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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: 60s LA, 80s Argentina, 30s Germany, and Classic SF Art

May 17th, 2022 | 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

Eve’s Hollywood (Nonfiction, Eve Babitz, 1972) Autobiographical essays of girlhood at late-50s Hollywood High and young adulthood in the heyday of the Sunset Strip assert an unsparing but wholehearted love for Los Angeles. Voice is everything in these sere, incisive gems of the memoirist’s art, never mind brushes with the Manson family or the time she introduced Dalí to Zappa.—RDL

Recommended

Azor (Film, Argentina/France/Switzerland, 2021) Uneasy Swiss banker (Fabrizio Rongione) travels to junta-era Argentina with his vigilant wife (Stephanie Cléau) to sort out business deals complicated by a colleague’s ambiguous disappearance. Handles the material of the political thriller with a hushed minimalism, wringing dread from anodyne surroundings.—RDL

Better Days (Film, China, Derek Tsang, 2019) Withdrawn girl (Zhou Dongyu)  targeted for vicious senior-year bullying seeks the aid of a street tough (Jackson Yee.) Intense performances from the young leads and the director’s urgent visual style lift this gritty crime drama above the po-faced declarations of Party propaganda inserted around its hard-hitting social critique.—RDL

Chroma: The Art of Alex Schomburg (Nonfiction, Jon Gustafson, 1986) Puerto Rican artist Schomburg began illustrating for Gernsback in 1925, drew covers for Golden Age superhero comics, and survived self-exile in Spokane to return as an SF art grand master. If there were another study of Schomburg, this one (which spends too many of its slim 108 pages describing potted history) might only be Good, but as the only survey of a near-forgotten master, it deserves Recommendation. –KH

Little Man, What Now? (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1934) When his optimistic fiancée (Margaret Sullavan) gets pregnant, a young clerk’s (Douglass Montgomery) struggle to find a stable job in Depression-era Germany reaches a point of desperation. Borzage’s humanism overcomes Montgomery’s wooden ingenuism in this adaptation of Hans Fallada’s observational novel.—RDL

Okay

Crazy Samurai: 400 vs. 1 (Film, Japan, Shimomura Yuji, 2021) Disgraced Yoshioka clan seeks revenge on sword master Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi) by ambushing him with 400 samurai and ronin, setting up a one-take, 77-minute fight scene. Sadly, the cheapout production undermines the “killing is pointless” message the dull choreography hopefully intends. More like watching a really good gardener pull 400 weeds than anything else. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Moon Knight, Picard, and a Javelin-Throwing Cary Grant

May 10th, 2022 | 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

Blondie Johnson (Film, US, Ray Enright, 1933) Desperate for a break, an unemployed gal (Joan Blondell) uses her smarts to rise in the ranks as a gangster consigliere, keeping the less bright accomplice she loves (Chester Morris) at arm’s length. Peppy crime drama lightly gender-flips the Warners gangster structure.—RDL

This is the Night (Film, US, Frank Tuttle, 1932) To defuse the jealousies of his lover’s javelin-throwing husband (Cary Grant), a put-upon sophisticate (Roland Young) hires a desperate young woman (Lila Damita) to pose as his wife for the duration of a trip to Venice, Droll farce given further oomph by a scene-stealing Charles Ruggles as our hero’s enabler and rival.—RDL

Good

The Bandit (Film, Italy, Alberto Lattuada, 1946) With his old life shattered, a POW returned from Austria (Amedeo Nazzari) becomes the lover of a hard-bitten criminal (Anna Magnani), assembling a robbery gang from the ranks of her hangers-on. Combines the arc of the gangster film, the stark, expressionist visuals of film noir, and, unfortunately, the shameless sentimentality of neo-Realism.—RDL

Okay

Moon Knight Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Jeremy Slater, 2022) Meek Londoner Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) discovers that he is also American mercenary Marc Spector, who is also the superhero Moon Knight and a servant of an Egyptian god, and that the god’s previous host (Ethan Hawke) has a plan to destroy the world’s potential sinners. Once again for MCU TV, a winning performance and characterization builds to a disappointing conclusion.—RDL

