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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hit Man, The Fall Guy, Maps of Empire and Jorge Luis Borges, Investigator

June 11th, 2024 | 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

Atlas of Empires: The World’s Great Powers from Ancient Times to Today (Nonfiction, Peter Davidson, 2018) In 60 main maps and 240 pages of text, Davidson describes empires from Sargon of Akkad to the EU. While the maps are almost uniformly excellent (I noticed one color-separation issue on the 17th-century imperialism map) the text is the real draw, as incisive and clear as Colin McEvedy at his best. An ideal quick first summary of imperialisms ancient and postmodern, and usefully informative to almost anyone.—KH

Borges and the Eternal Orangutans (Fiction, Luis Fernando Verissimo, 2000) Amateur Poe scholar and Borges fan Vogelstein gets the opportunity to follow his dreams when the Israfel Society holds its 1985 meeting in Buenos Aires. When another Poe scholar turns up murdered, Vogelstein and Borges investigate a trail that oh yes leads through Lovecraft, John Dee, and at least two orangutans. A short, sharp delight, like Umberto Eco espresso.—KH

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America (Nonfiction, Michael Ruhlman, 2017) Embedding himself in the innovative mid-tier Cleveland area Heinen’s chain, the author examines the many facets of America’s constantly evolving retail food industry. Among the many takeaways from this absorbingly rendered account is the extent to which customer demands for health and sustainability have already transformed the business Consumed in audiobook format.—RDL

A Hidden Life (Film, US, Terrence Malick, 2019) When he is conscripted into the German army,  a devout farmer from a remote Austrian village (August Diehl) supported by his steadfast wife (Valerie Pachner), forbears the consequences of refusing to sign the required loyalty oath to Hitler. Faith and idyllic natural beauty contrast with human moral horror in the master director’s signature style.—RDL

Hit Man (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2024) Psych professor Gary (Glen Powell) meets abused wife Madison (Adria Arjona) while undercover for the New Orleans PD pretending to be a hit man named Ron. This film about the human capacity to change likewise changes from comedy to rom-com to thriller to the edge of noir, with Powell following along in a showcase of acting range.—KH

Loot Season 2 (Television, US, Apple+, Alan Yang & Matt Hubbard, 2024) Resisting her narcissistic ex’s efforts to win her back, Molly (Maya Rudolph) expands her philanthropic empire and struggles with her feelings for button-downed employee Arthur (Nat Faxon.) Smart, character-driven sitcom cruises comfortably into its sophomore season, boosted by the natural chops of supporting players Ron Funches and Joel Kim Booster.—RDL

Good

Christ Stopped at Eboli (Television, Italy, Francesco Rosi, 1979) In 1933, painter Carlo Levi is banished for his anti-fascist writings to internal exile in a remote southern village. In this adaptation of a seminal memoir, Rosi’s prestige-pic penchant for the picturesque and sentimental co-exists uneasily with the text’s horror at the extreme deprivation it documents.—RDL

The Fall Guy (Film, US, David Leitch, 2024) Mystery and peril assist romantic reconciliation when a soulful stuntman (Ryan Gosling) ends his retirement to join the directing debut of the ex (Emily Blunt) he ghosted after suffering an on-set injury. Breezy action romcom has to clear a pacing hurdle caused by the traffic jam of plot elements it needs to establish before it can really get rolling.—RDL

Fast Charlie (Film, US, Philip Noyce, 2023) When rising New Orleans boss Beggar (Gbenga Akinnagbe) wipes out the crew of old-school Biloxi boss Stan (James Caan in his final role), hitman Charlie (Pierce Brosnan doing the most insane Mississippi accent in cinema history) seeks revenge and leverage with the help of Marcie (Morena Baccarin), the widow of his most recent target. Noyce keeps things driving along in whipcrack fashion (it’s only 90 minutes!), and Brosnan is always a delight, but you’ve already seen this movie before, even if this time you probably like it better.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Godzilla Minus One, Star Trek Discovery, City Hunter

