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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spider-Mans, Spider-Mans (and Midsommar Too)

July 9th, 2019 | 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

Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World (Nonfiction, Gary Indiana, 2010) Critical, biographical and political examination of Warhol’s Soup Cans series as a pivot point in American culture, woven together with a novelist’s knack for narrative. Particularly strong on the cultural contrasts between the Abstract Expressionist claque and the pop artists who displaced them.—RDL

Frankenstein in Baghdad (Fiction, Ahmed Saadawi, 2013) During the American occupation of Baghdad, an antiques merchant, in an act of obscure protest, sews together a corpse from the parts of many car bomb victims, only to see it animate into a superhuman avenger. Magic realist ensemble novel uses horror imagery to map the bloody chaos spiral of the post-invasion period.—RDL

Midsommar (Film, US/Sweden, Ari Aster, 2019) Reeling from personal tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) accompanies her weaksauce boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a once-a-lifetime midsummer festival in remotest Sweden. Aster’s bag of camera tricks doesn’t quite compensate for a third act that mistakes inevitability for momentum, but Pugh’s committed, powerful acting and Bobby Krlic’s score carry this Sweaboo Wicker Man home. –KH

Shrill Season 1 (Television, US, Alexandra Rushfield, 2019) Novice reporter at a Portland alt weekly (Aidy Bryant) learns to stick up for herself while dealing with an emotionally maladroit almost-boyfriend (Luka Jones) and fat-shaming editor (John Cameron Mitchell, playing a fictionalized Dan Savage.) Dramedy gives Bryant a chance to shine in a sustained performance as a fully realized character; Jones achieves new dimensions in comic gormlessness.—RDL

The Souvenir (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2019) Privileged film student (Honor Swinton Byrne), lacking the radar to sense that something is amiss, becomes embroiled with a languorous, sophisticated older man (Tom Burke.) Elliptical autobiographical drama observed with a quiet lushness, centred by Swinton Byrne’s breakout performance.—RDL

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) A new threat brings Tony Stark’s reluctant successor Peter Parker (Tom Holland) back into action with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie has so much lumber to clear from previous films that it’s a small miracle it succeeds as well as it does, despite mostly abandoning the frothy teen movie-superhero flick blend of its precursor. Holland’s charm and an extremely cool fight scene keep it up there and swinging. –KH

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijacks Peter Parker (Tom Holland) from the European class trip where he hopes to woo MJ (Zendaya), enlisting him in a battle against elementals waged by bubble-helmeted warrior Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal.) Light-hearted super-romp plays as the cinematic version of a regular comic book yanking itself back on track after the disruptions of a massive crossover event.—RDL

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, 2018) Reluctant magnet school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) succeeds the deceased Peter Parker as Spider-Man and teams with extra-dimensional counterparts to save the multiverse from Kingpin’s reality-shattering machine. A companion piece in deep-dive nerdery and bullet-train pacing to the Lord & MIller producing team’s Lego Batman, but with heart instead of gags.—RDL

Good

A Legacy of Spies (Fiction, John LeCarré, 2017) The Circus drags an aged Peter Guillam out of retirement to hang the 1962 deaths of Alec Leamas and Liz Gold on him, in this prequel-sequel to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Although LeCarré remains effortless reading, this is not his strongest plot by any stretch, and at the end the book just deflates. I should ding it another rank for putting a piece of arrant sloganeering into the mouth of George Smiley of all people. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bukowski Without the Sentimentality

July 2nd, 2019 | Robin

The Pinnacle

And Hope To Die (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1972) On the run from mysterious knifemen, a chameleonic pilot (Jean-Louis Trigtinant) becomes first the prisoner and then the accomplice of a heist gang led by a hardbitten mastermind (Robert Ryan.) Ineffably compelling, culturally displaced hangout movie escalates into a romantic fatalism that wouldn’t be out of place in a heroic bloodshed flick. Based on the David Goodis novel The Burglar and set in and around Montreal.—RDL

Recommended

Filmworker (Film, US, Tony Zierra, 2017) Documentary portrait of Leon Vitali, who after an unforgettable performance as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, gave up acting to serve as indispensable factotum to Stanley Kubrick. Tale of epic self-sacrifice to another’s vision rendered all the more fascinating by its subject’s cheery refusal to feel the regrets everyone else has on his behalf.—RDL

