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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spiraling Ever Deeper Into Noir

September 17th, 2019 | 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.

For Robin’s capsule reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival, hop on over here. They’ll reappear in Ken and Robin Consume Media as titles receive wider distribution in theaters or streaming platforms.

Recommended

The Lineup (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1958) San Francisco cops trace a heroin ring as hired killer Dancer (Eli Wallach) murders the unwitting couriers. Siegel ratchets up the tension from routine cop-procedural to manhunt to a full-on car chase, drinking in the San Francisco location shots along the way. Special shout-out to Robert Keith as Dancer’s manager, who manages to somehow out-creepy Eli Wallach. –KH

Odds Against Tomorrow (Film, US, Robert Wise, 1959) Bitter ex-cop Burke (Ed Begley) masterminds a bank robbery with racist ex-con Slater (Robert Ryan) and hotheaded gambler Ingram (Harry Belafonte). Wise shoots a stark, dispassionate noir fronted by three terrific actors (plus Shelley Winters, outstanding as Slater’s too-sympathetic girl) and backed by John Lewis’ insistent jazz score. The climax drains out rather too slowly, but you can see why Jean-Pierre Melville watched it 120 times. –KH

Pushover (Film, US, Richard Quine, 1954) Assigned to cozy up to bank robber’s girlfriend Lona (Kim Novak), aging cop Paul (Fred MacMurray) falls for her instead. Although its themes of corrupt love and voyeurism echo other, better movies, its tight clockwork timing and professionalism demand respect in their own right. Plus, early Kim Novak is always Recommended. –KH

Good

Killer’s Kiss (Film, US, Stanley Kubrick, 1955) Washed-up boxer Davie (Jamie Smith) tries to rescue dance-hall girl Gloria (Irene Kane) from her sweaty boss Vincent (Frank Silvera). Kubrick’s second film, shot for $75,000 on location in New York, shows flashes of brilliance throughout. The polearm-mannequin fight scene has to be seen to be believed. –KH [Also available as an extra on the Criterion Blu-Ray of Kubrick’s The Killing, itself highly Recommended.]

Nightfall (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1957) On the run from murderous bank robbers, Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray) runs into model Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft). Beautiful Burnett Guffey lensing and Tourneur’s restrained direction can’t save the idiot plot, and insurance investigator Fraser (James Gregory) damps down the tension at every turn. But Aldo Ray is something to watch as an almost passive noir hero in a world where existential pain or willful blindness seem the only two choices. –KH

Okay

The Garment Jungle (Film, US, Vincent Sherman, 1957) Garment company owner Walter Roxton (Lee J. Cobb) deals with gangster Ravidge (Richard Boone) to keep the union out of his shop. Original director Robert Aldrich wanted to make a pro-union film about a reluctantly brutal small businessman, but interference from Cobb and studio boss Harry Cohn stopped him; Sherman made “guy and girl fall in love in a dress factory” instead. The result: an overcrowded, incoherent movie with a few glorious character bits in it: Robert Loggia as a union organizer and Wesley Addy as a knife artist stand out. –KH

Private Hell 36 (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1954) Cop partners Farnham (Howard Duff) and Bruner (Steve Cochrane) track down a robbery jackpot with the reluctant help of nightclub singer Lily (Ida Lupino). Although Cochrane’s oily corruption is a joy to watch, any film that depends on Howard Duff’s internalized acting has two strikes against it. As always, hardcore Lupino-philes should kick this up to Good. –KH

The Vengeance of She (Fiction, Peter Tremayne, 1978) H. Rider Haggard’s immortal villain-priestess Ayesha returns, in the body of a psychiatric patient in Guildford. Tremayne doesn’t do much with this premise besides re-run Haggard’s novel, but in dull England rather than exotic Africa or Tibet. A promising theme of Ayesha as the id of everyone involved remains barely invoked. –KH

