Abraham Lincoln

Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Menu, Slow Horses, and The Big Four

January 10th, 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.


The Automat (Film, US, Lisa Hurwitz, 2021) Documentary profiles the rise and fall of the Horn & Hardart restaurant chain, which served cheap quality food to New Yorkers and Philadelphians through automated windows that opened when you put a nickel in. Talking head Mel Brooks adds comic energy to a fascinating commercial and social history.—RDL

A Bride for Rip van Winkle (Film, Japan, Shunji Iwai, 2016) Ashamed to have no one to invite to her wedding, a painfully withdrawn bride-to-be (Haru Kuroki) enlists a supplier of paid guests (Gô Ayano), who has a complex scheme of his own in mind. Quietly commanding chamber epic sets up and then confounds neo-gothic expectations. —RDL

Death on the Nile (Film, UK, John Guillermin, 1978) When millionaire heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) is murdered on her honeymoon cruise on the Nile, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) must untangle the mystery. A best-of-breed 1970s star-studded mystery extravaganza featuring Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, and Maggie Smith in a three-way camp-off and a weirdly simpering Poirot that Ustinov somehow makes appealing. Anthony Shaffer’s script handles the clockwork Christie story with aplomb, and Guillermin lets the actors breathe. –KH

Going Highbrow (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1935) With the cheerful acquiescence of her newly rich down-to-earth husband (Guy Kibbee), a heartlander yearning for New York social status (Zasu Pitts) enlists the aid of a high-status, low-net worth family’s scheme-happy financial advisor (Edward Everett Horton.) Unusual screwball comedy puts the comic character actors upfront, with the romantic plot driving the action without taking the spotlight.—RDL

The Menu (Film, US, Mark Mylod, 2022) Obsessed foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his less-so date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) arrive at an island restaurant for chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) masterpiece. Squid-ink-black satire might have been too broad without Fiennes and Hoult’s laserlike timing; Taylor-Joy ably blends her audience stand-in role with her own plot in slow reveals. The resulting horror: deconstructed Buñuel, with a Colin Stetson score featuring notes of mineral and threat. –KH

Slow Horses Season 2 (Television, UK, Will Smith, 2022) Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) stubbornly probes the murder of a long-discarded agent, exposing a sleeper agent plot. Unable to repeat the first season’s underdogs versus real MI6 conflict, the series settles into a satisfying case-of-the-week (or -series if you insist on getting technical about it) thriller rhythm.—RDL

Three Thousand Years of Longing (Film, US, George Miller, 2022) Contentedly lonely narratologist (Tilda Swinton) deploys her understanding of myth to avoid becoming a cautionary tale when she frees a handsome djinn (Idris Elba) in her academic conference hotel room. Miller looses his mastery of visual plasticity on a romantic tale both intimate and wondrous.—RDL


The Big Four (Film, Timo Tjahjanto, 2022) A quartet of assassins in hiding after the assassination of their master face pursuit from a dogged cop and a psychotic rival. Brilliantly executed grand guignol fight sequences without enough of a storyline to sustain momentum between them.—RDL

Death on the Nile (Film, US, Kenneth Branagh, 2022) When millionaire heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) is murdered on her honeymoon cruise on the Nile, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must untangle the mystery. Branagh restrains his worst tics as actor and director while trusting the inherent (albeit CGI-enhanced) spectacle of the piece, so rather better than his previous Poirot. Neither Branagh nor writer Michael Green know what to do with half the cast; Branagh really only wants juice and energy out of Gadot and Sophie Okonedo (playing a blues singer in lieu of the original’s romance novelist). Emma Mackey and Annette Bening force our attention nonetheless. –KH


The Angel’s Game (Fiction, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 2008) In interwar Barcelona a young pulp writer loses his grip on reality after accepting a commission to write a new religious mythology from a Luciferian client. In the second of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, Zafon permits himself a multitude of sins by fully embracing pulp structure, in the end raising the question of how much the reader can attach to events described by a completely unreliable narrator.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Kingdom Exodus, Babylon and Singin’ in the Rain

January 3rd, 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.