Fleabag Season 1 (Television, UK, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2016) Struggling cafe owner (Waller-Bridge) cycles through variously unfortunate men and tries to patch up her shaky relationship with her control freak sister (Sian Clifford) and distant dad (Bill Paterson.) Bruisingly funny dramedy employs direct address to establish sympathy for its anti-heroine and complicity with her messed-up decisions.—RDL

The Moon in the Gutter (Fiction, David Goodis, 1953) Stevedore scarred by his sister’s suicide is pulled between two women, his brutish almost-step-sister and a stylish pursuer from the right side of the tracks. Literary fiction with noir overtones radiates heat, blood, and booze sweat. Bukowski without the sentimentality.—RDL

Good

The Fate of the Furious (Film, US, F. Gary Gray, 2017) In a turn smacking of a need to separate openly feuding cast members, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue, turning his back on family, to assist blond-dreadlocked cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) in a nuke acquisition scheme. Dials back from the last installment’s inspired lunacy to routine lunacy, leaving the chief pleasure Theron’s measured downplaying of the exposition and protagonist psychoanalysis that comprise her role.—RDL

Night at the Crossroads (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1932) Inspector Maigret (Philippe Renoir) dodges the advances of a lissome suspect (Winna Winifred) as he investigates the shotgun slaying of a jewel merchant at a lonely crossroads. Renoir’s uses a Simenon novel as a vehicle for social observation and his pioneering location work.—RDL

Triple Frontier (Film, US, J.C. Chandor, 2019) Tempted by ringleader Pope (Oscar Isaac) and led by old dog Redfly (Ben Affleck), five former Special Ops soldiers team up for one last job — to murder and rob a South American narcotraficante. Of course, the heist turns out to be more complicated, and the getaway more brutal, than the plan in this update of Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the post-Black Hawk Down era. Disasterpeace (with Lars Ulrich on drums) contributes an interesting score, when the movie bothers to let you hear it. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spies, Zombies and Financial Criminals

June 25th, 2019 | 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

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (Nonfiction, Sheelah Kolhatkar, 2017) FBI and SEC investigators pursue an insider trading case against obsessive hedge fund mogul, whose company structure seems engineered for endemic hanky-panky. Riveting legal/financial procedural where the crime scenes are email servers.—RDL

Craig’s Wife (Film, US, Dorothy Arzner, 1936) Compulsively controlling woman (Rosalind Russell) tips her besotted husband (John Boles) to her subtly abusive behavior after he becomes a tangential witness in a criminal case. Arzner’s flair for incisive observation of unconventional characters animates this family melodrama, which if remade today would psychologize the heroine’s tragic flaw.—RDL

The Dead Don’t Die (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2019) When the dead rise in Pennsylvania, the Centerville Police Department (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny) cannot hold. Jarmusch takes a rare turn into nihilism with this deliberately down-beat, beautiful comedy; to see him produce rhythm and signifiers without meaning is scarier than anything in the film itself. –KH

Killing Eve Season 2 (Television, UK, Emerald Fennell, 2019) Villanelle’s new freelance gig leads her to an espionage-op team up with crush object Eve, but you can’t take the murder out of the murdergirl. The series premise clarifies itself from cat-and-mouse to Silence of the Lambs minus horror plus spies, romance and fashion. Though cheerfully upfront about its idiot plotting, sticklers on that front may downgrade it a notch or two.—RDL

The Little Drummer Girl (Television, UK, BBC, Park Chan-Wook, 2018) Recruited by Mossad in the person of handler Gadi (Alexander Skarsgård), English actress Charlie (Florence Pugh) rewrites her past and infiltrates a Palestinian terrorist cell in 1979 Europe. Weird core story about the fluidity of personhood peeks out of this Le Carré spy policier (espionier?) but the real stars are Michael Shannon’s blustery spymaster Kurtz and Park’s Seventies-adoring location scout. –KH

The Problem of the Green Capsule (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1939) Dr. Fell and Inspector Elliott grapple with a poisoning, one deliberately filmed by the victim. All Carr’s gifts for plot, puzzle, and creepy atmosphere connect here; the only thing missing is a locked room.–KH