Picard Season 2 (Television, US, Paramount+, Terry Matalas, 2022) An encounter with strange new Borg prompts Q to send Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) and his newfound crew to 2024 to prevent the emergence of the darkest timeline. A freeway pile-up of colliding homages to iconic Trek episodes epitomizes the crisis of referentiality rippling across the geek franchise space—RDL

Ken has been consuming carnitas in Texas.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tokyo Vice, Slow Horses, and the Making of Ghostbusters

May 3rd, 2022 | 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

Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters (Film, UK, Anthony Bueno, 2019) Lots of talking heads – especially Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Ivan Reitman – tell the story of the No. 1 film of 1984. Lots of focus on Richard Edlund’s team of SFX makers, and the joy expressed by everyone involved, compensates for the absence of Murray and Moranis. Not a cutting edge “making of” doc, but a justifiably proud film about people justifiably proud to have made a Pinnacle. –KH

Slow Horses Season 1 (Television, UK/US, Apple+, Will Smith, 2022) Sidelined to Slough House, the place MI5 careers go to die, an ambitious young agent (Jack Lowden) ignores the elaborate vituperations of his brilliant, slovenly new boss (Gary Oldman) for an investigation that entraps the department in a false flag scheme. Adaptation of the first in a series of novels by Mick Herron fuses overt le Carré homage with contemporary spy thrills. The result gives Oldman an unforgettable character to make an exquisite meal of, and that he surely does.—RDL

Tokyo Vice Season 1 (Television, US, HBO Max, J.T. Rogers, 2022) Naive gaijin (Ansel Elgort) becomes an oversized bull in a journalistic dishware department when he joins a Tokyo newspaper as a crime reporter, forging contacts with a principled maverick cop (Ken Watanabe), an ambitious club hostess (Rachel Keller), and a neophyte Yakuza (Shô Kasamatsu.) The grounding authenticity of Jake Adelstein’s nonfiction memoir and the energy imparted by the Michael Mann-directed pilot elevates this ensemble crime drama. I would have liked the season closer better had I known to expect a cliffhanger, so I’m telling you that now.—RDL

Okay

Murder at the Vanities (Film, US, Mitchell Leisen, 1934) The fast-talking stage manager of a Broadway revue (Jack Oakie) stays one step ahead of a lunkish cop (Victor McLaglen) when a series of slayings threatens to disrupt an opening night performance already in progress. Very Pre-Code musical mystery is  notable for a Duke Ellington number, a musical ode to marihuana, and as a filmed record of the Vanities series of ultra-racy theatrical extravaganzas.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Northman, a 100 Year Old Celebrity Autobiography, and Every Roderick Alleyn Novel

April 26th, 2022 | 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 Moralist (Film, Italy, Giorgio Bianchi, 1959) The ambitious new executive of a moral pressure group (Alberto Sordi) and his patrician boss (Vittorio De  Sica) separately engage in covert shenanigans. Sly comedy centered on the eternal truth that it’s the crusaders against vice who are the pervs and grifters,—RDL

My Life (Nonfiction, Emma Calvé, 1923) Celebrity autobiography of the late 19th century French opera star, whose performances of Carmen in America earned her enough money to buy a castle in her hometown, aims to delight with well-polished anecdotes in a suitably high-flown voice. Unfortunately for those of us researching her for an upcoming Yellow King RPG project, her personal life, including her long relationship with occult author Jules Bois, goes entirely unmentioned.—RDL

The Northman (Film, US, Robert Eggers, 2022) 10th-century Danish Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) seeks revenge on his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) for killing his father King Aurvendil (Ethan Hawke). Under the wolfskin of a Viking Conan, Eggers illuminates a world of pagan wyrd, alternating deliberate alienation with familiar Shakespearean beats and savage action. Willem Dafoe stands out as the proto-Yorick shaman Heimir, and Bang shows menace and just a hint of pathetic pride to great effect. –KH

