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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Most Important Wolf

May 2nd, 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

Hangsaman (Fiction, Shirley Jackson, 1951 / 1964) Repressing an act of traumatic violence, an imaginative seventeen year old attempts to fit amid amid the hothouse environment of a quasi-progressive woman’s college. Elusive, hallucinatory coming of age story invokes the Tarot and a touch of cosmic horror while keeping its feet planted in the literary fiction tradition. Ahead of its time in its feminist perspective, this warrants a slot in the canon of mid-century American existential yearning alongside Salinger, Yates, Roth and company.–RDL


A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes (Nonfiction, Willem P. Gerritsen and Anthony G. van Melle, 1998) Originally published in Dutch, this compendium only covers 87 heroes, but every one gets an in-depth essay covering at least the main textual threads and sometimes a good deal more. In addition to the Arthurian, Nibelung, and Charlemagne cycles, we get the medieval versions of ancients from Alexander to Troilus, plus wonderful weird heroes like Ysengrimus, “the most important wolf in Western European beast epic.” –KH

Bone Tomahawk (Film, US, S. Craig Zahler, 2015) Playing like a beautiful bastard child of The Searchers and The Hills Have Eyes, this horror Western follows Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) and a rudimentary posse to rescue the kidnapped wife (Lili Simmons) of crippled cowboy O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) from a band of cannibal troglodytes. The acting and dialogue are first-rate, and the combat sequences brutal and abrupt. Well worth it for fans of cowboys-and-c.h.u.d.s, or of either one, really. –KH

Feud: Bette and Joan (Television, US, Ryan Murphy, 2017) Egged on by wily studio boss Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci), waning screen legends Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) develop a healthy mutual antagonism while shooting What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Even in the Golden Age of TV, it’s amazing that a show with this concept even exists, much less that it’s as insightful and affecting as it is. Watch the compositions; no show has ever loved its sets the way “Feud” does.—RDL

Which Way is the Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (Film, US, Sebastian Junger, 2013) Portrait of war cinematographer Hetherington, who with disarming charisma covered conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was killed in 2011. Pays tribute to its subject both as a man and as an artist before, inevitably and properly, succumbing to the narrative power of its final act, in which the hero ignores the warnings and his own rules and is drawn to poetic doom.—RDL


22 Jump Street (Film, US, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2014) Odd couple buddy cops (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum) strain their relationship when their latest undercover assignment pulls them in different directions. Constructs its biggest running gag around the laziness of sequels and wisely keeps the focus on the chemistry of the Hill-Tatum comedy duo.—RDL

Free Fire (Film, UK, Ben Wheatley, 2017) Late-stage capitalism and toxic masculinity walk into a warehouse and a gunfight breaks out. Or rather, slowly dribbles out — the gangsters and terrorists on either side are authentically terrible shots. Despite Wheatley’s clear desire to make a Tarantino-esque film, there’s not much verve or dialogue, and he films the gunfight more as a series of character vignettes than as action sequences. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are almost wasted; Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Sam Riley play louder idiots to better effect. Still, it’s a good joke even if Wheatley takes his own sweet time telling it. –KH

The Peanuts Movie (Film, US, Steve Martino, 2015) Charlie Brown falls for but can’t approach the little red-headed girl; Snoopy battles the Red Baron. Surprisingly faithful translation of the Schulz/Melendez/Mendelson style into the CGI era. The ideal length for Peanuts on screen still seems to be 25 min though.—RDL

Tramps (Film, US, Adam Leon, 2017) Boy meets girl, boy screws up criminal bag drop with girl, boy and girl try to get bag back. Before Sunrise riff showcases charm of its two leads—Grace van Patten in particular has “future movie star” written all over her.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now on Netflix.

