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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Without Remorse, the Bulgarian Front, and the Impossible Middle-Deck Deal

May 4th, 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.

Recommended

Captain Conan (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1996) The aggression and disdain for authority that makes the leader of a ragtag shock troop on WWI’s Bulgarian front (Philippe Torreton) a hero on the battlefield turns him into a loose cannon after the Armistice. Experiential novel adaptation with energetic, chaotic combat sequences centers on the relationship between the hardnosed protagonist and his intellectual right hand man (Samuel Le Bihan.)—RDL

The Ghost of Peter Sellers (Film, UK, Peter Medak, 2018) The director of The Ruling Class and The Changeling recounts the nightmare of making an ultimately shelved pirate comedy a) without a polished script, b) shot largely on the water, c) with notoriously recalcitrant superstar Sellers. Documentary examines an emotional wound that still eats at Medak half a lifetime later, when other surviving participants have long since written off the debacle as the cost of doing show business.—RDL

The Friend of the Desert (Fiction, Pablo d’Ors, 2009) Czech office worker joins an eccentric society whose members share a fascination with the mysteries of the desert. Spare, absurdist-adjacent novella of achieving selfhood through the abandonment of identity.—RDL

The Magician and the Cardsharp (Nonfiction, Karl Johnson, 2005) In 1932, close-up magician supreme Dai Vernon tracked down card mechanic Allen Kennedy to learn the secret of the impossible center-deck deal. Johnson’s indefatigable research provides ample background to both men and their milieus: Pendergast’s Kansas City, small-town Missouri, and Vernon’s stage-magic subculture. Infectious, fascinating, and earnest, like all the best magic tricks. –KH [Note: The link goes to the hardback; the paperback is cheap POD that shames the good name of Henry Holt.]

Woman of Water (Film, South Korea, Kim Ki-young, 1979) To qualify for a land grant, a wounded Vietnam vet (Kim Chung-chul) marries a lonely young woman (Kim Ja-ok) whose shame over her speech impediment prevents her from speaking in public. Subtlety is for the weak in this scathing domestic melodrama with elements of rural noir.—RDL

Good

Buffaloed (Film, US, Tanya Wexler, 2020) Blue-collar hustler Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutsch) picks herself up after a prison sentence by climbing to the top of Buffalo’s debt collection racket. Manic wing-eating riff on The Wolf of Wall Street takes the easy way out too many times for me to give it a Recommendation, but Deutsch’s shining energy dominates the screen in a way that makes me wish for about a thousand more comedies — ideally comedies that decide whether they want to be screwball, caper, or social-problem pieces — she could run roughshod through. Also noteworthy for never condescending to Peg, and for Judy Greer’s terrific performance as Peg’s mom. –KH

Okay

Without Remorse (Film, US, Stefano Sollima, 2021) Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) pursues his wife’s killers and uncovers a nefarious plot. Literally none of this film’s story was surprising in any way (except that it’s surprising that a Taylor Sheridan script could be so dull), and very little of it was particularly thrilling. A seeming commitment to realism (which renders many of its gunfights murky) disintegrates when plot contrivances require it; Sollima wastes Jordan’s charisma by likewise enmeshing it in dim murk. The high point by far is Jónsi’s discordant score, which deserved a better movie. –KH

Not Recommended

Time to Hunt (Film, South Korea, Yoon Sung-Hyun, 2020) Trio of young small time crooks seeks to escape the hopelessness of an economic collapse by knocking off a gambling den, attracting the attention of a determined assassin who likes to toy with his prey. A brilliant formal device—action thriller scenes shot and edited with horror techniques—drowns in an undisciplined hodgepodge of a script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Q: Into the Storm & 30 Coins

April 27th, 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

30 Coins Season 1 (Television, Spain, HBO Europe, Álex de la Iglesia, 2021) Small town mayor (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and veterinarian (Megan Montaner) become reluctant occult investigators when demons, witches, and a Gnostic conspiracy pressure the weird new priest (Eduard Fernández) to surrender an unholy relic in his possession. Though its cosmology is pure horror Catholicism, the spirit, as befits the author of a recent Call of Cthulhu campaign, is weird pulp adventure, with Iglesia’s zest for big cinematic suspense beats, huge visual spaces, and actorly physicality cranked to the max.—RDL

Forbidden Science 2: California Hermetica, The Journals of Jacques Vallee 1970-1979 (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 2008) From the heart of the eliptonic 70s comes a motherlode of contemporary observations covering UFOlogy and those who spied on it, with an added ground zero view of the Silicon Valley revolution. What really surprised me is that the computer science projects that became the Internet didn’t just develop in parallel to the Bay Area’s occult, cult and psychic scene, but were absolutely intertwined with it.—RDL

I was going to class both of the above as Recommended, with a bump up if you’re into the subject matter, momentarily forgetting just which audience I was addressing.

