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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dickinson & Noir from Around the World

November 24th, 2020 | 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

Any Number Can Win (Film, France/Italy/US, Henri Verneuil, 1963) Aging ex-con Charles (Jean Gabin) recruits hot-blooded young ex-con Francis (Alain Delon) for one last perfect job: a casino robbery on the Riviera. Verneuil uses the acting to drive the story, allowing the script to beautifully lay out the heist and its obstacles; low-key tension throughout flares up in a final tour-de-force scene. –KH

Recommended

The Assistant (Film, US, Kitty Green, 2020) Diligent film company assistant (Julia Garner) can’t help but spot the accumulating evidence of its top exec’s extensive sexual harassment. Exacting, hyper-naturalistic examination of the ambient complicity baked into most any work hierarchy.—RDL

Cold War (Film, Poland, Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018) The tumultuous love of a musical director (Tomasz Kot) and a singer (Joanna Kulig) play out over many years on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Drama of hurtful love between people whose relationship only works under external oppression, with crystalline black and white photography by Łukasz Żal.—RDL

Dickinson (Television, US, Alena Smith, Apple+, 2019) Between colloquies with Death (Wiz Khalifa) in his ghostly carriage, teen poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) defies her loving but forbidding father (Toby Huss), loves her brother’s fiancee (Ella Hunt), and generally commits to keeping it weird. Biographical comedy knocks the stuffiness from the 19th century with contemporary dialogue and needle drops, with emotionally truthful performances from Steinfeld and cast to keep the archness at bay. Zosia Mamet and John Mulaney vie for funniest guest spot honors as commercially-minded Louisa May Alcott and pompous dickweed Henry Thoreau.—RDL

Leave Her to Heaven (Film, US, John M. Stahl, 1945) Obsessive beauty Ellen (Gene Tierney) latches onto writer Richard (Cornel Wilde) and does anything to keep him for herself. Lush Technicolor and surging melodrama lull you into watching perhaps the most blood-freezing murder scene in American film history. Even a pre-plummy Vincent Price as a fixated D.A. can’t equal the threat of Gene Tierney in tortoiseshell shades. –KH

Out of the Dark (Fiction, Patrick Modiano, 1996) In mid-60s Paris, a callow bookhound falls for the magnetically elusive girlfriend of a small-time gambler. Sparely told tale of love and memory with noirish undertones.—RDL

Panique (Film, France, Julien Duvivier, 1947) Local ne’er-do-wells Alice (Viviane Romance) and Alfred (Paul Bernard) frame sad-sack Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) for murder in a lovely clockwork noir based on a Simenon novel. Simon’s performance, alternately off-putting and sympathetic, establishes the human truth at the heart of the story. –KH

Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Season 7 (Television, US, Penn Jillette & Teller, CW, 2020) Magicians Penn and Teller invite fellow magicians to perform a trick; they try to figure out how it’s done. Basically a variety/competition show, except with generosity, wonder, and kindness as the emotional keys. I find its world of professionalism, history, fellowship, and honesty makes for ideal lockdown viewing; I picked this season just because it’s the most recent one I’ve watched, but they’re all Recommended. –KH

Good

Razzia sur la Chnouf (Film, France, Henri Decoin, 1955) Gangster Henri Ferre (Jean Gabin) returns from America to take a crucial middle-management role in a heroin ring getting slack. Gorgeously shot, this  hangout film of the French drug underworld keeps us at a distance as Henri seemingly tours aimlessly through his new empire. The last act tightens considerably, though almost arbitrarily, so I’m not sure the combo scores. Marc Lanjean’s jazzy score absolutely scores, though. –KH

Rusty Knife (Film, Japan, Toshio Masuda, 1958) While the cops fruitlessly try to bust local yakuza boss Katsumata, ex-con (and ex-yakuza) Tachibana (Yujiro Ishihara) tries to keep his murderous rage from boiling over. Like many Nikkatsu directors of the era, Masuda ladles on scenes and developments without any particular care for logic or tone, creating a layered urban setting almost despite himself. The underplayed yet powerful romance between Tachibana and a pretty journalist on the crime beat provides a throughline if you want one. –KH

Not Recommended

Ad Astra (Film, US, James Gray, 2019) Spacecom sends closed-off astronaut (Brad Pitt) on a mission to contact his father (Tommy Lee Jones), whose long-lost craft is bathing the Earth in deadly cosmic radiation. Centering a heaping serving of daddy issues inside a pastiche of 2001 and Heart of Darkness, this exemplifies the very specific kind of bad that results when talented filmmakers devote wholehearted seriousness to a dumb idea.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: David Byrne, The End of Supernatural, and the Foucault of the UFO

