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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Grim, Gritty Crime and the Cat in the Hat

June 12th, 2018 | 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

13 Tzameti (Film, France, Géla Babluani, 2005) Young roofer stiffed by the death of a junkie client takes over the man’s mysterious mission, leading him to a deadly game. B&W photography, loosely paced first act, and motifs of alienation and solitary danger hearken back to the indie aesthetic of the mid-80s.—RDL

American Animals (Film, US, Bart Layton, 2018) Based on the true story of a 2004 rare book theft from Transylvania University in Kentucky, Layton interweaves talking-head commentary by the real thieves into his engaging — then riveting — heist film. (Anne Nikitin’s score drives the rivets home.) The resulting deliberate metafictions point up all manner of contrasts: between art and life, memory and truth, and yes wrong and right. Kudos to Layton for risking ruining a good movie to make a pretty great one. –KH

The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (Nonfiction, Philip Nel, 2007) Thoroughly annotated edition of The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Came Back provides deeper insight into Dr. Seuss’ process, children’s publishing in the 1950s, and the nature of Voom. –KH

Atomic Blonde (Film, US, David Leitch, 2017) M16 badass Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) sent to courier a list of enemy agents from late 80s Berlin fights her way through a tangle of betrayals centered around rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy.) Combines hard fight choreography with neon-saturated grit and paranoia. Kudos for staging its defining action set piece in mid-film.—RDL

Good

Borrowed Time (Fiction, Jack Campbell, 2016) A collection of competent to fine time-travel stories, some of them sharing a linked “T.I.” universe and some merely serving as excuses to talk history to SF readers. (NTTAWTT) I liked “Betty Knox and Dictionary Jones in the Mystery of the Missing Teenage Anachronisms” beyond its merits, I suspect, but the high camp adventure of “These Are the Times” and “Working on Borrowed Time” is nigh irresistible. –KH

Dark of the Moon (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1967) In his last appearance, Dr. Gideon Fell must unravel the impossible murder of a mathematician amidst the emotionally charged atmosphere of his South Carolina house. Carr occasionally disguises a murder mystery as a door-slamming farce, and he returns to those rhythms here in Dr. Fell’s familiar Gothic register. Carr’s dialogue, always somewhat theatrical, seems borderline ridiculous here, but plot and tension do their work well. –KH

Okay

Papa Là-Bas (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1968) Future Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin solves a Voodoo-soaked impossible murder in 1858 New Orleans. Generally considered Carr’s worst book, its sole strength is period research; even his reliable plot propeller scrapes bottom in this one. The characters solely exist to shout at each other, burst through doors suddenly, and interrupt the detective-ing when they’re not soft-pedaling slavery. –KH

What Price Hollywood? (Film, US, George Cukor, 1932) Actress (Constance Bennett) rises to movie stardom as the director who discovered her (Lowell Sherman) spirals into alcoholism. Full of great early Hollywood atmosphere, though the extremely charming Bennett is stronger in the lighter early acts than when the melodrama kicks in. The ‘37, ‘54, ‘76 and upcoming ‘18 versions of A Star is Born are all uncredited remakes of this—the fifties Garland one also directed by Cukor. See Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from the 60s Batman show, in his dashing leading man phase as Bennett’s husband.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Americans Ends; Han Solo Begins

June 5th, 2018 | 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 Americans Season 6 (TV, FX, Joe Weisberg, 2018) The best show on television ends its run with the end of the Cold War and a final reckoning for Soviet sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, even better in those roles now if you can believe it). A three-year jump from Season 5 provides the perfect launch pad for a final season that recapitulates the series’ meaning while flipping its narrative on its head, and never taking the direction you expect. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (TV, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2017) To the consternation of his surrogate uncle-slash-manager, a malleable hit man (Bill Hader) enrolls in an L.A. acting class. Squeezes fresh energy from the collision of two otherwise well-worn sub-genres, with a dark moral wallop at the heart of its squirm comedy.—RDL

