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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

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

April 30th, 2024 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

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

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

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

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

Good

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

Not Recommended

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

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

April 23rd, 2024 | Robin

Recommended

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

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

Good

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

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

Okay

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

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

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

Not Recommended

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

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

April 9th, 2024 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

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

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

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

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

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

Good

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

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

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

March 26th, 2024 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

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

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

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

Good

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

Okay

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

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dune, Monarch, Monsieur Spade

March 19th, 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

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Television, US, Apple+, Chris Black, 2023) Kaiju-traumatized teacher (Anna Sawai) and failed artist (Ren Watabe) discover that they are half-siblings and that their supposedly dead father had yet another secret life as a monster hunter, which leads them to the cashiered co-founder of his former organization (Kurt Russell), whose backstory is told in flashback, with Wyatt Russell taking on his role. Though the latter-day sequences over-rely on changes in allegiance to keep the plot gyrating, the flashback half satisfyingly backfills the Monsterverse continuity. Wyatt Russell embraces the stunt casting with a dead-on version of his dad’s mannerisms and then transcends it, bringing human pathos and longing to all the monstering. Godzilla occasionally pops by, like the Cigarette Smoking Man or Newman, to inject a jolt of energy.—RDL

Good

Along with Ghosts (Film, Japan, Kimiyoshi Yasuda & Yoshiyuki Kuroda, 1969) In samurai-era Japan, supernatural beings come to the aid of a little girl on the run from curse-flouting yakuza. According to the essential metric of how many cool yokai are onscreen doing cool yokai things, the last film in the Yokai Monsters trilogy receives the lowest marks.—RDL

Badland Hunters (Film, South Korea, Heo Myeong Haeng, 2024) In post-catastrophic Seoul, an ex-boxer (Ma Dong-Seok) sets out to rescue a young neighbor (No Jeong-ee) from the clutches of a bioengineering cult leader. In this first film from a fight choreographer, the action direction outshines everything else, giving Ma plenty of people to punch but nothing to play.—RDL

Ballerina (Film, South Korea, Chung-Hyun Lee, 2023) Ex-bodyguard (Jeon Jong-seo) arms up for revenge against the traffickers who killed her best friend. Applies a gloss of Ridley Scott style to a straightforward vigilante actioner with an exploitation movie ethos.—RDL

Incomplete

Dune: Part Two (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2024) Genetic messiah Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) goes native on Arrakis, worried that embracing his destiny means galactic war. Like most second halves of movies, this coasts on the intrigue and buy-in created in the first half; only the Harkonnen home planet gives us anything new or interesting. Unlike Rebecca Ferguson, Chalamet isn’t a strong enough actor to hold his half together even against a deliberately nerfed Emperor (Christopher Walken). The inevitable (and invited) comparison to Lean’s Pinnacle Lawrence of Arabia does Villeneuve no favors either; I presume if I watched both halves of Dune together in IMAX it would come out a high Good.—KH

Not Recommended

Monsieur Spade (Television, US/France, Scott Frank & Tom Fontana, 2024) Former private detective Sam Spade (Clive Owen), now retired to a small French town on his late wife’s estate, must pick up the gun again when he is drawn into a case involving a missing Algerian boy, murdered nuns, and the daughter (Cara Bossom) of former flame Brigid O’Shaunessy. The first five episodes establish Owen as a convincing Spade who references Bogart without imitating him and places the character in a refreshing new context. Then the finale sidelines him, parachutes in a deus ex machina who does nothing and solves nothing, and otherwise places the series in the all-time Terrible Endings Hall of Fame right next to Lost and Game of Thrones.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hatfields vs McCoys, Taylor Tomlinson vs Expectations, and Annette Bening vs Box Jellyfish

March 12th, 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

Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance (Nonfiction, Lisa Alther, 2012) With a novelist’s eye for structure, Alther unravels the post-Civil War string of reprisal killings between two sprawling families on the Kentucky-West Virginia border that left sixty dead and bequeathed a curiously corny, heavily sanitized legend to later pop culture. Impressively chronicles a story in which every significant incident occurs in a minimum of two contradictory versions, then circles back for context and analysis.—RDL

Gary Gulman: Born on Third Base (Stand-up, HBO Max, James Webb, 2023) Gulman continues to evolve his particular blend of the shaggy-dog joke and the autobiographical monologue (or as he calls it, “mommy look at me”) with ever-increasing precision, tightness, and skilled delivery. Any stand-up who does both a Pop-Tart joke and a Seinfeld takedown had better bring their A game, and Gulman does just that.—KH

Sopyonje (Film, South Korea, Im-kwon Taek, 1993) Misanthropic itinerant singer of the dying pansori tradition (Kim Myung-gon) goes to appalling lengths to mold his adopted daughter (Jung-hae Oh) into his artistic successor. Gorgeously mounted drama of suffering for art.—RDL

The Murder Man (Film, US, Tim Whelan, 1935) Binge-drinking crime reporter (Spencer Tracy) scoops the competition on the slaying of a crooked investment broker. Fast-talking crime drama takes its hero in an atypical direction.—RDL

