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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: True Detective, BlackBerry, and Psychedelic-Era Crowley Cultists

February 27th, 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

BlackBerry (Film, Canada, Matt Johnson, 2023) Hardass corporate executive Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) muscles into gormless techie Mike Lazaridis’ (Jay Baruchel) company, saving its new product, the Blackberry smartphone. Darkly funny Canadian ode to capitalism transcends the produpic mostly on the strength of Howerton’s performance as a somewhat sympathetic (and entirely necessary) sociopath, but a tight script that knows what to leave out gets a dose of the credit as well.—KH

Impetigore (Film, Indonesia, Joko Anwar, 2019) Thinking that the parents she never knew might have left her a house, a broke clothing stall owner (Tara Basro) and her skeptical friend (Marissa Anita) travel to a remote village, whose residents have a murderous solution to a terrible curse. Shadow puppets and gamelans localize the classic contours of folk horror.—RDL

It’s a Summer Film! (Film, Japan, Sôshi Masumoto, 2020) Unenthused by the sappy romance her high school film club has chosen to make, determined auteur Barefoot (Marika Itô) assembles a scrappy team to make a samurai film, little suspecting that her handsome lead (Daichi Kaneko) is a cineaste from the future who fears his participation will alter the timestream. Delightful comic paean to friendship and moviemaking.—RDL

Office Royale (Film, Japan, Kazuaki Seki, 2021) Demure office worker (Mei Nagano) becomes besties with a hard-punching colleague (Alice Hirose) on the rise in the underground world of inter-departmental combat. Spoof of teen gang manga scores laughs from the gulf between the outrageousness of Japan’s pop culture and the introversion of its daily life. Also known under the much worse title Hell’s Garden.—RDL

Satan Wants Me (Fiction, Robert Irwin, 1999) In psychedelic-era London, a callow sociology student pledges allegiance to a lodge of fussy, arch-conservative Thelemite sorcerers. Sly literary fiction cover version of The Devil Rides Out blurs the line between unreliable and unaware narrator.—RDL

True Detective: Night Country (Television, US, HBO, Issa Lopez) Abrasive Alaska police chief (Jodie Foster) reluctantly reteams with haunted state trooper (Kali Reis) to investigate the horrific deaths of a research station’s team of scientists and their ties to the unsolved slaying of an Iñupiat eco-activist. Police procedural with subjective supernatural elements (and a Hildred Castaigne namecheck) makes claustrophobic use of its icy Arctic environment.—RDL

Good

The Holdovers (Film, US, Alexander Payne, 2023) Surly prep-school teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) must babysit surly teen Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) over the 1970-71 holidays while bereaved cafeteria head Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) wisely observes. Trite, warmed-over 70s uplift story with virtually no surprises, genuine conflict, or real interest (all of which literally leave on a helicopter at the second-act turn) must perforce become an acting study, and indeed everyone involved acquits themselves well enough to carry this stale Christmas cookie over the line from Okay.—KH

Inside (Film, US/Belgium/Germany/Greece, Vasilis Katsoupis, 2023) After a failed alarm hack traps him inside an art-collecting oligarch’s soulless penthouse apartment, burglar Nemo (Willem Dafoe) must survive and try to escape. What could have been a brilliant combination castaway-heist film finishes doing that about halfway through its overlong run, but fortunately watching Willem Dafoe run the gamut of prisoner emotion remains fascinating.—KH

Okay

Skinamarink (Film, Canada, Kyle Edward Ball, 2023) Two kids wake up to find their dad missing, along with all the doors and windows of their house. This aggressively experimental horror film began as a 28-minute short, and works vastly better at that length. At 100 minutes long, the uncanny and eerie wear off as the movie continues with no shifting of stakes and (with no shots of the kids’ faces) little character to follow. Instead, Ball’s powerful evocation of a real childhood nightmare just dribbles out (at least if you watch it at home with no theater audience to recharge you), which is a crying shame.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Zone of Interest, Anatomy of a Fall, Saltburn

February 20th, 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

Anatomy of a Fall (Film, France, Justine Triet, 2023) Novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) goes on trial for murder after her failed-novelist husband falls to his death from the attic (or balcony) of their isolated fixer-upper chalet while her sight-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) is out walking his dog. Lapidary script by Triet and Arthur Harari layers revelations and character beats with watchmaker precision, while Hüller and Machado-Graner give those revelations and beats matter and meaning, all within the framework of a classic murder-trial film.—KH

