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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Verbal Fireworks in Deadwood and Greece

June 30th, 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

Bell, Book and Candle (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1958) Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) selfishly ensorcels her neighbor Shep Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) only to find true love rearing its head. If you can get over Stewart being twice Novak’s age (which only works in Vertigo because it’s a creepy stalker story) this weird kind-of beat, kind-of-dark romcom has a lot going for it, including Jack Lemmon as Gillian’s brother, James Wong Howe’s underplayed but brilliant lensing, and the Oscar-winning costumes by Jean Louis. Kim Novak is always cool and wonderful, and Kim Novak with a cat, well, abracadabra! –KH

Deadwood: the Movie (Film, US, Daniel Minahan, 2019) Ten years after Swearingen (Ian McShane) faked Trixie’s (Paula Malcolmson) death to protect her from George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) , the psychopathic magnate returns to Deadwood to again flout the ire of Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant.) Belated, unexpectedly sweet  wrap-up to the groundbreakingly foul-mouthed HBO western benefits from the concision of the movie format.—RDL

The Trip to Greece (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2020) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s semi-fictional personae reunite for one last feast of gourmet cuisine, celebrity impressions, and razzing. The higher stakes of the finale, and the intermittent conceit of following the route of the Odyssey from Troy to Ithaca (featuring Sirens and a visit to Hades) leave the film feeling slightly discordant, but the byplay remains delicious. –KH

Good

Deadwood Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, David Milch, 2006) George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) tightens his grip on the camp; Swearingen’s old actor friend (Brian Cox) sets up shop in town. With nothing happening in episode 12 that couldn’t have happened in episode 1, we see that Milch stopped the series because a fourth season would have required some sort of plot to finally coalesce. Still the riffed scenes of quasi-Shakespearean frontier profanity continue to divert while they’re playing out.—RDL

Gary Gulman: Boyish Man (Stand-up, Gary Gulman, 2006) Gulman’s early act still shows its Seinfeldian influences, and the way-too-frequent cuts to the audience don’t allow him to build momentum. Nevertheless, any routine with a strong eleven minutes on cookies has something going for it. –KH

The Wrecking Crew (Film, US, Denny Tedesco, 2008) Coalescing under Phil Spector, an elite group of session musicians essentially played on every important piece of pop and rock music recorded in Los Angeles from 1962 to 1973 (drummer Hal Blaine had 170 gold records, for instance). Guitarist Tommy Tedesco’s illness in 1996 galvanized his son into gathering footage and interviews, and organizing a reunion of the core Crew, but the resulting doc only intermittently highlights its subject and ironically never settles into a groove. –KH

Okay

The Whole Town’s Talking (Film, US, John Ford, 1935) Danger descends on a meek clerk (Edward G. Robinson) when an identical fugitive armed robber arrives in town. Ford would clearly rather be making a straight-up gangster flick instead of a mistaken identity comedy, and the script both wastes Jean Arthur and spends twice as long as it should getting to the obvious thing that has to happen to satisfy the premise.—RDL

Not Recommended

Slightly French (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1949) Bullying film director (Don Ameche) convinces a carnival performer (Dorothy Lamour) to pretend to be French in order to take over as the new leading lady in his latest musical. Wan Pygmalion riff shows Sirk’s facility with pacing and integration of composition and production design, but not the rest of the signature ironic melodrama style of his peak mid-50s run.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Trader Joe’s, Gene Editing, and an Unlikely Vampire Hunter

June 23rd, 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

Da 5 Bloods (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2020) With a tagalong son (Jonathan Majors) in tow, a tight knit group of Vietnam veterans (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr,, Norm Lewis) reunites there today to hunt for a chest of CIA gold. It’s always rewarding to see Lee get to paint on a big canvas, and here he seizes on an expansive Netflix running time to present strongly acted drama while also building a new cinematic language that provides a distinctively Spikean take on the agitprop tradition.—RDL