Dark Star Rising: Magic and Power in the Age of Trump (Nonfiction, Gary Lachman, 2018) Traces the influence of such esoteric beliefs as New Thought, chaos magick, Traditionalism, and biospherism on the burgeoning forces of international post-modern authoritarianism. Ties its threads together with clarity, erudition, and the rueful alarm felt when a chronicler of occult and fringe topics sees his work becoming suddenly topical. (An unease shared, needless to say, by a couple of podcasters I could name.)—RDL

The Final Master (Film, China, Xu Haofeng, 2015) Laconic wing chun master attempting to establish a martial arts academy in the northern city of Tianjin discovers that the deadliest fights occur behind the scenes. Invests the bare bones of 70s fu fight tropes with languorous style and covert, Brechtian political allegory.—RDL

Good

Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes (Film, Denmark, Mikkel Nørgaard, 2013) After a stubborn misstep gets one partner killed and the other paralyzed, a brooding homicide detective (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gets downgraded to cold case duty, where he and his upbeat but disregarded new partner (Fares Fares) take a more hands-on approach to a bureaucrat’s disappearance than his superiors intend. Well-crafted, straight-up treatment of police procedural tropes uses a flashback structure to interweave the events of the crime with its investigation. First of a trilogy.—RDL

Okay

Martin Roumagnac (Film, France, Georges Lacombe, 1946) Small-town construction contractor (Jean Gabin) falls hard for a scandalous young widow (Marlene Dietrich) whose con man uncle hopes to marry her off to a freshly widowed diplomat. Engaging when its two great stars share the screen, not so much when it turns into a by-the-numbers courtroom drama. Also known as The Room Upstairs.—RDL

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Street rat Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has a creakily paced origin story that provides him with all of Han Solo’s trappings but little of his personality. I’m a fan of Ehrenreich, who plays his thankless Lazenby role as well as possible — he’d make a better rebooted Indy, on this showing. The one element I was sure would never work, Han’s friendship with Chewbacca, actually sold me. But the endless endless callbacks and fan servicings (and Ron Howard’s staid direction) drain much of the zip out of what could have been a really neat B-movie set in the Star Wars universe, if only it had been called Frelbeg: A Star Wars Story and been about literally anybody else in the galaxy. –KH

Not Recommended

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Brash street kid Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) joins a team of energy thieves in a bid to rescue his first love, who has her own survival plans. Fun intermittently breaks out when given the breathing room to be a heist flick in the Star Wars universe, but mostly this is an unnecessary origin story that both over-references and undercuts the ‘77 classic. Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian demonstrates it’s better to be asked to channel Billy Dee Williams than Harrison Ford.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deadpool 2 and Lovecraft Illustrated

May 29th, 2018 | 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

Arrow Season 6 (Television, US, CW, Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, 2017-2018) As dissension rocks Team Arrow and Oliver adjusts to fatherhood, a hacker/gangster partnership tightens its grip on the city. Gets the show’s grim groove back by splitting the heroes, and hiring top character actors Kirk Acevedo and Michael Emerson as the big bads.—RDL

The Italian Connection (Film, Italy, Fernando di Leo, 1972) Small-time pimp (Mario Adorf) shows surprising grit when, due to mob machinations above his pay grade, a pair of New York hit men (Henry Silva, Woody Strode) show up in Milan looking to snuff him. Wild, lurid poliziotteschi resolves a corrupt, chaotic universe with underdog ultraviolence.—RDL

Lovecraft Illustrated (17 vols.) (Fiction, H.P. Lovecraft and Pete von Sholly, 2014-2018) Von Sholly’s bold, colorful, pulp-inflected cartoons help re-establish Lovecraft as first and foremost an author of weird, scary stories. The early volumes mostly cover one story each, with some scholarly pieces or inspirational fictions as addenda; the later ones pack in several shorter works per volume. Texts are the Joshi-edited versions, although one or two typos creep back in. –KH