Good

Through the Stars By Hard Ways (Film, Russia, Richard and Nikolay Viktorov, 1981) After an experimental sojourn on Earth with a host family of scientists, an orphaned alien artificial human (Yelena Metyolkina) accompanies an interstellar rescue mission. Often eerie, occasionally goofy adaptation of a Kir Bulychev story affords the chance to see stock space opera elements filtered through the distinct and now-vanished aesthetic of Soviet SF. AKA Through the Thorns to the Stars, Per Aspera Ad Astra, or Humanoid Woman.—RDL

WTF

The Apple (Film, US/West Germany, Menahem Golan, 1980) In the dystopic future of 1994, where Canadians enter the Eurovision Song Contest, a Mephistophelean empresario lures the female half of a romantic singing duo into decadent stardom. Rock musical passion project from the producer of Cobra, Cyborg and The Delta Force takes as its seeming thesis that Rocky Horror should have been three times gayer yet also a painfully sincere Biblical allegory. Legendary cult film, staged with the utter confidence in gobsmackingly awful material that comes only from owning a mini-studio.—RDL

Not Recommended

Jessica Jones Season 3 (Television, US, Melissa Rosenberg, 2019) As Jessica (Kristen Ritter) runs afoul of a serial killer (Jeremy Bobb), Patsy (Rachael Taylor) completes her transformation into a violent masked vigilante. Rife with skewed emotional logic, the show’s final season–at Netflix, anyway–curdles into sourness and cruelty.—RDL

Wine Country (Film, US, Amy Poehler, 2019) A troupe of longtime pals (Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell & Emily Spivey) descends on Napa Valley to celebrate a 50th birthday and renew old bonds. Cast of killer SNL alums struggle to energize a script without a compelling comic premise or much in the way of jokes.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Critics are Wrong About The Dead Don’t Die, Which is Why You Rely On Us

June 18th, 2019 | 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

The Dead Don’t Die (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2019) Small town cops (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny) try to keep it together when polar fracking unleashes a global zombie epidemic. In the future, if we have one, this deceptively ramshackle zom-com will be recognized as an essential document of the first-stage Trump era.—RDL

Recommended

Barry Season 2 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2019) Assassin-turned-acting student (Hader) tries to cleave to the latter and forget the former, but his ex-partner (Stephen Root) and gregarious Chechen client (Anthony Carrigan) have other ideas. As second seasons that live up to a great debut grow rarer, this drives deeper  into bananastown while still maintaining its balance between laughs and moral horror.—RDL

Bolshoi Babylon (Film, UK, Nick Read, 2015) Documentary goes behind the scenes at Russia’s mythically central Bolshoi Ballet Theater in the aftermath of an incident in which one of its dancers ordered an acid attack on its artistic director. It sounds odd to say this about a documentary, but this does a lot of early, methodical worldbuilding to contextualize its fly-on-the-wall institutional power struggle.—RDL

Justified Season 1 (Television, US, FX, Graham Yost, 2010) Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) receives an unwelcome transfer to his Kentucky stomping grounds, where he navigates between his ex-wife (Natalie Zea) and a witness he shouldn’t be sleeping with (Joelle Carter) and contends with the hillbilly mafia. Police procedural partners up with the contemporary western, with fine black hattery from Walton Goggins and M. C. Gainey.—RDL

Salt Fat Acid Heat (Television, Netflix, Samin Nosrat, 2018) Chef Nosrat travels the world explicating the four core concepts of cooking, generally with two or three dishes cooked in between excitement at a salt pan or olive grove. Nosrat’s educitement is infectious, and there’s nothing more deeply lush than food documentary vegetable photography. Also, she’s right about the salt, people. –KH

Good

Gonza the Spearman (Film, Japan, Masahiro Shinoda, 1985)  In an era where years of internal peace have tightened the social constraints on samurai, a marriage negotiation gone awry brings dishonor and doom to a rising court attendant and the wife of his mentor. Stately adaptation of a 17th century kabuki drama is your reference point if you’re looking for a clear cinematic explication of the tea ceremony in its political context. Suffers from a notably egregious case of that longstanding bane of the samurai genre, Unconvincing Bald Cap Syndrome.—RDL

Roughly Speaking (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1945) Determined New Englander (Rosalind Russell), her brood of kids and her ex-pilot second husband (Jack Carson) push through the wild ups and downs of early 20th century American life. Curtiz’s mastery of momentum finds a cohesion few other directors would manage in this episodic memoir adaptation.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fantasy Heartbreaker and a Golden Bough Mystery