November 17th, 2020 | 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

David Byrne’s American Utopia (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2020) Stringing beads from his forty-odd-year discography, Byrne fronts 11 barefoot musicians in a deliberately stark and minimalist stage show that perversely attempts to be open and optimistic. (Coldness inviting warmth is a weird vibe, it must be said.) Lee captures the show from every angle, but prefers a deliberately human-scale theater-style frame that emphasizes the common humanity of the performers; Byrne mostly remains at the center but Lee only rarely shoots him as the icon that he is. –KH

Forbidden Science 1: A Passion for Discovery, The Journals of Jacques Vallee 1957-1969 (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 1992) Early diaries by the Foucault of the UFO take him from intellectually precocious university student to the software pioneer author of Passport to Magonia—that is, from a character in a Francois Truffaut movie to the character Truffaut would later portray in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Takeaways from this rich, erudite journal: 1) the French take second place to no one in being annoyed by the French. 2) Boy howdy, the entire UFO scene sure was steeped in the straight-up occult.—RDL

Supernatural Season 15 (Television, US, Andrew Dabb, CW, 2019-2020) Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles) wrap up their epic battle against sinister cosmic forces with a battle against that malign thug, God (Rob Benedict.) Brings nerddom’s longest-running series in for a satisfying landing, with a conclusion both grounded and cosmic. In a TV ecosystem shifting to the short, serialized seasons and hasty cancelations of the streaming world, we likely won’t see another show log 320 episodes of the episodic-with-continuity arcs format. The achievement becomes all the more remarkable when you consider the tightness of its template it rang its variations on.—RDL

(Edit: Whoops, am informed that despite the apparent finality of last week’s ep there’s still one more to go.—RDL)

Good

Fast Color (Film, US, Julia Hart, 2018) In a slowly collapsing, water-starved America, a recovering addict (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on the run from scientists studying her paranormal powers seeks refuge with her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and young daughter, who share her abilities. Scores points for restrained atmosphere, despite a script that spends a lot of time explaining itself without ever entirely making sense.—RDL

Netflix vs the World (Film, US, Shawn Cauthen, 2019)Documentary traces the rise of Netflix from scrappy strip mall startup to streaming giant, with particular emphasis on the tit-for-tat battle of its battle with Blockbuster during the DVD rental by mail phase.—RDL

Two Monks (Film, Mexico, Juan Bustillo Oro, 1934) A monastery murder attempt triggers a tale of romantic woe told from the perspectives of victim and perpetrator. Monumental deco expressionist sets add gothic overtones to a love triangle melodrama. Bump up to Recommended if you are Guy Maddin.—RDL

Okay

The Crowd Roars (Film, US, Howard Hawks, 1932) When his kid brother joins his team, a champion race driver (James Cagney) becomes a controlling bully, also junking his relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend (Ann Dvorak.) Later in his career Hawks would learn to give his redemption arcs to secondary characters, but here the protagonist doesn’t much deserve one.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Monopoly vs Anti-Monopoly and Two Games with the Same Name

November 3rd, 2020 | 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

Ted Lasso (Television, US, Bill Lawrence & Jason Sudeikis, Apple+, 2020) Hired by a team owner (Hannah Waddingham) intent on tanking the club she got in the divorce from her weasel husband, an unremittingly positive US football coach (Jason Sudeikis) adjusts to life among the British and the unrelated sport of the same name. Improbably sourced from jokey interstitial commercials, this sports dramedy scores with smart, generous character portrayals and scene-making, supported by spot-on performances from Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein, Nick Mohammed, and Phil Dunster.—RDL

Recommended

Daniel Isn’t Real (Film, US, Adam Egypt Mortimer, 2019) Shy college freshman (Miles Robbins) raised by a schizophrenic single mom (Mary Stuart Masterson) releases the sinister imaginary friend of his childhood, now a confident alpha bro (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Discordant score and jagged cutting up the unease as it moves from the psychological to the supernatural.—RDL

Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Antimonopoly (Nonfiction, Matt Stoller, 2019) History of US political economics since 1910 casts antimonopolism as both wise and traditional, focusing on the career of Texas congressman Wright Patman as its lodestone. Very refreshing to read a book that confirms only half of  one’s priors, and bracing to see Bork and Galbraith cast as twin villains. Needs further definition and exploration, and skips too lightly over regulatory capture and Clintonism, but an excellent start at post-Google thinking. –KH