Recommended

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, 2021) Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) clash with the government’s unsuitable new Captain America (Wyatt Russell) as they track the leader (Erin Kellyman) of a displaced persons terror group. The Captain America thread of MCU movies already took its structural cues from television, so it makes sense that this extension of it plays as an engaging gumbo of callbacks and serial elements. Then it succumbs to the emerging pattern of this wave of Marvel shows with a muddled finale, in this case one that fails to grapple with the implications of its sympathy for the antagonist.—RDL

Q: Into the Storm (Television, US, HBO, Cullen Hoback, 2021) Hoback explores the Q conspiracy theory with special attention to the creator of Q host site 8chan, Frederick Brennan, and its later owner and admin, Jim and Ron Watkins. By focusing on process (and on the question of Q’s identity) rather than hair-on-fire moral panicking, Hoback adds a measure of value and clarity to the discussion, while illuminating the consequences of this particular LARP gone amuck. –KH

Good

Love and Monsters (Film, US, Michael Matthews, 2020) Feeling useless in the underground bunker that protects his small community from a world of mutated beasties, a young man (Dylan O’Brien) decides to undertake the deadly overland journey to the bunker run by his high school girlfriend (Jessica Henwick.) Amiable, initially over-explanatory mash-up of A Quiet Place and Zombieland finds the emotional space for themes of isolation and survivor guilt. Wait a few years and you’ll be able to well actually people who confuse their dates and take this for an allegory of the pandemic.—RDL

Okay

The China Governess (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1962) Timothy Kinnit, adopted child of privilege, finds his elopement complicated by the question of his true parentage; Campion and Inspector Luke investigate the crimes seemingly connected to that question. The novel begins with its most interesting setting demolished by the Blitz, leaving a not-particularly-involving protagonist stuffily annoying his betrothed in the near-vacuum of his caricatured family. The murder, when it eventually happens, seems more like an afterthought than a consequence. –KH

HyperNormalisation (Film, UK, Adam Curtis, 2016) Tracks the rise of financialized government in the US and suicide bombing in the Middle East from 1975 to 2016, mildly hectoring politicians and cyber-utopians who avoid the complexities that both mask. Something of a dorm-room bong rip after a Poli Sci 102 class, Curtis’ neo-Situationist collage film avoids plenty of complexities in its own right despite spending nearly three hours talking. Curtis does find the time to express his distaste for Patti Smith, Jane Fonda’s aerobics, tween girls on Vine, and Kim Kardashian. –KH

Minari (Film, US, Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) Seeking a new start, dream-chasing immigrant dad (Steven Yeun) moves his wife and small kids to Arkansas to start a Korean vegetable farm. Visually and sonically pretty family drama uses a sudden melodramatic event to cheat its way to character resolution.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nobody, Another Round, Let Them All Talk

April 20th, 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.

Recommended

12 Hour Shift (Film, US, Brea Grant, 2020) Arkansas night nurse Mandy (Angela Bettis) hits an ever-mounting series of complications to her organ-legging sideline during the titular shift. Aiming for screwball neo-noir and achieving black situation comedy, Grant’s film never quite hits the savagely awful momentum it craves. But Bettis’ glowering performance (and the casting in general), along with effective lensing and a lively, jazzy score both by Matt Glass, power it across the Recommended line. –KH

Accident (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1967) Doom portends when an Oxford tutor (Dirk Bogarde) sublimates his desire for an aristocratic student (Jacqueline Sassard) by setting her up with an age-appropriate  suitor (MIchael York) and inviting them to spend time with his family. Subtly disturbing, stylized domestic drama written by Harold Pinter, based on a novel by Nicholas Mosley.—RDL