Gary Gulman: It’s About Time (Stand-up, Gary Gulman, 2016) Although Gulman’s later talk-show polish improves classic bits like alphabetizing the states and the panegyric to Trader Joe’s, in this touring context they take on an infectious rambling energy. Gulman revels in the sheer joy of word shaping as much as he does his epic constructed bits. –KH

What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 (Television, US, Paul Simms, FX, 2020) Oblivious to the assassins sent by the undead authorities, and resultant increasing vampire-skilling progress of their  put-upon human servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the bloodsucking housemates deal with witches, email curses, and their various petty concerns. The show fully hits its stride, dumping the sometimes hacky jokes of season 1 and finding a balance between story arc and individual sitcom premises.—RDL

Okay

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution (Nonfiction, Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg, 2015) Prime movers behind the CRISPR gene editing technology lay out its science and the institutional and ethical challenges it introduces. The first half, covering the gob-smackingly weird bacterial origins of the technique, is fascinating, but the second is written with the full tactical blandness of seasoned administrators with political interests to protect.—RDL

Just Mercy (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2019) Crusading black lawyer Bryan Stephenson (Michael B. Jordan) investigates the railroading of black ne’er-do-well Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) for the murder of a girl in Alabama. Paint-by-numbers script botches the compression of real events, removing crucial grounding from its attempt at a latter-day To Kill a Mockingbird (endlessly and clangingly name-dropped). Jordan plays the whole film locked into a narrow indignant range, but the movie does no better by Foxx (who gives a fine, layered performance) and Rob Morgan (excellent as a guilty condemned murderer with PTSD). Brie Larson’s ludicrous Alabama accent is the icing on the  cornpone. –KH

Tight Spot (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1955) Unrelenting prosecutor (Edward G. Robinson) and hardbitten cop (Brian Keith) whisk sassy convict (Ginger Rogers) to a hotel room to pressure her into testifying against a mob boss. Crime drama stage plays used to be a thing, as the existence of this talky adaptation, held together by star power, attests.—RDL

Not Recommended

5 Against the House (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1955) Four college students including a pair of Korean war vets at law school on the G.I. Bill (Al Mercer, Brian Keith) are drawn step by step into turning a thought experiment about robbing a casino into an actual heist. (The fifth character against the house is Kim Novak as fiance to the level-headed veteran.) The heist takes a few minutes, with the rest of the film devoted to overwritten personal drama. Based on a short story by Jack Finney (Invasion of the Body Snatchers.).—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spike, Orson, and the Eameses

June 16th, 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

Cogan’s Trade (Fiction, George V. Higgins, 1974) Boston parolees plan to knock over a high-stakes card game; a hit man and his bosses then plan to rub them out. An extended exploration of the verbal tics, petty complaints and circumlocutions that flow from the mouths of career criminals as they talk their way into acts of stupidity and violence, from a writer who knew its banal rhythms well. Filmed by Andrew Dominik as 2012’s Killing Them Softly, faithful in plot detail yet to markedly different emotional effect.—RDL

Da 5 Bloods (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2020) Four aging black Vietnam vets (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) return to where their platoon sergeant (Chadwick Boseman) was killed — and where they left a CIA gold shipment buried. Lee joins his own increasing didacticism with the near-melodrama inherent to war movies to produce a satisfying emotional spectacle, anchored by  strong performances (especially from Lindo, Peters, and Whitlock), effective battle scenes, and a fine Terence Blanchard score interspersed with Marvin Gaye. –KH

Eames: The Architect and the Painter (Film, US, Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, 2011) Documentary profile of married designers and filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames, who from their iconic chairs to museum shows and industrial films instilled modernism with a jazzy beauty.—RDL

The Eyes of Orson Welles (Film, UK, Mark Cousins, 2018) Critic/documentarian Cousins uses Orson Welles’ lifelong sketching habit as an entry point into a passionate account of his life and work, framed as a letter to the towering yet snakebit director. No one thinks, analyzes, or narrates like Cousins, who lets his idiosyncrasies gloriously fly, bouncing from formalist observation to fanciful dialogue with its subject.—RDL