Not Recommended

Cry Tough (Film, US, Paul Stanley, 1959) Young Puerto Rican Miguel Estrada (John Saxon) tries to go straight after a year in prison, but the temptations of gang life and Sarita (Linda Cristal) pull him back in. Is it a social-problem film? A melodrama? A gangster film? A movie that never decides what it wants to do? No location shots (all backlot stuff) and only intermittently sympathetic characters complete the “don’t bother” package. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Goes Noir

September 10th, 2019 | 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

Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Spirit, US, 2018) Smooth and immediately rich, this is one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted. If it came from Kentucky it would fetch quadruple the price.—RDL

Recommended

Creatures of Will and Temper (Fiction, Molly Tanzer, 2017) Did you know you wanted to read a gender-flipped Dorian Gray with fencing and demons? Well, you do. Tanzer keeps her characters flawed and appealing, and the action twisty and surprising, and the demons intriguing and weird, all as they should be, with graceful prose and just a soupcon of (important) earnestness. Best of all, she resists the temptation to pastiche Wilde. –KH

Forever and a Death (Fiction, Donald E. Westlake, 2017) Construction magnate Richard Curtis decides to take revenge on Hong Kong with a soliton device, and only the engineer who designed it for him can stop his plan! This posthumously published thriller began life as a Westlake treatment for a James Bond movie, but it reads like a grittier-than-normal (and better-than-normal) airport thriller. –KH

In a Lonely Place (Film, US, Nicholas Ray, 1950) Violent screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) falls for his alibi (Gloria Grahame) in the murder of a hat check girl. Although the viewer is never in real suspense about Steele’s guilt, Bogart’s brutally honest (and brutal) performance, and Ray’s direction of a disastrous love affair paralleling his own with Grahame, captivate throughout. –KH

The Nosferatu Story (Nonfiction, Rolf Giesen, 2019) Exploring the sources and the legacy of Murnau’s film as much as it does the more standard filmography, Giesen’s work occasionally veers into stodginess or irrelevancy but still provides the best one-stop treatment of this Pinnacle available. Could more be said? Of course it can, Murnau made a masterpiece. Pair the book with a viewing of the Kino Lorber restored film. –KH

Pickup on South Street (Film, US, Sam Fuller, 1953) When Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) lifts a wallet from Candy (Jean Peters) on the subway, he finds himself in the middle of a Commie spy plot. Thelma Ritter completely steals the show as a stool pigeon. Fuller layers so much character into his New York and his cop story and his lovers that it satisfies all the way down. –KH [I’ve actually already seen this one, but not on the big screen and not since we started publicly Consuming our Media, so I’m posting it.]

Sudden Fear (Film, US, David Miller, 1952) Playwright and heiress Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) fires impoverished actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), but there’s no hard feelings, right? Surely not — they meet a month later on the train, she falls in love, and then we remember oh yeah Jack Palance. A taut game of cat-and-also-cat ensues, featuring yet another Crawford master class in pre-Method acting, much of it without dialogue. –KH

Good

Appointment With Danger (Film, US, Lewis Allen, 1950) When a postal inspector is murdered in Gary, Indiana, tough-as-nails postal detective Al Goddard (Alan Ladd) takes the case. Basically ridiculous crime film at least features loads of fun dialogue, including perhaps the only Lutheran zinger in the history of noir. It also nails its supporting cast: Phyllis Calvert as an eyewitness nun, Paul Stewart as the gravel-voiced lug du jour, queen of tarts Jan Sterling, and Jack Webb and Henry Morgan as partners in crime. –KH

The File on Thelma Jordon (Film, US, Robert Siodmak, 1950) Impecunious adventuress Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck in top-notch fettle) seduces assistant D.A. Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) but falls for him while playing him for the sap he is. Weird, gorgeous minor-key version of Double Indemnity won’t head anyone’s list of Siodmak films, or even Stanwyck performances, but the bravura, near-farce murder coverup scene is a minor masterpiece of black humor. –KH