Eight Hours of Terror (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1957) Anxious to make a train connection, a group of people from disparate walks of life put aside fears of fugitive bank robbers in the area to board a rickety bus for an emergency trip along treacherous mountain roads. Ensemble suspense drama celebrates altruistic underdogs and sticks it to the selfish creeps.—RDL

Let Joy Reign Supreme (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1975) When a rustic Breton noble (Jean-Pierre Marielle) launches a conspiracy against the melancholy, libertinish Regent Philippe II d’Orleans (Philippe Noiret), his scheming minister (Jean Rochefort) spots an opportunity for advancement. Satirical period drama presents a jaundiced portrait of 18th aristocratic decadence.—RDL

Miss Shampoo (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2023) After she hides him from assassins, a hunky gang boss (Daniel Hong) falls for an adorable hair stylist with a propensity for extreme cuts (Vivian Sung.) If you’ve been wondering where the anarchic tone- and genre-shifting spirit of 80s and 90s Hong Kong cinema went, it has moved to Taiwan, as this outré gangster rom com attests.—RDL

Silent Night (Film, US, John Woo, 2023) After a gang shooting spree leaves his son killed and his vocal cords shot out, Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman) resolves to kill those responsible one year later, on Christmas Eve. Woo’s eye for action and perfect camera control pitilessly depict Godlock deliberately stripping out his humanity to become a feral killing machine: this is not 80s “killer cool” Woo but a darker, more desperate version. Without dialogue, Woo creates a pure expression of cinema as light, motion, music, and violence.—KH

A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War (Nonfiction, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 2023) Iraqi journalist ruefully recounts his country’s catastrophic spirals into deadly and destabilizing conflict, from the Iran-Iraq war he witnessed as a child through the US invasion, civil war, the battle with ISIS and beyond. Fleshes out the complexities of events typically given shorthand treatment in the Western press, with a recurring theme being men with guns who are sure they’ve learned from the mistakes of the past and are not going to repeat them this time.—RDL

The Zone of Interest (Film, UK/Poland, Jonathan Glazer, 2023) Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) leads a contented family life in the well-appointed house on the other side of its walls. Aided by masterfully destabilizing sound design, this plotless cinematic study of the banality of evil drops the viewer into an all but unrelieved moral vacuum.—RDL

Good

The Meg (Film, US/China, Jon Turteltaub, 2018) Traumatized deep sea rescuer (Jason Statham) reluctantly returns for a mission to recover his ex-wife from an exploratory sub downed by an old nemesis no one else believes in—a 25 meter long Miocene-era shark. Starts surprisingly smart but doesn’t end up that way, falling prey to the inherent problem of animal-related disaster movies, finding enough different things for the creature to do.—RDL

Saltburn (Film, UK/US, Emerald Fennell, 2023) Scholarship boy Oliver (Barry Keoghan, risibly old for the part) falls for aristo Felix (Jacob Elordi, effortlessly fantastic) at Oxford and gets invited to the family estate for the summer. This Brideshead Revisited-Talented Mr. Ripley mashup never coheres, mostly because Oliver fluctuates between Iago and a kicked puppy throughout. However, I will watch a hundred films featuring Rosamund Pike as a ditzy lady of the manor. Further kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who shoots Saltburn manor with sunlit love.—KH

Okay

The Creator (Film, US, Gareth Edwards, 2023) In a future where America is at war with androids, a former double agent (John David Washington) agrees to seek their human inventor, hoping also to find his wife, presumed dead but apparently alive and working with the enemy. For all of its impressive visual worldbuilding and indelible cinematic imagery, this blend of Blade Runner and the Global War on Terror falters on viewpoint and sympathy. The audience can tell from the outset that the mission is a con job, and for much of the running time can’t tell where our hopes or fears should lie..—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cinema Purgatorio, Blackbeard, and the Archies

February 6th, 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

Ambulance (Film, US, Michael Bay, 2022) Volatile bank robber (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his reluctantly inveigled Marine vet adopted brother (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) flee a job gone wrong in a hijacked ambulance with a hard nosed paramedic (Eiza González) and wounded cop on board. In a hyper-accelerated thriller that overtly namechecks his pre-Transformers career highlights, Bay shows that a film featuring a 70-minute vehicle chase is the exactly correct assignment for him.—RDL

The Archies (Film, India, Zoya Akhtar, 2023) In the Anglo-Indian town of Riverdale, fickle but beloved 60s teen Archie Andrews toys with the affections of best friends Bettie and Veronica, as the latter’s father schemes to replace their beloved park with a grand hotel. Sustains a sweet nostalgic tone over a 260 minute running time, with choreography and dancing notably better than the Bollywood norm.—RDL

Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate (Nonfiction, Angus Konstam, 2006) The closest thing to an academic biography we’re likely to get of a man who left only a legend and a bunch of police reports behind him. Pirate historian Konstam pads out the thin historical record with chapters of Caribbean context; it could perhaps use tighter organization and one more editorial pass but it’s still the best there is on the topic.—KH

Call Me Chihiro (Film, Japan, Rikiya Imaizumi, 2023) An outwardly gregarious, inwardly alienated former massage parlor worker turned bento shop cashier draws a group of lonely people into her orbit. Sympathetic, subtly limned character study of a paradoxical personality.—RDL

Cinema Purgatorio: This Is Sinerama (Comics, Avatar, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, 2021) Eighteen short (8-page) comics (mostly) recapitulating Hollywood tragedies, from the life of Willis O’Brien or Howard Hughes to the death of Thelma Todd or the Black Dahlia, usually in a style reminiscent of a film. Interspersed media-philosophical comics (and the framing sequence of a damned woman as our audience viewpoint) are clever enough but the real attraction is, e.g., Moore and O’Neill riffing on creative theft in the backstory of Felix the Cat, in the form of an animated cartoon, or telling the story of the Warner Brothers as if they were the Marx Brothers.—KH

The Money (Film, South Korea, So-Dong Kim, 1958) A farmer desperate to raise funds for his daughter’s wedding allows himself to be bullied into reckless gambling by the village loanshark. Rural melodrama uses dramatic irony of knowing better than the protagonist where this is all going to excruciatingly draw out the inevitable hammer blow.—RDL

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead (Graphic Novel, Bill Griffith, 2019) Loving biographical portrait of the lifelong sideshow performer, best known for his appearance in Freaks, who inspired Griffith’s comics character Zippy.—RDL

Good

Bad Seed (Film, France, Billy Wilder, 1934) Cut off by his wealthy father, a brash spendthrift (Pierre Mingand) throws in with a car theft ring. While fleeing Germany for the US, Wilder stopped in Paris long enough to direct this breezy crime drama, revealing the insouciant cynicism that would come to full flower in his Hollywood classics. Freshly available on Blu Ray in a restored print.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Maestro, Women Write Horror, and Tomes About Grimoires

January 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.

The Pinnacle

The Grimoire Encyclopaedia, Vols. 1 and 2 (Nonfiction, David Rankine, 2023) After a concise history of the pre-grimoire tradition, Rankine provides textual histories and discusses the contents of 99 grimoires, from the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri to a modern (1960) forgery and a sorcerous tome assembled in 2021. (The majority of the works covered do, however, fall into the grimoire mainstream 1250-1850.) This would be enough to make it the best single reference work on grimoires, but Rankine goes further and indexes every spirit (demon, angel, etc), stone or crystal, incense or oil, spell ingredient, plant, metal, or tool mentioned in those 99 grimoires. A staggering work of scholarship, fully accessible to gamers and wannabe warlocks alike.—KH

Recommended

Al Capone’s Beer Wars (Nonfiction, John J. Binder, 2017) Shelves of books retail the legends of Capone and the Chicago mobs, but Binder (as befits a University of Chicago professor) goes back to the documentary record of the 729 “gang-style killings” in Cook County from 1919-1933. On this bed of fact, he lays out essentially a military history of the Beer Wars between Capone’s Outfit and the other 11 bootlegging gangs in the city. It’s not the only book you need on the Chicago gangs, but it’s an essential touchstone, an actual history in a field full of (at best) movie tie-ins.—KH

Godard Mon Amour (Film, France, Michel Hazanavicius, 2017) Amid the political upheavals of late 60s Paris, lauded New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel) leans into his worst character traits and strains his new marriage to actress Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) by reconceiving himself as a Maoist revolutionary. As if narrative cinema itself is taking revenge on Godard for all the mean things he said about it, this satirical drama, based on his ex-spouse’s memoir, thoroughly skewers its protagonist, depicting his turn to radicalism as a profound act of professional and personal self-sabotage. Also known as Redoubtable; the US title strikes a further note of travesty, playing on not a Godard film but one by Resnais.—RDL

Klop: Britain’s Most Ingenious Secret Agent (Nonfiction, Peter Day, 2014)  Biography of Jona Ustinov, the Jerusalem born, Russo-Ethiopian who won multiple Iron Crosses fighting for Germany in WWI before becoming a ubiquitous operative, interrogator and analyst for MI5 and MI6 in WWII and the Cold War. Clear narrative is often lost as an overstuffed cast of characters take part in a series of murky incidents—which is to say that Day accurately evokes the world of espionage. Among Ustinov’s detractors was his son Peter, who saw the pain suffered by his mother, the painter and stage designer Nadia Benois, by his insistence on introducing her to his many girlfriends.—RDL