Another Round (Film, Denmark/Netherlands/Sweden, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020) High school history teacher Martin (a terrific, underplayed Mads Mikkelsen) and three fellow teachers (and sufferers of male midlife crises) impulsively decide to test the theory of philosopher Finn Skårderud that mankind suffers from a blood alcohol deficit. What the inevitable American remake will inevitably turn into a preachy message movie Vinterberg mixes into a full portrait of drinking: its alchemy, its mystery, its terrors and disasters, and finally its joys. –KH

Bacurau (Film, Brazil/France, Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles, 2020) Cut off by governmental indifference, a small Brazilian town discovers even worse things happening. Part social sci-fi, part anti-imperialist Western, a little bit magical realism, this movie exists to confound viewer expectations — among them, who precisely counts as a protagonist here (although that’s part of the explicit political point). The downside of this diffuse focus is very little in the way of character emerging, not counting the villainous Michael (Udo Kier, making his own gravy). –KH

Let Them All Talk (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2020) Aging literary lioness Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) inveigles her agency into paying for her (and her mere mortal friends Susan (Dianne Wiest) and Roberta (Candice Bergen))  to cross the Atlantic in the Queen Mary 2 to receive a UK literary prize. A somewhat improv script shot in two weeks during an actual ocean crossing, it can’t really compare with Soderbergh’s more polished pieces, but man it is such a delight to watch, part hangout film and part actors’ duel. –KH

Madeline’s Madeline (Film, US, Josephine Decker, 2018) Bright teen with serious mental health issues (Helena Howard) escapes from her anxiously protective mom (Miranda July) by joining an intense experimental theater troupe run by a charismatic director (Molly Parker) who may have boundary issues of her own. Jagged cutting and aggressive close-ups infuse this drama of personal discovery with nail-biting emotional peril.—RDL

Nobody (Film, US, Ilya Naishuller, 2021) A hapless home invasion attempt awakens the top-secret, ultraviolent past of a plodding, gray-faced family man (Bob Odenkirk.) Driven by a standout performance from Odenkirk as an unlikely killing machine, this tongue-in-cheek actioner delivers the cleverest, tightest variation on its classic premise since John Wick.—RDL

Tommaso (Film, Italy/US/Greece, Abel Ferrara, 2020) Film director Tommaso (Willem Dafoe), living in Rome with his much-younger wife Nikki (Cristina Chiriac), struggles with his past as an addict and with his present-day frustrations and temptations. Dafoe’s expressive face and movements, and Ferrara’s repeated intercuts of dreams, fantasies, imaginations, and temptations, illuminate the war within every man in this deep, slow dive into a broken soul. There is no closure, because to recovering addict (and Catholic) Ferrara, none exists in life, either. If there’s such a thing as slice-of-life unrealism, this is it. –KH

Good

Synchronic (Film, US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2020) New Orleans paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) pick up after the detritus wreaked by an experimental designer drug that unmoors the user in time. A strong high concept and winning performances on the one hand, Benson & Moorhead’s least oblique and least multidimensional (excuse the pun) script on the other. The oddly toothless nature of the threat wins the coin toss, dropping this to Good. –KH

Zombi Child (Film, France, Bertrand Bonello, 2020) At an exclusive girls’ boarding school, lovelorn Fanny (Louise Labeque) connects with Haitian girl Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat); their lives eventually intersect with the 1962 Clairvius Narcisse zombie case. Essentially missing a fourth act, it’s thus at heart an uncomplicated story of teen heartbreak and despair, which somewhat diminishes both its ostensible theme and its respectful and riveting exploration of Vodou. –KH

Not Recommended

The Belko Experiment (Film, US, Greg McLean, 2016) Employees in a remote office tower must kill one another to survive. Cruel slaughterfest guised as social commentary. Beware the scripts a writer-director, in this case James Gunn, hands off to someone else.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tulpa Investigation, Cubist Crime, and Dirty Energy Deeds

April 13th, 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.