Greyhound (Film, US, Aaron Schneider, 2020) Devout destroyer captain (Tom Hanks) leads the defense of a freight convoy from a pack of U-Boats as it crosses the stretch of Atlantic air support can’t reach. Stoic war thriller uses extensive CGI to depict the harrowing qualities of WWII naval warfare. In his own adaptation of the C. S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, Hanks rediscovers the power of restraint; comparisons to Fonda and Stewart have never been more apt.—RDL

Good

Craig Ferguson: Just Being Honest (Stand-up, Craig Ferguson, 2015) Ferguson weaves a series of anecdotes and callbacks into an enjoyable hour, as per usual. A looser, more relaxed post-Late-Late-Show affect generally damps out the highs and lows of his usual act; strong making-fun-of-Mick-Jagger energy charges up one segment by contrast. –KH

Okay

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (Film, Poland, Bartosz M. Kowalski, 2020) Five hiking teens from a tech-detox camp in the Polish woods stumble across twin mutants. Poland’s first slasher film simply recaps America’s first 200+ slasher films, with almost nothing of its own to say or contribute. Effectively lit and lensed by Cezary Stolecki, though. –KH

Working Girls (Film, US, Dorothy Arzner, 1931) When midwestern sisters arrive in New York City to find jobs and men, the ladylike one (Dorothy Hall) falls for a callow Harvard lawyer. The first two acts play as a melodrama illuminated by Arzner’s insight into womens’ lives; the sympathies they establish are then tossed away for a lurch into screwball comedy.—RDL

Not Recommended

Anna and the Apocalypse (Film, UK, John McPhail, 2017) Zombies strike Scottish high school on the day of its Christmas pageant. Mediocre zombie film meets sub-par musical, without finding a point of view on either genre.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Coppola and Murray Reteam, and Cinema as Fractal Nexus

October 27th, 2020 | 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

Careless Crime (Film, Iran, Shahram Mokri, 2020) Pill addict Faraj (Mohammad Sareban) gets drawn into a plot to burn down a movie theater which eerily recalls the Cinema Rex fire in 1978. Mokri lays down long, overlapping takes and arcs, slowly arcing tighter and tighter on multiple levels (including a film-within-a-film-within-a-film, at one point) around the inescapable haunting of Iran’s cinema past. A superb achievement on so many levels; the lighting and Ehsan Sedigh’s discordant score stand-outs among them. I desperately need to see it again in the kind of real theater space that Mokri turns into a fractal nexus.–KH

On the Rocks (Film, US, Sofia Coppola, 2020) Blocked novelist (Rashida Jones) gets more help than she asked for when she asks her incorrigibly magnetic art dealer father (Bill Murray) to evaluate signs her work-obsessed husband (Marlon Wayans Jr.) is cheating on her. Incandescent, perfectly judged comedy-drama two-hander uses every part of the Bill Murray.—RDL

Recommended

Charlatan (Film, Czechia/Ireland/Poland/Slovakia, Agnieszka Holland, 2020) Loose biopic of the Czech healer and herbalist Jan Mikolášek (Ivan Trojan; his son Josef Trojan plays young Jan) framed by his 1958 arrest and trial by the Communist government. Holland’s portrait of Mikolášek never goes where the audience expects, just as Trojan’s performance alienates and attracts in equal measure. Her refusal to put Mikolášek into a simple box (despite her monodimensional title) gives depth and realism while Martin Strba’s deliberately cinematic lensing expertly plays with history-film convention.–KH

Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (Film, US, Werner Herzog & Clive Oppenheimer, 2020) Herzog follows enthusiastic geologist Oppenheimer on a tour of meteoritic science, art, and religion from Norway to Antarctica. Most interested in how humans make art and meaning out of the arbitrary falling rocks, Herzog sometimes strays a little bit into vorticism, cutting staccato between flashes of meaning and thought — but how appropriate for a film about meteors. –KH

I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales (Nonfiction, Todd Snider. 2014) Americana singer-songwriter transposes his raconteurial wit to the printed page with a series of substance-soaked anecdotes of life on the road. Be forewarned: the reader never does learn what caused Digger Dave to be banned from all three bars in Homer, Alaska.—RDL

Night of the Kings (Film, Côte d’Ivoire/Canada/France/Senegal, Phillippe Lacôte, 2020) The newest inmate (Koné Bakary) in the “jungle” of the MACA prison gets tapped by its dying king to tell a story on the night of the red moon. Prison-gangster drama meets Arabian-night medievalism both narratively and visually in a rich and surprising film of narratology and survival. –KH