Killing Eve Season 3 (Television, UK, BBC America, Suzanne Heathcote, 2020) Eve (Sandra Oh) attempts to remain incognito in a restaurant kitchen until the urge to track down Villanelle (Jodie Comer), now trying to rise to command level in the Twelve, inevitably overcomes her. Successfully hides the wiring of the investigatIve thriller while also keeping the leads mostly apart.—RDL

Good

The Tall Target (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1951) New York police sergeant John Kennedy (Dick Powell) hunts assassination plotters on the crowded overnight train from New York to Baltimore in February 1861. Mann’s tightly controlled shots, lighting, and pacing build tension and atmosphere, but Powell’s inward-focused surliness works against the film. Ruby Dee as the enslaved Rachel is superb, though. –KH

Okay

Murder in Mesopotamia (Fiction, Agatha Christie, 1936) Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of an archaeologist’s wife in Iraq. Unlike Josephine Tey, Christie’s novels stand or fall on their plots — her characters, by and large, are cardboard cutouts inhabiting alibis and dialogue shorthand. Unlike John Dickson Carr (also better at plotting), she describes rather than depicts atmosphere. Strangely, although she surely had the skills to produce a tautly plotted mystery set in a convincing archaeological dig, she didn’t do that here. –KH

Peace Breaker (Film, HK, Lien Yi-chi, 2017) Corrupt Kuala Lumpur cop (Aaron Kwok) kills a man in a hit-and-run and frantically proceeds to cover it up. Remakes Kim Seong-hun’s A Hard Day without the black humor that made it work. See the original instead.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Beatles Revisionism, Art House Voodoo, and the Afterlife of a Toronto Landmark

June 9th, 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

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 5 (Television, US, CW, Phil Klemmer & Keto Shimizu, 2020) Historical villains released from Hell plague the team as they try to reassemble the Loom of Fate before Charlie’s sisters Atropos and Lachesis use it to rob humanity of free will. Having fully locked in its tone this year, the series gets on with the business of light-hearted supers action and romance, making a virtue of its revolving-door ensemble.—RDL

The Franchise Affair (Fiction, Josephine Tey, 1948) Solicitor Robert Blair attempts to prove the innocence of his clients, accused of kidnapping a teenage girl and holding her at their remote house, The Franchise. Not so much the mystery but the social story drives the action; scenes of reinforcing media and mob panics build tension in an eerily precognitive fashion. –KH

How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll (Nonfiction, Elijah Wald, 2009) With a provocative hook of a title, Wald sets out to play the flip side of standard (white, intellectualized, male) rock-critic historiography with his subtitle “An Alternative History of American Popular Music” carrying his theme. His goal is to describe what Americans actually danced to and listened to from the beginning of the ragtime era to Sgt. Pepper, when the Beatles broke the link between those activities and yes, destroyed rock ‘n’ roll just as surely as Paul Whiteman destroyed jazz with Rhapsody in Blue. –KH

There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace (Film, Canada, Lulu Wei, 2020) When real estate developers purchase an iconic Toronto discount retail store, a displaced documentarian follows community efforts to secure an improved suite of public amenities, most notably a bigger chunk of rental units priced as affordable housing. Honest Ed’s was an anchor of the neighborhood I’ve now lived in for most of my life, and is now a construction site two blocks from my apartment, and my alderman is a key character in the film, so you could say that this is relevant to my interests. If urbanism matters to you it might be to yours as well.—RDL

Zombi Child (Film, France, Bertrand Bonello, 2020) After drawing a new Haitian-French classmate (Wislanda Louimat) into her literary sorority at an elite girl’s school, a teen (Louise Labeque) latches onto her aunt’s occupation as a voodoo practitioner as the solution to her romantic suffering. Partially inspired by the Clairvius Narcisse case, this quiet, imagistic drama resituates the zombie motif from the horror genre to its place in a contemporary religious practice.—RDL

Good

Mr. Arkadin (Fiction, Maurice Bessy [as Orson Welles], 1955) Petty crook and gigolo Guy Van Stratten attempts to blackmail arms dealer Gregory Arkadin, only to have the tables turned on him repeatedly. Novelization by Welles’ secretary of his screenplay for his famously half-finished thriller is no substitute for the movie, but it makes a fine (if bleak) investigative scenario. –KH