June 11th, 2019 | 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

Leave No Trace (Film, US, Debra Granik, 2018) Traumatized veteran (Ben Foster) tries to keep his thirteen year old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) by his side as he lives the nomadic, forest-dwelling existence that will hold any other contact with society at bay. Exquisitely shot, perfectly modulated naturalistic drama featuring the expected brilliant performance from Foster and a revelatory one from McKenzie.—RDL

Recommended

Archipelago (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2010) A stay in a holiday rental home in the Scilly Isles becomes the stage for sublimated conflict between a passive-aggressive mom (Kate Fahy) and her  painfully empathetic son (Tom Hiddleston) and brittle daughter (Lydia Leonard). Minimalist inquiry into the exquisite torment of upper class English interpersonal communication.—RDL

Death by Water (Fiction, Kenzaburo Oe, 2009) Encouraged by an experimental theater troupe, an aging novelist investigates his father’s long-ago drowning death, only to find that a trunk supposedly full of crucial documents contains nothing more remarkable than three volumes of The Golden Bough. Discursive, autobiographical novel of repressed family turmoil and dark political undercurrents.—RDL

Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker (Comics, Image, Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans, 2019) After barely returning from a fantasy world years ago, an RPG group finds themselves once more in the gameworld of Die. Gillen somehow makes the oldest, tiredest story in fantasy both fresh and original, while staying true to the dynamics of game groups and adulthood. Hans’ art provides both wonder and terror. –KH [Gillen has also released a beta version of the RPG of his comic]

The Judas Window (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1938) When Avory Hume is found dead in a locked room with an arrow in his chest, Sir Henry Merrivale defends the man found in the room with him in court. Carr takes the unusual step of telling almost the whole story through court transcripts, which has the salutary effect of taming the self-indulgent Sir Henry and allowing evidence for the defense to legitimately appear as a surprise. –KH

The South vs. The South (Nonfiction, William W. Freehling, 2001) Only half the South fought for the Confederacy — the other half (border-state whites and Southern blacks) fought for the Union. Freehling argues that the rifle’s defensive advantage counterbalanced the Union’s railroad advantage, leaving a war of numbers that only half the South could never win. –KH

Under the Silver Lake (Film, US, David Robert Mitchell, 2019) Skeevy layabout Sam (Andrew Garfield) passes through the LA looking glass when a blonde he liked (Riley Keough) disappears. Beautifully shot existential slacker daylight-noir conspiracy film plays wonderfully with Garfield’s slack uselessness and with the inherent weirdness of LA; the heavy-noir score by Disasterspace kills as well. With a better ending, it would achieve Pinnacle; as it is, it will achieve hipster cult status, deservedly. –KH

Good

Around the World in 80 Days (Film, US, Michael Anderson, 1956) Phileas Fogg (David Niven) and his valet Passepartout (the superb Cantinflas) set out to win a circumnavigatory wager. Part of the old school of cinema as magic-lantern show and ViewMaster, this film mostly shows off landscapes and cameos by old school actors to the detriment of pacing or tension. However, it is gorgeous and remarkably faithful (modulo a balloon ride) to the Verne novel. –KH

Two-Faced Woman (Film, US, George Cukor, 1941) Clean-living ski instructor (Greta Garbo) fears she’s losing her new magazine mogul husband (Melvyn Douglas), so she goes to New York to get him and naturally winds up posing as her nonexistent, gold-digging twin sister. Late-cycle screwball comedy reteaming the leads from Ninotchka runs entirely on their charm, bolstered by classic studio glamor cinematography.—RDL

Okay

Jubal (Film, US, Delmer Daves, 1956) Rootless cowhand (Glenn Ford) signs on with a good-hearted but oafish rancher (Ernest Borgnine) whose wife (Valerie French) fixes him in her wandering gaze. Western tropes make way for 50s psychosexual melodrama. Marred by a deeply mannered performance from Rod Steiger as an antagonistic ranch hand.—RDL