Shivers (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 1975) Slug-like, genetically engineered parasites turn high-rise residents into frenzied sex killers. Most horror films seem tamer a few decades later, but the opposite is true for this puckishly unpleasant blend of Romero, Ballard and Euripides.—RDL

Good

The Pistol Shrimps (Film, US, Brent Hodge, 2016) A women’s basketball rec league forms around the nucleus of the L.A. comedy scene, propelling a ragtag band of unlikely athletes, most famously including Aubrey Plaza, to a delightfully low-stakes winning streak. Big-hearted documentary ode to fun and camaraderie.—RDL

Preparations to Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time (Film, Hungary, Lili Horvát, 2020) Neurosurgeon Marta (Natasa Stork) impulsively returns to Budapest to reunite with her love-at-first sight Janos (Viktor Bodó) but he says he’s never met her before … Huge potentials for noir, romance, and horror loom in the premise but Horvát slowly lets the air out of all of them in 90 minutes. Stork’s tight performance deserves a better, tenser film; as it is she seems not so much a woman on the edge as one sensibly distant from a low-boiling distraction. –KH

The Prophet and the Space Aliens (Film, Israel/Austria, Yoav Shamir, 2020) Invited to receive a (bogus?) award from the Raëlian cult, documentarian Shamir takes Raël (nee Claude Vorilhon) up on his invitation to make a movie about them. Shamir plays it restrained and mostly fair, bending over backwards to not call Raël a con artist and depict the cultists on their own terms. The trouble is, when your subject is a former pop singer and race car aficionado who sees UFOs in 1974 and hears he’s the son of alien Yahweh and gets eager flower brides and oh by the way all religious leaders are still alive as sexy clones on another planet and claims to have cloned a baby in 2002 maybe restraint is not quite the best key for your movie. –KH

Undine (Film, Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2020) Undine (Paula Beer), an urban historian who may also be the titular vengeful water-spirit, gets dumped by her lover but meets-cute devoted diver Christoph (Franz Rogowski) before we find out for sure. Palpable love for Berlin drenches this somewhat uneven film that kicks into gear on the mystery but goes soppy in the romance, and doesn’t quite consummate either. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hotel Ghosts and Mi’kMaq vs. Zombies

October 20th, 2020 | 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

Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food (Nonfiction, Chase Purdy, 2020) Round-up of the technological, marketing and regulatory hurdles facing the small group of competing firms racing to bring satisfying, economical vat-grown meat to the world’s dinner tables. Concise, journalistic account covers the current state of play in a sector where proprietary secrets obscure the timetable for a revolution that might or might not be imminent.—RDL

Blood Quantum (Film, Canada, Jeff Barnaby, 2019) Immune to the virus that brings people—not to mention dogs and salmon—back from the dead, the Mi’kMaq of the Red Crow reservation, including a rueful police chief (Michael Greyeyes) and his atomized family, hunker against the undead apocalypse. Grim zombie horror finds room for complexity as it engages the genre’s tradition of social commentary.—RDL

The Invisible Man (Film, US, Leigh Whannell, 2020) Architect (Elizabeth Moss) escapes an abusive relationship with an optics genius, only to have him fake his own death and stalk her using his invisibility suit. Upending this classic horror tale to make Griffin the pursuing monster instead of the protagonist is one of those writing moves so brilliant that it seems obvious in retrospect.—RDL

Kubrick by Kubrick (Film, France/Poland, Gregory Monro, 2020) Tape-recorded interviews of Kubrick by film critic Michael Ciment play under footage from most of his films. Monro attempts to gently subvert, or at least provide perspective on, the image of Kubrick as obsessive perfectionist; the result may not be a revelatory film study but it’s a very good Kubrick 102. If you’re ready for Kubrick 202, maybe tick this back down to Good.–KH

Sleep (Film, Germany, Michael Venus, 2020) Nightmare-plagued Marlene (Sandra Huller) collapses in a mountain resort hotel — the one in her dreams — and her daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) investigates. A strong, dogged performance by Kohlhof anchors this excellent psychological ghost thriller, which gets nearly everything right from a creepy empty hotel set to vibrantly strange supporting actors.–KH

Good

Alms for Oblivion (Nonfiction, Peter Kemp, 1961) Lt. Col. Kemp, fresh from SOE service in Europe, transfers to the Pacific Theater right after V-J Day. Kemp runs guns to the French in Laos from Siam and serves as interim military governor of Bali and Lombok for two weeks. I had hoped for more action from this memoir, frankly. Interesting local color and details of political-military service in a neglected nook of history somewhat make up for that lack, however. –KH