Mesmerizingly Terrible

The Fear Makers (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1956) Freed P.O.W. (Dana Andrews, dead drunk in every shot) returns from the Korean War to discover that his business partner has been killed, and his PR firm is now engaged in two terrifying new practices: polling and lobbying. Spoiler: it’s the Commies! Talky, set-bound artifact packs a lot of crazy into its micro-budget (a hilariously pro forma romantic subplot, Mel Torme as the sexually harassing office milquetoast), with momentary flashes of trademark style from a clearly down-on-his-luck Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past.)—RDL

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Roald in the Spy Factory

April 25th, 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.


Girls Season 6 (Television, US, HBO, Lena Dunham & Judd Apatow, 2017) An unexpected pregnancy forces Hanna to reconsider her ever-drifting New York existence and chaotic friendships. The final season of the decade’s most polarizing dramedy does as much bow-tying as it can get away with without betraying its theme of messy lives in constant collision with one another.—RDL

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (Nonfiction, Jennet Conant, 2008) Wounded RAF officer and future children’s book author goes to Washington at the behest of spymaster William Stephenson to covertly influence US policy, one cocktail at a time. Dahl may not have carried the Walther PPK his colleague and friend Ian Fleming would later put in Bond’s hands, but he sure had the seduction part down, including a taxing series of trysts with Clare Booth Luce. Conant presents an engaging narrative from events that in less able hands would fail to excite.—RDL

The Happiest Day in Life of Olli Maki (Film, Finland, Juho Kuosmanen, 2016) Finns pin their hopes on a featherweight contender who is more interested in remaining a small town mensch in love with his girlfriend than coping with the pressure put on him by his ex-fighter manager. Reverses the emotional polarity of the boxing bio: here you’re rooting for the hero to escape the dread fate of championship glory.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in North American theatrical release.

Orbital Cloud (Fiction, Taiyo Fujii, 2014) In 2020, a Japanese space blogger discovers orbital debris in impossible motion, triggering a technothriller race to solve the mystery, resolve the crisis, and save every satellite in LEO from a weaponized electrodynamic tether orbiter. The characters are broad but not annoyingly so, and if the standard technothriller is “competence porn” this is a downright competence orgy. Spies, satellites, and smartphones: what’s not to love? –KH

Sand Castle (Film, US, Fernando Coimbra, 2017) During the occupation of Iraq, a reluctant infantryman (Nicholas Hoult) finds purpose when his unit is detailed to protect efforts to rebuild a water station. With its emphasis on driving supplies up and down ambush-ready roads and rebuilding infrastructure in the midst of an insurgency, this addresses the specifics of the conflict it depicts, rather than reskinning pre-existing war film tropes.—RDL

Sound of the Mountain (Film, Japan, Mikio Naruse, 1954) Undemonstrative businessman discovers that his warmest family tie relationship is with his sweet-natured daughter-in-law, who his drunk, disdainful son flagrantly cheats on. Quietly heartbreaking drama exemplifies Naruse’s subtle portrayal of thwarted emotion.—RDL

True Story (Film, US, Rupert Goold, 2015) Disgraced reporter (Jonah Hill) gets too close when the accused family annihilator (James Franco) offers him a series of jailhouse interviews. Moody exploration of the ambiguous connection between a sociopath and a man anxious to be fooled.—RDL


De Palma (Film, US, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow, 2015) The director of subversive, shockingly violent suspense serves as sole talking head for a career retrospective illustrated by clips from his and others’ films. De Palma freely dishes on his missteps, revealing why his films are as they are, for good and for ill.—RDL

The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World (Nonfiction, Abigail Tucker, 2016) The charming writing in this amiable pop-science book masks its only real flaw: it doesn’t really know the answer to its question. In fairness, nobody does — cats are hilariously hard to study, and human behaviorists apparently know less than animal behaviorists. Tucker tries to introduce a secondary theme — that cats’ hyperpredation, rapid reproduction, and ubiquity make them ecocidal monsters second only to us — but that only runs her into her original question again. –KH