Trapped Season 1 (Television, Iceland, Baltasar Kormakur, 2015) The washing up of a limbless torso roils a small Icelandic fishing town socked in by a storm, leaving the police chief (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) a former Reykjavik hotshot, to handle a high-profile murder case aided only by his local staff. Sober Nordic crime drama keeps its intrigue (with a key exception) in the realm of the real, though perhaps not without a payoff worth a 10 hour runtime.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hollywood Kaiju and Genre-Shifting Reality Horror

June 4th, 2019 | 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

The Perfection (Film, US, Richard Shepherd, 2019) Former cellist (Allison Williams) hooks up with the superstar graduate (Logan Browning) of the music academy she once attended, triggering a spiral of hallucination, betrayal, and revenge. Chameleonic piece of neo-midnight cinema finds and as quickly discards assured takes on multiple sub-genres, from erotic thriller to body horror to reality horror and beyond.—RDL

Recommended

The Arabian Nights Murder (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1936) Three policemen describe their investigations of a murder in a museum to Dr. Fell, each man’s story simultaneously explaining and further mystifying the previous version. Something of a tour de force of nested narratives and variant viewpoints (especially for 1936) sees Carr playing with tone from Machen to Wilde to Sayers until Dr. Fell disproves them all, of course. –KH

Asako I & II (Japan, Ryusuke Hamaguchi) Reserved coffee shop clerk avoids telling her new boyfriend that he’s a dead ringer for her swoon-worthy first love, who up and vanished on her two and a half years ago. Truffautesque comedy-drama manages something even rarer than a successful tone shift—a subtle successful tone shift.—RDL Seen at TIFF ‘18; now in theatrical release.

Fosse/Verdon (Television, US, FX, Steven Levinson and Thomas Kail, 2019) Bio-miniseries dramatizes the creative collaborations and tumultuous personal relationship of dancer/actress Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams) and choreographer/director Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell). Expository needs give this a rocky start, and it fades whenever it falls under the shadow of All That Jazz, but Williams’ stunning embodiment of Verdon compensates for any imperfections.—RDL

A Quiet Life (Film, Japan, Juzo Itami, 1995) High schooler left to care for her mentally disabled brother while her parents stay abroad befriends a man whose volunteer swim coaching conceals a sinister motive. Episodic, deceptively simple confrontation between innocence and darkness, based on autobiographical short stories of Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Literature Prize and the director’s brother-in-law.—RDL

Good

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Film, US, Michael Dougherty, 2019) Eco-terrorists unleash King Ghidorah and a pack of kaiju to cleanse the Earth of humanity, and only Godzilla stands in their way. Remarkably true to the fantastic Toho spirit, despite inducting Godzilla (basically) into the Natty Bumppo-Rambo tradition of wild American warriors and (mostly) wasting Millie Bobby Brown and Zhang Ziyi. The monster fights are Recommended. –KH

To Wake the Dead (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1937) Gideon Fell solves a pair of murders linked by a killer in a hotel uniform — but only one of the murders happened in a hotel. Carr rockets the plot along in this one, keeping plenty of surprises in stock despite explaining the “impossible” part halfway through. Unfortunately, one of the surprises is that unusually for Carr, the motive doesn’t make sense and the method involves a bit of a cheat. Still enjoyable but not his usual triumph. –KH

Okay

Upgrade (Film, US, Leigh Whannell, 2018) An illicit chip implant restores a paralyzed auto mechanic’s ability to move, investing him with the computer power and killing reflexes needed to track down the men who murdered his wife. The best visual and kinetic portrayal of cyberpunk implants committed to film so far. Too bad about the stock characters and situations.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Gunslingers Old and New

May 28th, 2019 | 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 Flash Season 5 (Television, US, CW, Todd Helbing, 2018-2019) Barry and Iris adjust to having an adult superhero daughter from the future (Jessica Parker Kennedy) as they hunt the metahuman-murdering Cicada. Some early awkward schtick aside, this season locks into the series tone early and stays in it, lobbing in a few twists on the Big Bad trope along the way.—RDL

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Film, US, Alex Gibney, 2019) Armed with copious behind-the-scenes footage, documentary recounts the story of fraudulent Silicon Valley blood-testing company Theranos and its heartstring-tugging, oddball CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. The film shines in its character study of Holmes, showing the spell a fragile, self-caricurating personality can cast on hosts of putatively smart, high-status people.—RDL