Raazi (Film, India, Meghna Gulzar, 2018) During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani crisis, a dying Indian spy plants his daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt, ever more superb) in the household of a Pakistani general as bride to his son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal). Gulzar flavors her tense, realistic spy thriller with a love story, the acting and genuinely human characters bringing both off without a hitch. Jaideep Ahlawat excels with underplayed stoicism as Sehmat’s handler, and the score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy provides both period and emotional beats par excellence. –KH

Supernatural Season 13 (Television, US, CW, Andrew Dabb, 2017-2018) Sam and Dean become surrogate dads to an angsty nephilim as his real father, Lucifer, schemes to regain his full power. Worth it for the Scooby Doo episode alone, this show is still finding just enough freshness to keep its very specific formula spinning.—RDL

Good

The Chelsea Murders (Fiction, Lionel Davidson, 1978) DCS Warton doggedly, if not particularly effectively, pursues three main suspects in a series of killings in Chelsea, connected both by by killer-sent letters and by the victims’ initials to the district’s famous poetical inhabitants. Davidson wrote very infrequent novels, each of which seem to be in a different style and genre. This one combines an airy, cynical tenor with a somewhat hectic murder mystery that Davidson explicitly compares to a game of three-card monte. The result, while a rocketing good read (as are all Davidson’s works), doesn’t carry the immediacy or the power of his best thrillers. –KH

Crime Seen: From Patrol Cop to Profiler, My Stories from Behind the Yellow Tape (Nonfiction, Kate Lines, 2015) Author recounts her career with the Ontario Provincial Police, starting with highway patrol and undercover operations to top leadership posts, with a notable stint as the province’s first Quantico-trained criminal profiler in the middle. A fresh local (to me) angle on the forensic psychology memoir. The sections covering the upper management years do get a bit press release-y.—RDL

Deadpool 2 (Film, US, David Leitch, 2018) Meta metahuman Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) tries, intermittently, to stop future soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) from killing a young mutant (Julian Dennison) who goes bad in the future. The original film had enough juice that the sequel can run on that during its own slack periods, which are not insubstantial. Deadpool would also seem to be an odd franchise within which to examine the morality of murder; further, the temptations of irony and snark predictably undercut it. But the fights are fun, and Zazie Beetz’ Domino deserves a trilogy of her own. –KH

Deadpool 2 (Film, US, David Leitch, 2018) Left suicidal by a loved one’s murder, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reluctantly decides to protect a super-powered kid (Julian Dennison) from grim time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin.) With the original’s dizzying tonal surprises now an established quantity, this amiable follow-up pelts the viewer with enough gags and action sequences to keep the plates spinning.—RDL

The Flash Season 4 (Television, US, CW, Todd Helbing, 2017-2018) The Flash battles the Thinker, who is hunting metas, including louche new teammate the Elongated Man, to absorb their powers. A shift to a lighter tone comes at first in the form of inane hijinks, which fortunately recede as the stakes rise later on.—RDL

Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History (Nonfiction, Mike Pesca, ed., 2018) This collection of 31 essays runs the gamut from Jon Bois’ absurdist “What if Basketball Rims Were Smaller Than Basketballs?” to Mary Pilon’s earnestly sociological “What if Title IX Never Was?” My favorites include Claude Johnson’s alternate beginning for the NBA and Julian Zelizer’s “What if Nixon Had Been Good at Football?” but most of them don’t make too many waves, in memory or history. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Moorcock, le Carre and Mae West

May 22nd, 2018 | 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.

One of us must be in crunch mode, but here’s the other with an all-recommendation round of media consumption.