June 4th, 2024 | 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

Godzilla Minus One (Film, Japan, Takashi Yamakazi, 2023) When the dinosaur-like creature he encountered on a remote island in the dying days of the war comes back as a radioactive gargantua, a young man trained to be a kamikaze pilot (Ryunosuke Kamiki) gets a second shot at heroism. Reverent retelling of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original makes effective, sparing use of its kaiju destruction scenes as it shifts the theme from the cosmic trauma of the H-bomb to survivor guilt and redemption.—RDL

The Last Stop in Yuma County (Film, US, Francis Galluppi, 2024) Stuck in a diner waiting for the fuel truck, several strangers cross paths with escaping bank robbers (Richard Brake, Nicholas Logan) in a neo-Tarantino bottle drama that crosses into Coen Brothers vantablack-humor territory before too long. Jim Cummings’ sad-sack knife salesman and Sierra McCormick’s wannabe Bonnie Parker are only the tip of a superb casting iceberg. What Galluppi lacks in originality he makes up in technical proficiency, and in quickly limning character against a classic American cinema backdrop.—KH

Private Life (Film, US, Tamara Jenkins, 2018) Desperate for a child, a frazzled artsy couple (Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti) enlist their college-age aspiring writer niece (Emily Robinson) as a potential egg donor. Indie drama observes the humiliations of being alive and cognizant with a bleakly funny yet humane eye.—RDL

Good

Hellbender (Film, US, John Adams, Zelda Adams and Tony Poser, 2022) Teen (Zelda Adams) raised in woodland isolation by her loving, protective mother (Tony Poser) discovers that they are beings who gain immense witch-like powers when they consume living things. Indie folk horror fairy tale explores the ambivalence of relationships between teen girls and their moms, ending where its third act ought to start.—RDL

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 (Television, US, Paramount+, Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise, 2024) To prevent a dark future where the Breen use the technological secret of humanoid life itself to destroy the Federation, Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and crew race against lovestruck mercenaries to gather a series of puzzle pieces. The Trek iteration that was never the same show for two consecutive seasons completes its arc from its starting point of jarring revisionism all the way to Next Generation-style comfort viewing..—RDL

Okay

City Hunter (Film, Japan, Yûichi Satô, 2024) Combat-machine, horndog PI (Ryohei Suzuki) reluctantly teams with his murdered partner’s sister (Misato Morita) as he investigates the super serum conspiracy behind the killing. Latest adaptation of the popular manga series delivers some fun action, dragged down by the dire, jokeless schtick of the protagonist’s canonical lechery.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Furiosa, Lovecraft’s Iraq, and a Genre-Blending Romance

May 28th, 2024 | 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

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Film, Australia, George Miller, 2024) Kidnapped from the Green Place as a child (Alyla Browne) by the warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) seeks revenge and return. A Western epic pivoting on a coming-of-age car-chase-battle as good as anything Miller has ever shot easily hits the Recommended level despite the inevitable prequel handicaps. Hemsworth is a delight as a cartoon villain whose arc mirrors that of the hateful world where Furiosa is trapped.—KH

History is Made at Night (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1937) Renowned restaurateur (Charles Boyer) steps in to protect the independence-seeking wife (Jean Arthur) of a psychotic shipping magnate (Colin Clive.) The director’s subtle mastery of feeling and atmosphere fuses the seams of a genre-blending romantic thriller.—RDL

Is This Anything? (Nonfiction, Jerry Seinfeld, 2020) Compilation of virtually all of Seinfeld’s stand-up material from the 1970s to 2020 shows both the steady honing of his writing and the vital importance of delivery on stage.—KH

White Elephant (Film, Argentina, Pablo Trapero, 2012) Terminally ill priest (Ricardo Darin) takes in a traumatized colleague (Jérémie Renier) in the unspoken hope that he will succeed him in his violence-plagued shantytown parish. Star-driven social drama establishes obvious expectations and then veers away from them.—RDL

Good

Category III: The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema (Film, UK, Calum Waddell, 2018) Survey of the Hong Kong film industry’s adult-rated output, which ranges from the sordid to classics of extreme and arthouse cinema alike, told through talking heads and scuffed-up trailer excerpts. Most remarkable among the interviews is an unnervingly revealing appearance from actor Anthony Wong.—RDL