Okay

Antrum: the Deadliest Film Ever Made (Film, US, David Amito and Michael Laicini, 2018) Within the pseudodocumentary frame of a cursed film that kills all who watch it, a teen girl takes her younger brother to a forest to perform a ritual that inadvertently opens a gate to hell. Genuinely creepy moments mark the directing team as talents to look out for, though without an accurate pastiche of documentary style the framing device works more as padding than a source of additional scares .—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Coogan and Brydon Eat Again

June 2nd, 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

Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures (Nonfiction, Adina Hoffman, 2019) Biography applies bracing concision to the many-hatted life of Ben Hecht, whose classic screenplays, and script-doctoring established a barrelful of Hollywood tropes and the entire gangster genre as we know it. Hecht devalued his film work and spoke and wrote of it in scant detail; much of the book concerns his political stances as a firebrand anti-Nazi and enthused supporter of the hardline Irgun group’s terror tactics in pursuit of Israeli statehood. Players and GMs of Cthulhu Confidential’s “The Fathomless Sleep” will raise eyebrows at his friendship and abortive book project with Mickey Cohen. For Dreamhounds of Paris readers there’s the story of how Salvador Dali’s orgasm story got Hecht’s late career TV talk show canceled.—RDL

Dr. Bloodmoney (Fiction, Philip K. Dick, 1965) Survivors of an early 80s nuclear armageddon, including a powerful psychic mutant or three, gravitate toward a small California town that harbors the disaster’s mentally deteriorating engineer. Precisely imagined quotidian detail and a literary fiction structure lend weight to an ultimately trippy post-apocalypse, populated by people united by desperate, guilty selfishness.—RDL

A Shilling for Candles (Fiction, Josephine Tey, 1936) Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant takes the case when a film star is found drowned. Excellent characterization and sly writing make up for a mystery that ends a bit abruptly, after a tour de force by one of Tey’s signature self-possessed adolescent-girl side characters so good that Hitchcock made a movie of that subplot. Probably the best of Tey’s pure police procedurals, as her Pinnacle novel The Daughter of Time is sui generis. –KH

The Trip to Greece (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2020) “Steve Coogan” (Steve Coogan) and “Rob Brydon” (Rob Brydon) embark on a fourth mission of high-end eating, scenery admiration, dueling impressions and verbal one-upmanship, this time retracing the route of the Odyssey. As the ritual pleasures of the series start to flag, the film shifts into a melancholy meditation on the incongruity of beauty in a time of loss.—RDL

Young and Innocent (Film, UK, Alfred Hitchcock, 1937) Wrongfully accused Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney) inveigles the Chief Constable’s daughter Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam) into helping him escape and prove his innocence. Based on a side quest in a Josephine Tey novel (q.v.) it evades strict plausibility on its way to a comic series of increasingly masterful set pieces. [cw: blackface] –KH

Good

Never Have I Ever (Television, US, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, Netflix, 2020) After recovering from psychosomatic paralysis in the wake of her father’s death, brainy high schooler Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) yearns for normalcy—which leads her to ditch her friends in pursuit of her class’ reigning hot dude (Darren Barnet.) An appealing young cast can’t quite sell Kaling’s witty dialogue, pushing the tone into uplifting teen soap territory.—RDL

Okay

Vault (Film, US, Tom DeNucci, 2019) Two lowlife heisters (Theo Rossi and Clive Standen) get tapped by Patriarca mob soldier Gerry Ouimette (Don Johnson) to rob the bonded vault in Providence where the New England Mafia keeps its loot. Based on the real-life 1975 Bonded Vault heist, DeNucci’s film aims for ‘70s grit but achieves only ‘70s inertia. Chazz Palminteri sleepwalks through his part as Patriarca, and the production design likewise gives up halfway through. –KH