Recommended

Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 5 (Television, US, FOX, Dan Goor, 2017-2018) Jake and Amy prepare for their wedding as Amy gets a promotion and Holt goes up for commissioner. Stays as solid as ever while showing how to advance characters without bending them out of shape.—RDL

Gotham Season 4 (Television, US, FOX, Danny Cannon, 2017-2018) Young Bruce reels from his killing of Ra’s al-Ghul and Jim Gordon watches another ex join the underworld. Highlighted by a classic rendition of the Joker from Cameron Monaghan, which brilliantly references the entire Romero-to-Ledger spectrum, capped by a weido reverse version. —RDL

A Legacy of Spies (Fiction, John le Carré, 2017) When a civil suit threatens to expose a decades-old operation, the feckless muppets running today’s MI6, decide to scapegoat Peter Guillam, right-hand to Cold War spymaster George Smiley. Flashback structure makes this both prequel and sequel to The Spy Who Came Out of the Cold, as seen through the lens of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. More a coda to those two masterpieces than a standalone work, so not the place to start with le Carré.—RDL

Night After Night (Film, US, Archie Mayo, 1932) Good-hearted speakeasy owner (George Raft) falls for a melancholy young woman (Constance Cummings) from a formerly wealthy family. The uncredited hand of screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz grants depth and sympathy to what in any other version of this film would be a collection of Runyonesque stock characters. Featuring Mae West and a nonchalant, positive lesbian subplot.—RDL

Phoenix in Obsidian (Fiction, Michael Moorcock, 1970) In part two of the Eternal Champion sub-series, Erekose becomes wintry warrior Urlik Skarsol and reunites with the black sword. A lesson in stripped-down, image-rich sword and sorcery from the days before fantasy was struck by the Great Word Count Bloat.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Microbes, Quantum Ghosts and Harry Dean Stanton

May 15th, 2018 | 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

Future Echoes (Play, Paul Foster, 2018) Allie’s (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers) dinner party reunion gets interrupted by mysterious death-fetches — are they perhaps connected to missing roommate Eamon’s experiment at the super collider? Mostly successful blending of ghost story and quantum physics nightmare slowly pivots into a truly horrific fable of stalking. Lott-Rogers’ performance holds the play together over a few bumpy transitions from spookshow to science fiction. [Disclaimer: Paul Foster and I are both part of WildClaw Theatre, and I have beaten him at so many board games that we must be friends by now.]  Playing through May 27 at the Den Theater in Chicago. –KH

Lucky (Film, US, John Carroll Lynch) Lovably irascible old man (Harry Dean Stanton) living in a small Arizona town arouses the concern in his friends after a fall confronts him with his mortality. Near plotless character piece, with a lived-in feel reminiscent of Jarmusch and The Straight Story (complete with David Lynch acting turn), gives the sublime gift of a final showcase for the soulful, never obtrusive acting art of Harry Dean Stanton.—RDL

Welcome to the Microbiome: Getting to Know the Trillions of Bacteria and Other Microbes In, On, and Around You (Nonfiction, Rob DeSalle and Susan L. Perkins, 2015) Introductory survey of the body’s relationship with its host of microbial residents, from their essential role in digestion to the possible role they play in obesity, depression and autism. Aimed at the novice but quite technical for a pop science book. The main takeaway is how young a field the study of the microbiome is, and how little we know about it, or bacteria in general.—RDL

Good

Super Fly (Film, US, Gordon Parks Jr., 1972) Outwardly dominant but inwardly terrified NYC coke dealer tries to arrange a single deal large enough to get him out of the business. Gritty locations lend authenticity to this camp-free, rough-hewn classic of the blaxploitation cycle. Soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield features most of his best songs.—RDL

Not Recommended

Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days (Film, Japan, Azuma Morisaki, 2013) Flailing ad salesman and part-time cartoonist struggles to keep up with his mother’s accelerating dementia. Shambling slice-of-life comedy set in the present day, intercut with melodramatic flashbacks, culminating in unbearable mawkishness. Based on an autobiographical manga.—RDL

A Woman’s Secret (Film, US, Nicholas Ray, 1949) Pianist (Melvyn Douglas) tries to exonerate a steely ex-singer (Maureen O’Hara) who has confessed to shooting her reluctant protege (Gloria Grahame.) Cast and director work hard to breathe life into a hash of a script that meanders in chronology, genre and tone. Made just a year before Ray’s masterpiece In a Lonely Place, also with then-wife Grahame.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cats > Infinity War