Maestro (Film, US, Bradley Cooper, 2023) Wunderkind conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) meets and weds Broadway actor Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) leading to a lifelong love complicated by his disinclination to conduct his affairs with men discreetly. Cooper skillfully handles an impressionistic script that evades biopic syndrome by making the marriage the throughline.—RDL

The Man with a Shotgun (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1961) Capable hunter () vies for the position of sheriff in a lawless mountain logging town. Betrayals and counter-betrayals keep on coming in a Technicolor, Nikkatsuscope contemporary western.—RDL

Good

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction (Nonfiction, Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson, 2019) Brief sketches of 40+ female horror writers, plus five contemporary subgenre roundups, provide a decent primer of horror literature from the Gothic to now. Individual author treatments are wildly hit-or-miss, but the book as a whole benefits from its synoptic view and from superb book design by Andie Reid. Official nitpicks: No mention of Silvia Moreno-Garcia? Patricia Highsmith relegated to the “Related Work” section of Daphne du Maurier’s essay, and Mary Wilkins Freeman tossed off in a line? Tchah!—KH

Rich and Strange (Film, UK, Alfred Hitchcock, 1931) When they get an unexpected chance to go on a luxury cruise, a sullen office clerk (Harry Kendall) and his optimistic, underappreciated wife (Joan Barry) are drawn to new romantic partners. Mix of wry social comedy and domestic drama shows the Hitchcock energy outside of the suspense genre.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Reacher, May December, and Later Silver John

January 23rd, 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 Box (Film, Mexico, Lorenzo Vigas, 2021) Stoic seventh-grader falls in with a textile factory recruiter he believes to be his supposedly murdered father, learning the brutal side of the business. Economical, beautifully shot social realist crime drama.—RDL

Jolly (YouTube channel, Josh Carrott & Ollie Kendal, 2017-present) A spinoff from the more focused (and also Recommended if you want to see a lot of Korean BBQ) Korean Englishman YT channel, Jolly features hosts Josh and Ollie usually (but not always) trying food from snacks or army rations to Michelin meals. The proven good-looking-straight-man, goofy-looking-funny-one combo works again, YouTube content at its most charming and addictive.—KH

The Man Who Spoke Snakish (Fiction, Andrus Kivirähk, 2007) In a fantastical medieval Estonia, a holdout from a beleaguered hunting culture, one of the last people who wields magical powers granted by the language of adders, recounts the tragic events of a life lived in the shadow of encroaching Christianity. Whimsy and brutality inventively intertwine in a tale of cultural transformation and the toll it exacts.—RDL

May December (Film, US, Todd Haynes, 2023) Canny actor (Natalie Portman) pays an extended research visit to a woman (Julianne Moore) she has been cast to play in a movie about the statutory rape trial triggered by her relationship with her now-adult, then seventh grade husband (Charles Melton.) An undertow of subtext seethes beneath the brittle surface of this powerfully acted domestic drama.—RDL

PG: Psycho Goreman (Film, Canada, Steve Kostanski, 2021) With her confederate slash whipping boy brother (Owen Myre) at her side, an unhinged grade schooler (Nita-Josee Hanna) gains control over a mighty evil alien overlord from the planet Gigax. Scrappy, blood-drenched indie tokusatsu flick spoofs E.T. and pays homage to the straight-to-VHS oeuvre of Charles Band.—RDL

Tár (Film, US, Todd Field, 2022) Superstar conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) heads for the high point of her career, conducting Mahler’s Fifth with her Berlin Philharmonic, even as her tragic flaw (serial sexual predation) widens and is exposed. A classic tragedy, wonderfully acted (Noémie Merlant as Lydia’s resentful assistant is magnificently restrained) and composed, punctuated by sudden character reveals that rotate the story.—KH

This Happy Breed (Film, UK, David Lean, 1944) An optimistic WWI vet turned travel agent (Robert Newton) shepherds his loving but sometimes sharp-elbowed family through the ups and downs, personal and political, of the interwar period. Adaptation of a 1939 Noel Coward play focuses on character while also using four years of hindsight to bring an air of pointed irony to its morale boosting proceedings.—RDL