Okay

White Dragon Season 1 (Television, UK, Mark Denton & Johnny Stockwood, 2019) English lecturer (John Simm) discovers not only that his wife was murdered in Hong Kong, but that she had a daughter (Katie Leung) and another husband, a disgraced ex-cop (Anthony Wong.) The chief pleasure of this anodyne, padded crime thriller is watching Wong act Simm off the screen with one language tied behind his back.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Gothic Hugger-Mugger

August 27th, 2019 | 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 Deadly Trap (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1971) A bipolar mom (Faye Dunaway) loses her grip on reality; meanwhile, a shadowy conspiracy pressures her husband (Frank Langella) to return to his former physics career. A basic paranoia thriller on a textual level, shot and staged with a subjective, gauzy menace that wouldn’t be at all out of place in a work of weird horror.—RDL

Hag’s Nook (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1933) The Starberth heir must spend the night in the haunted prison where his ancestor Governor Starberth died of a broken neck — and guess what happens to him! In this first Doctor Fell mystery, Carr unleashes all his love of Gothic hugger-mugger while keeping the plot and the detection under fine control. Although he would get even better in the next decade, this established Carr as the last great Golden Age detective author. –KH

Good

Occult (Film, Japan, Koji Shiraishi, 2009) Faux documentary follows Shiraishi’s investigation of a seemingly random resort stabbing and the web of paranormal reality behind it. Influenced by Lovecraft (especially “From Beyond”) its mix of weird and mundane horror would probably work more effectively with better special effects in one or two key scenes, but still ambitious, personal, and strange, all good things. –KH

That Guy Dick Miller (Film, US, Elijah Drenner, 2014) Loving documentary portrait of iconic genre character actor, who brought a unique mix of energy and authenticity to the films of Roger Corman and his directorial proteges.—RDL

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2019) Agoraphobic, misanthropic, blocked architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) jumps out a window rather than face her life; her husband (Billy Crudup) and daughter (Emma Nelson) try to find her. Whipsaws tonally between an interesting take on “naturalist Wes Anderson film” and standard-issue family dramedy. Blanchett’s big, loud performance doesn’t really join the disparate bits, but her and Nelson’s chemistry keep you invested. –KH

Okay

The Scapegoat (Film, UK, Robert Hamer, 1959) Despondent university professor (Alec Guinness) meets an identical stranger, a cash-strapped French count, who tricks him into assuming his identity and carrying on his complicated family life. Unhurried pacing and Guinness’ unflappable persona dull the suspense in a contemporary gothic adapted from a Daphne DuMaurier novel.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2019) The dirty Russkies have re-opened the gate to the Upside Down, as the Mind Flayer recuperates in Hawkins and our heroes get weirdly adolescent-looking all of a sudden. The Duffers badly endanger one of the two strongest features of the series — its tone — in this all-over-the-map tribute to 1985. Directing David Harbour to shout 85% of his lines is only the biggest offender as the series also plays fast and loose with its other strength, its characters. It’s still a high Okay, but like most 80s franchises, the third installment markedly suffers by comparison to its progenitors. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fast and Furious Spins Off

August 13th, 2019 | 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

Daredevil Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, Erik Olesen, 2019) A physically and emotionally shattered Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) reverts to his proto-costumed persona to battle Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’onofrio), who has suborned the FBI into releasing him from prison. Hits Pinnacle status whenever D’onofrio’s amazing multi-layered Kingpin is on screen; drops to Okay at best when the writers are sticking to their conception of Matt as a petulant mope.—RDL

Forbidden (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1932) Staid small town librarian (Barbara Stanwyck) throws it all aside for a Caribbean cruise, where her encounter with a charming attorney (Adolphe Menjou) leads to a lifelong affair. Moving performance from Stanwyck abetted by snappy direction from Capra, who at this point in his career has yet to mask his essential bleakness with a thick layer of treacle.—RDL