Await the Dawn (Film, US, Pablo Macho Maysonet IV, 2020) In the grip of heroin withdrawal, Jane (Hannah Leigh) and her family get kidnapped by Miskatonic scientist Howard (Josh Server), fleeing a being from beyond in the form of a little girl. Decent acting, practical FX, and proper pacing make up for the occasional dialogue clinker and low-budget ambiance. In truth, this hovers over the Okay bubble, but the 80s Carpenter film Maysonet wanted to make shines through so clearly that the Lovecraft riff pops it into Good.–KH

Waking Sleeping Beauty (Film, US, Don Hahn, 2009) Documentary traces Disney Animation’s return to cultural omnipresence from its mid 80s doldrums, Surprisingly unvarnished insider look at the stresses and boardroom rivalries behind a blockbuster creative run.—RDL

Okay

I’m Your Woman (Film, US, Julia Hart, 2020) Wife of a professional crook, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) must go on the lam when he disappears. Attempting to make a film of the female-occupied negative space around a 70s crime thriller, Hart instead produces something by turns inert and facile. With nothing to do, at length, Brosnahan slowly sinks under the thick patina of 70s production design. Her brief, predictable spurt of agency in the last act comes far too late.–KH

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Film, Spain/Belgium/France, Terry Gilliam, 2018) Feckless commercial director (Adam Driver) becomes an unwilling Sancho Panza to a delusional shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) he once cast as Don Quixote. It turns out that the Fates spent a quarter century thwarting this film’s production because they realized that the script hits Gilliam’s core “the only thing worse than delusion is reality” theme too obviously on the nose. Or they were just waiting for Driver and his unerring knack for interesting choices.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Classic 70s Horror, Agricultural Revisionism, and Nice Gal Vampires

October 13th, 2020 | 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

Don’t Look Now (Film, UK/Italy, Nicholas Roeg, 1973) After the drowning of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) remain haunted by their grief in Venice. Roeg’s time-shifted edits and deeply layered shots build a hyper-impressionistic experience of emotional trauma, while also evoking the eerie as only the very best horror films can. –KH

Recommended

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (Nonfiction, James C. Scott, 2017) An attempt to re-tell and subvert the heroic archaeological narrative of the rise to civilization from early Neolithic hunter-gathering. Scott somewhat palms a card when dealing with the invention of agriculture, but in his defense nobody on the other side can really explain it either. A fast read that should ideally lead to more detailed arguments. –KH

Gimme Danger (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2016) Iggy Pop recounts the history of his seminal band The Stooges, including not only the expected self-destructive excess but also the deep musicology behind the deceptively simple sound. Jarmusch elevates an otherwise straightforward rockumentary with savvy choices for his opening and closing sequences.—RDL

Vamps (Film, US, Amy Heckerling, 2012) Non-predatory vampire roommates (Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter) face a threat to their life of fun in NYC when one of them dates a van Helsing (Dan Stevens.) Because she projects an affirming vision and draws on girl culture, not boy culture, Heckerling’s auteurism is underrated, and that goes double for this female-driven hangout movie. A deep cast includes Wallace Shawn as the elder van Helsing, Sigourney Weaver as the villainous sire, and Malcolm MacDowell as Vlad Tepes, who has given up impaling for knitting.—RDL

Good

CBGB (Film, US, Randall Miller, 2013) Hygiene- and bookkeeping-eschewing club owner Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) turns a shabby Bowery bar into the nexus of American punk and new wave. Reverent evocation of an irreverent movement lets you feel what CBGBs was like without smelling it. To rivetingly hold the screen as a checked-out, inexpressive dude you couldn’t ask for better casting than Rickman.—RDL

Faithless (Film, US, Harry Beaumont, 1932) An heiress (Tallulah Bankhead) and her ad executive beau (Robert Montgomery) hit the skids hard as the Depression worsens. Nearly every film from this era deals with the Depression to one extent or another, but this hard-hitting melodrama tackles it with unusual directness.—RDL

God Told Me To (Film, US, Larry Cohen, 1976) NYPD detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) follows up on a series of spree killings after which the killers claim “God told me to.” One too many fascinating side plots somewhat unbalances this very weird movie, leaving it just below the Recommended bubble, but if your idea of joy is a grotty 70s New York Unknown Armies game this is part of that. –KH

Millie (Film, US, John Francis Dillon, 1931) After being rushed into marriage by an energetic heel, a charming young woman (Helen Twelvetrees) resolves to keep man problems at bay. Melodrama shows the price of all the fun characters in Pre-Code movies get up to, without betraying its feminist allegiances. Joan Blondell appears as one-half of a pair of lesbian gold-diggers.—RDL