The Voice of the Mountain (Fiction, Manly Wade Wellman, 1984) Silver John decides to climb Cry Mountain to find the source of its cry, and discovers a black magician in this place of power. The resolution doesn’t quite match the wonder of the setup, and Wellman’s prose is not quite as well-joined as in his original 1951-1963 Pinnacle Silver John tales of Appalachian magic, but all that says is it’s merely an excellent occult adventure story..—KH

Good

Gangubai Kathiawadi (Film, India, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2022) Brothel-keeper Gangubai (Alia Bhatt) recalls her own rise to political power in the Mumbai red-light district of Kamathipura. Bhatt is always an actress worth watching, but she can’t elevate this relatively rote biopic very far out of its strangely sanitized channel.—KH

The Hanging Stones (Fiction, Manly Wade Wellman, 1982) Silver John investigates a businessman’s plan to build a reproduction of Stonehenge as a tourist attraction. Some superb supernatural ideas appear in this somewhat shapeless novel, and it’s always nice to see (one of Wellman’s other series occult-battlers) Judge Pursuivant as a guest star, but it needed another editing pass to bring it even up to the standard of later Silver John novels.—KH

No Man of Her Own (Film, US, Wesley Ruggles, 1932) Suave card sharp (Clark Gable) conceals his true profession when he goes on the lam to a small town and falls for a bored librarian (Carole Lombard.) Slight pre-Code romcom burns with the palpable heat between the leads, who don’t get together in real life for another four years.—RDL

Reacher Season 2 (Television, US, Amazon Prime, Nick Santora, 2023-4) Someone is killing off enormous former MP Jack Reacher’s (Alan Ritchson) less-enormous former MP team, and he starts looking into it. The fight choreography has really dropped off between seasons (with one exception in the last episode), and the lack of focus (between flashbacks and forgettable team members) badly weakens the brutal drive that Season 1 brought. It’s still Jack Reacher harming bad guys, but that climb to Justified-level purity I hoped for from last season has not even begun.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Devil in Folklore and Folklore in Horror

January 16th, 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

Cloven Country: the Devil and the English Landscape (Nonfiction, Jeremy Harte, 2022) Starting in the 16th century English folktales explaining unusual landscape features underwent a switch, substituting a comic, thwartable Devil for the giants and fairies that previously starred in them. In a scholarly but wry and accessible voice, Harte comprehensively rounds these up, abjuring the temptation to theorize a grand cause for the shift and then bend the evidence to fit.—RDL

Ladies in Retirement (Film, US, Charles Vidor, 1941) Staid companion/housekeeper (Ida Lupino) to a fussy former actress (Isobel Elsom) resorts to desperate measures to keep her chaotic, mentally ill sisters (Elsa Lanchester, Edith Barrett) housed with her. Expressionistic Victorian-set gothic based on an English murder play.—RDL

No Hard Feelings (Film, US, Gene Stupnitsky. 2023) In danger of being priced out of her own home town and needing a vehicle to make her summer nut as an Uber driver, a beleaguered townie (Jennifer Lawrence) accepts an offer from worried rich parents (Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti) to relieve their introverted son (Andrew Barth Feldman.) Reaffirms the heartfelt raunchy comedy as the last vestige of realistic characterization in mainstream movies, with a healthy dollop of class awareness and something of a Mike Nichols vibe.—RDL

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (Film, US, Kier-La Janisse, 2021) The resurgent horror sub-genre gets a comprehensive, international and pancultural survey from critics and filmmakers. Long but meant to be consumed in chapter-length chunks, this will have you scrambling to JustWatch to see which obscure 70s British TV dramas are available for streaming in your region.—RDL

Good

The Black Report  (Fillm, Japan, Yasuzô Masumura, 1963) Cops and prosecutors confront bribes and perjury in the case of a murdered, philandering CEO. Cynical courtroom drama beats Dick Wolf to the Law & Order structure by 30 years.—RDL

Okay

Sakra (Film, China/HK, Donnie Yen) Stalwart leader of a Song Dynasty bandit gang (Donnie Yen) battles his own allies when he is framed for the murders of his parents and a subordinate. Setup for a franchise fails to untangle a convoluted plot it has presumably inherited from its wuxia source novel.—RDL

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Poor Things, Ferrari, Silent Night

January 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.