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) (Nonfiction, Jeff Tweedy, 2018) The Wilco frontman recounts his Southern Illinois upbringing, work as a musician and songwriter, painkiller addiction and tight-knit family life. Stays out of the weeds of individual recording projects, instead telling its anecdotes with humility and often a sharp comic vision.—RDL

Good

Hobbs & Shaw (Film, US, David Leitch, 2019) Alpha badasses Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) must team up to save Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirby) from killer cyborg Brixton (Idris Elba). A film directed by a John Wick alumnus set in the Fast & Furious universe should have better fight scenes and car chases — with the exception of the truly spectacular helicopter vs. truck chase, this doesn’t hit the best-of-breed level. But there’s something to be said for good-humored testosterone by the bucketful, joined to earnest sentimentality about family. –KH

May the Devil Take You (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto, 2018) Young woman whose estranged father’s pact with demonic forces has come due heads to her childhood home in the forest, where she must protect her half-siblings from their mother, now inhabited by a Deadite. Inventive scares liven up a fun fright flick that invites the gonzo brio of The Evil Dead into the south Asian exorcism sub-genre.—RDL

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Film, US, Allan Arkush, 1979) Rebellious music fan (P. J. Soles) and her science-loving pal (Dey Young) run afoul of their school’s new authoritarian principal (Mary Woronov) in the run-up to a Ramones concert. Like a zine come to life, this scrappy product of the Roger Corman system celebrates female friendship and takes the rebellion of the teen flick to a cheerily explosive extreme. I put this on for a rewatch only to discover that I, bizarrely, had never seen it. Owned the soundtrack record and everything!—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Battle of the Expository Rants

August 6th, 2019 | 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

Gunman’s Walk (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1958) Prideful cattle baron (Van Heflin) protects his impulsive, narcissistic son (Tab Hunter) from a murder charge, further stoking his obsessive resentment. Western family drama of what the young’uns call toxic masculinity with a strong performance from Hunter in an uncharacteristic heel role.—RDL

The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1953) Grounded by a rocket accident, obsessed and aging “starduster” Max Andrews throws himself into Senate candidate Ellen Gallagher’s plan to launch a mission to Jupiter. Set in a by-now-alternate future (1997-2001), this novel asks and answers the question: what does a Heinlein protagonist look like in a Fredric Brown world? The substratum of Brownian bleakness provides a surprising dimension to what is, on the surface, a melodrama between expository rants.—KH

The Plague Court Murders (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1934) A locked room and a sea of footprint-free mud surround the stab-ridden corpse of a phony medium. Henry Merrivale debuts in this early ultra-Carr-ish triumph, combining an impossible crime, gothic haunted-hothouse atmosphere, voices from the past, and family drama in a classic of Golden Age mystery. –KH

RBG (Film, Betsy West & Julie Cohen, 2018) Admiring documentary portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg intersperses scenes from her daily life with recaps of her early career as a litigator of sex discrimination cases. Finds the person behind a reserved demeanor and her recent quasi-ironic icon status.—RDL

Vacationland (Nonfiction, John Hodgman, 2017) Comic memoir explores the grown-up vicissitudes of life in rural Massachusetts and Maine, as contrasted to life in Brooklyn’s hipsterized Park Slope neighborhood. It helps to keep Hodgman’s voice in your head as he regales you with anecdotes of garbage dump rule anxiety, accidental boat ownership and stoned cairn construction with Jonathan Coulton.—RDL

Veep Season 7 (Television, HBO, David Mandel, 2019) Taking on and shedding the various invective-spewing operators in her orbit, Selina Meyer makes another no-holds-barred bid for the presidency. With real politics increasingly impervious to satire, this avoids the dreaded softening of final seasons to double down on comic brutality.—RDL

Not Recommended

Rider on the Rain (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1970) Pilot’s gamin-ish wife (Marlene Jobert) kills her rapist, covers it up, and is then hounded by a mysterious American (Charles Bronson.) After an intriguing giallo-influenced first act, turns into implausible characters at an interminable impasse over a convoluted situation.—RDL