Good

Every Roderick Alleyn Novel (Fiction, Ngaio Marsh, 1934-1982) Roderick Alleyn, the Shakespeare-quoting, handsome, aristocratic Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, spans the gap between Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and P.D. James’ Adam Dalgleish. Not as inventive (in plot or dialogue) as Sayers, and not as deep (in character and psychology) as James, Marsh still easily beats Christie for human stories, and her puzzles are reliably honest legerdemain, the best kind. The early novels have a Sayers-Wodehouse sort of air, and she never approaches the psychological starkness of late Allingham, but at her best (Surfeit of Lampreys, Scales of Justice, and the near folk-horror of Off With His Head, all Recommended) she combines knowing lightness, humanity, and cruelty better than most mystery writers. Many Alleyn novels have a theatrical setting, combining two hothouse genres with general success. –KH

Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill (Film, Japan, Kan Eguchi, 2021) Ultra-competent assassin turned errand runner must again deploy his skills in a non-lethal manner when he discovers a figure from his old life in the clutches of murderous scammers. Second installment of the series repeats its mix of oddball humor, melodrama and mayhem, placing its bravura action sequences at the top and at the end of the second act, with a dramatic standoff climax the characters aren’t rich enough to support.—RDL

Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction (Nonfiction, Chris D. Thomas, 2017) Surprising survey of the ways in which human-wrought environmental change has increased species diversity—admittedly in a manner offering scant consolation to fans of large mammals and flightless island birds. Clear but somewhat repetitive, as the author understandably has to keep reassuring us that even if he wants us to reconsider attitudes toward species migration, he isn’t suggesting a wholesale abandonment of conservation measures.—RDL

Okay

The Batman (Film, US, Matthew Reeves, 2022) With loyal police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) by his side, an early-career Batman (Robert Pattinson) detects his way through a Riddler murder spree and romances Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz.) An overlong, overcomplicated, overpopulated storyline immures a creditable take on the Gotham mythos.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Pulp Tarot, All the Old Knives, RRR, and a Tale of Two Hunts

April 12th, 2022 | 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 Pulp Tarot (Tarot deck, Todd Alcott, 2021) This full 78-card tarot deck translates the Rider-Waite-Smith deck of 1910 from its medieval mythology to the modern mythology of 20th-century pulp cover art. Alcott montages together several hundred source images to build a visually exciting, surprisingly deep set of arcana that genuinely honor and update the masterpieces of Pamela Colman Smith (and A.E. Waite) while sparking the imagination of the postmodern querent. Absolutely one of the three or four best Tarots I own. –KH [Note: The deck sells out fast. Follow Todd on Twitter @toddalcott to find out when a new print run goes on sale.]

Recommended

All the Old Knives (Film, US, Janus Metz, 2022) When new information indicates a mole in the Vienna CIA station fed intel to terrorists during a 2012 hijacking, CIA agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) meets his former colleague (and ex) Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) to uncover the truth. Very old-school spy film takes advantage of spartan COVID filming constraints to focus on Pine and Newton, their chemistry, and their enormous acting-as-lying skills: it’s essentially a two-hander dinner scene with flashbacks. Truth be told, it could probably have used one more twist, but it’s beautiful and unsettling enough as is. –KH

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2022) Young Stan (Milo Coy) either has a very active imagination or gets recruited for a secret Apollo mission in early summer of 1969. At times, this delightful animated reminiscence threatens to just become a list of late-60s childhood signifiers, which might drop the film down to Good for those not blessed with a late-60s childhood. The narrative through-line, such as it is, works more by impression than progression, but did I want to see about four hours more of Stan’s family? Yes indeed, so something besides my own Space Age childhood and my love for Linklater may be at work here. –KH

House of Hummingbird (Film, South Korea, Bora Kim, 2019) Teenager looks for emotional connection outside of life cooped up with her alienated, abusive family. Beautifully rendered drama sets aside coming-of-age cliches through a character who starts out understanding life’s hard lessons.—RDL

