Alicia Vikander) marries the Danish king Christian VII, an unstable twit whose charms dim compared to to their intense, Voltaire-loving court physician (Mads Mikkelsen.) Lushly appointed, often obvious historical drama kept alive by Mikkelsen’s star charisma.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Defenders (Television, Netflix, Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, 2017) Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage team up to keep Iron Fist out of the clutches of an ancient international conspiracy. Coasts for a while on the winning characterizations and performances established in Netflix’s first three Marvel shows before it becomes evident that the script needs every writing crutch in the book to fit two hours of story into an eight hour bag.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heists New and Noir

August 29th, 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 occasional podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Drive a Crooked Road (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1954) A femme fatale (Barbara Matthews) lures a lonely race car driver (Mickey Rooney) into being the wheelman for a robbery. Although the tension remains more theoretical than actual, Rooney’s wounded, stoic performance (and a strong villain turn by Kevin McCarthy) carries the film around the corners and down the stretch. –KH

Dunkirk (Film, UK, Christopher Nolan, 2017) Trapped British soldiers evacuate the beach at Mole as civilian boaters cross the Channel in an improvised rescue attempt. Experiential war epic composed almost entirely of suspense beats.–RDL

Kansas City Confidential (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1952) A perfect crime goes awry when the designated patsy (John Payne) begins to track down the four masked perpetrators. Taut script ratchets the tension steadily demonstrating the power of a strong story and supporting cast (Lee Van Cleef and Preston Foster especially)  even with workmanlike direction on a shoestring budget. –KH

Logan Lucky (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2017) Working class West Virginian brothers (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver) stage an ingenious, low-tech race track heist. Soderbergh ends filmdom’s least plausible retirement with this cheerfully loose, country ham variant on the Ocean’s series. I won’t spoil the comic riff aimed straight at the geek funnybone.–RDL

Plunder Road (Film, US, Hubert Cornfield, 1957) Five men rob a gold shipment from a government train in a pouring rainstorm and 13 taut, dialogue-free minutes of film. As in many great noirs, the camera lovingly fixates on the mechanism of the crime, in this case on the trucks used to heist the bullion and to try and run it from Utah to California. A veteran cast including Gene Raymond and Elisha Cook, Jr. drives the heist-realité scenario to a strong finish. –KH


Classe Tous Risques (Film, France/Italy, Claude Sautet, 1960) After his escape from a robbery goes wrong, gangster Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) turns to his former Vichyite partners for assistance, triggering the slow-motion destruction of their comfortable postwar lives. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a young driver and hood who for reasons that remain opaque becomes Davos’ friend. After a high-test first act, the rest of the film settles into a more contemplative slow burn. –KH

Game of Thrones Season 7 (Television, US, HBO, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, 2017) With the board swept of minor players, factions vying for control of Westeros prepare to square off—but the White Walkers have other ideas. An admirable shift to brisker pacing, plus the show’s most thrilling set piece sequence, give way to a final two episodes that will stand forever in the annals of idiot plotting.—RDL


Dragnet (Film, US, Jack Webb, 1954) Full-color spinoff of the long-running police procedural TV show, playing like a somewhat more violent two-hour episode. Most interesting as camp fodder or as a look into Webb’s idea of what a cop movie should be, with a few wild swerves but (aside from an affecting but incongruous scene with Virginia Gregg as the victim’s widow) not much meat. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Zombies, Mutants and a Post-Con Nap

August 22nd, 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

GenCon (Convention, US, Peter Adkison, Adrian Swartout, et al., 2017) shhh … don’t wake the podcasters … they’re very very tired … shhh –KH & RDL

The Girl With All the Gifts (Film, UK, Colm McCarthy, 2016) The titular girl is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) and among her gifts are politeness, eidetic memory, and symbiosis with the zombie plague. What could have gone wrong or remained routine with a lazier treatment becomes a mythic journey worthy of Matheson and Romero. Gorgeously lensed by Simon Dennis, and surgically scripted by M.R. Carey, this is easily the best zombie film since 28 Days Later. –KH


Logan (Film, US, James Mangold, 2017) An aging Wolverine intent on protecting an ailing Professor X becomes grudging protector to a young girl whose healing powers, and claws, echo his own. To make an elegiac super-hero movie, Mangold looks to the elegiac western for a story dense with parental bonds, few of them literal.—RDL