Once Upon a Time… in Ken and Robin Consuming Media

July 30th, 2019 | 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 Farewell (Film, US/China, Lulu Wang, 2019) Struggling writer (Akwafina) reluctantly goes along with a family plan to stage a fake wedding for her cousin back in China, so that everyone can gather around her grandmother, whose fatal cancer diagnosis they are keeping from her. Generous comedy drama sticks to real behavior without throwing in nonsense to heighten the stakes.–

Marjorie Prime (Film, Michael Almereyda, 2017) Worried as her mother (Lois Smith) slips into dementia, a brittle woman (Geena Davis) and her doting husband (Tim Robbins) set her up with a hologram (Jon Hamm) that simulates a younger version of her late husband. Hushed, absorbing stage play adaptation sets aside the usual and-then-everything-goes-horribly-wrong structure of AI stories for a dramatic contemplation of memory and grief.—RDL

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Film, US/UK, Quentin Tarantino, 2019) In 1969, cowboy actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo diCaprio) confronts his fading career, alongside his factotum Cliff (Brad Pitt), and next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Harnessing his meta urges (for the most part), Tarantino — along with his two leading men, who nail their roles — gives us a Western about the end of Hollywood. Only the last act is a little rushed and tight, depending too heavily on voice-over. It seems insane to say this about a 2¾-hour movie, but with an extra hour or so this would be a Pinnacle. –KH

Uptight (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1968) Days after the MLK assassination, the alcoholic associate of a fugitive revolutionary succumbs to the temptation presented by the $1000 police reward for his whereabouts. Color-saturated pressure cooker of a movie transposes The Informer to the black militant movement, with which it entirely sympathizes.—RDL

Good

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Film, US/UK, Quentin Tarantino, 2019) Buoyed by his loyal ex-stuntman (Brad Pitt), an alcoholic TV actor (Leonardo di Caprio) faces career decline; meanwhile Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) enjoys life’s everyday pleasures in 1969 L.A. Tarantino conjures magic in the first two acts, a Jacques Demy inspired tone poem of cinematic cool, before an abrupt gesture yanks us back into a greatest hits of shock flourishes past.—RDL

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Film, US, Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon, 2016) Three Mississippi 12-year-olds began filming a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1982; they finished all but one scene (the flying wing) by 1989; in 2014 they reunite (sort of) to complete the movie. Amiable and earnest documentary follows this ludicrous story, sucking the viewer into its demented gravity without ever really having much of a reason to get made — in a way, apropos. –KH

Okay

Sky On Fire (Film, HK, Ringo Lam, 2016) Security officer (Daniel Wu) working for a murderous biotech magnate goes rogue to help a farmer get his sister a revolutionary cancer cure. I’d love to be able to make an argument for Lam’s final film, and there’s something interesting going on with the staccato pacing of exposition in its first act, but it never quite gels.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Beanie Baby Heart of Darkness

July 23rd, 2019 | 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 Great Beanie Baby Bubble:  Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute (Nonfiction,  Zac Bissonnette, 2015) Eccentric, broken corporate outsider Ty Warner inadvertently sparks a grassroots speculative bubble with his obsessively designed beanbag creatures. Rich with anecdote and confidently told, this would be essential reading only as business journalism dissecting a briefly omnipresent marketing phenomenon. It’s as a human story, revealing plush, as its denizens call their trade, as a well of inexpressible despair, that turns this into a foundational account of its era.—RDL

Recommended

The Chef Show Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Jon Favreau, 2019) Director Favreau and L.A. star chef Roy Choi, his advisor on Chef, cook, eat, and hang out with pals including David Chang, Robert Rodriguez, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert Downey Jr. An engagingly loose paean to food prep with a conversational energy recalling Favreau’s old “Dinner for Five” show.—RDL