The Hunt (Film, Denmark, Thomas Vinterberg, 2012) Community turns against a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) after he is mistakenly accused of abusing a student. Incisive, impeccably scripted drama revolves around the extraordinary special effect we know as Mads Mikkelsen.—RDL

RRR (Film, India, S.S. Rajamouli, 2022) When the hated British steal a Gond girl in 1920, Gond tribal protector Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao, Jr.) goes after her and only Indian Army officer Rama Raju (Ram Charan) can stop him. Spoiler: They team up and fight the hated British together. High-octane, literally super-patriotic action extravaganza presents a fictional team-up of two historical anti-British freedom fighters: much as if Michael Bay made a movie about Paul Revere and Francis Marion teaming up in 1765. Never a dull moment, and the CGI animals look better than most MCU fights. The human fights, meanwhile, hit a new high for Tollywood. –KH

Good

Aimless Bullet (Film, South Korea, Yu Hyun-mok, 1961) Two brothers, embittered veterans discarded by the society they saved, suffer in the slums of Seoul. Neorealist drama goes from bleak to brutal.—RDL

Torch Singer (Film, US, George Somnes & Alexander Hall, 1933) Notorious club singer (Claudette Colbert) becomes the host of a radio program for kiddies, enabling her to search for the daughter she put up for adoption. Colbert’s star power carries this rather easily resolved melodrama, aided by the swelegant dresses of costume designer Travis Banton.—RDL

Okay

The Hunt (Film, US, Craig Zobel, 2020) One stoic woman (Betty Gilpin) shows that she’s the wrong person to mess with when an assortment of red state Americans wake up in a forest to find they are being hunted for sport. Variant on The Most Dangerous Game makes mysteries both of its situation, and the screenplay’s satirical point. Spoiler: it’s fatuous.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Archive 81, Apollo 10½, and a Conspiracy-Riddled High Finance Scam

April 5th, 2022 | 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

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2022) A tall tale about his covert moon landing prior to the official one frames a man’s reminiscences of growing up in a big family in 1969 Houston, an idyllic time when Baskin-Robbins and Astro-Turf were new, corporal punishment was dished out like breakfast, and you ran through DDT clouds and liked it. The trailer focuses on the fantasy sequence to make this look like a kid’s adventure movie, but don’t let that fool you. This animated memoir joins Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, as part of what is now a thematic trilogy.—RDL

Archive 81 (Television, US, Netflix, Rebecca Sonnenshine, 2022) Video archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) takes a job restoring footage taken by oral historian Melody (Dina Shihabi) from just before the 1994 fire that destroyed a haunted NYC apartment building and uncovers wouldn’t you know it a conspiracy. The two leads’ performances (withdrawn and outgoing) complement each other superbly despite almost no scenes together, a sign of the directorial talent that keeps this supernatural mystery from disappearing up its own mythology. Its own mythology is pretty cool, which helps. A somewhat weak ending was meant to set up the Season 2 that won’t happen now, so show-runners should maybe rethink this instinct. –KH

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Film, US, Stanley Nelson Jr., 2019) It could be argued that a documentary about Miles should be as boundary-shattering as the jazz styles he continually adopted and discarded, but the story of those shifts is already complicated enough. This straightahead American Masters biography does the right thing by adding interviews and archival footage to extensive passages from his autobiography.—RDL

Octopus (Nonfiction, Guy Lawson, 2012) Desperate to save his hedge fund after hidden losses turn it into a de facto Ponzi scheme, eccentric trader Sam Israel falls into the orbit of a notorious conspiracy theory figure who salts his promises of an unbeatable high-stakes investment with tales of CIA hit teams, Yamashita’s gold, alien autopsies, and the real Zapruder film. The dictum that there’s no better mark than a scammer achieves its ultimate Ouroboros form in a gobsmacking high finance crime story where everyone seems to have fallen for the con.—RDL