Orphan Black Season 5 (Television, Canada, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, BBC America) As the supposedly immortal founder of Neolution (Stephen McHattie) steps from the shadows, the clones (Tatiana Maslany) make a final bid for freedom. In a great example of a concluding season done right, the show narrows the focus of its conspiracy plotline and saves plenty of room for character beats.–RDL


By the Gun (Fiction, Richard Matheson, 1993) Reprinting four of Matheson’s Western tales from the 1950s magazines with two more recent stories, this collection shows off a sure hand with plot and character, but without the startling originality of Matheson’s horror and SF. Even in the 1950s, the prose Western was descending into kabuki, though, and these still perform well. –KH

Folktales of Brittany (Nonfiction, Elsie Masson, 1929) Quest and faerie motifs predominate in this selection of folk stories from France’s most distinctively haunted region. Packed with bizarre imagery, told in an accessible if sometimes twee fairy tale voice. If Gary had read this in 1977 we’d all own miniatures of snake-maned lions.—RDL

The Republic of Cthulhu (Nonfiction, Eric Wilson, 2016) Wilson applies somewhat jargon-y theory to Lovecraft, seeing in HPL’s anti-Kantian marriage of the sublime and the grotesque a model or precursor poetics of parapolitics; the recognition that humanism is as dead in political theory as it is in science and art. One doesn’t have to follow Wilson all the way to any of his conclusions (and his gibbering about 9/11 is particularly unproductive) to find valuable insights into Lovecraft’s aesthetics and its commonalities with both clandestine politics and conspiracist poetics. –KH

Engagingly Terrible

The Return of Dr. X (Film, US, Vincent Sherman, 1939) Maverick reporter stumbles onto the trail of a death-reversing doctor and his monstrous first subject (Humphrey Bogart), who happens to be the madder of the two scientists. Wisecracking journalist mystery that takes a swerve into sci-horror is infamous for the worst miscasting in cinema history, saddling Bogey with a role that should have gone to Lorre or Lugosi. It also shows how much assured direction, here from undersung stylist Sherman, can do to turn a nonsense pile of script pages into something watchable.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Blonde, Some Apes, and Boccaccio

August 8th, 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.


Atomic Blonde (Film, US, David Leitch, 2017) Taking the neon gloss from Drive, the brutalist violence from Oldboy, the action tracking shot from Children of Men, the soundtrack from my mixtape circa 1988, and the plot from a random jar of jellybeans, Leitch’s first solo film makes a virtue of its amphigorous nature. Without Charlize Theron’s literally long-suffering performance, this would be shiny but forgettable; with her anchoring it, it leaves a deeper bruise. –KH

Detroit (Film, US, Kathryn Bigelow, 2017) A dozen characters’ lives cross at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit riots. The first three acts, filmed in verite Steadicam, build toward an intensely horrifying scenario that the more impressionistic finale doesn’t really pay off, but not every true story ends in catharsis … which is kind of the point. –KH

Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth 1961 to 1971 (Nonfiction, S.T. Joshi, ed., 2014) Painfully adolescent horror nerd Campbell writes to his hero’s publisher, and a strange friendship develops, ended only by Derleth’s death. You can almost taste Derleth’s seemingly instant decision to pay Lovecraft’s kindness to him forward, and his reward for his decency was the blossoming of the true successor to HPL that Derleth could never become. Poignant and revealing, with an affecting afterword by Campbell. –KH

The Little Hours (Film, US, Jeff Baena, 2017) In medieval Italy, a fugitive from his cuckolded master’s justice (Dave Franco) poses as a convent’s new deaf mute handyman, arousing the ardor of a trio of less than dedicated young nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci). Boccaccio adaptation uses contemporary dialogue and cadence to keep period fustiness at bay. John C. Reilly stands out among a strong comedy cast as a lax, befuddled priest.—RDL

War For the Planet of the Apes (Film, US, Matt Reeves, 2017) Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) forsakes his people for a quest of personal vengeance against megalomaniacal human military commander (Woody Harrelson.) Although John Ford leads the pack as a reference point here, you could structure an entire undergrad course around this fantasy action thriller’s densely layered selection of historical, cinematic and biblical allusions.—RDL