May 8th, 2018 | 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

Ballad of a Small Player (Fiction, Lawrence Osborne, 2014) After a bout of unearned love, an expat Brit in Macao confronts the worst fate that can befall a baccarat addict—a run of preternatural luck. Mordant contemplation of the most cosmically punishing of the self-destructive vices, permeated by damp local ambience and intimations of the supernatural.—RDL

Kedi (Film, Turkey, Ceyda Torun, 2017) Documentary follows the doughty street cats of Istanbul and the humans who feed and admire them. Soothing and gorgeously photographed, this is the apotheosis of the cat video.—RDL

Good

The Avengers: Infinity War (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018) Thanos (Josh Brolin), an enormous purple Malthusian, seeks the six Infinity Stones as the Avengers, et. al. (Robert Downey, Jr., et. al.), try to stop him. The first half of a five-hour action movie released alone perhaps could never be that great as a film, even if it didn’t try to shoehorn three dozen characters into spotlight moments. To the Russos’ credit, they have many better ways to shoot superhero fights than the very tired “clash of incompetent CGI armies” and often cut to that something better. Brolin is as good as his mocap millstone lets him be, and Downey sells his own exhaustion with the franchise convincingly enough as Tony Stark’s. But at the end of the day, this is a movie that feels pretty much exactly like reading a too-long superhero crossover comic series. –KH

Beware of the Trains (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1953) This collection of mystery short stories mostly starring Crispin’s detective don Gervase Fen sets up some excellent puzzles and solves them with Crispin’s usual flair. However, the difference between a detective best suited for novels (like Fen or Lord Peter Wimsey) and a classic short-story star (like Sherlock Holmes or Nick Velvet) really comes into focus when you read the one in the other form. –KH

The Great Wall (Film, US/China, Zhang Yimou, 2016) Western blackguard (Matt Damon) finds his inner hero when he stumbles onto the latest round of an eternal battle between a colorful legion of wall defenders and the iguana-dragon horde that wants to eat the empire. Yeah, this misses a character beat or three on its hero’s selfishness to altruism arc, and fell prey to a colossal expectations mismatch on its initial release. Go in expecting a Harryhausenesque CGI romp where Zhang gets to indulge the wildest edges of his color sense and you’ll get your Saturday matinee money’s worth. —RDL

Okay

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 3 (Television, US, Marc Guggenheim & Phil Klemmer, 2017-2018) The team undergoes personnel changes and engages in player-character-like hijinks while trying to prevent the materialization of a plummy-voiced time demon. Wildly uneven season starts out incredibly shaky, redeems itself with the giddily splendid multi-show crossover event, then settles into a groove. (Not Good + Pinnacle + Good) / 3 = Okay. —RDL

The Outsider (Film, US, Martin Zandvliet, 2018) In 1954 Osaka, American ex-soldier Nick (Jared Leto) helps yakuza member Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) escape prison, and gets adopted into his yakuza clan. Its simplistic A-to-B plot recalls the yakuza films of the 1950s without their emotional depths or stylistic heights. Zandvliet films the ample bloodshed in a low-key, even flat affect that perhaps reflects the cold sociopathy of Nick and his milieu, but (also like Leto’s Nick) it barely holds the viewer’s interest even while it’s on screen. –KH

Incomplete

The Avengers: Infinity War (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018) Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. Marvel heroes think they have the upper hand over Thanos, but then they don’t. No protagonist, no ending, not a movie.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Be Very Very Quiet, It’s a Curse of Vengeance

May 1st, 2018 | 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 Killing of a Sacred Deer (Film, UK/Ireland/US, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017) Arrogant heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) takes an interest in a dead patient’s son (Barry Keoghan), bringing weird vengeance on his wife (Nicole Kidman) and family. Affectless line readings, hyper-banal dialogue, sun-drenched visuals and boundary-less characters converge to create quietly excruciating tension long before the film reveals its true genre. Such a slow burn that it’s almost a spoiler to tell you it’s supernatural horror, but if I don’t you won’t all watch it, will you?—RDL