Recommended

The Empty Man (Film, US, David Prior, 2020) Following a taut prologue in the mountains of Bhutan, we meet traumatized former cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale), investigating disappeared high-schooler Amanda (Sasha Frolova) and discovering the urban legend/cult of the Empty Man. Not quite as clever as it thinks it is (especially to anyone who was watching similar films in 1987, he said obliquely to avoid spoilers), but still very effective at deepening atmosphere and spiraling mystery. Prior repeatedly, ably deploys the shocking-but-not-jump-scare techniques of his mentor David Fincher to borderline Lovecraftian ends. Plus vanished Amanda wrote the word “tulpa” on a flyer so you know I recommend it. –KH

Hide My Eyes (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1958) Chief Inspector Luke suspects a killer operates from the London backwater of Garden Green; Campion agrees. After a riveting prologue, Allingham reveals the killer cubist-fashion from multiple perspectives over the course of one day’s investigation. Superbly constructed crime thriller with Allingham’s gifts for character and observation (especially of the grimier parts of London) tuned to perfect pitch.–KH

The Mattei Affair (Film, Italy, Francesco Rosi, 1973) Former partisan (Gian Maria Volontè) becomes a thorn in the side of colonialists and oil multinationals while running Italy’s nationalized energy company with hard-charging disregard for convention or political consequences. Polemical docudrama morphs into full on documentary as it examines Mattei’s aviation crash death, a likely assassination with a long list of suspects. What it doesn’t entirely spell out is that the journalist murdered by the Mafia while investigating the case was doing research for Rosi’s film!—RDL

Mississippi Grind (Film, US, Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, 2015) Woebegone gambling addict (Ben Mendelson) latches onto a poker road trip with a younger, more confident loser (Ryan Reynolds) as his ticket out of suffocating debt. Mendelson brings heartbreaking depth and sympathy to a character you’d back away from at top speed in real life, in this moody evocation of the American New Wave.—RDL

My Last Supper: One Meal, a Lifetime in the Making (Nonfiction, Jay Rayner, 2019) Using as a conceit the thought experiment of planning one’s final dinner, food critic Rayner examines foods from oysters to pork to the elusive Mont Blanc, with digressions autobiographical, musical and medical along the way.—RDL.

Slings & Arrows Season 3 (Television, Canada, The Movie Network, Susan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinney, 2006) Naive CFO Richard (Mark McKinney) turns into a monster when he gets a whiff of creative input; Geoffery (Paul Gross) coaxes a retired, mercurial Shakespearean (William Hutt) out of retirement to play Lear. The show goes out with a touching valedictory showcase for Hutt, a titan of the Canadian classical stage who almost never appeared on screen.—RDL

Good

The Beckoning Lady (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1955) Rusticating in Suffolk with eccentric friends, Campion suspects a recent murder is linked to another friend’s seemingly natural death. Allingham’s reach exceeds even her considerable grasp, as she attempts to cast a detective novel in the shadows of a Shakespearean comedy. Sporadic authorial attention to key emotional and plot beats, and a truly annoying supposedly sympathetic character, bounced me out of tune with the work even as Allingham’s descriptive and inventive gifts kept me eagerly turning pages. A near and beautiful miss from Recommended, but a miss all the same. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Hermetic Neighborhood, A Social Realist Vampire, and Bird Crime

April 6th, 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.

Recommended

Dancers in Mourning (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1937) Called to investigate a poison-prank campaign against revue star Jimmy Sutane, Campion finds himself in love with Sutane’s wife and increasingly convinced of Sutane’s guilt in a string of murders. Only someone as gifted at characterization and observation as Allingham could make a top-shelf mystery work around a detective who refuses to detect. Campion’s agonies refract marvellously in the cracked mirror of stage society. –KH

The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird (Nonfiction,  Joshua Hammer, 2020) Eccentric thrill-seeker Jeffrey Lendrum engages in multiple thefts of endangered falcon eggs around the world, allegedly for a high-ranking clients in the Gulf states; wildlife officers including Andy McWilliam of the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit try to shut him down. Acutely chosen digressions augment a tale rife with details too unbelievable to be untrue.—RDL

Hands Over the City (Film, Italy, Francesco Rosi, 1963) Neapolitan city councilor/real estate developer (Rod Steiger) schemes to retain his power base after a fatal accident at one of his building sites. Political procedural shot and staged with documentary realism depicts the famous paralysis of Italian bureaucracy as an enabler of corruption.—RDL

More Work for the Undertaker (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1948) Rather than ascend to the respectable governorship of an island colony, Campion allows himself to be drawn into investigating a poisoning in the weirdly hermetic neighborhood of Apron Street. It would not amaze me to learn that Christopher Fowler is a fan of this novel, given its heaps of urban strangeness and large cast of local oddballs. I hesitate to recommend it as a detective story, but as a weird near-Symbolist tour de force it has few equals in its time. –KH