Venus With Pistol (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1969) Art smuggler and dealer in antique pistols Bert Kemp gets tangled up in a ever-so-slightly-too-complicated conspiracy to repatriate a millionairess’ expropriated fortune in the form of dodgy masterpieces. And then the murders began. Lyall’s verbal fireworks aren’t quite as on form here and the story is a little staccato, but there’s no shortage of classic thriller sequences in this classic art-crime thriller. I love art-crime thrillers, but I’m trying to control for that here: if you too go weak in the knees for a confident paragraph on Giorgione, call it Recommended. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sex, Wiindigo Lore and Urban Planning

April 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.


Citizen Jane: Battle For the City (Film, US, Matt Tyrnauer, 2017) Documentary recounts the David and Goliath throwdown between writer Jane Jacobs’ vision of a vibrant, street focused city took on Robert Moses’ modernist urban renewalism and its mania for towering housing projects and downtown expressways. Magisterially presents a web of information and ideas as a gripping conflict with real emotional stakes.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.

Crashing Season 1 (Television, US, Pete Holmes & Judd Apatow, 2017) Without a place to stay after he catches his wife in bed with an extremely annoying other man, a naive Christian (Holmes) heads to New York to pursue his stand-up comedy dream. Observational squirmcom follows the Apatow formula of not following a formula, rooting the laughs in all-too-real autobiography.—RDL

Masters of Sex Season 4 (Television, US, Michelle Ashford, 2016) With his marriage kaput and hers averted, Virginia pursues Bill, and he pulls away. A culminating season for the show’s sex researcher romantic arc, even if conventional TV writing is increasingly creeping in around the edges.—RDL

The Round House (Fiction, Louise Erdrich, 2012) 13 year old living on an Anishinaabe reserve in North Dakota resolves to identify and kill his mother’s rapist. Crime novel framework grants propulsion to a rich community portrait informed by the mythologies of the windigo and Star Trek: the Next Generation.–RDL


China 9, Liberty 37 (Film, Italy/Spain, Monte Hellman, 1978) Handsome gunfighter (Fabio Testi) develops second thoughts about his assignment from the railroad to kill a grizzled dirt farmer (Warren Oates) after meeting his alluring younger wife (Jenny Agutter.) Suffused with aching existential loneliness (not to mention steamy 70s sexuality), this late fusion of American New Wave and spaghetti western aesthetics might qualify as a forgotten masterpiece, if not for its botched dialogue mixing and the flat performance of its hunky but inert leading man.—RDL

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Film, US, Dash Shaw, 2017) Uncool kids struggle to survive when a quake causes their entire high school to…well you get the idea. Animated feature drawn to look like the doodles in the back of a misanthropic teen’s geometry notebook. Voice talent includes Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, Lena Dunham and Susan Sarandon.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.


The Golden Cane Warrior (Film, Indonesia, Ifa Isfansyah, 2014) Unprepared martial arts student must seek the ultimate golden cane move after vengeful fellow students murder their guilt-wracked guru. Even with solid storytelling and cinematography, a fu film that cheats the fight choreography tops out at “okay.” Cool to see a period martial arts film from Indonesia though.—RDL

Purani Haveli (Film, India, Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay, 1989) Cruel foster parents Kumar and Seema buy the titular creepy mansion with their ward Anita’s money. When her beau Sunil and Seema’s scheming brother Vikram, along with two dozen or so indistinguishable friends, go out to the house, a haunted statue, ghostly forces, and finally a demonic ogre begin attacking them. This jovial Bollygothic (Bollygiallo?) is pretty much derailed by boring leads and an endless comic subplot (Sunil’s assistant is an exact double of the local bandit leader) but eventually turns the scares back on for a final act full of blood, fire, and the power of … Christ? –KH