The Far Cry (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1951) Recuperating in Taos from a nervous breakdown, George Weaver becomes fixated on the girl murdered in his summer home eight years previously. A pure portrait of disintegration and obsession, combined with truly frightening alcohol intake? It must be a Fredric Brown noir crime novel! Even if you figure out where this one is going, you’ll stay locked in the car waiting for the crash. –KH

Madball (Fiction, Fredric Brown, 1953) Carnies scheme, kill, and betray to find the loot from a bank robbery carried out by two of their number. Brown switches viewpoint characters with each chapter, twisting his carnival crime yarn ever tighter in this tour de force noir. Almost a Pinnacle for me, and even more unjustly neglected than most of Brown’s work. –KH

La Marseillaise (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1938) During the interregnum between the storming of the Bastille and the arrest of the king, a band of comrades from Marseilles joins the revolutionary army. Panoramic, human scaled historical epic set during the confusing bit of the French Revolution most cinematic treatments snip out.—RDL

Moonrise (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1948) Man scorned all his life as the son of a hanged murderer kills a tormentor in self-defense, hides the body, and bonds with the man’s schoolteacher girlfriend. Wildly expressionistic style layers noir visual motifs onto a small town melodrama.—RDL

Sword of Trust (Film, Lynn Shelton, 2019) Exasperated pawn shop owner (Marc Maron) assists an underconfident woman (Jillian Bell) and her no-BS partner (Michaela Watkins) sell an antique sword whose provenance purports to prove that the South won the Civil War. Semi-improvised character comedy for our present period of dissolving consensus reality scores with Maron’s increasing assurance as an actor, and including one of cinema’s best monologues.—RDL

Okay

The Mourner (Fiction, Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), 1963) Master heister Parker once again finds himself on the trail of a double-crosser, this time an Eastern European spy stepping out on his masters to rip off a traitorous colleague. The fourth installment in the Parker series goes a touch off-model, with a mid-novel viewpoint switch and Cold War shenanigans.—RDL

A Simple Favor (Film, US, Paul Feig, 2018) Straight-laced vlogger (Anna Kendrick) falls under the spell of a glamorous, devil-may-care fellow mom (Blake Lively), who then disappears, leaving her to care for a bereft son and stunned husband. This is at its most fun when it’s a stylish contemporary gothic, but jeez, pick a tone.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Pagan Fertility vs. Eurotechnocrats

July 16th, 2019 | 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

DIE Volume 1 (Graphic Novel, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, 2019) Former RPG group, scarred by an event from 1991, reluctantly reunites, casting them once again into a realization of the dark fantasy setting they used to game in. From its familiar player types to the heroes’ conscious immersion in a meta-text, presents a shock of familiarity by depicting the culture from within,—RDL (Full disclosure: the fifth chapter is named after a Thing I Always Say.)

Monsoon Diary (Nonfiction, Shoba Narayan, 2003) Memoir explores the role of food in the author’s life, from childhood in Kerala to university and marriage in the US. Sparkling, unfussy style evokes the rhythms of family life and the delights of cooking and eating.—RDL

Picnic on the Grass (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1959) When the handlers of an artificial insemination proponent eyeing a post as European President (Paul Meurisse) turn his engagement to a stern Girl Scout leader into a rustic photo op, the primal forces of fertility send him into the arms of a vivacious vintner’s daughter (Catherine Rouvel.)  Satirical magic-realist romcom finds Renoir once again sending up the French aristocracy, now in its postwar technocratic guise.—RDL

Where I Was From (Nonfiction, Joan Didion, 2003) Blending social history with family memoir, Didion trains her distinctive asperity on her home state of California, placing its many transformations within a long tradition of rugged federal subsidy acquisition.—RDL

Good

Booksmart (Film, US, Olivia Wilde, 2019) On the night before high school graduation, inseparable pals (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever) decide to make up for lost partying time and embark on a quest to find the hot bash all the cool kids are at. Gender-reversed answer to Superbad concentrates on affirming its leads, giving the choice comic business to a cast of adult sharpshooters (Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien.)—RDL