Only Murders in the Building Season 1 (Television, US, Hulu, Steve Martin & John Hoffman, 2022) A washed-up TV actor (Steve Martin), a failed Broadway producer (Martin Short), and a young decorator (Selena Gomez) bond over true-crime podcasts and then start one of their own when one of their neighbors turns up murdered. With less delightful stars, this comedy-mystery might be accused of meandering for the sake of meandering, but no time spent with our characters feels wasted or forced, not least because of the superb comic timing they share. The result could almost be a minor-key city symphony, maybe a building sonata? –KH

Total Blackout: The Tamborine Extended Cut (Standup, Netflix, Chris Rock, 2021) Rock re-cut his 2018 special from Bo Burnham’s original version, and that should almost be ‘nuff said right there. The new version focuses on race, sex, and Rock’s own failings as a husband, adding both grit and truth and leaving the Trump material behind as yesterday’s news. –KH

Good

Dickinson Season 2 (Television, US, Apple+, Alena Smith, 2021) As her inamorata (Ella Hunt) keeps her distance, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) flirts with publication of her poems and experiences an omen of the coming Civil War. Anachronistic comedy bio loses a touch of momentum in season two, hitting the shoals of the old “let’s separate the lovers” move.—RDL

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure (Film, South Korea, Kim Jeong-Hoon, 2022) Virtuous pirate queen (Han Hyo-joo) teams with a bombastic yet annoyingly attractive bandit (Kang Ha-neul) to chase the looted treasure of the fallen Goryeo regime. Initially choppy storytelling redeemed by a fun final swashbuckling act.—RDL

Okay

International House (Film US, A. Edward Sutherland, 1931) Beer-guzzling gyrocopter pilot (W. C. Fields) crashes into a hotel in China where industrialists from around the world seek the patent on television, attracting the murderous ire of a Franco-Russian agent (Bela Lugosi.) That description leaves out much of the chaos of this nutty kitchen sink comedy, in which Jazz Age Kardashian precursor Peggy Hopkins Joyce is top-billed as herself and the McGuffin allows the dropping in of primordial music videos from Cab Calloway and Rudy Vallee.—RDL

Willy’s Wonderland (Film, US, Kevin Lewis, 2021) Murderous animatronic kid’s restaurant mascots get more than they bargained for when their human accomplices try to feed them an obsessively diligent traveler (Nicolas Cage.) Execution fails to live up to the premise, except when Cage is onscreen, giving it 110% in a wordless, self-referential role as every robot weasel’s worst nightmare..—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Attica, Spencer, Power of the Dog, Cyrano

March 29th, 2022 | 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

Attica (Film, US, Stanley Nelson Jr. & Traci A. Curry, 2021) Archival footage and participant interviews, including many with survivors who have not previously spoken of the incident, retells the step-by-step of the 1971 prison takeover and ensuing massacre of prisoners and hostages. Unflinching in its graphic depiction of the event’s aftermath, particularly the guards’ sadistic degradation of inmates when they retook control.—RDL

Spencer (Film, UK/US/Germany/Chile, Pablo Larraín, 2021) Ten years into her marriage to philandering cold fish Charles (Jack Farthing), Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) shows up at Sandringham to submit to the many humiliations of Christmas weekend with the family. Crack-up drama veers at times into Polanskian psychological horror, powered by Stewart’s live-wire energy and Larraín’s knack for keeping the problems of the biopic out of his historical character studies.—RDL

Good

The Power of the Dog (Film, NZ/Greece/UK/US/Australia, Jane Campion, 2021) In 1925 Montana, artsy misfit Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee) finds his mother’s (Kirsten Dunst) new cattle-ranch household nigh-intolerable, especially her sadistic brother-in-law Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). This Western Gothic relies on increasing the intensity of fundamentally one-note characters rather than adding layers or dimensionality. Cinematographer Ari Wegner and composer Jonny Greenwood go all-out on that intensity, though, producing an exceptional sensorium. –KH