The Pinnacle

Singin’ in the Rain (Film, US, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952) In 1927, romantic leading man Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) falls for chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) as his film studio tries to make a newfangled talking picture. Like almost everyone, I’ve seen chunks of this movie in excerpts and dance numbers, but my first time (!!) watching it all the way through reveals it as one of the most astonishing feats of bricolage the old studio system ever produced. Ordered to churn out a jukebox musical to make use of songs MGM already owned, the writers and directors and actors literally choreographed a magnificent, multivalent love story of a caliber now only seen in Bollywood. More cynical than you remember, and more beautiful too. –KH


Kingdom Exodus (Television, Denmark, Lars von Trier, 2022) After watching season two of Lars von Trier’s supernatural medical soap opera, a kindly sleepwalker (Bodil Jørgensen), vexed by its inconclusive ending, checks herself into Kingdom hospital to investigate the truth behind the events it depicted. 24 years ago, von Trier, seemingly dismayed to have created something entertaining that people liked, dropped his show in midstream. In a meta-sequel that amps up the absurd comedy and overt dark fantasy elements, he finds a way to wrap it up without abandoning his core self-loathing.—RDL

The Last of Sheila (Film, US, Herbert Ross, 1973) A year after his wife’s unsolved hit and run death, a grandly manipulative movie producer (James Coburn) invites his friends (James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, Ian McShane, Joan Hackett) aboard his yacht to play a social deduction scavenger hunt on various Mediterranean islands. Puzzle-loving whodunnit wreathed in laidback 70s glamor and icy cynicism. Written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins and cited by Rian Johnson as an influence on Glass Onion.—RDL

The Last of Sheila (Film, US, Herbert Ross, 1973) Big-shot movie producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn) invites the six littler-shot Hollywood suspects in his wife’s unsolved murder (James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, Ian McShane, Joan Hackett) to play a murder mystery (and social dominance)  game on his yacht off the south of France. All three of the interlocking whodunits work thanks to a tight script by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins; Coburn, Mason, and especially Cannon breathe life into their deliberately stagy characters. –KH

Margin Call (Film, US, J.C. Chandor, 2011) In 2008, immediately after a Wall Street brokerage fires its risk management officer (Stanley Tucci), a wunderkind analyst (Zachary Quinto) discovers the firm – and by extension all of Wall Street – is horrendously over-leveraged. Beautifully geometrical thriller tosses the apocalyptic hot potato up the corporate ladder (Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker) to the very top (Jeremy Irons) where no good options remain. Superbly acted, shot, paced, edited, and scored, only occasional touches of artificiality keep it from Pinnacle status. –KH


<'>As Luck Would Have It (Nonfiction, Derek Jacobi, 2013) English acting autobiography bestows the requisite theatrical anecdotes and a self-depiction of a thoroughly reticent man brought up as a beloved only child by equally retiring parents.—RDL


See How They Run (Film, UK, Tom George, 2022) Checked-out, alcoholic police inspector (Sam Rockwell) and eager constable (Saoirse Ronan) investigate a murder backstage at the 100th performance of The Mousetrap. Ironically for a film in which crass directorial rewrites appear as a major plot point, a script that shows vestigial signs of having something to say about the murder mystery genre and literary travesty winds up immured in a broad, cutesy style.—RDL

Not Recommended

Babylon (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2022) In 1926, starry-eyed gofer Manny Torres (Diego Calva) falls for wild child starlet-to-be Nellie LeRoy (Margot Robbie) as his film studio tries to make a newfangled talking picture. In three-plus hours, Chazelle can’t help but shoot a few arresting images, and although Justin Hurwitz’ driving jazz score and Robbie’s self-destructive it girl do nothing original, they do it very well. But bereft of both antagonist and structure, the film’s a mess: a shitting elephant. (That’s literally the first scene of the film.) As silent star Jack Conrad (a checked-out Brad Pitt) shouts at us about two hours in: “Movies don’t need subtext!” If you say so, Damien. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Fabelmans, Glass Onion, and Premonitions of Doom

December 27th, 2022 | Robin

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


The Best Max Carrados Detective Stories (Fiction, Ernest Bramah [E.F. Bleiler, ed.], 1972) Blinded by an accident, wealthy dilettante Max Carrados trains his remaining senses to their highest pitch and solves crimes. Bleiler selects ten of the 26 Carrados tales written between 1913 and 1927 for this collection, which ably display the wit, arch social commentary, and skill with character that Bramah embodies in his best works. The mysteries per se more resemble Holmesian prestidigitation than the Golden Age standard, but Carrados’ charms make up for structural sleight-of-hand. –KH