Not Recommended

Ghost in the Shell (Film, US, Rupert Sanders, 2017) No matter how slavishly beautiful the visuals, the shell of a movie is nothing without an animating spirit. I think I heard something like that about fifty times in this thuddingly obvious script, which impressively manages to never diverge from the anime storyline in an interesting or original direction. Clint Mansell’s score is a great soundtrack, just not for this movie. Poor Scarlett Johansson is as trapped as the Major; she’s the only person the viewer has any sympathy for. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Pinnacle Pulp and Kaiju Subtext

April 11th, 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 Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes (Nonfiction, Jess Nevins, 2017) It may be impossible to exceed this book as a reference to the series heroes from 1902 to 1945. It is, apparently, impossible to physically print it — this Kindle ebook contains entries on 6,400+ different characters from fifty countries, from Ethiopian tween-in-peril Yayne Abäba to Dutch detective Dorothea Zwart. That does entail some compression — even Doc Savage’s entry is only five paragraphs long — but for exhaustive and authoritative coverage this encyclopedia is the best by far. –KH


The Forbidden Room (Film, Canada, Guy Maddin, 2015) Stream of weird but straight-faced nested narratives shot in Maddin’s characteristic amphigorey of early film styles adds up to a buzzy, comic subversion, or rather implosion, of narrative and film. All of Maddin’s manias are present, from overheated intertitles to epochal Freudianism, with a terrific marbling of genre horror this time out. –KH

Frantz (Film, France, Francois Ozon, 2017) After WWI a French soldier travels to Germany to seek out the family and fiancee of his German best friend, who died in the trenches—or is that the real story? Restrained period melodrama evokes the high style of studio Hollywood, with particular touches of William Wyler and Alfred Hitchcock.—RDL Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.

Midnight Plus One (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1965) Former SOE operator Lewis Cane is hired to drive a millionaire across France from Brittany to Liechtenstein: the wrinkles being that the millionaire is wanted by the French police, and someone keeps trying to kill him. Remarkably excellent turns of phrase and much car-love spangle this taut thriller, which is a nigh-ideal type of the genre. Steve McQueen purchased it for a movie, but sadly died before making it. McQueen as Cane is exactly right, though. –KH

The President (Film, Georgia, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2014) With his young grandson in tow, a murderous autocrat toppled by revolution becomes a fugitive inside the borders of his own country. The exiled paterfamilias of Iranian cinema refashions the outlaw-duo-on-the-run movie into a hard-punching political lament.—RDL


20 Million Miles to Earth (Film, US, Nathan Juran, 1957) Reptilian creature kidnapped from Venus by a US military mission wants only to be left to eat sulphur in peace, but as it grows to monstrous size is chased, burned, experimented upon, leading to a rampage through Rome. In  this Kong derivative the military industrial complex in particular and also every other human we see cause all the destruction, a fact none of the characters notice or comment on. Whether this is a brilliant act of po-faced satire that never reveals itself, or perfunctory writing, remains ambiguous all the way to the abrupt conclusion. Creature animation by Ray Harryhausen.—RDL

Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 (Television, US, CW, 2016-2017) A somewhat reconfigured assemblage of third-string superheroes continues its time-traveling mission, discovering that the best villains from all the other Arrowverse shows have teamed up to reassemble the Spear of Destiny and rewrite reality. After a rocky start recapitulating most of the problems of the first season, the elusive tone of loopy super-romp finally locks in and fun is had.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mutants, Propaganda, and a Stage Play

April 4th, 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.