Okay

Cyrano (Film, US, Joe Wright, 2021) In 1640 Paris, an eloquent but disregarded guard commander (Peter Dinklage) helps a handsome subordinate (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) woo the woman (Haley Bennett) he loves. Casting Dinklage as Cyrano is a brilliant move; expecting him to carry a musical, not so much. Exactly one number, with Glen Hansard, Sam Amidon, and Scott Folan, features great singing.—RDL

Not Recommended

Nightmare Alley (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2021) Man on the run Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) goes from carny to mentalist, and into a hell of his own making. Shifting from the moral and psychological spiral of the ‘47 version to a fairy tale about ignoring warnings, del Toro stands back in judgment of his protagonist and bids the audience to do the same. When a remake is more obvious than its predecessor, it shouldn’t also be longer. The production design does provide a beguiling environment for the viewer to prowl around in, though.—RDL

Incomplete

Dune (Film, US, Denis Villenueve, 2021) Scion of an interstellar warrior trading clan (Timothée  Chalamet) discovers his budding messiah status when his family is assigned a dangerous commodities monopoly on an even more dangerous desert planet. If you like the feeling that your wifi has cut out in the middle of streaming a five-hour mini-series, this visually absorbing effort is for you.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Star Trek: Discovery, Spider-Man, The Rescue and Satanic Frog Gods

March 22nd, 2022 | Robin

Recommended

Nobody (Film, US, Ilya Naishuller, 2021) A late-night break-in triggers nobody Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) to go looking for trouble. He finds it on a bus, unleashing a classical, even layered, fight scene. Almost deconstructed revenge thriller becomes nearly operatic at times, though Odenkirk’s humanity prevents complete departure into Wickian sturm-und-drang. Excessive needle drops typify Naishuller’s occasional try-too-hard-ness, but at bottom it’s good clean blunt-traumatic fun. –KH

The Rescue (Film, US, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, 2021) Armed with computer animation, studio recreations, direct to camera interviews and a trove of previously unseen Thai navy footage, this documentary tick-tocks the harrowing 2018 rescue of a kid’s soccer team from a flooded cavern network. The unifying psychodynamics of the cave diving hobby supply the emotional throughline for a step-by-step of a process even hairier and more astounding than contemporary news accounts could convey.—RDL

Sleep Tight (Film, Spain, Jaume Balagueró, 2011) Anhedonic concierge (Luis Tosar) uses his access to the apartments in his building to covertly stalk a young woman (Marta Etura.) Disturbing psychological thriller told as a slow burn character study of its deviant antagonist.—RDL

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2021) Peter Parker (Tom Holland) destabilizes the multiverse by messing with Dr. Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) spell to make the world forget his secret identity, bringing denizens of other Spider-realities to dimension MCU. What on paper ought to be a cynical, derivative fan service mishmosh instead delivers momentum, a sprightly attitude, and poignant moments, all stemming from a deep and detailed love of all things Spidey. As I always say, magic makes plots work.—RDL

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 (Television, US, Paramount+, 2020-2021) Newly comfortable in her far-future captain’s chair, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) leads the effort to understand a planet-smashing spatial anomaly. Four seasons in, the show now feels fully like Trek—this time dialing up the therapeutic thread of Roddenberry’s original TNG conception, updated from 80s self-actualization to today’s questions of trauma and representation.—RDL

Bizarrely Compelling

Psychomania (Film, UK, Don Sharp, 1973) Biker gang leader Tommy (Nicky Henson) pries the secret of resurrection out of his mediumistic mother (Beryl Reid) and her butler Shadwell (George Sanders) who may or may not be Satan. Is this film Good, Actually? No. Did it make George Sanders commit suicide immediately after filming it? Probably not. Could we at any time take the grins off our face while watching the feckless Living Dead biker gang somewhat terrorize Walton-on-Thames? We could not. Standing stones, burial mounds, Satanic frog gods, weaksauce motorcycles, and a hippie song by Chopped Meat? Yes, to all of that. –KH