The Fabelmans (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2022) Through the lens of his moviemaking obsession, a precocious teen (Gabriel Labelle) spots the fault lines in the marriage between his earnest, technically-minded father (Paul Dano) and thwarted, exuberant mother (Michelle Williams.) Spielberg uses his love language, the larger-than-life acting, grammar, and gloss of 50s Technicolor spectaculars, to pay autobiographical tribute to his parents.—RDL

The Premonitions Bureau (Nonfiction, Sam Knight, 2022) 60s British psychiatrist John Barker, an experimenter with aversion therapy who tried to reform the snakepit mental hospital that employed him, studies psychosomatic death and establishes, with an Evening Standard science reporter, a project to document premonitions of disaster to see if they come true. Vivid reporting with contextualizing discursions tells a tale of real life Serlingesque ironic doom.—RDL


Glass Onion (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2022) Billionaire Miles Bron (Ed Norton) invites five people with motives for murder to his remote island, but fortunately detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) joins the party. Two acts delightfully deconstructing a Christie classic setup (down to the broadly ridiculous characters; Kate Hudson exceeds herself) hit tonal and thematic crosswinds by act three. The result: a messier, less clever sequel. –KH

Glass Onion (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2022) Master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives a mysterious invitation to a murder mystery weekend on a Greek island, thrown by a self-mythologizing tech billionaire (Ed Norton) for his circle of besties. The first act is such a beguiling contemplation of cinematic glamor and charismatic bitchiness that the arrival of genre plot demands in the second act takes it down a notch.—RDL

Rhubarb (Film, US, Arthur Lubin, 1951) Harried PR man (Ray Milland) becomes the reluctant guardian to a feisty cat (Orangey) whose inherited business empire includes an underdog baseball team. Comic fable from the production team behind Miracle on 34th Street serves up its obstacles somewhat haphazardly, but knows to keep returning to its central gag, the truculence of the titular feline.—RDL

Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen (Film, Japan, Takeshi Kitano, 2015) Bored by the humiliations of old age and retirement, a crew of ex-yakuza assembles to take on a new breed of post-yakuza gangsters. Kitano recasts his fatalistic take on the gangster flick as a agreeably shambling comedy.—RDL


Love Is News (Film, US, Tay Garnett, 1937) Irked by her tabloid fodder status, a charming heiress (Loretta Young) gives a tricksy reporter (Tyrone Power) a taste of his own medicine by announcing her engagement to him. Breezy screwball comedy with Don Ameche bringing extra brio to the standard role of a tantrum-throwing newspaper editor.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: White Noise, Decision to Leave, Classic Lubitsch

December 20th, 2022 | Robin

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


Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Film, US, Ernst Lubitsch, 1938) On discovering that her blunt rich American fiancee (Gary Cooper) is a serial divorcer, the charming daughter (Claudette Colbert) of a shady count (Edward Everett Horton) decides to exact a literal and emotional toll. Sophisticated screwball comedy mines America vs Europe cultural divide with the aid of fine-tuned wisecracks from the writing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.—RDL

Decision to Leave (Film, South Korea, Park Chan-wook, 2022) Devoted cop (Park Hae-il) succumbs to a romantic obsession for an enigmatic emigre (Tang Wei) he suspects in the murder of her husband. Park mutes his bravura style for a hypnotic Journey into Hitchcock territory.—RDL

White Noise (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2022) Professor Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) and his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) go from manic to paranoiac after an airborne toxic event. Baumbach’s tendencies to stilted logorrhea meet their perfect match in the Don DeLillo source novel, resulting in a layered alchemical comedy blending genre riffs with self-aware genre lectures and ending in an LCD Soundsystem musical number. Much credit goes to Lol Crawley’s bright 80s camera eye and Danny Elfman’s bouncy score. –KH


Juju Stories (Film, Nigeria, C.J. Obasi, Abba Makama, Michael Omonua, 2021) A woman uses juju for love, cursed money turns a thug into a yam, and a witch gets jealous in the three short films in this anthology. The first has the most human story, but the least excitement; the yam tale probably satisfies the most; the witch story could almost have sustained a whole movie if its characters got to breathe or fuller dimensionality. Three Good shorts, in other words, with a wonderfully naturalistic magic background. –KH