Lovecraft’s Iraq (Fiction, David Rose, 2022) When a USMC patrol outside Fallujah finds pages from the Necronomicon in a cultist safe house, things get increasingly weird for the survivors. More military horror-fantasy than pure Lovecraftian tale, worth reading for Delta Green GMs.—KH

Master of the World (Film, US, WIlliam Witney, 1961) In 1868, investigating mysterious phenomena from a Pennsylvania mesa, Interior Department agent Strock (Charles Bronson) becomes the captive of Captain Robur (Vincent Price) on his aeronef Albatross. Competent, if florid, Richard Matheson adaptation of two Verne novels struggles against an AIP budget. For whatever reason, Bronson and Price never truly face off in what would have been quite the actors’ duel.—KH

Themroc (Film, France, Claude Faraldo, 1973) After an incident at work, a brutish prole (Michel Piccoli) destroys his flat, inspiring his neighbors to join in and provoking a violent response from the riot squad. Dadaist satire of devolution and authority with only unintelligible gibberish is the missing link between Buñuel and current practitioners of the French arthouse weird such as Leos Carax and Gaspar Noé. Like many experimental films it could stand a tighter edit.—RDL

Okay

The Delinquents (Film, Argentina, Rodrigo Moreno, 2023) Unassuming bank clerk (Daniel Elias) absconds with a gym bag full of cash, roping in a glum colleague (Esteban Bigliardi) as an accomplice after the fact. Genre elements compete uneasily with the hyper-elongated pacing of slow cinema.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Book of Eating, The Idea of You, and Martial Arts Marital Problems

May 21st, 2024 | 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.

Ken is on assignment.

Recommended

The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony (Nonfiction, Adam Platt, 2019) Longtime NYC restaurant critic recounts his youthful eating experiences as the son of a diplomat posted to the Far East, his quixotic dieting attempts, and run-ins with aggrieved chefs. Lyrical and amusing memoir most covers the food and media industries in a time of radical, Internet-driven upheaval. Consumed in audiobook format.—RDL

The Idea of You (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2024) Recently divorced gallery owner (Anne Hathaway) stumbles into a relationship with a searingly famous young pop star (Nicholas Galitzine.) Showalter’s commitment to real human behavior brings emotional context to the star sizzle of its leads in this romantic dramedy.—RDL

Good

Heroes of the East (Film, HK, Chia-Liang Liu, 1978) Newlyweds Tao Ho (Gordon Liu) and Yumiko (Yuka Mizuno) clash over the virtues of their respective Chinese and Japanese fighting styles, leading to a mix-up in which all of Japan’s martial arts masters challenge him in turn. The promise of a kung fu rom com where fights determine the course of love gives way to a series of well-staged duels, with the merits of many different weapons discussed in detail..—RDL

What a Way to Go! (Film, US, J. Lee Thompson, 1964) Good hearted lover of the simple life (Shirley Maclaine) falls for a succession of men (Dick van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum and Gene Kelly), inadvertently inspiring them to success that brings about their early demises. Lavishly produced, extravagantly costumed, cartoonish, postmodern anti-capitalist satire will have you looking it up on IMDB to prove to yourself that you didn’t hallucinate it. From the director of Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Death Wish 4.—RDL

Okay

A Week’s Vacation (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1980) Disaffected middle school teacher (Nathalie Baye) takes a week of sick leave to reconsider her life. Naturalistic drama exemplifies the way in which accurate portrayals of depression run counter to the demands of traditional narrative.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Everybody’s in L.A., Unfrosted, and Hamburger America

May 14th, 2024 | 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 Blood of Wolves (Film, Japan, Kazuya Shiraishi, 2018) Idealistic rookie detective learns the ropes of anti-yakuza policing from a charismatic, bribe-accepting veteran partner (Koji Yakusho) who makes his own rules. Tough, cynical cops versus gangs policier edges into extreme cinema territory with explicit depictions of torture and degradation.—RDL

Death in the Garden (Film, France/Mexico, Luis Buñuel, 1956) A rebellion of foreign diamond miners against corrupt local officials in a South American nation sends disparate fugitives, including a hard bitten adventurer (George Marchal), a mercenary brothel owner (Simone Signoret) and a meddling priest (Michel Piccoli) into the jungle depths. A big budget action-adventure flick in glorious 50s color makes for an odd entry in Buñuel’s filmography, with his touch seen in its caustic character portrayals.—RDL