Slings & Arrows Season 2 (Television, Canada, The Movie Network, Susan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinney, 2005) Geoffrey (Paul Gross) butts heads with a cocksure stage star (Geraint Wyn-Davies) who intends to play Macbeth as he has always played him; CFO Richard (Mark McKinney) falls into the clutches of a bizarro marketing agency. Strong sophomore season revolves around the boil and bubble of an all-too-classic directing roadblock.—RDL

The Transfiguration (Film, US, Michael O’Shea, 2016) Socially isolated high schooler (Eric Ruffin) who periodically leaves his Brooklyn housing project to commit vampire murders gets  close to the new girl (Chloe Levine) who moves in upstairs. Social realist vampire film focuses on moral horror over scares. If you’re wondering if the homage to Martin is intentional, the movie-obsessed protagonist cites it as his number one fave.—RDL

Good

News of the World (Film, US, Paul Greengrass, 2020) Traveling newspaper reciter (Tom Hanks) reluctantly agrees to take a young girl raised as a Kiowa to her German immigrant relatives. Greengrass adjusts his you-are-there immediacy to the classical form of the Hollywood western as Hanks likewise re-embraces the laconic simplicity of movie star acting.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Murder in the Gallery, Mesmeric Powers, and Fred Hampton

March 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.

Recommended

Death of a Ghost (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1934) Attending a showing of a dead artist’s work, Campion is on hand when a live artist is murdered. By turns charming, cutting, grim, clever, and finally suspenseful as hell, Allingham pulls out all the stops. Her keen social eye here catches the backward-looking fustiness of yesterday’s avant-gardes without (too much) mockery and with very real sympathy. –KH

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (Film, Kevin Rafferty, 2008) In a 1968 match-up that will reverberate in Ivy League sports history, the scrappy underdogs of Harvard (seriously) take on the cocky juggernaut that is the Yale team. Armed only with play-by-play footage and retrospective video interviews, this documentary performs the astounding, if temporary, feat of investing me in the world’s stupidest, most aggravating team game. Worth it simply to see what it looks like when Harvard player Tommy Lee Jones is interviewed on a subject he cares to talk about.—RDL

I am Not Sidney Poitier (Fiction, Percival Everett, 2009) Wealthy Black orphan named Not Sidney Poitier makes quasi-successful use of his mesmeric powers in a series of travails echoing the filmography of the beloved movie star he eerily resembles. Surreal coming-of-age picaresque features such hilarious oddball characters as media mogul Ted Turner and author/professor Percival Everett.—RDL

Judas and the Black Messiah (Film, US, Shaka King, 2021) Small time car heister (Lakeith Stanfield) becomes an infiltrator for an FBI operation to take down Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), head of Chicago’s Black Panther chapter. Tight, driven storytelling boils down a complicated story into something that plays more like a political thriller than a prestige biopic.—RDL

Slings & Arrows Season 1 (Television, Canada, The Movie Network, Susan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinney, 2003) Guided by the ghost of the mentor (Stephen Ouimette) whose betrayal steered him into a crack-up, an ex-actor (Paul Gross) steps in as acting artistic director of the New Burbage Shakespeare festival, directing a production of Hamlet featuring his ex (Martha Burns) and a young movie star (Luke Kirby.) Steeped in the lore of the Canadian stage, this comedic theatrical procedural gets character-driven laughs while genuinely digging into the process of Shakespearean interpretation. Also with Rachel McAdams, appearing about ten minutes before her own movie stardom.—RDL

Good

My Golden Days (Film, France, Arnaud Desplechin. 2015) Anthropologist returning to France after a long absence recalls his childhood conflict with his mother, a teen trip to Europe, and his tempestuous first love. The agonized intellectualism of its teen lovers (Quentin Dolmaire, Lou Roy-Lecollinet) partially obscures the usual flaws of the coming-of-age film: protagonists who lack agency and the perspective to really make choices.—RDL

Sweet Danger (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1933) Campion traces the heirs to a suddenly oil-rich Adriatic principality to rustic Essex just ahead of a tycoon who will stop at nothing. Also there is a treasure hunt and a warlock and a love story. Another ripping yarn with lashings of would-be Wodehouse, this might have worked better as a series of novelettes rather than the somewhat ungainly omelette it is. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Slacker Super, James Angleton, and Much More Campion

March 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.