Okay

The Beast Must Die (Film, UK, Paul Annett, 1974) Big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) gathers five guests at his surveillance-surrounded mansion to discover which of them is a werewolf and hunt him or her. This superlative high concept (even better than the excellent James Blish story it comes from) cannot overcome Lockhart’s histrionics, muddy Amicus lensing, and a talky script. But Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, and Peter Cushing push it as close to Good as they can. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: H. P. Lovecraft Film Fest Highlights (and more)

October 6th, 2020 | 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

10 Rillington Place (Film, UK, Richard Fleischer, 1970) Mousy, diabolical serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough) murders the young mother (Judy Geeson) living in the upstairs flat, maneuvering her husband (John Hurt) into prime suspect status. Authentically grim true crime docudrama touches on the notoriously botched investigation that led to the execution of an innocent man and allowed Christie to kill four more victims, but primarily focuses on his criminal profile.—RDL

In Fabric (Film, UK, Peter Strickland, 2018) Seeking a boost of confidence as she re-enters the dating world, a shy bank clerk (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) buys a red dress from a boutique run by pervy capitalist witches. Absurdist satire with a diptych structure reverently conjures the stylistic flourishes of 70s giallo.—RDL

Nina of the Woods (Film, US, Charlie Griak, 2020) Failing actress Nina (Megan Hensley) takes the role of “local witness” in a reality-TV Bigfoot-hunting show, only to re-enter the haunted woods she explored with her father as a child. Thank the Great Spirit, this is not a found-footage film, but instead a plangent folk-horror piece; Stalker with a rural American accent. For trying something new, and for taking the time to paint its supporting characters with life and care, the film gets Recommended despite a somewhat mixed result. –KH

Rabid (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 1977) Experimental surgery recipient (Marilyn Chambers) grows a feeding tube under her arm and a thirst for blood, becoming patient zero in an epidemic that spreads via violent bite attacks. Homely seventies Canadian decor grounds the horror in this weird science update of the vampire as pandemic vector motif. And yes it’s super weird that I hadn’t seen this till now.—RDL

Good

Eerie Fairy Tales (Film, Estonia, Mart Sander, 2019) Anthology film comprising four stories: a tavern-told horror (Good but the ending lacks punch); a UFO puzzle in the fine tradition of old, cruel SF (Recommended but somewhat cheap-looking); a beautifully shot proper fairy tale (Recommended); and a shaggy-dog murder mystery joke (Okay for terrible accents and telegraphing its ending almost immediately). –KH

Intersect (Film, US, Gus Holwerda, 2020) Physics prodigy Ryan (Jason Spisak) and two colleagues build a time machine at Miskatonic University. This film needed at least one rewrite (to provide payoff for the time spent in Ryan’s past) and another edit to provide a bigger hit of Primer-style metaphysics and to handle the tonal shifts as the story moves backwards. TV’s James Morrison is sadly wasted in a conventional supporting role; lead Spisak can’t convey enough meaning to invest us; the villain is a cartoon. But, Lovecraftian time machine! [Currently available for rent on Amazon streaming.]

Loving You (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 1995) Brusque, philandering cop (Lau Ching Wan) tries to become a better man and husband after being shot in the head. A couple of years before the epic run that starts with A Hero Never Dies, To’s signature style is pretty much in place, with the weak link a script that fails to connect the emotional dots between its action thriller and romantic drama components.—RDL

The Return (Film, Canada, BJ Verot, 2020) After his father’s death, physics prodigy Roger (Richard Harmon) returns to his family home to find it possibly haunted by his dead sister’s imaginary friend. A nice, tight sfnal twist on the haunted house with a script just a bit too talky to keep suspense up where it needs to be. The actors are fine, but Verot doesn’t trust them to sell the material. –KH

Okay

The Deep Ones (Film, US, Chad Ferrin, 2020) Alex (Gina La Piana) and her husband Petri (Johann Urb) rent a beach house in a gated community and discover … well, you know what they discover. As the leader of the cult, Robert Miano gives a bravura Columbo-villain performance but the rest of the film doesn’t deliver enough juice to lubricate its completely obvious plot. Too-visible creatures and tentacles don’t help. –KH

The Hill and the Hole (Film, US, William Darmon & Christopher Ernst, 2020) A surveyor (Liam Kelly) discovers something weird about a mound in a strange small town. I so wanted to like this film, based on a bluntly creepy Fritz Leiber story, but the script careens entirely arbitrarily from point to point, the comedy fails at both camp and cult, and the effects would have done AIP proud circa 1970. –KH [Currently streaming on Amazon.]