Not Recommended

The Last Dance (Film, Japan, Juzo Itami, 1993) A roguish film director (Rentarô Mikuni) reluctantly interrupts filming for medical treatment, the true seriousness of which in keeping with standard Japanese practise, his doctor and long-suffering soon-to-be-ex wife (Nobuko Miyamoto) conceal from him. Every great director has to have a worst film, and for Itami this entry, rendered in a jarring mishmash of tones and featuring a lead character who never earns the sympathy the script extends to him, would be it.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Classic Scorsese and a Rita Hayworth Double Bill

May 26th, 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

Angels Over Broadway (Film, US, Ben Hecht w Lee Garmes, 1940) Dissipated playwright (Thomas Mitchell) cajoles a cynical tout (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and soft-hearted gold-digger (Rita Hayworth) into helping a desperate clerk (John Qualen) out-swindle a gambling racketeer. Hecht’s jaundiced view of humanity, earned as a journalist who interviewed the sorts of people who get covered in newspapers, does epic battle with his sentimentality in this fairy tale of New York.—RDL

Casino (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 1995) Bookie Ace Rothstein (Robert de Niro) and Outfit thug Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) leave Chicago for Vegas to run the Tangiers casino and amok, respectively. Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book about Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro, Scorsese’s film relies (nearly overmuch) on continuous voice-over and on the ironic distance it provides. The latter is Ace’s ace in the hole until he falls for hustler Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone, in the film’s best performance). A sumptuous buffet of detail that ends up being both too much and not enough of a meal; well worth watching, though, despite the indigestion. –KH

Dillinger (Film, US, John Milius, 1973) Larger-than-life bank robber John Dillinger (Warren Oates) eludes G-Man Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson) until their fateful meeting in Chicago. Milius’ first feature prints the legend with a vengeance, and with astonishing gunfight scenes on an AIP budget. Oates has seldom been better or more antiheroic; Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, and Harry Dean Stanton are just the above-the-fold talent on display. –KH

Witkin & Witkin (Film, Mexico, Trisha Ziff, 2017) Joel-Peter Witkin, a photographer famed for staged works of that explore the outer boundaries of shock and beauty, and his identical twin Jerome, a fine artist who uses stunning draftsmanship to depict emotional and political trauma, attempt to explain the cordial but firm distance they maintain from one another. Arts documentary uses stillness and an unwavering gaze to examine the depths of its subjects’ contrasting personalities and experience of family history.—RDL

Good

Cover Girl (Film, Charles Vidor, 1944) Discovered by a magazine publisher who loved and lost her grandmother, a nightclub dancer (Rita Hayworth) rises to Broadway fame, threatening her Brooklyn-based choreographer boyfriend (Gene Kelly.) Bubbly musical features suggestive costumes in service of wartime morale, Eve Arden snark, Kelly dancing a duet with his own self-doubt, and Hayworth’s incandescent vulnerability. Phil Silvers sings a topical ditty on rationing including the immortal couplet “Because of Axis trickery / my coffee now is chicory.”—RDL

The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (Film, Canada, Maya Gallus 2018) Women running kitchens at levels of the restaurant industry ranging from triple-Michelin to gray market dinner party events share their experiences. The subjects of this food doc agree on the abusive culture of pro cooking and the lack of access to capital, but split on the virtues of the brigade system.—RDL

Magnet of Doom (Film, France, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1963) After washing out as a boxer, an ambitious young man (Jean-Paul Belmondo) takes a job as a dogsbody to a fugitive financier (Charles Vanel), headed for the US. Languid road movie awash with the French New Wave’s infatuation with, and reinvention of, American cool. Based on a Simenon novel.—RDL

Okay

Shadow on the Wall (Film, US, Pat Jackson, 1950) The repressed memories of a young child hold the key to the real killer of her stepmother, a crime that has sent her father (Zachary Scott) to death row. Nancy Davis shows up late in the proceedings to take over as protagonist in this mild noir, as the crusading psychologist seeking the Eureka solution of Hollywood Freudianism.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hoops Greatness and Noir Under Franco