Army (Film, Japan, Keisuke Kinoshita, 1944) Three generations of a Japanese family hew to a militaristic ethos that brings them nothing but frustration and pain. A movingly anti-war film, made during the war, and paid for by the Japanese army, who thought they were funding rousing propaganda. They must have only read the dialogue, in which the characters speak in heartless slogans, without envisioning acting and direction that would reveal them as tragically misguided.—RDL

Colossal (Film, Canada, Nacho Vigalondo, 2017) After returning to her hometown to regroup, a hard-drinking ex-journalist (Anne Hathaway) discovers a link between her actions and the kaiju attacking Seoul, half a world away. Vigalondo delivers another delightful genre smush-up with this character-driven comedy/drama/monster piece. With Tim Blake Nelson and Jason Sudeikis, who gets to do a turn we haven’t seen from him before.–RDL Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks (Nonfiction, Amy Stewart, 2013) Comprehensive survey of the plants we turn into booze, and the herbs, fruits, nuts flowers, spices and trees we use to flavor them. Will have you hankering for impossible-to-source liqueurs, which you might sip while regaling your companions with alcoholic fun facts. Includes cocktail recipes and gardening tips.—RDL

Five Came Back (Television, US, Netflix, Laurent Bouzereau, 2017) Documentary miniseries follows the work of Hollywood directors John Ford, William Wyler, Frank Capra, George Stevens and John Huston for the armed forces in WWII. Bouzereau, the go-to director for historical moviemaking docs, captures both the emotion and the aesthetic paradox behind a quest to create propaganda without sacrificing artistry or truth.—RDL

Legion Season 1 (Television, US, FX, 2017)  When he falls for a fellow mental patient who doesn’t like to be touched (Rachel Keller), a diagnosed schizophrenic (Dan Stevens) journeys through his mind to discover that his delusions might just be real–making him a mutant of unprecedented power. Injects Marvel’s X-universe with surreal humor and a giddy sense of style, while still delivering the straight-up superhero stuff when it needs to.–RDL

The Woman in Black (Play, Stephen Mallatratt, 1987) Based on the novella of the same name by Susan Hill, the play presents that book’s protagonist Arthur Kipps as he attempts to exorcise his decades-earlier sighting of the Woman in Black by … performing it as a stage play. Remarkable story economy and tension create legitimate horror on stage, drawing the audience in through the narrative layers to the tragic heart of the ghostly tale. (Seen in a terrific production by Chicago’s WildClaw Theatre, playing through April 23.) –KH


Ghost Mountaineer (Film, Estonia, Urmas Eero Liiv, 2015) In 1989 a mixed group of Estonian students goes mountain climbing in the Siberian mountains of Buryatia, and bad doings transpire. Shot as a mix of documentary, thriller, and nature film, this flick ambitiously combines the two keys to a great ghost story (setting and psychology) with political horror, social horror, and enough other elements to unbalance things nigh completely. But for four acts out of five, it’s gripping, icy, and unpredictable. –KH

Lone Survivor (Film, US, Peter Berg, 2013) Navy SEAL strike force hunting a Taliban leader finds itself outgunned and out of contact with air support. Establishes an interesting but never quite resolved tension between its desire to pay tribute to the men who died in the real incident it portrays, and its depiction of warfare as an arbitrary hell no amount of self-mastery can tame. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch.—RDL

The Sunshine Makers (Film, UK, Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, 2015) Documentary tells the story of the brash front man and spectrumy scientist who teamed up to produce and distribute the sixties’ most famous LSD tablet. Portrait of the nerdiest drug underground finds its poignancy in the contrast between youthful heedlessness and the protagonists’ present dotage.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ancient Capes and the Sunken Place

March 28th, 2017 | Robin

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

The Pinnacle

Get Out (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2017) The misgivings of a young black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) over meeting his new white girlfriend’s parents take a turn toward terror. Rod Serling-style satirical social horror isn’t built to sustain itself at feature length, but don’t tell that to Jordan Peele, who picks up that neglected mantle and, with brilliant, multi-layered execution, does exactly that and so much more.—RDL


Black Amazon of Mars (Fiction, Leigh Brackett, 1951) On barbaric Mars, rugged hero John Eric Stark’s effort to fulfill a comrade’s dying wish leads him to a warrior queen and an ancient civilization of ice beings. Efficiently forward-moving sword & planet novella provides an object lesson in genre prose that goes big without losing control. Later reconfigured as the novel People of the Talisman.—RDL