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sherlock’s Sister and Cagney’s Mustache

September 29th, 2020 | 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 Public Image (Fiction, Muriel Spark, 1968) As a young English actress heads for stardom, abetted by the Italian gossip press, the playwright husband who condescends to her commits a terrible act of career sabotage. Spiky, incisive novella of betrayal and survival set against Rome’s film industry heyday.—RDL

He Was Her Man (Film, US, Lloyd Bacon, 1932) On the lam from betrayed associates, a cocky safecracker (James Cagney) agrees to escort a gal with a past (Joan Blondell) to the tiny coastal town where she intends to wed a good-hearted immigrant fisherman (Victory Jory.) Romantic melodrama offers an unexpectedly affecting blend of two staple 30s Warners genres, the crime flick and the working class saga. A rare chance to see Cagney sport a pencil-thin mustache.—RDL

Good

Enola Holmes (Film, US, Harry Bradbeer, 2020) When her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears, Enola (Millie Bobbie Brown) goes in search of her in London, while remaining a step ahead of her older brothers Mycroft and Sherlock (Sam Claflin and Henry Cavill). Repeat to yourself “It’s a kids’ movie” and enjoy Brown’s whole-hearted embrace of her character, and the zingy virtues of this trifle outweigh the occasional clunkiness of the script and routine directorial choices. Cavill, surprisingly, does not embarrass himself, possibly because Sherlock also seldom shows human emotion. –KH

False Faces (Film, US, Lowell Sherman, 1932) Crooked doctor (Sherman) moves up in the world by passing himself off as a plastic surgeon. Snappy ripped-from-the-headlines crime docudrama belongs to a cycle of films from the period tracing the rise and fall of scoundrels. Based on the case of Henry Schireson, who had no medical license whatsoever and continued to mangle patients for more than a decade after this film’s release.—RDL

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman, 2020) A painter—or medical researcher, or poet, or waitress—(Jessie Buckley) considers breaking up with her neurotic boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) as he introduces her to his eccentric parents. The Pinteresque second act, with Toni Colette and David Thewlis as the parents, stands out in Kaufman’s adaptation of a Kaufmanesque novel by Iain Reid.—RDL

Senso (Film, Italy, Luchino Visconti, 1954) During the Risorgimento, a married Venetian countess (Alida Valli) loves a dashing but callow officer (Farley Granger) of the occupying Austrians. A beautiful object that bends the standard Technicolor palette to match 19th century Italian painting, in which the director detaches himself from his protagonists when they morally disappoint him.—RDL

Not Recommended

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Film, US, Michael Dougherty, 2019) Emma (Vera Farmiga) goes rogue, endangering her plucky daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) as she helps eco-terrorists to free Ghidrah and the other black-hat titans. Latches hard onto the assumption that what we want from a movie where the marquee Toho kaiju kick each other’s asses is a grim and dispiriting tone. Points for hewing to the classic creature designs to the newly reintroduced monsters, and to Bradley Whitford for adding unauthorized levity to his expository role.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spies, Attorneys, and Eliptonic Audio

September 22nd, 2020 | Robin

Recommended

Ace Attorney (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2012) Flustered defense lawyer (Hiroki Narimiya) unwimds a complex conspiracy when he takes on a murder charge against his usual prosecutorial nemesis (Hiroki Narimiya.) Miike uses manga, and in this case, video game adaptations, as a platform for formal play, with this as the wiggiest example in more ways than one.—RDL

Reilly: Ace of Spies (TV, UK, ITV, Chris Burt, 1983) Miniseries follows the romanticized career of con man and sometime British agent Sidney Reilly (Sam Neill) from Baku in 1901 to his execution in Moscow in 1925. Neill’s simultaneously suave and feral performance carries the show past the occasional talky bits, and strong villains like Basil Zaharoff (Leo McKern, superb as always) and Felix Dzerzhinsky (Tom Bell) make sure Reilly’s successes and failures feel earned. Shout-out to Elizabeth Waller’s costumes, and to future Bond helmer Martin Campbell cutting his spy teeth as co-director.–KH

Mr. & Mrs Adelman (Film, France, Nicolas Bedos, 2017) At his funeral reception, the wife (Doria Tillier) of a renowned writer (Nicolas Bedos) recounts their life together to a prospective biographer. Novelistic comedy drama ironically aces the difficult feat of multi-decade narrative with ironic divides in perspective.—RDL