Mission Impossible: Fallout (Film, US, Christopher McQuarrie, 2018) Ethan and crew hunt plutonium bomb cores stolen by an old nemesis’ apostles. Demonstrates a deep understanding of iconic hero storytelling, drawing its thrills and twists strictly from the franchise’s core elements.—RDL

Our Betters (Film, US, George Cukor, 1933) Wising up fast after a British Lord marries her for her money, an American heiress (Constance Bennett) becomes a dominating force in the social scene. Most filmed stage adaptations date terribly, but Cukor’s legendary ability to modulate actors’ performances finds the humanity behind the characters’ archness. Original by Somerset Maugham.—RDL

The Villainess (Film, Jeong Byeong-Gil, South Korea, 2017) Trained killer for the Yanbian crime syndicate Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) gets a second life — as a trained killer for the Korean government, but her past (Shin Ha-kyun) comes back hard. The trail of hyperviolent action and reaction (and the themes of agency and its loss) connects an almost-too-fractured narrative. A double La Femme Nikita adds up to another triumph for South Korean action cinema. –KH

Good

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 4 (Television, US, CW, Phil Klemmer, 2018-2019) The crew’s new mission to capture escaped supernatural creatures dovetails with Constantine’s struggle against a vengeful demon. Cheerfully digs into its grab-bag nature, being somehow a show mostly devoted to goofball comedy that somehow also has a credible version of John Constantine in it.—RDL

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (Film, US, Chad Stahelski, 2019) Now “excommunicado” and an open target for New York’s zillion assassins, super-killer John Wick (Keanu Reeves) attempts to escape long enough to atone for his crime. Blessed by another clutch of superb action scenes, honoring everyone from the Shaw Brothers to Sergio Leone, production-designed to a glorious fare-thee-well by Kevin Kavanaugh — it’s still an essentially pointless side quest. –KH

The Left-Handed Gun (Film, US, Arthur Penn, 1958) Young gunfighter William Bonney (Paul Newman) avenges the death of his boss but alienates his friend Pat Garrett (John Dehner). Gore Vidal’s source teleplay attempts to depict Billy the Kid as a holy fool, but as filmed we get more of a manchild sociopath; both Vidal and Penn mix in a hearty dose of sublimated homosexuality to boot. Still worth watching as psychological document, and as early Paul Newman. –KH

Origin Story (Film, US, Kulap Vilaysack, 2019) Decades after learning of his existence in a childhood argument with her mother, comedy producer and podcaster Vilaysack goes to Laos in search of her biological father. Despite a few strained narrative devices, the emotional layers of its journey into familial truth resonate deeply.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Somebody Just Wanted the Heck Outta Dubrovnik

May 21st, 2019 | 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

Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (Nonfiction, Priyamvada Natarajan, 2016) Astrophysicist surveys the discoveries that upended the field, from the heliocentric solar system to the expanding universe, black holes, dark matter, universal acceleration and beyond. Illuminates not only these key concepts, but the changes in the structures of institutions of science that determine the speed with which new understandings are dismissed or adopted.—RDL

Men in War (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1957) Weary lieutenant (Robert Ryan) attempting to get his dwindling platoon back to base commandeers the Jeep a brutally savvy sergeant (Aldo Ray) is using to drive his catatonic Colonel. Spare, fatalistic war drama shares a hardboiled spirit with Mann’s westerns.—RDL

The Rider (Film, US, Chloe Zhao, 2017) A severe head injury leaves a young Lakota rodeo rider (Brady Jandreau) wondering if he can continue in the sport he defines himself around. Gorgeously shot, perfectly modulated slice-of-life drama features a cast of community members as versions of themselves.—RDL

Viva (Film, US, Anna Biller, 2007) Frustrated housewife seeks (Biller) sexual adventure after her husband storms out on her, leading to encounters with a succession of skeevy lotharios.  Satirical feminist script-flipping of early 70s sexploitation flicks commits utterly to its stylistic pastiche, from zowie color palette to lovingly sly set decoration to period-specific stilted line delivery.—RDL

Good

Castle Skull (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1931) Detective Henri Bencolin arrives at Castle Skull, where actor Myron Allison has been burned alive. Early Carr attempts something like a “cozy Gothic” and unsurprisingly hits the rocks between the two subgenres. Flashes of brilliance and grue foreshadow Carr’s genius, though. –KH