Chef (Film, US, Jon Favreau, 2014) In the wake of a viral meltdown, a stifled chef (Jon Favreau) rediscovers his love of cooking on a food truck road trip. A barely-sketched family bonding arc acts as the serving platter for a tribute to professional food service.—RDL

Nine Wrong Answers (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1952) A chance meeting impels Bill Dawson to impersonate the nephew of a rich sadist; true love, radio drama, and a deadly wrestler are only some of the curves in wait. In lieu of a series detective, Dawson becomes the Hitchcock-style protagonist of this thriller mystery. Carr occasionally footnotes likely wrong answers by the reader to keep the mystery boiling, but he’s just not comfortable enough in the thriller vein to skate past the “wait what” questions. –KH

A Woman’s Face (Film, US, George Cukor, 1941) A cynical blackmailer (Joan Crawford) undergoes treatment from a dashing plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) to repair her lifelong facial burns, then finds that her aristocratic lover (Conrad Veidt) expects her to bump off an inconvenient young heir for him. Cukor classes up a script several shades more lurid than his usual assignments.—RDL

Okay

Stranger Things Season 3 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2019) As Hopper (David Harbour) makes himself an obstacle to the young love of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Elle (Millie Bobby Brown), the Mindflayer assembles a gooey new weapon against them. The pastiche becomes broader and more intrusive as it embraces the corny side of 80s mainstream moviemaking, devaluing the characters.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spider-Mans, Spider-Mans (and Midsommar Too)

July 9th, 2019 | 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

Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World (Nonfiction, Gary Indiana, 2010) Critical, biographical and political examination of Warhol’s Soup Cans series as a pivot point in American culture, woven together with a novelist’s knack for narrative. Particularly strong on the cultural contrasts between the Abstract Expressionist claque and the pop artists who displaced them.—RDL

Frankenstein in Baghdad (Fiction, Ahmed Saadawi, 2013) During the American occupation of Baghdad, an antiques merchant, in an act of obscure protest, sews together a corpse from the parts of many car bomb victims, only to see it animate into a superhuman avenger. Magic realist ensemble novel uses horror imagery to map the bloody chaos spiral of the post-invasion period.—RDL

Midsommar (Film, US/Sweden, Ari Aster, 2019) Reeling from personal tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) accompanies her weaksauce boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a once-a-lifetime midsummer festival in remotest Sweden. Aster’s bag of camera tricks doesn’t quite compensate for a third act that mistakes inevitability for momentum, but Pugh’s committed, powerful acting and Bobby Krlic’s score carry this Sweaboo Wicker Man home. –KH

Shrill Season 1 (Television, US, Alexandra Rushfield, 2019) Novice reporter at a Portland alt weekly (Aidy Bryant) learns to stick up for herself while dealing with an emotionally maladroit almost-boyfriend (Luka Jones) and fat-shaming editor (John Cameron Mitchell, playing a fictionalized Dan Savage.) Dramedy gives Bryant a chance to shine in a sustained performance as a fully realized character; Jones achieves new dimensions in comic gormlessness.—RDL

The Souvenir (Film, UK, Joanna Hogg, 2019) Privileged film student (Honor Swinton Byrne), lacking the radar to sense that something is amiss, becomes embroiled with a languorous, sophisticated older man (Tom Burke.) Elliptical autobiographical drama observed with a quiet lushness, centred by Swinton Byrne’s breakout performance.—RDL

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) A new threat brings Tony Stark’s reluctant successor Peter Parker (Tom Holland) back into action with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie has so much lumber to clear from previous films that it’s a small miracle it succeeds as well as it does, despite mostly abandoning the frothy teen movie-superhero flick blend of its precursor. Holland’s charm and an extremely cool fight scene keep it up there and swinging. –KH