Recommended

Founding Fathers Funnies (Comics, Peter Bagge, 2016) Anthology of pieces from 2005-2015 on the foibles and furors of America’s founding fathers (and one or two mothers). Bagge liked Hamilton before it was cool, and Alex (along with Ben Franklin and John Adams) gets most of the ink here. The best piece depicts John Singleton Copley depicting Paul Revere; the only real dud is the too-tepid John Paul Jones segment. –KH

A Quiet Place (Film, US, John Krasinski, 2018) Following an apocalyptic invasion of monsters that track and kill by sound, Lee and Evelyn Abbott (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) try to preserve their family. Driven by the overwhelming central concept, taut set pieces and rich metaphor proliferate throughout. Even the acting, almost entirely in silence or in ASL, benefits. No, it doesn’t beat the fourth-act fall of most horror films, but in a tight 95 minutes that’s more forgivable. –KH

Okay

Lisa and the Devil (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1976) Lost tourist (Elke Sommer) stumbles into a haunted villa presided over by a weird mom and son, and their smugly sinister, mannequin-toting butler (Telly Savalas.) Dream logic gothic horror features Bava’s flair for color and ornate set decor. Savalas shows up his wooden castmates by deciding to act up a storm, complete with Kojak’s iconic lollipop.—RDL

Mr. Holmes (Film, Bill Condon, 2015) An elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) befriends his housekeeper’s boy while struggling to remember the 30-year old case that drove him into retirement. Prestige drama in need of an urgency transfusion. Notable for McKellen’s kind and vulnerable master detective, a break from the current vogue for Sherlock as sociopath.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Time Travel, Zora Neale Hurston and the Russian Mob

April 24th, 2018 | 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

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story (Comics, Peter Bagge, 2017) Straight-up biography in (well-endnoted) comics form of anthropologist, novelist, folklorist Hurston, the most glorious maverick of the Harlem Renaissance. Bagge doesn’t try to find a through-line except in Hurston’s mercurial personality, which is probably for the best as her prose can’t be condensed to comics and her politics shouldn’t be. –KH

Source Code (Film, US/France, Duncan Jones, 2011) U.S. Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a commuter train headed for Chicago, sitting across from a stranger (Michelle Monaghan) who seems to know him. And then he does it again. A tasty blend of thriller, science fiction, and Groundhog Day that just plain works — everybody does a great job filming a script that moves more than fast enough to deliver the Dickian mindscrew at its core. –KH

Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (Nonfiction, Mark Galeotti, 2018) Traces the evolution of organized crime in Russia from pre-WWI horse thieves to Stalin’s bandit pals, and on to gulag-hardened recalcitrants, the regime-favored trusties who violently broke them, the trigger-happy turf-grabbers of the wild 90s and the finally the hybrid businessman-gangsters of today. Punchy subtitle notwithstanding, this admirably focused, engagingly written survey looks at its subject matter through a demythologizing lens.—RDL (Full Disclosure: In his time off from interviewing Chechen hit men, the author is One of Us, and a KARTAS Patreon backer.)

Wild Wild Country (Television, Netflix, Chapman Way & Maclain Way, 2018) Docuseries recounts the rise and fall of the free-loving, gun-toting, salmonella-weaponizing Rajneeshpuram religious community in rural Oregon. A rippling score by Brocker Way adds tension to the archival footage/modern interview format, as the artifacting of deteriorated video footage underline a chaos of conflicting perspectives.—RDL

Good

Cash on Demand (Film, UK, Quentin Lawrence, 1961) Persnickety, dare I say Scrooge-like, bank manager Fordyce (Peter Cushing) learns what’s really important when a roguish bank robber (Andre Morell) uses him in a clockwork heist. Real-time tension counterpoints Cushing’s superb portrayal of a man disintegrating under pressure. I would not disagree if other viewers’ temperament upgrades it to Recommended. –KH