Recommended

Coroner’s Pidgin (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1945) Home on leave during WWII, Campion must deal with the corpse in his bed and the imperious Lady Carados who put it there. Allingham derives the tension in this sleight-of-hand mystery (that also suddenly involves stolen art treasures) from class tension, and from the assumptions by the Carados set that nothing must throw suspicion on the golden John Carados. Seldom do red herrings and the social novel interlock so neatly, even if the mystery itself isn’t quite fair play. –KH

Flowers for the Judge (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1936) Publisher Paul Brande disappears, and Campion joins the search. By 1936 Allingham has a handle on her character and the skill to write a compelling mystery. She also continues to experiment with tone, meaning, and scope; this leads her to some pitfalls and some triumphs. This novel, on the other hand, remains a straightforward whodunit  raised to Recommended by Allingham’s greatest strengths: lapidary character touches and genuine portrayals of emotion. –KH

The Neighbor (Television, Spain, Netflix, Miguel Esteban & Raúl Navarro, 2020) A deceased galaxy guardian bequeaths his power pills and a ridiculous costume to a Madrid slacker (Quim Gutiérrez) who uses them to attempt to win back his reporter ex-girlfriend (Clara Lago.) Spoof of super tropes eschews CGI battles and suspense beats to stay within the confines of warm-hearted character-driven comedy.—RDL

Riot on Cell Block 11 (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1954) Convicts put their sympathetic warden between a rock and interference from the governor’s office when they seize control of the isolation block. Siegel supplies crime movie grit lends authenticity to a docudrama that lays the blame for a wave of prison rioting at the feet of politicians and the voters who support them.—RDL

Good

The Case of the Late Pig (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1937) When Campion reads the obituary of his school bully, he attends the funeral on a whim — and then gets asked to investigate his second death. The only first-person Campion owes more than a little bit to Wodehouse; alas the debt remains unpaid. I found it a little too remote and ungenerous: possibly allowing Campion to tell the story himself also allowed Allingham to yield to her lesser instincts without giving us truly enjoyable cruelty a la Edmund Crispin. –KH

One Night in Miami… (Film, US, Regina King, 2020) After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion, he and friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) gather at the motel room of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who hopes to engage them in a new phase of his activism. King makes an actors’ showcase out of Kemp Powers’ single-location debate play.—RDL

The Damned (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1963) A retired American executive (Macdonald Carey) and a restless young woman (Shirley Ann Field), chased by her pathologically possessive Teddy Boy brother (Oliver Reed) stumble into an experimental military facility housing a group of mysterious schoolchildren. Compelling oddity in the Hammer catalogue, shot in scope and high contrast black and white, shifts from existentialist/Freudian class struggle drama to nihilistic SF that follows in the wake of Village of the Damned. Also known as These Are the Damned.—RDL

Okay

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (Nonfiction, Jefferson Morley, 2017) Concise, prosecutorial biography covers Angleton’s notorious descent into mole-hunting paranoia, while taking a particular interest in his peculiar attitude toward the JFK assassination, as someone who both covered up the Agency’s awareness of Oswald before the killing, and believed that it was the result of a KGB conspiracy. The prose style arcs from sober to breathless. Ken’s time machine visit with Angleton appears in episode 167.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Promising Young Woman, Czech Allegorical Horror, and Much More Margery Allingham

March 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.

Recommended

The Chase (Film, US, Arthur Penn, 1966) Sardonic sheriff (Marlon Brando) tries to keep a lid on his powderkeg of an oil-rich Texas town when a prodigal son (Robert Redford) escapes from prison. Penn shows a mastery of the classical Hollywood form he will soon set about blowing up in this type specimen of the overheated 60s Southern melodrama. Based on a novel and play by Horton Foote, with screenplay by Lillian Hellman, and also starring Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, James Fox, and Miriam Hopkins.—RDL

The Fashion in Shrouds (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1938) When the lovers of actress Georgia Wells keep conveniently dying, Campion investigates. A better-than-average clockwork detection plot and a better-than-average Bright Young Things story converge ably here. Allingham’s increasing ambition to put crime into social (in this case, artistic society) context shows, mostly to the novel’s credit. –KH