Me and My Gal (Film, US, Raoul Walsh, 1932) Ambitious bowery-beat cop (Spencer Tracy) falls for the wisecracking sister (Joan Bennett) of a woman mixed up with mobsters. Unusual mix of rough-hewn romcom and crime drama from the early talkie era, where screenwriters weren’t sure such which tropes belonged in the same movie.—RDL

Wednesday Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Alfred Gough & Miles Millar, 2022) When her parents Gomez and Morticia (Luis Guzman and Catherine Zeta-Jones) send Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) to their old boarding school, she uncovers a magical mystery. Tonal collision nearly sinks this effort: Addams comedy depends on playing off normies, which the school isn’t, but the comedy undermines any real stakes to the murders. The fact that all the young actors (except Emma Myers as Wednesday’s fun, girly werewolf roomie) went to the same CW mumblecore drama school gives Wednesday’s mordant affect almost nothing to respond to. Ortega, however, transcends the weak material, and Tim Burton directs four episodes, so there’s at least some personality to watch. –KH


Enola Holmes 2 (Film, US, Harry Bradbeer, 2022) Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) investigates a missing match girl while her brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) matches wits with a mastermind in a surely unrelated case. Less fun than the first film, substituting puzzles for mysteries, and barely true even to its own pretend Victorian era: another case of feel-goodism undermining stakes. This one is only for David Thewlis devotees, as his Superintendent Grail has all the sliminess and squintiness one could ask for in a British villain. –KH

Max Steiner: Maestro of Movie Music (Film, US, Diana Friedberg, 2019) Overlong, fannish documentary profiles the avuncular, workaholic composer who laid down the template for neo-romantic film music and continued to follow it with such classic scores as King Kong, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and The Big Sleep.—RDL

Spirited (Film, US, Sean Anders, 2022) The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) pitches his boss Jacob Marley on a candidate for spectral Yuletide reformation, a seductively cynical PR specialist (Ryan Reynolds.) Cute premise and appealing comic bro chemistry weighed down by formulaic contemporary pop-Broadway songs.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Confess Fletch, Vengeance, and Edward Gorey

December 13th, 2022 | Robin

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


Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey (Nonfiction, Karen Wilkin (ed.), 2002) Wilkin assembles a collection of interviews with Gorey between 1973 and 1999, providing insight into Gorey’s process, devotion to the ballet, love of cats, and intermittently his career. As most interview collections do, this retreads the same ground occasionally, but it gives the eager Goreyite a better sense of who that enormous weird artist in the fur coat actually might have been. –KH

Confess, Fletch (Film, US, Greg Mottola, 2022) Former investigative reporter Fletch (Jon Hamm) lies and snarks through a hunt for stolen paintings in Boston. Hamm’s Fletch is less wacky than Chevy Chase’s incarnation, but emulsifies the Fletch blend of jerkiness and humor just as well: he’s fun to watch annoy his co-stars, in sum. If this had come out in 1992 or even 2002 I might have given it a mere Good, but by simply being a well-lit, capable comic mystery for grown-ups in under 100 minutes, it gets the Recommended bounce in this era of streaming suckily. –KH

Rogues’ Gallery: The Rise (and Occasional Fall) of Art Dealers, the Hidden Players in the History of Art (Nonfiction, Philip Hook, 2017) After a brief nod to ancient Rome, this broad survey with chapter-long individual portraits covers the development of the art sales trade from the early modern period, following the trajectory of dealers from selling the works of the safely dead to their current role in building careers and shaping tastes. Written with wit, erudition, and an insider’s perspective, plus tasty morsels of gossip.—RDL

Val (Film, US, Leo Scott & Ting Poo, 2022) Actor Val Kilmer has obsessively filmed his life since childhood; Scott and Poo assemble footage for an autobiopic that doubles as a meditation on acting. Kilmer’s throat cancer having destroyed his career, it also subtextually interrogates the currently deprecated contribution of superb physicality to acting. Kilmer’s son Jack reads Val’s affecting narration. –KH

Vengeance (Film, US, B.J. Novak, 2022) When a girl he hooked up with in New York overdoses in Texas, journalist Ben (B.J. Novak) decides to launch his true-crime podcast by attending her funeral. Novak performs the minor miracle of making a “New Yorker in Texas” movie without otherizing Texas, and while not remotely hiding New York’s flaws. Add to that a genuinely intriguing “true crime” story, sensational supporting performances from Boyd Holbrook (as her older brother) and Ashton Kutcher (as a music producer), and a script (also by Novak) that moves from buddy-comedy zip to Western to noir philosophy, and the few stumbles melt away. –KH