The Pinnacle

Poor Things (Film, UK, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023) Over the misgivings of the weird scientist (Willem Dafoe) who reanimated her, a sheltered woman (Emma Stone) whose brain has yet to catch up with her body elects to see the world with a vain cad (Mark Ruffalo) as her guide. Frankenstein motifs come out to play in a satirical art nouveau steampunk fable of innocence and experience wrapped around Stone’s astounding performance.—RDL

Recommended

Blood & Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (Nonfiction, Ronald Hutton, 2009) After demonstrating with his customary gentle, systematic authority that next to nothing can be conclusively proven about druids, Hutton lays out the various British projections, suppositions and outright fabrications about them that started with a revival of interest in the subject that began in the early modern period. An indispensable politico-aesthetic history of Britain as seen through the lens of a constantly reimagined, bloodthirsty and/or benevolent caste of priests and/or magicians and/or scientists.—RDL

Ferrari (Film, US, Michael Mann, 2023) In 1957, Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) may lose his company to deeper-pocketed competitors, and wreck his marriage to Laura (Penélope Cruz) over his infidelity with Lina (Shailene Woodley). Mann unreels the story of what happens when two crises collide in one man, in an unusually internal film for him—even the racing scenes deliberately seem stepped down. Driver and Cruz (of course) play metal and fire off each other wonderfully.—KH

Incredible But True (Film, France, Quentin Dupieux, 2022) Bourgeois couple (Alain Chabat, Léa Drucker) who have a duct in their house that allows one to travel ahead twelve hours in time while also de-ageing by three days are nonplussed to learn that their friend, his boss, has had an electronic penis installed. Droll cautionary tale pays homage to Buñuel.—RDL

Silent Night (Film, US, John Woo, 2023) Rendered mute by the gangsters whose shootout claimed his young son’s life, an ordinary family man transforms himself into a traumatized instrument of vengeance. Contrary to the action romp promised by its marketing, this dialogue-free pure cinema subversion of the Death Wish formula is Woo’s darkest film since Bullet in the Head.—RDL

Trapeze (Film, US, Carol Reed, 1956) Injured trapeze artist (Burt Lancaster) returns to the rigging to train a promising protege (Tony Curtis), but a fame-starved performer (Gina Lollobrigida) comes between them. Briskly staged Technicolor circus melodrama with noirish undertones. DramaSystem players might take note of how economically it resolves its many dramatic petitions, stacking them on top of each other in quick succession.—RDL

The Unknown Man of Shandigor (Film, Switzerland, Jean-Louis Roy, 1967) Teams of spies violently vie for possession of a nuke-neutralizing device designed by a misanthropic scientist (Daniel Emilfork.) Bold compositions resonate with semiotic fatalism in this deconstructed spy spoof. Serge Gainsbourg appears as a chic French spymaster and sings his composition “Bye Bye Mister Spy.”—RDL

Good

Merry Little Batman (Film, US, Mike Roth, 2023) When Bruce Wayne (Luke Wilson) gets called out of Gotham, his son Damian (Yonas Kibreab) is left home alone—and prey to the Joker’s (David Hornsby) plan! What could have been a simple “Home Alone in Wayne Manor” cartoon leaves that setup behind by Act Three for an ambitious if not fully successful “meaning of Christmas” story. Art designer Guillaume Fesquet’s combo of Tim Burton and Ronald Searle works wonders at keeping cliche material fresh.—KH

Okay

Candy Cane Lane (Film, US, Reginald Hudlin, 2023) Noel-loving neighborhood dad Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy) unwisely makes a deal with a rogue elf (Jillian Bell) to win a Christmas-decorating contest, and madcap hijinks ensue. A baseline acceptable, even wacky, “Christmas is family” movie downright angered me when a Murphy ad lib in the end-credits blooper reel was orders of magnitude funnier and more real than anything I had just watched.—KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: 30 Coins, Talk to Me, and Classic Folk Horror and Yokai

December 19th, 2023 | Robin

The Pinnacle

30 Coins Season 2 (Television, Spain, HBO Europe,  Álex de la Iglesia, 2023) Scattered, in hiding, on the run, interned—or, in the case of Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández), literally in Hell—the people of Pedraza race to investigate a world-ending conspiracy led by a smug billionaire (Paul Giamatti) with eldritch inclinations. Sly, thrilling, epic in sweep, and unrelentingly paced, this is the biggest and most fully realized tribute to horror roleplaying ever shot. Anybody can throw in the Necronomicon but you have to be one of us to prominently feature the Chaosium elder sign.—RDL

Recommended

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Film, UK, Piers Haggard, 1971) A plowman accidentally unearths a demon’s corpse, provoking a plague of possession and murder in an 18th century English farm community. Influential folk horror depicts Satanic activity as an eruption of illogic, creating unease by forgoing a clear protagonist and cause-and-effect scene transitions.—RDL

The Donut King (Film, US, Alice Gu, 2020) Documentary profiles Ted Ngoy, the refugee who built an L..A. area donut store chain and brokered the dominance of the Cambodian community over the city’s glazed treat market. Riveting as cultural, food, and business history, but most of all as a gobsmacking rags to riches to rags story.—RDL