Spider-Man: Far from Home (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2019) Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijacks Peter Parker (Tom Holland) from the European class trip where he hopes to woo MJ (Zendaya), enlisting him in a battle against elementals waged by bubble-helmeted warrior Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal.) Light-hearted super-romp plays as the cinematic version of a regular comic book yanking itself back on track after the disruptions of a massive crossover event.—RDL

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, 2018) Reluctant magnet school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) succeeds the deceased Peter Parker as Spider-Man and teams with extra-dimensional counterparts to save the multiverse from Kingpin’s reality-shattering machine. A companion piece in deep-dive nerdery and bullet-train pacing to the Lord & MIller producing team’s Lego Batman, but with heart instead of gags.—RDL

Good

A Legacy of Spies (Fiction, John LeCarré, 2017) The Circus drags an aged Peter Guillam out of retirement to hang the 1962 deaths of Alec Leamas and Liz Gold on him, in this prequel-sequel to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Although LeCarré remains effortless reading, this is not his strongest plot by any stretch, and at the end the book just deflates. I should ding it another rank for putting a piece of arrant sloganeering into the mouth of George Smiley of all people. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bukowski Without the Sentimentality

July 2nd, 2019 | Robin

The Pinnacle

And Hope To Die (Film, France, Rene Clement, 1972) On the run from mysterious knifemen, a chameleonic pilot (Jean-Louis Trigtinant) becomes first the prisoner and then the accomplice of a heist gang led by a hardbitten mastermind (Robert Ryan.) Ineffably compelling, culturally displaced hangout movie escalates into a romantic fatalism that wouldn’t be out of place in a heroic bloodshed flick. Based on the David Goodis novel The Burglar and set in and around Montreal.—RDL

Recommended

Filmworker (Film, US, Tony Zierra, 2017) Documentary portrait of Leon Vitali, who after an unforgettable performance as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, gave up acting to serve as indispensable factotum to Stanley Kubrick. Tale of epic self-sacrifice to another’s vision rendered all the more fascinating by its subject’s cheery refusal to feel the regrets everyone else has on his behalf.—RDL

Fleabag Season 1 (Television, UK, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2016) Struggling cafe owner (Waller-Bridge) cycles through variously unfortunate men and tries to patch up her shaky relationship with her control freak sister (Sian Clifford) and distant dad (Bill Paterson.) Bruisingly funny dramedy employs direct address to establish sympathy for its anti-heroine and complicity with her messed-up decisions.—RDL

The Moon in the Gutter (Fiction, David Goodis, 1953) Stevedore scarred by his sister’s suicide is pulled between two women, his brutish almost-step-sister and a stylish pursuer from the right side of the tracks. Literary fiction with noir overtones radiates heat, blood, and booze sweat. Bukowski without the sentimentality.—RDL

Good

The Fate of the Furious (Film, US, F. Gary Gray, 2017) In a turn smacking of a need to separate openly feuding cast members, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue, turning his back on family, to assist blond-dreadlocked cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) in a nuke acquisition scheme. Dials back from the last installment’s inspired lunacy to routine lunacy, leaving the chief pleasure Theron’s measured downplaying of the exposition and protagonist psychoanalysis that comprise her role.—RDL

Night at the Crossroads (Film, France, Jean Renoir, 1932) Inspector Maigret (Philippe Renoir) dodges the advances of a lissome suspect (Winna Winifred) as he investigates the shotgun slaying of a jewel merchant at a lonely crossroads. Renoir’s uses a Simenon novel as a vehicle for social observation and his pioneering location work.—RDL

Triple Frontier (Film, US, J.C. Chandor, 2019) Tempted by ringleader Pope (Oscar Isaac) and led by old dog Redfly (Ben Affleck), five former Special Ops soldiers team up for one last job — to murder and rob a South American narcotraficante. Of course, the heist turns out to be more complicated, and the getaway more brutal, than the plan in this update of Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the post-Black Hawk Down era. Disasterpeace (with Lars Ulrich on drums) contributes an interesting score, when the movie bothers to let you hear it. –KH

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