White God (Film, Hungary, Kornél Mundruczó, 2014) Tossed out on the side of a highway road by his adoring owner’s loser dad, Hagen the mixed-breed suffers mistreatment, including a stint as a fighting dog, before leading a city-wide canine kill spree against his oppressors. Allegorical drama with arthouse style and an exploitation heart.—RDL

Okay

The Deadly Companions (Film, US, Sam Peckinpah, 1961) After accidentally shooting her child in a gunfight with outlaws, a tortured Union veteran (Brian Keith) delays his mission of vengeance to make himself an unwelcome bodyguard to a dance hall performer (Maureen O’Hara.) In his first directorial outing, Peckinpah introduces a bracing moral grottiness unusual for a studio western of the period, but shows little affinity for the script’s central hostility-to-affection romantic arc.—RDL

Kodachrome (Film, US, Mark Raso, 2018) Struggling A&R guy (Jason Sudeikis) reluctantly agrees to a road trip with his estranged, dying famous photographer dad (Ed Harris) and his nurse (Elizabeth Olsen.) RIYL strong performances and obvious story developments.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deadites and Samurai

April 17th, 2018 | 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

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2 (Television, US, STARZ, Craig DiGregorio, 2017) Ash (Bruce Campbell), now allied with Ruby, returns to his hometown and a certain cabin in the woods to battle a new, more human-like threat, the demon Baal. Season 2 moves closer to the spirit of the original, including more sympathetic portrayal of Ash, while gleefully topping itself in the gore department. The ending, apparently a last minute creative shift, leaves a headscratcher for Season 3 to redeem . —RDL

Commandos Strike at Dawn (Film, US, John Farrow, 1942) After the Nazi takeover of Norway, a mild-mannered fisheries scientist (Paul Muni) forms a resistance cell. Gripping drama pulls no propaganda punches, as was typical of the films Hollywood made about the war, during the war. With story by C. S. Forester.—RDL

Eleven Samurai (Film, Japan, Eiichi Kudo, 1967) Retainers of a falsely punished clan realize that the man responsible for their fate, the heedless and violent son of the shogun, needs killing. Tense and moody mix of Edo politics and samurai action.—RDL

In Order of Disappearance (Film, Norway, Hans Petter Moland, 2016) When drug dealers kill his son, a taciturn snow plow operator (Stellan Skarsgard) starts killing his way up the local gangster food chain, sparking an ever-widening cycle of violence. Wintry, mordant take on the vigilante revenge genre.—RDL

The Power House (Fiction, William Haggard, 1967) A left-wing MP’s failed defection leads to a war between London gambling houses, and Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must keep the lid on all of it. Crime and party politics burst in on Haggard’s cozy world, to the benefit of pacing. Haggard also changes up his standard class signifiers somewhat in the interest of properly blackguarding a thinly-disguised Harold Wilson. The resulting discord makes Haggard’s plotting even more satisfying. –KH

Good

A Cool Day For Killing (Fiction, William Haggard, 1968) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must protect the English heirs to the ruling family of the Sultanate of Shahaddin from Chinese agents in this genuinely thrilling yarn. Although the two sympathetic heirs are female and half-Malay, respectively, 21st-century audiences may jib at Haggard’s gender and ethnic essentialism; spy-fi fans may cavil at the relative lack of challenge posed by Russell’s Chinese opposite number. –KH

Okay

Baadshaho (Film, India, Milan Luthria, 2017) During the Emergency in 1975, Princess Gitanjali (Ileana d’Cruz) depends on her loyal bodyguard Bhawani (Ajay Devgan) to heist her fortune in gold when crooked government officials seize it. Relatively competent, if leisurely paced, period heist thriller literally goes up in a cloud of dust in the abrupt and opaque final act. –KH

Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground (Nonfiction, Ian Purkayastha with Kevin West, 2016) Truffle supplier to the NYC restaurant elite recounts his quest for high-end fungus in an industry rife with risk and deception. Requires the reader to sniff out salient nuggets of food biz info from a field of anodyne autobiography.—RDL