Spooky Warfare (Film, Japan, Yoshiyuki Kuroda, 1968) When a blood-drinking Babylonian demon kills and impersonates a virtuous samurai magistrate, offended local spirits, including a kappa, a rokurokubi, and a Kasa-obake, team up to stop him. For a goofy tokusatsu flick, this goes surprisingly hard, with gore, murders, and a pretty scary enemy monster. Also known as Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare and The Great Yokai War.—RDL

Talk to Me (Film, Australia, Danny and Michael Philippou, 2023) Grieving teen Mia (Sophie Wilde) attends  a house party where the kids  use a severed embalmed hand to conjure spirits into themselves. What could have been a rote “stay off drugs kids” story instead shows a convincingly callous teen subculture and always chooses the worse (and hence scarier and better) path, to terrific effect. But seriously, kids, stay off the severed embalmed hand conjuring. —KH

Violent Night (Film, US, Tommy Wirkola, 2022) Drunk, disillusioned Santa Claus (David Harbour) reconnects with his warrior past, and the spirit of the season, when mercenaries invade a house he’s visiting. Hard to think who other than Wirkola could do a slapstick gore fest that also hits all the beats of a heartwarming Santa movie.—RDL

Good

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Film, US; James Mangold, 2023) A larcenous god-daughter (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) drags a retirement-age Indy (Harrison Ford) on the hunt for a relic of Archimedes, with a Nazi rocket scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) in murderous pursuit. The script cleverly assembles the elements of the franchise, but the execution of the action sequences shows just how heavily it relied on Spielberg’s unparalleled flair for staging, composition and timing.—RDL

She Will (Film, UK, Charlotte Colbert, 2022) Ferociously guarded actress (Alice Krige) recuperates from cancer surgery at a New Agey retreat in the Scottish woods, developing a connection with the ashes of the witch trial victims who were burned there. Feminist weird tale maintains an intellectual distance from its protagonist and her dilemma, if she can be said to have one.—RDL

Okay

The Witch Part 2: The Other One (Film, South Korea, Park Hoon-Jung, 2022) Another experimental subject of the Witch supersoldier program (Cynthia) escapes an attack on her facility and takes refuge with siblings resisting gangland pressure to sell their childhood home. Lazily written sequel introduces a new, dull, passive protagonist but maintains the standard for fun, gory superfights.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Elizabeth Hand’s Hell House Sequel, Please Don’t Destroy, Quiz Lady

November 28th, 2023 | 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

Black Sheep (Film, US, Allan Dwan, 1935) Suave gambler (Edmund Lowe) and kicky actress (Claire Trevor) team up to rescue a swell young fellow from the clutches of a predatory jewel thief. Effervescent shipboard con artist comedy.—RDL

Christine (Film, US, Antonio Campos, 2016) Troubled local TV news reporter (Rebecca Hall) spirals as her drive to succeed collides with her inability to read and interact successfully with her colleagues. Hall gives a precise and heartbreaking performance in this evocative character portrait docudrama.—RDL

A Haunting on the Hill (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2023) Playwright Holly Sherwin rents the empty Hill House with her cast and tech designer to workshop her new witch-trial play, adapted from a Jacobean original, in this (estate-approved) sequel to Shirley Jackson’s Pinnacle novel. Hand was never going to equal the greatest horror novel of all time, so she writes a different story about human frailty colliding with the unnatural, rich in metafiction, drama, and “I just can’t read this next part” dread. It’s not a remake or even a cover version, and it’s barely even a sequel, but it’s another deeply satisfying (and horripilating) Elizabeth Hand novel. —KH

Madame Freedom (Film, South Korea, Hyeong-mo Han, 1956) Reserved woman (Jeong-rim Kim) stifled by her self-centered wet blanket husband (Am Park) falls into the arms of a young jazz fan neighbor and a wealthy politician. Subtly drawn domestic drama of yearning for more in an age of modernization.—RDL

Please Don’t Destroy: the Treasure of Foggy Mountain (Film, US, Paul Briganti, 2023) Underachieving sporting goods retailers (Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, Ben Marshall) test their childhood friendship when they discover a legendary artifact and must defend it from disaffected park rangers (Megan Stalter, X Mayo) and a purple-clad cult leader (Bowen Yang.) Joke-packed, loopy comedy updates the SNL movie to the kindly mores of the cozy generation.—RDL