Heaven’s Gate Director’s Cut (Film, US, Michael Cimino, 1980/2012) As wealthy cattle magnates in 1890s Wyoming organize death squads to wipe out recent immigrants, a town sheriff with patrician roots (Kris Kristofferson) and a rustler-killing ranch foreman (Christopher Walken) vie for the independence-minded brothel proprietor (Isabelle Huppert) who loves them both. In its restored, director-approved form, the film whose commercial failure killed the American New Wave registers as neither bomb nor masterpiece, but a grandiose and almost oppressively beautiful visual work bogged down by its inability to compress any scene.—RDL

Okay

Arrow (Television, US, CW, Beth Schwartz, 2018-2019) A stint in prison for Oliver and flashes of Star City’s grim future provide the backdrop for a new challenge to the Queen legacy from a copycat archer. Arrow’s core formula, with its time-jumping structure and tortured hero is tougher to reiterate than most, as this effort to throw new genres into the mix demonstrates.—RDL

The Mischief Makers (Fiction, William Haggard, 1982) The Security Executive calls in retired Colonel Russell to consult on a load of Algerian weapons and a brewing race riot. Haggard gets his head back around the plot, and one or two characters show the old flash, but the author is tired and lets his politics drive story once or four times too often. –KH

Ire-Inspiring

Game of Thrones Season 8 (Television, US, HBO, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, 2019) The Daenerys/Northern Alliance decides the fate of Westeros in final battles against the Night King and Cersei. The question posed by the final season was whether the show would disappoint by sticking to its original revisionist ethos, or by turning suddenly aspirational. Gobsmackingly, it to splits the difference and does both! Misconceived ideas, ill executed.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Grayscale Martial Arts, a Teenage Witch, and the Roots of Cinematic Criminal Profiling

May 14th, 2019 | 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 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, 2019) Sabrina’s full-time attendance at the Academy puts her on a collision course with High Priest Blackwood and his plans to remake the Church of Night in his misogynistic image. In an age of binge shows that sag in the middle, this provides a model in which discrete episodes with beginnings, middles and ends steadily escalate an overall story arc.—RDL

Shadow (Film, China, Zhang Yimou, 2019) In legendary China (vaguely based on the Three Kingdoms era), a wounded swordsman trains and manipulates his double (both Deng Chao) to reclaim a prize city and defeat an unworthy king (Zheng Kai). Sheerly gorgeous production design and fight choreography more than justify simplistic characters and arbitrary plotting. –KH

The Sniper (Film, US, Edward Dmytryk, 1952) Self-loathing misogynist (Arthur Franz) targets women in a serial shooting spree, stymying San Francisco police. Establishing a pattern that we now consider a staple, this disturbing crime drama focuses on realistic criminal pathology, with results appallingly relevant to the present.—RDL

The Train (Film, US, John Frankenheimer, 1963) As the Allies approach Paris, a railway station manager covertly working for the Resistance (Burt Lancaster) reluctantly spearheads an effort to stop a culture-loving German colonel (Paul Scofield) from shipping a train full of modern art masterpieces to Berlin. High-contrast black and white lends grim weight to this taut wartime procedural thriller.—RDL

Good

The Fate of Lee Khan (Film, HK, King Hu, 1973) Rebels against the Yuan Dynasty set up an inn on the borderlands to steal a military map from a royal official. Mostly intrigue and on a single set, leading to a big final battle, featuring Hu’s classicism if not his sublimity. Recycles the premise of  Hu’s Dragon Inn (1967.) Newly restored.—RDL

The Killer Collective (Fiction, Barry Eisler, 2019) Mostly retired assassin John Rain assembles his allies to help fellow Eisler protagonist and Seattle cop Livia Lone break open a very protected child porn ring. Do too many badasses spoil the soup? The thriller beats are all there with a couple of good ambushes to boot, but the core John Rain pleasure — the expert, detailed hit — is missing. –KH

Okay

Raw (Film, France, Julia Ducournau, 2017) Brilliant student’s first year at a veterinary college is marred by intensive hazing of freshman and her descent from vegetarianism to a hunger for human flesh. Absolutely brilliant in its intense and disturbing imagery—until, like so many European genre exercises, it has no third act, instead concluding with an abrupt twist that invalidates everything that precedes it.—RDL