Everybody’s in LA (Television, Netflix, John Mulaney, 2024) For six nights, John Mulaney deconstructs the talk show by hosting a careening, overstuffed live version of one, usually reaching eight or nine guests cross-talking and obliterating the alleged topic, something about Los Angeles. The filmed “slice of LA life” segments succeed remarkably, the taped comedy lands sporadically. As much as I want to see a second series (Lotsa People in Chicago?) too much practice would ruin its shambolic vibe.—KH

Hamburger America (Film, US, George Motz, 2004) “Burger scholar” Motz interviews owners and grill cooks (often the same people) at eight historic (multi-decade to century-plus) burger joints across America. The documentary winds up being a paean to small business as much as grilled beef, not least because two of the burgers (Dyer’s in Memphis and Ted’s in Connecticut) don’t grill their burgers. Motz’ YouTube schtick is thankfully absent; we neither see nor hear him, just the burger makers speaking for themselves and for history.—KH

I Could Go On Singing (Film, UK/US, Ronald Neame, 1963) Troubled, charismatic American singer (Judy Garland) bulldozes her way back into the life of a staid ex-lover (Dirk Bogarde) to get close to the son she gave up to him and promised never to try to see. Fiction and autobiography intertwine as Garland plays a version of her damaged, late-career self in a well-crafted melodrama with then-voguish travelog sequences.—RDL

Kill! (Film, Japan, Kihachi Okamoto, 1968) Starving ex-samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai) puts his sword skills back to work as he protects a band of nobles from the corrupt clan superior who used them for his dirty work. Revisionist samurai adventure with notes of subdued humor borrows back from Sergio Leone what he filched from Kurosawa.—RDL

Okay

Full Moon in New York (Film, HK, Stanley Kwan, 1989) Three women from the Chinese diaspora, a struggling actress (Sylvia Chang), a driven entrepreneur (Maggie Cheung) and the new wife (Siqin Gaowa) of an insensitive Asian-American businessman, become friends in New York. One of HK cinema’s more oblique responses to Tiananmen Square offers strong scenes that never cohere into a working narrative.—RDL

Unfrosted (Film, US, Jerry Seinfeld, 2024) When Kellogg’s VP Bob Cabana (Jerry Seinfeld) learns that arch-rival Post is developing a rectangular filled-pastry breakfast treat (possibly heatable) he must convince his boss Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan) to give him and fired food scientist Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy) a chance to beat Post to the moon, er, pastry. Individual bits work amazingly well: Hugh Grant delights as resentful mascot Thurl Ravenscroft, and Bill Burr as JFK kills it. But then the tone settles back into earnest tryhardism. Seinfeld clearly wanted to make an anarchic free-for-all a la Airplane, or a self-parodic jokefest like 30 Rock, but Seinfeld is neither anarchic nor willing to commit to self-ridicule. If he’d chosen the affectionate irony of Hail Caesar! as his model, he would have had a better shot.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Civil War, Ted Lasso, and Underground Cities

May 7th, 2024 | Robin

Recommended

Civil War (Film, US/UK/Finland, Alex Garland, 2024) Dead-inside photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and adrenaline-junkie reporter Joel (Wagner Moura) find themselves babysitting desperate fossil Timesman Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and cub photog Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) on a perilous drive to DC during (and through) an American civil war. This road picture braided with horror film shows Apocalypse Now and Year of Living Dangerously in its DNA, and almost lives up to them. Tightly edited, beautifully shot, and intriguingly scored, with Dunst and Moura’s great performances at its heart—all superbly set against the (intentional) hollowness of its protagonists.—KH

The Pig, The Snake and the Pigeon (Film, Taiwan, Ching Po-Wong, 2023) After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Taiwan’s third most wanted fugitive (Ethan Juan) decides to go out in a blaze of glory by hunting down and killing numbers one and two. Fable of violent redemption told from a compelling viewpoint of detached omniscience.—RDL