Quiz Lady (Film, US, Jessica Yu, 2023) When loan sharks kidnap her dog, a repressed accountant (Awkwafina) gives in to the urgings of her voluble train wreck older sister (Sandra Oh) and auditions to become a contestant on the quiz show that has obsessed her since childhood. Smart, affectionate buddy comedy flips expectations on who will play which side of the mythic Felix/Oscar opposition.—RDL

Okay

The Devil is a Sissy (Film, W.S. Van Dyke & Rowland Brown, 1936) English boy (Freddie Bartholomew) enrolls in a tough NYC school and falls in with budding delinquents (Mickey Rooney, Jackie Cooper.) Strongly characterized comedy-drama seeks social responsibility but winds up showing that we prefer our onscreen rogues unreformed.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Killer, An Antimemetic World-Slayer, and Belle Epoque Investigations

November 21st, 2023 | 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

In Which We Serve (Film, UK, Noel Coward & David Lean, 1942) Clinging to a life raft and periodically strafed by German planes, the captain (Noel Coward) and other crew members of the sinking destroyer Torrin recall the role it played in their lives since the beginning of the war. Coward plays against his bon vivant persona as a wholly admirable naval officer in this stirring achievement in British wartime propaganda.—RDL

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (Film, Italy, Luciano Ercoli, 1970) A chilling encounter with a spear-cane wielding blackmailer (Simón Andreu) leaves an ennui-ridden woman (Dagmar Lassander) thinking that her driven businessman husband (Pier Paolo Capponi) is a murderer. Giallo without gore killings exerts a strange hold despite its plot absurdities, in part via the stylish unease of its Ennio Morricone score.—RDL

The Killer (Film, US, David Fincher, 2023) Hit man (Michael Fassbender) who obsesses about process repeatedly finds himself improvising as his process hits the skids of unpredictable humanity. On one level a (perfectionist) film about a professional, on another a wry self-examination by a process-obsessed director. Its leitmotif of the killer concealed within (or emergent from) a commercial monoculture of sitcoms, gig work, and global branding seems almost beside the point. —KH

The Law According to Lidia Poët Season 1 (Television, Italy, Netflix, Guido Iuculano & Davide Orsini, 2023) In 1883 Turin, a law school grad who is forbidden to enter the courtroom (Matilda De Angelis) solves murders, aided by her stuffy attorney brother (Pier Luigi Pasino) and a handsome journalist (Eduardo Scarpetta.) De Angelis smolders with smarts, glamor and barely contained rage in a lavishly mounted historical case-of-the-week mystery show. YKRPG fans will appreciate its Belle Époque (or stile floreale if you insist) decor and costumes, particularly in the episode featuring spiritualism and a sinister masked ball.—RDL

Skinamarink (Film, Canada, Kyle Edward Ball, 2023) Preschool siblings wake up in the middle of the night to find their home transformed by an otherworldly incursion. Trance-inducing experimental horror, where figures appear dimly or obliquely when they occupy the screen at all, owes more to Stan Brakhage than it does to Tod Browning or John Carpenter. If you’re not on its wavelength after 15-20 minutes, know that it is going to stick with its aesthetic all the way through.—RDL

There Is No Antimemetics Division (Fiction, qntm, 2021) Marion Wheeler, the head of the SCP Foundation’s Antimemetics Division, battles an antimemetic world-killer in a series of layered, interrelated short narratives. Qntm takes a great spec-fic high concept and rings plenty of clever changes on it, while continuously raising the stakes from Clancyesque competence porn to Lovecraftian apocalypse. Mandatory reading for Madness Dossier GMs. —KH

Good

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains (Nonfiction, Helen Thomson, 2018) Journalist visits people who live with such rare neurological conditions as mirror neuron synesthesia, clinical lycanthropy, and Cotard’s syndrome, whose sufferers believe that they have died. An eye-opening look at anomalies of the brain, padded with the anodyne anecdotes pop science editors insist on.—RDL

Satan’s Slaves: Communion (Film, Indonesia, Joko Anwar, 2022) Four years after their first brush with demons summoned by an infernal pact, a family faces a new incursion from beyond—this time, in a flood-threatened Jakarta housing project. The creepy slow burn plays more strongly than the conclusion in a second installment that establishes the series’ core evil as emanating from the sins of the Suharto regime .—RDL

Okay

The Medium (Film, Thailand, Banjong Pisanthanakun, 2021) Shaman discovers that her niece has been possessed by a malign entity. Pseudodocumentary is at its most interesting early on, transposing the tropes of the exorcism subgenre to the animist Isan culture, before it revs up into standard scare stuff.—RDL

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