Taylor Tomlinson: Have it All (Stand-up, Netflix, Kristian Mercado, 2023) It’s tough to brag and be funny, but Tomlinson’s wild swagger carries her through a set centering on how far she’s come since her last specials. Once more, her mastery of vocal code switching and physical acting take already great material and make it excellent.—KH

Good

Knife + Heart (Film, France, Yann Gonzales, 2018) Heartbroken gay porn auteur (Kate Moran) becomes an unlikely investigator when police show little interest in the masked killer stalking her actors. Like many latter-day giallo homages, this references the subgenre’s style and motifs but sets aside the horror-thrilling pacing, in this case for a surreal indie drama of 70s queer life that owes more to Cocteau than to Argento or Bava.—RDL

Nyad (Film, US, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin, 2023) At age 62, long distance swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) appoints best pal Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) as her coach in a bid to complete the Cuba-Florida marathon that beat her when she was 28. Acting-driven sports film convincingly portrays marathon swimming as the grotesque self-mortification of a trauma-forged achiever, bringing more than a little ambivalence to its inspirational triumph beats. —RDL

Schmigadoon Season 2 (Television, Apple+, Cinco Paul, 2023)  Disenchanted with life in the real world, Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) attempt to revisit the magic of Schmigadoon, only to find themselves in the nihilistic Schmicago, where the tropes of 60s and 70s musicals hold sway. Though the Broadway song parodies are even sharper this time around, the second season struggles to keep the protagonists at the heart of the narrative, which makes more of a difference than you might think.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: May December, French UFOs, Yokai, and Modern Yoga’s Eliptony Layer

March 5th, 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

100 Monsters (Film, Japan, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968) Murderous landlord scoffs at the need to perform a protective rite after a night of spooky storytelling, inviting the righteous vengeance of yokai spirits. A straight-laced start to the Yokai Monsters trilogy mostly focused on human wrongdoing. The kid in you may complain that it takes too long for the creatures to show up.—RDL

May December (Film, US, Todd Haynes, 2023) TV actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) arrives in Savannah to research her upcoming role as Gracie (Julianne Moore), who at 36 seduced a 13-year-old and remains married to him (Charles Melton) 20 years later. If Haynes’ influences were Ridley Scott and John McTiernan instead of Douglas Sirk and Joe Losey, he could have called this movie Alien vs Predator, and watching Portman as a soulless chameleon work on (and against) Moore’s damaged sociopath is voyeuristic delight. Haynes shoots the film alternatingly flat and fuzzy, like a somewhat jazzed-up true-crime drama, while playing with a wildly melodramatic score almost from the first beat.—KH

UFOs Season 1 (Television, France, Clémence Dargent & Martin Douaire, 2021) After his rocket project goes explosively awry, an uptight engineer for France’s aerospace agency is ordered to take over and shut down the woebegone department that logs UFO sightings. Students of eliptony will knowingly nod at this investigative dramedy’s familiarity with deep saucer-hunting lore.—RDL

Good

An Accidental Studio (Film, UK, Bill Jones & Kim Leggatt & Ben Timlett, 2019) Documentary traces the trajectory of independent studio Handmade Films, started by George Harrison to rescue Monty Python’s Life of Brian and later responsible for The Long Good Friday, Withnail and I, and Nuns on the Run. Tells the cyclically repeating story of a business started by artists to avoid creative meddling from the suits, only to fall prey to it, here in the form of Harrison’s money man Denis O’Brien.—RDL

Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Public Health Threat (Nonfiction, Derek Beres, Matthew Remski and Julian Walker, 2023) Apostate veterans of the wellness movement examine the predispositions, including a full smorgasbord of full-bore eliptonic and occult beliefs, that left the yoga scene ripe for colonization by anti-vaxxers and QAnon. Based on the eponymous podcast and written in an unabashedly polemical mode.—RDL

Past Lives (Film, US, Celine Song, 2023) Married playwright (Greta Lee) reunites with the middle school crush (Teo Yoo) she left behind when her parents emigrated from Korea. Muted drama of nice people being sensible could use a sharp note or two to bring contrast to all the wistful beauty.—RDL

Three Miles Down (Fiction, Harry Turtledove, 2022) In 1974, a young oceanologist/budding sf writer gets recruited to the secret project behind the secret Project AZORIAN—an alien spacecraft on the Pacific ocean floor actually sank the Soviet sub K-129, and the CIA is bringing it up. Contrary to the subtitle, this isn’t a “novel of first contact” but a novel of the precursor to first contact. Turtledove keeps it short and single-viewpoint, but doesn’t actually follow through on the great idea at the core.—KH

Okay

The Marvels (Film, US, Nia Dacosta, 2023) Bound by an entanglement that causes them to body switch, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) battle a Kree leader (Zawe Ashton) whose scheme to revive her homeworld endangers the fabric of the universe. The first acts of sequels are harder to set up than originals. It’s therefore unsurprising that, for all of the likeability of its actors and characters and tentacle cats, a sequel to not one but three different previous works wobbles in establishing a clear, basic question to carry us through the narrative.—RDL

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

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