May 19th, 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

The Last Dance (Television, ESPN, Jason Hehir, 2020) Michael Jordan leads the Chicago Bulls to a historic sixth championship in 1998. Does a documentary about Mozart have an unfair advantage over a documentary about Salieri? The story of the greatest player in basketball history can’t help but be an epic; like everyone else who succeeds with Michael Jordan, Hehir gets credit for showing up ready to play and coming through in the clutch. Joyously savage, pure, thrilling, with an overwhelming momentum — this series lives up to its subject. –KH

Recommended

Laggies (Film, US, Lynn Shelton, 2014) In her late 20s, unable to settle on a career and facing a semi-wanted marriage proposal, a rudderless woman (Keira Knightley) strikes up an unlikely friendship with a high school student (Chloe Grace Moretz), to the puzzled consternation of her irascible lawyer dad (Sam Rockwell.) Indie drama with comic undertones finds the honesty in a premise that in lesser hands would lurch for the twee or contrived. Shelton’s sudden death this weekend comes as a shocking blow to the indie film scene. This one, based on another writer’s script,  is uncharacteristic of her quasi-improvised style. If you don’t know her work I’d recommend starting with Sword of Trust or Your Sister’s Sister.—RDL

Peppermint Frappé (Film, Spain, Carlos Saura, 1967) Tightly-wound middle-aged doctor (José Luis López Vazquez), obsessively infatuation with his brother’s effervescent younger wife (Geraldine Chaplin) remains undimmed when he initiates an affair with his withdrawn secretary (also Chaplin), who coincidentally resembles her. Twisted domestic allegory, aptly dedicated to Luis Buñuel.—RDL

Good

23 Hours to Kill (Stand-up, Netflix, Jerry Seinfeld, 2020) “I feel like a blacksmith up here,” Seinfeld brays, and there’s something to that sense of outmoded-ness. Taped just before the pandemic, killer material about the irritations of “going out” plays extra-ironically. Seinfeld’s writing remains precise, but the delivery (and seemingly the commitment) don’t quite catch up. –KH

Honey Boy (Film, US, Alma Har’el, 2019) Stuck in court-ordered rehab, an angry young film actor (Lucas Hedges) looks back on his mistreatment by his tormented, addict dad (Shia LaBeouf.) Centered around a searing performance from screenwriter LaBeouf, playing his own abusive father, this glowingly photographed recovery drama quite explicitly frames itself as an act of therapy. And like therapy, it doesn’t offer much of a resolution.—RDL

My Late Wives (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) Serial wife-murderer Roger Bewlay vanished after his fourth outrage — but when actor Bruce Ransom receives a play revealing details of the murders, he resolves to impersonate Bewlay himself. The immensely contrived setup (and more than usually annoying Sir Henry Merrivale) undercuts scenes full of masterful tension and dread and winds up stepping on the reveal, normally Carr’s bulletproof stronghold. –KH

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (Film, US, Rob Garver, 2018) Arts profile documentary reviews the work and life of Pauline Kael, the sometimes rhapsodic, often brutal New Yorker writer who attacked auteurism in theory and upheld it in her reviews. Covers in solid detail the paradoxes that made her pieces both thrilling and exasperating.—RDL

Ugly Delicious Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, 2020, Ben Cotner & Adam Del Deo) Restaurateur David Chang returns to celebrate unpretentious, culturally-connecting eating, this time covering parenthood, curry, steak, and the doner diaspora. An unfocused and truncated season that nonetheless allows one to vicariously hang out with the charming host and his celeb/foodie pals.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Bumper Crop of Noir and Crime

May 12th, 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

99 River Street (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1953) Ex-boxer turned taxi driver  (John Payne) races to clear himself after his disenchanted, cheating wife (Peggie Castle) takes part in a diamond heist and turns up dead in his cab. Gritty, expressionistic noir packed with supporting turns that economically add appealing distinguishing touches to such stock crime drama figures.—RDL

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Film, US, Paul Mazursky, 1969) After an intense experience at a self-actualization retreat, a documentarian and his wife (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) fumble their way toward sexual openness, to the consternation of their best married friends (Dyan Cannon, Elliot Gould.) As pivotal to late 60s cultural upheaval as Easy Rider, this drama of changing mores is layered and complicated in a way its iconic poster image overshadowed.—RDL