Okay

Hit! (Film, US, Sidney J. Furie, 1973) Determined CIA operative (Billy Dee Williams) responds to his daughter’s overdose death by assembling an unlikely team for a rogue operation to wipe out the top leaders of the Marseille heroin ring. From its American New Wave realist vibe to a string of striking chase and murder sequences, this is effective on a cinematic level, but on the textual level full of “wait, what?” moments that grow in absurdity the more you think about them. Not the least of which is the central proposition that exterminating a single cartel would appreciably help American addicts.—RDL

Not Recommended

Behind the Crimson Blind (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1952) Sir Henry Merrivale helps the police in Tangier solve the mystery of the burglar Iron Chest, in a novel that tells you two things: Carr really wanted to write off his stay in Tangier, and he was getting almost as tired of Merrivale as I am. The local color and a bit of the detection work, but for my money this may be Carr’s worst novel even before the leaden ethnic humor really kicks in. –KH

Le Professional (Film, France, Georges Lautner, 1981) After two years in an African prison camp, a wily SDECE assassin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) escapes to Paris to exact revenge on both the dictator he was sent to kill and the ex-colleagues who sold him out. Loosey-goosey spy thriller with a decidedly French take on the weaselly superiors trope would rate an “Okay” rating if its 80s trashiness didn’t include a helping of blatant racism.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: CODA, Red Rocket, and the Superhuman Strength of W. C. Fields

March 15th, 2022 | 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

CODA (Film, US, Sian Heder, 2021) The sole hearing member of a rough-hewn fishing family, a socially excluded high school student (Emilia Jones) is torn between loyalty to them and her dreams of a singing career. Sweet-natured, embracing indie drama with a strong supporting ensemble and a star-making role for Jones.—RDL

The Color of Lies (Film, France, Claude Chabrol, 1999) With his small Breton town already viewing him as the likely suspect in a child murder, a once-celebrated artist (Jacques Gamblin) finds himself under further pressure when a fatuous novelist (Antoine de Caunes) puts the moves on his wife (Sandrine Bonnaire.) Quietly incisive character observation hung on the framework of a murder story—which is admittedly a slightly longer way of saying “Chabrol film.”—RDL

Million Dollar Legs (Film, US, Edward F. Cline, 1932) To win the hand of his beloved (Susan Fleming), daughter of a Balkan nation’s preternaturally strong president (W. C. Fields), a cheery brush salesman (Jack Oakie) assembles a team of its superhuman citizens to enter the Los Angeles Olympics. Fast-paced comedy packed with surreal gags.—RDL

Palm Springs (Film, US, Max Barbakow, 2020) Super-chill wedding guest Nyles (Andy Samberg) has his infinity interrupted when sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti) joins him in his time-loop trap. Amiable comedy rings just enough changes on the time-loop setup, asks a couple of questions, and peaces out: what more could you want? J.K. Simmons? Okay, he’s in it, too. –KH

Red Rocket (Film, US, Sean Baker, 2021) Washed-up porn star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) washes up in his hometown of Texas City in summer 2016. Drew Daniels’ sunny 70s 16mm cinematography and Baker’s non-exoticized Texas Citizens (including several non-actors) mash up Spielberg and Linklater for an entirely original, entirely classic look. Simon Rex’ charismatic, fast-talking performance as plausible sleazeball Mikey anchors a fresh con-artist story that never bores or even alienates the viewer. –KH

Good

Honey Cigar (Film, France, Kamir Aïnouz, 2020) In early 90s Paris, a college sophomore’s (Zoé Adjani) yearning for autonomy and sexual exploration hits the brick wall of her urbane Algerian parents’ overbearing, hypocritically traditional expectations for her. Memoir film favors authenticity over dramatic resolution.—RDL