Police at the Funeral (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1931) Investigating a disappearing uncle, Campion discovers a family murder plot afoot in a classic Old Dark House in Cambridge. A really fine mystery of its form, in which Campion is prevented from blithering by a magnificently domineering great-aunt. Allingham deploys the Gothic atmosphere even better than John Dickson Carr here, thanks to her superior character sense, although Carr would have given us a slightly tighter plot. –KH

Promising Young Woman (Film, US, Emerald Fennell, 2020) Coffee shop clerk (Carey Mulligan) who dropped out of med school after classmates sexually assaulted a friend pursues vengeance against predatory men. Fennell’s risk-taking script places its 70s exploitation premise on the narrow line between caustic satire and emotional authenticity, anchored by authoritative use of color and composition.—RDL

Tell Me Who I Am (Film, UK, Ed Perkins, 2019) Middle-aged twins grapple with the long-unaddressed fallout of one’s decision, after the other lost his memory at 18 in a motorcycle accident, to feed him a rosy, falsified narrative of their covertly horrific childhood. Perkins provides a searing yet controlled documentary environment for the subjects to finally stage a climactic confrontation.—RDL.

Traitor’s Purse (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1941) With only days to uncover a Nazi plot against Britain, Campion awakens in the hospital with amnesia. A likely influence on my favorite Graham Greene novel, somehow even more drenched with tension than that masterwork. Allingham said “the thriller proper is a work of art as delicate and precise as a sonnet,” and proves it here — only a strangely selfish character choice prevents me from elevating it to Pinnacle-hood. –KH

Good

Made You Look: A True Story of Fake Art (Film, Canada, Barry Avrich, 2020) In 2011, an FBI investigation and a series of lawsuits by angry collectors exposed a serial forger of American Abstract Expressionist paintings, beginning with a Rothko in 1995. This documentary centers on Ann Freedman, who bought the forgeries from the forger’s agent for a relative pittance and sold them for over $80 million through the venerable Knoedler Gallery, and does a fine job explicating the mess she got herself into. But it lets the art experts who overwhelmingly authenticated these works (by a pretty average Chinese copyist) for 16 years off the hook, and refuses to seriously interrogate their role in the wishcasting bubble that is the modern art market. –KH

Nowhere to Hide (Film, South Korea, Lee Myung-se, 1999) Violent cop (Joong-Hoon Park) and his young partner (Jang Dong-Gun) lead a grueling, prolonged manhunt for a wily mob assassin (Sung-Ki Ahn.) Hard-knuckled policier puts exuberant stylization first.—RDL

Wolf’s Hole (Film, Czechoslovakia, Věra Chytilová, 1987) A gaggle of high schoolers discover that the skiing retreat they’ve won exclusive tickets to is some kind of psychological experiment run by weird creeps. Allegorical satire of late Communism guised as a teens-in-peril horror.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mind Parasites, Classic Campion, and WandaVision

March 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.

Recommended

Mosul (Film, US, Matthew Michael Carnahan, 2020) Young Iraqi cop falls in with the Nineveh SWAT Team, the city’s notoriously effective anti-Daesh unit, as they push into Mosul’s lawless half to mop up their enemies before they complete their bug-out. Fly-on-the-wall squadron-level war film brings taut attention to the telling details of a singular conflict.—RDL

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society (Nonfiction, Kathleen McAuliffe, 2016) When dinner parties and cocktail receptions finally return, no one will have any anecdotes, so stock up in advance with tales of worms that get their original hosts eaten by new hosts, parasitic wasps who perform precision surgery on cockroaches, and the possibility that our most basic personality traits are dictated by the microbiota we are exposed to at birth. McAuliffe carefully notes which gobsmacking results are tentative and subject to revision (spoiler: most of them) without being a fun ruiner about it.—RDL

The Tiger in the Smoke (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1952) Campion investigates whether his cousin’s husband (presumed KIA at Normandy) has come back, while a killer is loose in the London fog. Allingham sidelines Campion a bit in this wider social thriller of postwar London, which literally climaxes with the meeting of Good and Evil. A series of vivid inventions and genuine insights alternate, creating a powerfully impressionist work that just falls short of Pinnacle status. –KH

WandaVision (Television, US , Disney+, Jac Schaeffer, 2021) After the death of her husband Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olsen) resurfaces in a surreal sitcom universe where the two of them live in apparent happily ever afterness. Infuses a familiar TV trope with real pathos, before proving that the movie and TV wings of the MCU have truly fused, with a conclusion that sets up more than it resolves.—RDL