Bullet Train (Film, US, David Leitch, 2022) Unlucky but self-actualizing black-bagger Ladybug (Brad Pitt) finds himself on the titular train full of wacky assassins enmeshed in at least three revenge plots. This Post-Tarantino Crime Film Lego set of a movie is indeed brightly colored and snaps together into a pleasing shape, but even the fine fight choreography and Pitt’s amiable star power can’t breathe organic life into its prefab components. It’s on Netflix now, though, so I bet streaming it while high works pretty well. –KH

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Film, US, Tom Gormican, 2022) Fading Hollywood star Nicolas Cage (playing himself on “low,” and his imaginary twin on “high,” and yes it’s that kind of movie) takes a million-dollar payday to guest at the birthday party of Spanish olive magnate Javi (Pedro Pascal), but discovers the CIA is interested as well. This is also the kind of movie where the characters talk about the kind of movie they should make and it’s the kind of movie you’re watching, golly. The hangout film Cage and Pascal initially pitch each other would probably have been a better film than this one, though, as their byplay works better than the second or third act do. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wakanda Forever, a French Action Thriller, Plus Burglars, FIFA, and Other Criminals

November 22nd, 2022 | Robin

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

The Pinnacle

Lost Bullet (Film, France, Guillaume Pierret, 2020) Furloughed to work as mechanic for a fast pursuit police squad, a determined convict (Alban Lenoir) is framed for murder and escapes to clear his name. Tight actioner with brilliantly conceived, precision-executed car chases and hand-to-hand fights, anchored by a smart script where each member of its last cast of characters pursues their own specific agenda.—RDL


The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown (Fiction, Lawrence Block, 2022) After reading Fredric Brown’s classic novel What Mad Universe, obsolescent burglar-bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr sideslips into a world where he can pull one last job. Each of Block’s dozen Burglar books is something of a delicate confection, and this one reaches Viennese levels of sweetness while slightly neglecting the tight plotting in favor of fond metafiction. If you haven’t read any Rhodenbarr capers yet, this is where to finish, not where to begin. –KH

Esther Povitsky: Hot For My Name (Television, US, Comedy Central, Nicholaus Goossen, 2020) Punchy, perfectly delivered standup bits interspersed with Esther’s bemused parents gently negging her, finishing with a musical number. A pure standup special would have been my personal preference, but everything here works. –KH

FIFA Uncovered (Television, US, Netflix, Miles Coleman & Daniel Gordon, 2022) Docuseries meticulously lays out the case that the corruption of the organization that rules World Cup football is not an anomaly, but has been its core mission since sponsorship money first flooded into the sport. The biggest proof it offers for the hubris of FIFA bigwigs is that all of them agree to appear on camera for interviews, confident that their powers of weaselry will once again prevail for them.—RDL

The Interrupters (Film, US, Steve James, 2011) Documentary profiles former Chicago gang members who now work for a city program directly intervening to defuse disputes that might otherwise escalate to murder. Presents the sociological issues while wisely placing the emphasis on the people working to redeem themselves and rescue others.—RDL

Lost Bullet (Film, France, Guillaume Pierret, 2020) On work release for the cops, ace mechanic Lino (Alban Lenoir) must find the titular bullet and clear his name after being framed for murder. Perfectly tuned actioner remarkably eschews suspense for adrenaline, and commendably refrains from murdering a bunch of bystanders. –KH

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (Fiction, Anthony Berkeley, 1929) Six members of the Crimes Circle, including both of Berkeley’s series detectives, attempt to solve a Scotland Yard cold case: Sir Eustace Pennefather receives a mysterious box of chocolates, gives them to fellow clubman Graham Bendix, and Bendix’ wife Joan dies of poison. Each member proposes a strong solution in turn, demolishing the previous solution (and demonstrating the fundamental arbitrariness in mystery novel construction) along the way. Clever and arch, a remarkable feat of deconstruction for 1929; the linked edition contains two more solutions, by Christianna Brand and Martin Edwards. –KH