Two Evil Eyes (Film, Italy/US, George Romero and Dario Argento, 1990) Two hour-long films based on Poe stories: in Romero’s “Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar,” he ties Poe’s grotesque to an EC Horror-style crime-comeuppance story, while Argento’s “The Black Cat” nestles the title story amidst ample other Poe callouts. Romero’s half is competent enough, even Good, albeit mostly marking time to the weird end; Argento neither provides Poe’s portrait of a madman (Harvey Keitel) nor digs into the notion of a Poe universe unspooling around him. Especially for Argento fans, this is Not Recommended. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: More Dogs, More Stalin, More Haggard

April 10th, 2018 | 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 Death of Stalin (Film, UK, Armando Iannucci, 2017) As they prepare for Stalin’s funeral (spoiler),, frantic members of his inner circle, portrayed with comic relish by Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs and Michael Palin, scheme for survival as the power vacuum closes. Iannucci’s “The Thick of It” / “Veep” style achieves apotheosis by tackling a circumstance where the stakes go all the way up to murder.—RDL

The Hard Sell (Fiction, William Haggard, 1965) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive investigates sabotage and delays of a British jet prototype being built in Italy — where he has no jurisdiction. A judicious blend of political machinations and policier maneuver steadily speeds the pace of this novel into genuine thriller territory, albeit at the discreet remove Haggard prefers. Maybe the ending wraps up a little too neatly, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. –KH

Isle of Dogs (Film, US, Wes Anderson, 2018) Exiled to Trash Island off the coast of Megasaki in retrofuture Japan, a pack of dogs (Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray) help crashed 12-year-old pilot Atari (Kyou Rankin) search for his own exiled dog. Over and above the strong script and metronomically quirky Anderson-company performances, the most impressive thing about this stop-motion animation adventure quest is its sheer crafted beauty. Anderson surpasses Fantastic Mr. Fox and turns his obsessive-compulsive auteurism into a strength instead of a crutch. –KH

A Man and a Woman (Film, France, Claude Lelouch, 1966) Attraction sparks between two single parents whose kids attend the same boarding school, a script supervisor (Anouk Aimée) and a race car driver (Jean-Louis Trintignant.) Beguiling romance in which the obstacles keeping the lovers apart take a back seat to New Wave formal experimentation and early 60s chic.—RDL

The Yacoubian Building (Fiction, Alaa Al Aswany, 2002) As Gulf War I begins elsewhere in the region, Cairo residents of high and low status, united by a connection to the titular building, find their daily struggles worsened by the brushes with dictatorial power. Revisits the social realist tradition of Egyptian fiction within the context of recent politics.—RDL

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (Television, HBO, Judd Apatow, 2018) Documentary miniseries lovingly portrays the rise and ensuing struggle of Shandling, creator of the seminal Larry Sanders Show and previous cult hit It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Hilarious and heartbreaking bio of a wounded guy who sought solace in perfectionism, and found it in Buddhist meditation.—RDL.

Okay

The Emperor’s Candlesticks (Film, US, George Fitzmaurice, 1937) Russian spy (Luise Rainer) and Polish agent (William Powell) fall in love while racing to deliver competing messages to the czar. Frothy Continental espionage confection expends much screen time on the complexities of its titular McGuffin. Rainer is always a bit of a dud, especially when contrasted with the infinitely more present Maureen O’Sullivan, who appears in a secondary role.—RDL

I, Vampire (Comics, DC, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino, 2011-2013) Collected in three trade paperbacks, this relaunch of J.M. deMatteis’ emo action vampire hero Andrew Bennett overlaps a literally apocalyptic story of Andrew and his murderous lover Mary with DC’s magical supers and John Constantine and Batman and Stormwatch for some reason. The result is a cascading series of dei ex machina and over-the-top writing that vitiates the characters’ humanity while not selling their epic status. –KH

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