Mauvais Sang (Film, France, Leo Carax, 1986) Seeking cash to start a new life, a young ex-con (Denis Lavant) agrees to help heist a cure for a pandemic virus, then falls for the luminous girlfriend (Juliette Binoche) of the job’s fearful mastermind (Michel Piccoli.) Ultra-stylized film noir riff blends surrealism, romanticism, and existentialism.—RDL

Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Nonfiction, Garry Wills, 2011) Explores Shakespeare’s most Roman tragedy through the rhetorical styles of its main characters, along with a few other insights gleaned in Wills’ research into the 16th-century theater. Short, digestible, clear, and interesting without necessarily being groundbreaking, Wills nevertheless lays down a marker for Julius Caesar as it should be understood. –KH

Searching (Film, US, Aneesh Chaganty, 2018) Grief-stricken single dad (John Cho) learns how little he knew his daughter when she disappears, leaving only her online footprint to provide clues to her fate. Its presentational conceit, showing all of the action on computer, mobile or other screens, goes beyond clever gimmickry to observe the action through the platforms that mediate contemporary experience.—RDL

Good

The Case of the Constant Suicides (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1941) After the apparent suicide of the Campbell family patriarch in the Scottish castle Shira, Dr. Fell untangles a nest of insurance fraud, thwarted legacies, whisky, and oh yes murder. Praised by many Carr devotees for its multiple impossible crimes and leavening of actual situational comedy, it breezes by too fast to properly build Carr’s Gothic atmosphere. –KH

Decoy (Film, US, Jack Bernhard, 1946) Alluring psychopath (Jean Gillie) seduces an earnest prison doctor into assisting with the escape of a death row inmate, so she can get her hands on his cache of stolen loot. The spirit of weirdness pervading this noir from Poverty Row studio Monogram, somehow enhanced by its mostly stilted and charmless acting, exerts the sort of hypnotic fascination later masters of irony like David Lynch and Guy Maddin strive to emulate.—RDL

Den of Thieves (Film, US, Christian Gudegast, 2018) “Gangster cop” Big Nick (Gerard Butler, playing Russell Crowe playing Gerard Butler) faces off against ex-MARSOC bank robber Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) in Los Angeles. This somehow even more bro-y take on Heat succeeds in its shootouts and its heists but doesn’t work hard enough to reinforce its plot, or at all to advance its theme beyond Big Nick spelling out that the cops are (also) “the bad guys.” Terrific location work means I will bump it up when I see it again in fifty years.–KH

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (Film, US, Chad Stahelski, 2019) Declared excommunicado by an international assassins league that doesn’t care what words mean, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) goes on the run, over a series of spectacular fights involving library shelves, hero dogs, motorcycles, glass display cases, and special cameo attacks from alumni of The Raid series. Recommended for the stellar fight staging. The plot stringing them together is as dumb as the previous installment, though not as confusing.—RDL

Mississippi Grind (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2015) Sad-sack compulsive gambler Gerry (Mendo) gets picked up in Dubuque by compulsive extrovert Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) and they join forces to gamble down the Mississippi to beat a private card game in New Orleans. More road movie than gambling movie, and more exploration of male friendship and chance than either, this low-simmering actors’ duel consummately apes 70s film structure while discarding plot. Sadly, its location work, soundtrack, and character work too often rely on cliche to get Recommended on their own. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Locked Rooms and Perverse Incentives

May 5th, 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

Bad Education (Film, US, Cory Finley, 2020) An acclaimed school superintendent (Hugh Jackman) sees his comfy secret life melt away when a student journalist’s investigation exposes the massive embezzlement scheme he has been running with other top administrators. True crime character study turns an unblinking lens on the perverse incentives of the US education system.—RDL

Killing Them Softly (Film, US, Andrew Dominik, 2012) After two lowlifes (Scoot McNairy and Mendo) hit a mob-protected card game, hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) gets called in to resolve matters. Pitt channels lordly cool as the one competent man in the Boston underworld, and Dominik’s lively script crackles to a near-perfect summation. Spiky and unsatisfying in all the best ways, the film’s castigation of venality and immunity from consequences deserves renewed attention. –KH