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Film, US, Ryan Coogler, 2022) After the death of King T’challa, Wakanda faces renewed factionalism at home and a rising rival vibranium kingdom, Talokan, ruled by Namor (Tenoch Huerta). It’s hard to resent the film’s decision to mourn Chadwick Boseman, but it adds another half-hour when not much happens, along with a pointless CIA subplot, an overlong Namor backstory, and the introduction of a superfluous super-scientist to a movie ostensibly about Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). Lupita Nyong’o is great as superspy Nakia, and props for having the final fight in daylight, I guess. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Decision to Leave, Bullet Train, and a Water Nymph Urban Geographer

November 15th, 2022 | Robin

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

The Pinnacle

Decision to Leave (Film, South Korea, Park Chan-wook, 2022) Insomniac homicide detective Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-li) becomes romantically entangled with his chief suspect Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), the wife of the dead man. Audacious, melancholy, and gut-clenching in turns, this surveillance noir perfectly blends the policier and the romance. Controlled allegro editing by Kim Sang-bum plays beautifully off the classical woodwind score by Jo Yeong-wook. –KH


The Blessing (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1951) The marriage of a young Englishwoman to an aristocratic French war hero hits a snag when infidelity is discovered and their precocious young son, enjoying the spoiling that results, contrives to thwart their reconciliation. Mitford expands her brilliantly funny social observation across the Channel.—RDL

Bullet Train (Film, US, David Leitch, 2022) Self-improving smash and grabber for hire (Brad Pitt) takes an assignment to steal a briefcase, little suspecting that the train it’s on is populated by assassins pursuing contradictory missions. Post-Tarantino action comedy with a gloriously zowie color palette pulls off the daring formal feat of not just homaging From Russia With Love’s iconic train fight, but then successfully repeating it another seven or eight times.—RDL

Undine (Film, Germany, Christian Petzold, 2020) After being dumped by a wayward boyfriend, an intense lecturer on Berlin’s urban geography (Paula Beer) finds delirious love with an industrial diver—the kind that the fates conspire against. Coolly and elegantly refashions myth into a naturalistic, enigmatic fable of the hubris of passion.—RDL


The Great Lie (Film, US, Edmund Goulding, 1941) When her universally beloved pilot husband (George Brent) is presumed dead in a crash, a rich newlywed (Bette Davis) strikes a deal with his pregnant ex, a self-centered concert pianist (Mary Astor), to raise the child as hers. Melodrama with elaborate premise and an undercurrent of expressionist hysteria.—RDL

The Rose in Darkness (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1979) After changing cars with a stranger in a thunderstorm, washed-up actress Sari Morne finds a dead body in the back seat. Brand’s last mystery pits her first detective, Inspector Charlesworth, against a set of annoying 70s-style Bright Young Things. It takes a while for her innate gift of character to penetrate the weird slang and nicknames in their bohemian set, and while Brand retains her firework ability to misdirect and lay down false trails to the end, she can’t quite get me to buy the bit. –KH


Death in High Heels (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1941) When an assistant in a high-end dress shop suddenly dies of poison, Inspector Charlesworth sets out to uncover whodunit. Brand based her first novel on her own experience in a high-end dress shop, but what it gains in realism it loses in her desire to jam as much detail as possible between the covers, from as many perspectives as possible, much of which turns out to be not even red herrings but dropped threads. I did enjoy the sergeants’ irritation with Brand’s detective, but I suspect that’s not a great sign either. –KH [CW: A rare insistent anti-gay tone from an author who later and usually represented her gay characters far more sympathetically than her times’ norm.]

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Black Adam, African Mercs vs. Monsters, and a Telekinetic Body-Puppeteer on the Lam

November 8th, 2022 | Robin

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


Barbarian (Film, US, Zach Cregger, 2022) A double-booking with an unreassuring reassuring arts entrepreneur (Bill Skarsgård) proves the lesser worry for an out-of-town job applicant (Georgina Campbell) when weird stuff starts happening in their Detroit AirBNB rental. A lesser-used horror subgenre derives fresh energy from twisting structural jumps without neglecting classically executed scares.—RDL

California Soul: An American Epic of Cooking and Survival (Nonfiction, Keith Corbin with Kevin Alexander, 2022) Autobiography traces Corbin’s trajectory from South Central L.A. kid to gangbanger to prisoner to fine dining chef. A remarkable life story told with a jaundiced awareness of the pat fairy tale others will want to reduce it to.—RDL