Ladies’ Man (Film, US, Lothar Mendes, 1931) When he falls for a woman (Kay Francis) who sees through him, a melancholy gigolo (William Powell) decides to go straight, but a high-strung fling (Carole Lombard) has other ideas. From the cast and premise you might expect a screwball comedy, but this is a racy, downbeat melodrama.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Batman, Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and Oddball Pre-Codes

March 8th, 2022 | 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 Batman (Film, US, Matt Reeves, 2022) When the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins killing Gotham’s leading citizens, the revelations he unleashes get uncomfortably close to Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) family. Smeary neo-noir borrows not just from Burton and Nolan but from Se7en and Saw, though blunting their horror. Slightly over-long and lugubrious, but not cripplingly so: Zoë Kravitz’ Catwoman plays a big role in keeping the film’s energy up, as does Michael Giacchino’s score. –KH

Belfast (Film, UK, Kenneth Branagh, 2021) Nine-year-old “Buddy” (Jude Hill) sees his Belfast neighborhood and his family battered by the Troubles, while voraciously consuming media that will shape him as Britain’s Greatest Film Artist™. It’s a tribute to Branagh’s eye for shots that a movie this artificial works so well: it’s not honest childhood reactions (unlike Boorman’s Pinnacle Hope and Glory, one of the many films Branagh homages/rips off here) but what Branagh wants to believe (or wants us to believe) his childhood was like. But the artifice is, of course, much of the point, which is why I don’t ding Branagh points here any more than I would Baz Luhrmann. –KH

Drive My Car (Film, Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021) For liability reasons, bereaved stage actor-director Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) must allow taciturn Misaki (Tôko Miura) to drive his beloved Saab while he directs and produces Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. After an hour of prologue, this unlikely setup produces a magnificent festival of repressed emotion that sadly ends a little too patly. But man, the long drive in between is great, especially the wonderfully multi-layered, multi-lingual dinner scene anchoring the middle turn. –KH

Licorice Pizza (Film, US, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021) In 1973 Encino, a precociously entrepreneurial teen actor (Cooper Hoffman) and a combative, directionless 25 year old (Alana Haim) fall for each other, despite a line their age difference stops them from crossing. I’d call this evanescent hangout romance Anderson’s Amarcord, but for the fact that he was 3 in 1973 and the script is based on the life and anecdotes of film producer Gary Goetzman.—RDL

Schmigadoon Season 1 (Television, US, Apple+, Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio; Barry Sonnenfeld, 2021) Hoping to rekindle their flagging commitment, a romantic obstetrician (Cecily Strong) and an emotionally blocked surgeon (Keegan-Michael Key) go on a hiking trip, only to wind up in a bizarre pocket dimension that follows the rules of 1950s American musicals. A cast of Broadway stars and SNL alums powers a fun, knowing show with the emotional resonance to transcend its sketch comedy premise.—RDL

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) Warfare between Puerto Rican immigrants and impoverished whites in a 50s neighborhood facing the wrecking ball threatens the young love of a sweet-natured cleaner (Rachel Zegler) and a remorseful ex-con (Ansel Elgort.)  Update of the classic stage musical to 2021 frankness and mores is almost oppressively perfect, with every scene a set-piece and every shot a rich composition dense with visual meaning.—RDL

Good

Murders in the Zoo (Film, A. Edward Sutherland, 1933) Fear of his wife’s infidelity prompts a psychopathic explorer (Lionel Atwill) to commit a string of murders at the zoo he supplies animals to. Comic relief Charlie Ruggles gets top billing in this oddball mix of laughs and lurid Grand Guignol horror.—RDL

Okay

Kiss and Make-Up (Film, Harlan Thompson, 1934) Suave celebrity plastic surgeon (Cary Grant) overlooks the affections of his loyal secretary (Helen Mack) as he falls into the romantic clutches of a domineering married patient (Genevieve Tobin). PreCode curio features jaw-dropping Art Deco sets, Grant almost carrying off a musical number, and Mack joining Edward Everett Horton in a touching duet extolling the virtues of corned beef and cabbage. CW: racist jokes.—RDL

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