The Mad Hatter Mystery (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1933) The second Dr. Fell novel pits the detective against a prankish hat thief, rival collectors of Poe manuscripts, and a murderer at the Tower of London. Without the impossible crime that Carr made his specialty, it nevertheless provides a fine clockwork plot well shrouded in atmospheric (and narrative) fog. –KH

Good

John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (Nonfiction, S.T. Joshi, 1990) A useful overview and primer of Carr’s fiction, superseded in places by Carr scholar Douglas Greene’s biography. Joshi’s clear internal war between praising Carr’s mesmeric genius for narrative and despising Carr’s philosophy leaves the critical material somewhat hamstrung. –KH

Zombieland: Double Tap (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2019) The attempt of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg)  and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to create a surrogate family unit in their White House HQ hits a rough patch when Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) ditch them for the independence of the road. If you’re looking for a zombie flick that won’t resonate at all with the current crisis, this horror action comedy has nothing on its mind other than amiably tapping the camaraderie established in the original.—RDL

Okay

The White Storm 2: Drug Lords (Film, HK, Herman Yau, 2019) When the son he never knew dies in a drug bust, an ex-gangster turned tycoon (Andy Lau) funds a vigilante war against top-level dealers, most notably an embittered former pal (Louis Koo) whose fingers he was once obliged to chop off. Sequel in name only to the vastly superior heroic bloodshed flick The White Storm, this mostly leaden gangland melodrama escapes “Not Recommended” status by dint of its bonkers climactic vehicle duel.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spooky Archeaology and an Ass-Kicking Broderick Crawford

April 28th, 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

Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 7 (Television, US, NBC, Dan Goor, 2020) Holt (Andre Braugher) tries to ramp down his commanding presence after being bumped down to uniform duty; Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero) decide that it’s time to have a baby. The most consistently funny and well-crafted sitcom on TV doesn’t have to deliver tight payoffs and dovetailed plotting, but the writer’s room takes the extra effort nonetheless.—RDL

The Mob (Film, US, Robert Parrish, 1951) A fatal mistake forces a weary, wisecracking police detective (Broderick Crawford) undercover in search of the mob mastermind running the city’s waterfront. Hardboiled cop thriller offers the beefy Crawford the chance to appealingly play an unlikely action hero.—RDL

Spooky Archaeology (Nonfiction, Jeb J. Card, 2018) Oh boy oh boy: chapter subjects include relic-hunting, occultism, lost continents, spies, witches, and Cthulhu, all through the lens of archaeology and its warped cousins. Card provides that most useful of auctorial voices: the skeptical eliptonist, lovingly describing some Bad Archaeology and then debunking it. A thousand RPG hooks nestle within: dig ‘em up! –KH

Good

Big Planet (Fiction, Jack Vance, 1948) Earthmen on a mission to suppress a rising dictator on a metal-poor world colonized by outcasts centuries ago undertake an arduous trek to safety after their sabotaged ship crash-lands. Marshals many of Vance’s key motifs and themes, including picaresque journeying, cultural devolution, sudden brutality, despicable villains, and elaborate hats, with the deadpan verbal play hinted at but yet to blossom.—RDL

Extraction (Film, US, Sam Hargrave, 2020) Mercenary with a death wish Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) inserts into Dhaka to rescue the kidnapped son of a Mumbai drug lord. The film alternately squanders and trips over its plot, and Hemsworth barely changes demeanor for two hours, but the excellent action and gunfight choreography (which is most of the film, to be fair) justifies its Good rating. Golshifteh Farahani and Randeep Hooda are wasted as Rake’s handler and opposite number, respectively. –KH

Okay

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (Film, Canada, Daniel Rohr, 2019) Arts profile doc in which Robertson looks back at the brief heyday of the band that defined Americana before anyone used the term. This adaptation of Robertson’s autobiography shows a music legend who has always taken great care over his self-presentation doing exactly that.—RDL

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