The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero (Nonfiction, Jess Nevins, 2017) Nevins picks his standard scholarly way through the potential candidates for proto-superheroism from Enkidu to Domino Lady in a triumph of research that manfully resists the alluring side-eddies such a project stirs up. A final two chapters on the post-1938 superhero are less assured, but fortunately also less essential. –KH

The Shadow People (Fiction, Margaret St. Clair, 1969) Dick Aldridge’s girl Carol is kidnapped from her basement flat in Berkeley — by elves. This weird blend of the Shaver hollow earth and Robert Kirk’s “Commonwealth of Fairies” contributes to the off-kilter nature of the novel, as does St. Clair’s repeated refusal to follow her own leads, and her decision to set the last half of it in a nascent fascist state. The story remains compelling, however, and the stark originality (and clammy horror) of her mashup makes me wish more urban fantasy had followed her instead of Emma Bull. –KH


Clio and Me: An Intellectual Autobiography (Nonfiction, Martin Van Creveld, 2016) Possibly the world’s premier military historian provides a quick tour of his mental upbringing, formation, and evolution. It doesn’t have either enough juice or enough venom to be truly Recommended, but it’s always worth exploring the life of a great mind. –KH

Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film (Nonfiction, Arnold T. Blumberg & Scott Alan Woodward, 2016) Hefty tome provides detailed discussion of fifty “classics” of sword-and-sorcery film from the 1940 Thief of Bagdad to the first Hobbit film in 2015. Each writeup provides notes on the score, cast, production, deeper meaning, magical rules, (mostly forced) connections with other films, a gameable bit, and a brief (usually sympathetic) review. A brief “concordance” (sic) of 400+ other sword-and-sorcery movies completes the book. –KH

Veerana (Film, India, Tulsi & Shyam Ramsay, 1988) Surprisingly sexy-for-1988-Bollywood vampire Nakita preys on lustful men, first in her own body (Kamal Roy) and eventually in that of area nymphet Jasmin (Jasmin) after a wicked sorcerer enables the Exorcist-style possession. The thick Bava-Hammer blend of the horror almost drowns the Indian elements; the lengthy comic relief subplots are pure Hindi kitsch by contrast. Relatively few songs for the 175-minute running time mean lots of emoting and googly eyes and screaming until the final exciting act. –KH


The Hollow (Film, US, Kyle Newman, 2004) Amiable but toothless attempt to update the Headless Horseman as a pumpkin-headed slasher stalls on its own soft edges, and on that whole giving the Horseman a head thing. Neither of the villains, bully Nick Carter or football-obsessed dad Judge Reinhold, truly threaten our hero; Stacy Keach chews the scenery as a drunken graveyard attendant, also to no effect. –KH

Not Recommended

John Wick: Chapter 2 (Film, US, Chad Stahelski, 2017) Super-assassin who wants only to re-retire finds himself forced back into the game. Baroque sequel can’t repeat the waggish simplicity of the original’s premise, so instead thoroughly mishandles the reluctant protagonist trope on its way to a contrived non-ending. But don’t worry, that sets up the dispiriting premise to a franchise as unnecessary as it is inevitable!—RDL

Youth (Film, Italy, Paolo Sorrentino, 2015) During his stay at a luxury resort in the Swiss mountains, a retired composer (Michael Caine) mulls accusations of apathy while hanging out with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) his film director pal (Harvey Keitel) and a pensive movie star (Paul Dano.) A delicately melancholy, visually dazzling idyll abruptly sunk by that classic art film self-destruct button, the final veer into BS melodrama. Especially ironic here, as a major subplot concerns the director’s inability to find a ending for the script he’s about to shoot.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Mind Paradox

March 21st, 2017 | Robin

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

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


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

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


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


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

Not Recommended

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

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

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
Flying Clock
Film Cannister