Ted Lasso Season 3 (Television, US/UK, Apple+, Bill Lawrence & Jason Sudeikis, 2023) Players and behind the scenes personnel of AFC Richmond forge new connections as coach Ted Lasso finds himself at a crossroads. Discovering that they have run out of story for their lead characters, the writing room bids an apparent farewell by broadening the relationships of the supporting cast.—RDL

You Hurt My Feelings (Film, US, Nicole Holofcener, 2023) Author (Julia Louis Dreyfus) struggles with feelings of betrayal after overhearing her flailing therapist husband (Tobias Menzies) confess that he’s only been pretending to like her work-in-progress. New York comedy of manners about confronting mid-life mediocrity maintains its realism by declining to raise the stakes.—RDL

Good

Underground Cities (Nonfiction, Mark Ovenden, 2020) Factoid-laden treatment of the subterranean infrastructure of 32 cities around the world (but mostly in Europe) well illustrated and unevenly mapped. (No maps for Madrid or Beijing?) The cities chosen seem almost random: Cincinnati appears because it famously abandoned its subway, but Shanghai and Seoul (#2 and #4 metro systems in the world) don’t make it in? LA but not San Francisco? While it’s intriguing and interesting, consider this not quite a resource but rather a jumping-off-point for research into any of its locations’ underground.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Beekeeper, Poker Face, and a Poe/Batman Crossover

April 30th, 2024 | 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 Beekeeper (Film, US, David Ayer, 2024) Cyber-scammers provoke the righteous wrath of a retired super-assassin (Jason Statham.) Grounded secondary characters and a tongue-in-cheek sensibility provide the variations in this cleverly assembled addition to the Statham filmography.—RDL

Forbidden Science 4: The Spring Hill Chronicles (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 2019) The 1990s journals of computer scientist and maverick UFOlogist Vallee cover his years as an unlikely venture capitalist, as he grows disaffected with the impact of alien abduction theorizers and black bag operatives on the aerial phenomena scene. A must-have resource for anyone running DELTA GREEN in its original time period.—RDL

Poker Face Season 1 (Television, US, Peacock; Rian Johnson, Nora Zuckerman. & Lilla Zuckerman, 2023) On the run from a vengeful casino owner, resourceful drifter Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) encounters a series of murders that call on her quirky ability to see through lies. Aided by a stellar selection of guest stars, this set of how-will-they-get-caught mysteries pays beguiling homage to Columbo and the nigh-forgotten art of episodic TV scripting. As Ken already said, it also obligingly answers any questions you might have about the use of GUMSHOE’s Bullshit Detector ability.—RDL

The Price of Everything (Film, US, Nathaniel Kahn, 2018) Incisively edited documentary probes the relationship between meaning and mega-commerce in the contemporary art world. By observing his articulate interview subjects in their native habitats, Kahn finds not only abstract exposition of his thesis but also some surprisingly moving human moments.—RDL

Good

Batman Nevermore (Comics, DC, Len Wein & Guy Davis, 2003) In 1831, when the mysterious Raven begins killing members of Baltimore’s Gotham Club, cub reporter Edgar Poe investigates, with help from a mysterious Bat-Man. Wein does his best to write in something like Poe’s style, while jamming as many of Poe’s stories into the narrative as he can—it’s pretty much what the premise invites. The real draw is Guy Davis’ art, always a wonderfully oblique fit with superheroes, here playing to his intricate-line strengths. Five Bernie Wrightson covers seal the deal at Good.—KH

Not Recommended

The Sign of the Ram (Film, US, John Sturges, 1948) A newspaper poet (Suzan Peters) who lost the use of her legs rescuing her now-adult stepchildren from the turbulent coastal waters of Cornwall obsessively manipulates their lives. Sturges is not the director to go to for the camp sensibility this modern gothic melodrama cries out for, so what remains is a catalog of tropes to appall advocates of disability representation. Conceived as a vehicle to bring back Columbia contract star Peters after a hunting accident severed her spinal cord.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Godzilla x Kong, Last Voyage of the Demeter, Haunting in Venice

April 23rd, 2024 | Robin

Recommended

The Pigeon Tunnel (Film, US, Errol Morris, 2023) Documentary companion piece to the memoir of the same name presents the life and work of David Cornwell, aka John le Carré. In the latest installment of his examination of cold war wreckage, master interrogator Morris meets his match in Cornwell, who knows exactly how much he intends to reveal and remains the author of his own narrative.—RDL