Good

Look to the Lady (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1931) While trying to protect the ancestral chalice of the Gyrth family from a ring of millionaire art thieves, Campion solves the murder of the Gyrth heir’s aunt. Allingham called these early novels her “plum pudding” books, assembled any old which way out of anything tasty, and indeed this ripping yarn (barely a mystery) lives up to that lack of method. With Campion still an annoyingly empty parody of Peter Wimsey, only Allingham’s occasionally startling eye for character detail and emerging prose gift keep the book above the dreaded Okay line. –KH

Okay

Front Page Woman (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1935) Sweetheart reporters (Bette Davis, George Brent) connive and commit a variety of misdemeanors in an effort to out-scoop each other on a murder case. An example of that rare subgenre, the investigative rom com, in which the protagonists show a breezy disregard for ethics any RPG player character will recognize, and Michael Curtiz adds his characteristic zip to a dashed-off script.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (Film, UK, Michael Carreras, 1964) Vengeance from the ancient past threatens the archaeologists who allow their brash American sponsor to export a mummy for showbiz-style display. Few horror films get less interesting when the monster finally shows up, but in this lushly colored, star-free Hammer outing, the main interest lies in a script perpetually on the brink of waking up to its Orientalism.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: UFO Revelations, Werewolves, and an Occult Artist

March 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.

Recommended

The 11th Green (Film, US, Christopher Münch, 2020) His Air Force general father’s death leads alternative journalist Jeremy Rudd (Campbell Scott) to a decades-long UFO coverup. Talky and (perhaps purposefully) irresolute, with high concepts (such as astral conversations between Eisenhower and Obama) not quite realized, some viewers (such as those married to me) may consider it Good at best. But Scott’s natural, comfortable acting in increasingly unreal circumstances ballasts the funhouse boat through an at-times-enthralling deep state dark ride. –KH

My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Fiction, Ottessa Moshfegh, 2018) Aided by a financial cushion and a therapist whose freedom with the prescription pad borders on the shamanic, a young New York woman decides to spend the first year of the new century sleeping as many hours as physically possible. Sleepwalking becomes a metaphor for the death of Clinton-era innocence in the caustically funny story of a protagonist who goes rogue by pulling the covers over her head.—RDL

Pool of London (Film, UK, Basil Dearden, 1951) By striking a deal to sneak a package onto his docked ship, a brash American sailor (Bonar Colleano) unwittingly involves himself and his sensitive Jamaican shipmate (Earl Cameron) in the aftermath of a jewel heist gone wrong. Ensemble crime drama paints a detailed social portrait, including an ahead-of-its-time treatment of racism, without stinting on the thrills.—RDL

The Witch of Kings Cross (Film, Australia, Sonia Bible, 2020) Documentary profile of artist, polyandrist and Pagan sex magician Rosaleen Norton portrays her battles with cops and reporters in conservative 50s Australia as a harbinger of the counterculture. Its visual techniques, including extended sequences of interpretive dance, are outré by documentary standards but nowhere near as subversive as the subject’s actual work, shown extensively here. Our Norton segment appears in episode 307.—RDL

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Film, US, Jim Cummings, 2020) Small-town cop with anger issues John Marshall (Cummings) attempts to lead the investigation into a string of horrific murders during the full moon. Portraying Marshall’s broken-ness not just by dialogue and plot stress but by elliptical editing, the end result seems almost as if John Cassavetes made a werewolf movie, but had Douglas Sirk shoot it — Natalie Kingston’s superb cinematography revels in open spaces and truculent faces. Robert Forster is of course wonderful in his final role as Marshall’s ailing sheriff father. –KH

Good

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film, US, Chapman & Maclain Way, 2014) When his supporting gig on Bonanza runs out, actor Bing Russell starts up an independent ball team in the single-A league, sparking a real-life scrappy misfit underdog story. Talking heads include Bing’s son Kurt, who briefly played for the team between his Disney era and grown-up movie stardom.—RDL

Death Shadows (Film, Japan, Hideo Gosha, 1986) Geisha daughter of a criminal forced to serve as an undercover cop finds a use for her lethal acrobatic ribbon when she inherits over his mission to retrieve a document that incriminates a prominent clan. Samurai crime film features byzantine plotting and stylistic flourishes unthawed in time from the mod mid-60s.—RDL

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