The Graveyard Apartment (Fiction, Mariko Koike, 1993) Supernatural manifestations slowly escalate after a Tokyo couple with a young daughter moves into an apartment in an oddly under-occupied new building overlooking a cemetery and crematorium. Follows the current fashion of undergirding the haunted house tale with real estate anxiety and the J-horror technique of mixing the horrifying with the mundane. Finds an array of novel ways for ghosts to torment the living.—RDL

The Trip to Spain (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2017) Somewhat fictionalized versions of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again use a restaurant tour, this time of Spain, as an opportunity to riff, needle one another, and one-up each other’s impressions. The badinage never quite explodes into a comic set piece this time, leaving room for a heightened dose of the melancholy strain found in the series’ previous installments.—RDL

Quiet Please, Murder! (Film, US, John Larkin, 1942) While trying to tie off loose ends from a sale of a forged Shakespeare folio to a Nazi agent, a fence (Gail Patrick) gets trapped in a public library between her lover the forger (a super-oily George Sanders), the Nazis, and a private eye (Richard Denning). Weirdly zippy proto-noir rockets along on bottle drama and book-stack chases with the occasional languorous pause to discuss Freud and masochism. –KH


The Alexander Inheritance (Fiction, Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, and Paula Goodlett, 2017) A top-of-the-line cruise ship is somehow teleported back in time to the Mediterranean in 321 BC and gets involved in the wranglings of Alexander the Great’s successors. Flint’s collaborators haven’t got his bravura ability to bang out prose that keeps the pulse and pages racing, so the lack of real characters (aside perhaps from Queen Roxane) or dramatic payoff is much more noticeable here; the too-numerous points of view and the abrupt ending imply this is intended as the first in an endless 1632-style series. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: French Murder, American Bunco

August 1st, 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.


Deadlier Than the Male (aka A Time for Murder) (Film, France, Jean Duvivier, 1956) Beloved chef (Jean Gabin) fails to suspect a grift when he welcomes his ex-wife’s daughter (Danièle Delorme) into his home. Gallic noir builds to some sharply lurid sequences while giving its femme fatale greater complexity than the archetype generally affords.—RDL

Denial (Film, UK, Mick Jackson, 2016) When holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sues her for libel in a British court, American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) finds it hard to trust her legal team’s buttoned-down strategy. David Hare’s script finds the throughline for this real-life legal procedural in the clash between passionate truth-telling and dispassionate pursuit of victory.—RDL

The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con (Nonfiction, Amy Reading, 2012) In the late teens and early 20s, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet, swindled by a team of confidence men in a classic big con, fills his holsters with guns and embarks on an epic quest to find them and put them all away. Reading separates truth from embellishment in this engaging historical account, which widens out as needed to tell the story of American swindling from Ben Franklin’s day to the opening decades of the 20th century.—RDL

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2017) Peter Parker’s efforts to prove himself to newfound father figure Tony Stark get him in over his head with a crew of super-tech hijackers led by a disgruntled small businessman (Michael Keaton.) Have to admire a take on a mega-tentpole franchise that says, “You know what this property really needs? A smaller scale and lower stakes,” and then delivers on precisely that.—RDL

Things Fall Apart (Fiction, Chinua Achebe, 1958) Bullying Igbo patriarch’s determination to prove himself unlike his feckless father faces the ultimate obstacle when white men arrive to introduce their religion and impose their law. Complicates its narrative of cultural dissolution under colonialism by presenting it through the perspective of a profoundly flawed protagonist.—RDL


Told After Supper (Fiction, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891) Short linked collection of comic ghost stories that mostly exist to subvert the stereotypical Victorian “Christmas ghost story” narrative. Jerome’s prose bounces along and it’s a rapid, short read, but I suspect most people haven’t read enough bad Victorian ghost tales to get much charge from his gentle parody. –KH

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Film, France, Luc Besson, 2017) Based on a comic I haven’t read, Besson’s bright, optimistic SFstravaganza stars Cara Delevingne (surprisingly good in the role) and Dane DeHaan (thickly unappealing) as agents of the Human Federation drawn into a nefarious, and somewhat over-exposited, plot. Very much the successor of Besson’s zany and underrated Fifth Element, Valerian has much the same energy and momentum, though slightly less anarchic freedom. If you love Besson’s vision like I do, call it Recommended, but Dane DeHaan is sadly no Bruce Willis. –KH

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