Priscilla (Film, US, Sofia Coppola, 2023) Lonely high schooler (Cailee Spaeny) at an American military base in Germany meets and falls for its most famous sergeant, Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), kicking off a love story in the penumbra of fame. Observant study of a doomed marriage in which fashion and decor serve as story beats.—RDL

Good

Cymbeline (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2014) The young protege (Penn Badgley) of a stubborn biker kingpin (Ed Harris) crosses him by having an affair with his daughter (Dakota Johnson.) In the style of Almereyda’s 2000 Hamlet, this is, save perhaps for Johnson’s unfortunate struggle with the text, the best postmodern film of Shakespeare’s worst play one could possibly make.—RDL

Old Henry (Film, US, Potsy Ponciroli, 2021) A taciturn farmer with a dark past (Tim Blake Nelson) shelters a wounded man on the run from a long-winded bank robber (Stephen Dorff.) Scores with well-staged shootouts and Nelson’s embodiment of the coot you don’t want to mess with, but leaves out the mythic resonance the western calls for.—RDL

Okay

A Haunting in Venice (Film, US, Kenneth Branagh, 2023) No-longer-bestselling mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) drags Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) out of retirement to investigate a medium, Mrs. Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Apparently the only thing more tiresome than Branagh’s endless mugging Poirot is Branagh’s refusing-the-call Poirot, and even Tina Fey disappoints with uneven readings of a clunky script. The ghostly hugger-mugger and Venetian atmosphere are effective enough, though, and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos manages the difficult task of clearly shooting murky darkness on digital with something of the old Hollywood sheen.—KH

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (Film, US, André Øvredal, 2023) Medico Clemens (Corey Hawkins) signs on aboard the Demeter, carrying a crated cargo from Romania to England in 1897. The least imaginative treatment of the source material unfolds at a plodding two-hour pace. David Dastmalchian (who performs minor miracles with his minor part) is apparently the only human on board a resolutely non-claustrophobic ship inhabited by two-dimensional cutouts and a CGI vampire. Bear McCreary’s score belongs in a much better film.—KH

Saltburn (Film, UK, Emerald Fennell, 2023) Thirsty prole (Barry Keoghan) falls for his aristocratic Oxford classmate (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to the family estate for the summer. The script for this cover version of Pasolini’s Teorema remade in Ken Russell’s style seems not just crashingly obvious but also incoherent, at least until its full archconservative nihilism heaves into view.—RDL

Not Recommended

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2024) Kong’s search for kin and Godzilla’s hunt for the other Titans eventually intersect when the evil super-ape Skar King and his enslaved titan Shimo try to conquer the surface world. As fun as that may sound, the actual movie is about 90% exposition and 20% monster fights, and the monster fights are mostly MCU-style weightless light shows, with very sporadic touches of Toho grit. The entirely CGI interaction between Kong and baby super-ape Suko manages to feel more real than any of the alleged human characters can manage.  A real fall-off, even by Monsterverse standards.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Monkey Man, Morricone, and Studio Era Screenwriting

April 9th, 2024 | 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

Ennio (Film, Italy/Belgium/Netherlands/Japan/HK, Giuseppe Tornatore, 2022) Tornatore turns his worshipful eye to the greatest film composer of all time, centering this conventional talking-heads doc on a long interview with Morricone running the gamut from pride to regret to just a hint of payback. What it misses in sharp edges it makes up for in breadth of coverage, 156 minutes from Morricone’s early pop arrangements to his final symphonic compositions on 9/11 and for The Hateful 8. Even discounting some of the doc’s extravagant claims, the result is a portrait of a Shakespearean talent. You’ll want to follow it up with one of the full-length Morricone concert films.—KH

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Film, Hong Kong, Chor Yuen, 1972) Kidnapped into a brothel, a defiant teacher’s daughter (Lily Ho) wins the love of her madam (Betty Pei Ti) and the kung fu training that goes with it, preparing her to wreak systematic revenge. Sadomasochistic sexploitation martial arts melodrama frames inescapably skeezy material and the standard building blocks of the Shaw Brothers production system with lush aestheticism of color, staging and movement.—RDL