Septimo (Film, Argentina, Patxi Amezcua, 2013) Big shot defense attorney (Ricardo Darin) resorts to desperate measures when his young kids disappear on their way down the staircase of their apartment building. Pressure cooker suspense thriller keeps its surprises admirably within the realm of plausible human behavior.—RDL

The Vast Of Night (Film, US, Andrew Patterson, 2019) In the late 50s in a sleepy New

Mexico town, a radio DJ and a switchboard operator encounter an eliptonic audio mystery. Rattletrap dialogue, low-contrast images and fluid, racing camera moves create evocative atmosphere in this SF thriller—even if it does include one layer of stylization too many.—RDL

Good

Streets of Fire (Film, US, Walter Hill, 1984) When motorcycle gangster Raven (Willem Dafoe) kidnaps rocker Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from the stage in a nameless timeless city that looks a lot like Chicago, her soldier ex Tom Cody (Michael Paré) comes to the rescue. A lesson in just how far you can take a film without acting or a script, this unreally glorious “rock & roll fable” nearly sells you regardless. Ry Cooder’s score and Jim Steinman’s bookend songs, Hill and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo’s shots, and the combo of Studebakers, neon, the L, and Armani create a perfect (and surprisingly influential) cinematic neverland. –KH

Okay

The Forest of Love (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2019) Aspiring directors making a film based on a transparently awful but effective con man are sucked into his cult-like orbit of murder and degradation. Overlong journey into the ultra-extreme appears to be advancing a political metaphor but ultimately chucks that in favor of mystical ambiguity.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hollywood Archaeology and new Charlie Kaufman

September 15th, 2020 | 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

Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome (Nonfiction, Shawn Levy, 2016) Scintillating, anecdote-rich history of the economic and cultural recovery that transformed Rome (with an assist from Florence) from war-ravaged wrecks to the epitome of late fifties and early sixties cool, from motoring to fashion to scandal rags and the movies.—RDL

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman, 2020) Despite her doubting inner monologue, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) accompanies her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) on a visit to his parents. Fans of Kaufman’s elliptical, writerly scripts and form-breaking direction get what they want here, and they get it good. Buckley and Plemons anchor what could otherwise be empty stunting in felt, understood humanity. –KH

Looting Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut’s Tomb (Nonfiction, David La Vere, 2007) Tells the stories in parallel of the building (by Caddoan priest-kings) and looting (by Depression-stricken Okies) of the greatest archaeological find north of the Rio Grande, the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. Stronger on the looting than the building, but then the looters left documentary evidence behind, and destroyed most of the evidence the builders left. –KH

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (Film, US, Peter Brosnan, 2016) Filmmaker documents his four-decade quest to excavate the buried Pharoah’s City set from Cecil B. De Mille’s 1925 version of The Ten Commandments from a Santa Barbara sand dune. A dizzying rush of colliding cultural history connections meets an epic battle against municipal red tape.

The Platform (Film, Spain, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019) Book lover (Ivan Massagué) seeking no-effort diploma accepts imprisonment in a nightmarish complex where inmates eat from a platform covered with food that steadily depletes as it descends between hundreds of floors. Claustrophobic grand guignol shows that there is no allegory too heavy-handed for the extreme cinema genre.—RDL

Good

#Alive (Film, South Korea, Cho Il-Hyung, 2020) Gamerboi Jun-woo (Yoo Ah-in) finds himself the very unprepared survivor of a fast-zombie outbreak in Seoul. A perfectly creditable zombie film with nothing particularly original or interesting to say, it squanders its interesting “apartment of Robinson Crusoe, with streaming” survival set-up and (except for one scene) Yoo’s acting chops, but does nothing very wrong either. –KH

Every Single Nero Wolfe Story (Fiction, Rex Stout, 1934-1975) On a lark in January I bought a bunch of Nero Wolfe books cheap, and as lockdown drove me deeper into comfort reading I read (or re-read) all 33 novels and 41 shorter works starring the famously lazy, corpulent detective. Stout’s greater creation was Archie Goodwin, an engaging viewpoint character who also thinks the hero is a jerk; his great gift was the ability to riff on his characters entertainingly enough to get you through a (usually fairly routine) plot shuffle very much including palmed cards. Start with The Silent Speaker or The Doorbell Rang (both Recommended) and see if you want to deal yourself in. –KH

The Freshour Cylinders (Fiction, Speer Morgan, 1998) Half-Native county prosecutor in 1935 Fort Smith, Arkansas investigates the murder of a collector of artifacts from the Spiro Mounds. More than adequate noir draws a detailed picture of Depression Oklahoma, with a possible lost tribe to boot. Sadly the style is only Good at best; I counted one line of really vibrant prose. –KH

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