Sorceress (Film, France, Pamela Berger and Suzanne Schiffman, 1987) Dispatched to a small village to hunt heretics, a 13th century friar (Tchéky Karyo) fixates on the local supplier of healing herbs (Christine Boisson.) Gentle moral fable’s attempts to evoke historical authenticity founder on its misconceptions of medieval witch- and heretic-hunting.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Black and White and Red All Over

May 7th, 2019 | 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

Shadow (Film, China, Zhang Yimou, 2019) In defiance of his king (Zheng Kai), a commoner (Deng Chao) trained to pose as a secretly wounded general prepares for deadly and politically destabilizing duel. Stately court intrigue lays the groundwork for stunningly executed, outlandish action. Stunning grayscale production design, with some red showing up at the end for obvious reasons. —RDL Seen at TIFF’18; now in North American theatrical release.

Recommended

Avengers: Endgame (Film, US, Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019) The Avengers, et al. (Robert Downey Jr., et al.) attempt to reverse Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) destruction of half the life in the universe. In a film longer, but less draggy, than Infinity War, the Russos deploy effective character beats to (mostly) successfully (mostly) land character and story arcs from 21 earlier films. With no great fight scenes and an only somewhat-better-than-average CGI battle, the film still works on its own terms. Recommended for fans of the MCU, which let’s face it, we all are. –KH

Avengers: Endgame (Film, US, Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019) Earth’s remaining superheroes, plus a spare alien or two, look for ways to undo Thanos’ elimination of half the universe’s population. Less a film than three very different, ultra-expensive TV shows laid end to end, this delivers valedictory character moments amid a recursive meta-commentary on the uber-franchise it putatively concludes.—RDL

The Founder (Film, US, John Lee Hancock, 2016) Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) discovers the McDonalds (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and takes their fast food system national. Terrific acting by Keaton, Offerman, and Lynch pull this tale of “greed makes good” up from mere biopic to something closer to the gangster film. Still a little messy, but with the kinds of flaws that wind up adding wrinkles rather than ruining story. –KH

The Human Factor (Fiction, Graham Greene, 1978) A mole hunt closes in on an MI6 Africa analyst compromised by his past as a field agent in Apartheid-era South Africa. Character-driven spy thriller remains firmly in the realm of the plausible .—RDL

Non-Fiction (Film, France, Olivier Assayas, 2019) Shop talk and debate about the digital future of the book industry act as the text for a publisher (Guillaume Canet), his wife (Juliette Binoche) a novelist (Vincent Macaigne), and their circle, with infidelity the subtext. Affectionate satire of the intelligentsia is formally conventional except for one factor—having its people talk about the things they would actually talk about.—RDL Seen at TIFF’18; now in North American theatrical release.

The Sorceress of the Strand (Fiction, L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, 1903) The brilliant beautifier, Madame Sara, plots murder and theft in six short stories. Conventional Edwardian prose (and dull detectives) can’t obscure the superb femme fatale villain or her ingenious plots. A quick, delightful read. –KH

Supernatural Season 14 (Television, US, CW, Andrew Dabb & Robert Singer, 2018-2019) As Sam Dean battle the sinister alternate-world archangel Michael, something is up with their nephilim ward Jack. The penultimate season of genre TV’s marathon running show summons a fresh, double switcheroo to vary its structural template.—RDL

A Quiet Place (Film, US, John Krasinski, 2018) In the wake of a monsterpocalypse, a man (Krasinski) and his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt) struggle to protect their son and daughter from alien creatures that hunt by sound location. 50s monster invasion tropes updated with slow burn pacing, as a metaphor for the fragility of the contemporary American family.—RDL

Good

Cats on Film (Nonfiction, Anne Billson, 2017) A fun catalogue of 100 cat-centric and cat-jacent films sorted into categories based on their feline content: Catzillas, Cataphors, etc. Billson’s range is wide, covering plenty of non-Anglophone films, occasionally in the form of short fictions (“My Day by Jones”). Cat lovers and film lovers will both get something from it, but should expect only skritches and not meat. –KH

Last Hurrah for Chivalry (Film, Hong Kong, John Woo, 1979) Nobleman wounded in a wedding day massacre enlists a swordsman and a drifter to seek vengeance on his enemy. Initially plays like a standard martial arts flick of the era, then introduces the themes of comradeship and romantic fatalism Woo will fully realize in his later heroic bloodshed films.—RDL

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