It’s the Pictures that Got Small: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age (Nonfiction, Charles Brackett, edited by Anthony Slide, 2015) Selections from the journals of screenwriter and producer Brackett document the draining and rewarding 15 year collaboration that yielded such films as Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, and Ninotchka, with early Academy Awards politics and barbed portraits of movie legends sprinkled in along the way. More than just a record of one notable partnership, this provides an invaluable look at the nuts and bolts of film production under the studio system. One notable example: although Brackett sometimes mentions a three act setup, he more often refers to a five-sequence structure as the screenplay default.—RDL

Monkey Man (Film, Canada/US, Dev Patel, 2024) Hanuman-obsessed orphan turned underground fight stooge (Dev Patel) seeks revenge. Patel constantly risks throwing the viewer out of the movie with tonal jumps, most critically while his character levels up in a temple refuge, but the balletic and brutal action keeps you watching.—KH

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? (Film, US, John Scheinfeld, 2023) To keep their lead singer’s green card, the biggest band in the world (they beat the Beatles for the 1970 Album of the Year Grammy) agreed to tour Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland in 1970 for the U.S. State Department. Assembled from (highly watchable) footage of that trip shot, censored, lost, and recovered, this doc argues (not quite convincingly) that the proto-cancel-culture fallout from that trip is why BS&T stopped being the biggest band in the world.—KH

Good

Drive-Away Dolls (Film, US, Ethan Coen, 2024) Lesbian besties, motormouth Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and repressed Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) sign on to drive a car from New York to Tallahassee, unaware that the trunk contains a mysterious briefcase and a severed head. Good-natured, goofball road comedy is looser and more cosmically forgiving than Coen’s work with his brother Joel.—RDL

The Wet Parade (Film, US, Victor Fleming, 1932) An empathetic southerner (Dorothy Jordan) and restrained New York hotel keeper (Robert Young) are drawn together, in part by their experience with alcoholic fathers, against the background of America’s experiment with Prohibition. Ensemble social drama based on an Upton Sinclair novel provides a contemporaneous look at the evils of drink and the worse evils of trying to ban it.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Perfect Days, a Cuban Cinema Classic, and Chilean Martial Arts

March 26th, 2024 | 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

Memories of Underdevelopment (Film, Cuba, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968) Dispossessed sophisticate (Sergio Corrieri) muses on the ex-wife who left him to emigrate and the deflated state of the nation as he pursues a naive would-be actress (Daisy Granados.) Indispensable snapshot of post-revolutionary malaise deftly transposes the discursive, interior structure of the literary novel into cinema.—RDL

Perfect Days (Film, Japan/Germany, Wim Wenders, 2023) Uncommunicative Shibuya public toilet cleaner (Kôji Yakusho) fends off periodic interruptions to the stripped-down purity of his daily routine. The ultimate expression of a directorial career spent chasing the moments of moving transcendence from the works of Ozu, made possible by the supreme craft and presence of Japan’s greatest active actor.—RDL

Spoiled Children (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1977) Seeking isolation to crack his latest screenplay, a distinguished film director (Michel Piccoli) rents an apartment, only to become involved in a tenant’s committee against an exploitative landlord and an affair with a conflicted young job-hunter (Christine Pascal.) Slice-of-life drama is unusual for an autobiographical work in presenting its protagonist as essentially distant and opaque.

Good

The Wandering Princess (Film, Japan, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1960) Out of duty to when aristocratic family is pressured by the fascist military, a demure young woman (Machiko Kyô) sets aside her artistic ambitions to marry the brother of Japanese-occupied Manchuria’s puppet emperor Puyi. Biographical melodrama depicts tumultuous events with a stately authority, but races through a key development in the protagonist’s later life that cries out for the full treatment.—RDL

Okay

The Fist of the Condor (Film, Chile, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, 2023) After an overlong retreat from the warrior path, a photophobic martial artist (Marko Zaror) battles the minions of his evil twin. Despite an over reliance on training sequences and mentor aphorisms, the cross-cultural vibe and acrobatic fight style are fresh enough to make me root for the team behind this scrappy effort to discover suspense beats and narrative momentum.—RDL

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