Loot Season 1 (Television, US, Apple+, Matt Hubbard & Alan Yang, 2022) After her hugely publicized divorce from an insufferable tech titan (Adam Scott) a pampered woman (Maya Rudolph) decides to start showing up for work at her charitable foundation. Workplace comedy hits the ground running with a top-notch ensemble cast and an understanding that the subgenre lives or dies on affection for the characters.—RDL

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (Film, US, Lily Ana Amirpour, 2022) Young asylum escapee with telekinetic body puppeting powers (Jeon Jong-seo) takes shelter with a larcenous stripper (Kate Hudson), forming a bond with her young son (Evan Whitten.) Outlaw couple on the lam movie pairs Amirpour’s style-forward edge with a warm generosity toward its characters.—RDL

Saloum (Film, Senegal, Jean Luc Herbulot, 2021) When an exfiltration goes awry, mercenary trio Bangui’s Hyenas (Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba) seek refuge in a communal island settlement with secrets of its own. Tight spaghetti-Western war film expands into supernatural horror without ever losing pace or the viewer. At 84 minutes there’s not an ounce of fat in it, although the cinematography, sound design, and score deliver ample flavor.. –KH

Suddenly at His Residence (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1946) [Published as The Crooked Wreath in the US.] Irascible Sir Richard March’s plan to disinherit his grandchildren goes awry when he’s murdered and the new will disappears: Inspector Cockrill turns up to solve the crime. Two impossible-footprint crimes and a suspect who may or may not suffer from amnesia plays this near-perfect country-house murder very close to John Dickson Carr turf; Brand once more combines sharp character portraits and magnificent misdirection to great effect. Only the thing that happens right at the end keeps me from awarding a second Pinnacle here, as it comes literally out of the blue. –KH


Black Adam (Film, US, Jaume Collet-Serra, 2022) Searching for the ancient Crown of Sabbac, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) awakens Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) and unleashes his murderous power to liberate her country. The wheels come off the busy script during the interminable (but at least actually visible) battle in the last act, but the ride there is full of political juice and superheroic mayhem set in a Middle Eastern city for once not filmed in War on Terror Goldenrod. Better than most recent MCU outings for sure, but for me Pierce Brosnan’s wonderfully distracted Doctor Fate cements its Good bump. –KH

Heads You Lose (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1941) At Pigeonsford in Kent, three women turn up beheaded, two of them clearly victims of someone in local squire Stephen Pendock’s house party. In his debut novel, Inspector Cockrill investigates. Brand’s second novel unevenly blends her future signature ingredients, slopping a bit into a romantic comedy of manners and sadly cheating us a bit on the puzzle – by her future standards, at least. –KH

The Vampire Doll (Film, Japan, Michio Yamamoto, 1970) The sister and boyfriend of a missing man travel to the spooky manor home of her fiance, who has joined the ranks of the undead. Transposes the mood of latter-day Hammer to Japan, with an unconventional version of bloodsucker lore.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Every Cabinet of Curiosities Episode, Plus a Pinnacle Mystery and an Unthrilling Thriller

November 1st, 2022 | Robin

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

The Pinnacle

Tour de Force (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1955) When a murderer kills a retiring woman on a Mediterranean package tour, fellow tourist Inspector Cockrill must solve the crime before the local authorities railroad someone. All Brand’s strengths – caustic characterization, lapidary scene-setting, fair-play but blindsiding plots, and occasional needle-fine prose – turn diamantine under increasing pressure in this, well, tour de force. –KH


“The Autopsy,” Episode 3, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, David Prior, 2022) Terminally ill coroner (F. Murray Abraham) defends humanity against the alien parasite occupying the body of his latest subject. Gripping, revolting adaptation of a Michael Shea story brilliantly finds a visual language for its literally interior action.—RDL

Easily the best of the series, combining a perfectly creepy setup, lowering dark backstory, and a great payoff. That’s all Shea, but Abraham carries the role effortlessly and Prior masters both framing and pacing throughout. –KH

To avoid the standard review of any anthology series, which is “Uneven anthology series in which the highlights are X, Y, and Z,” I am reviewing the episodes of GdT’s CoC separately. Because that’s how much I care about you, the reader. By the way did anyone else notice how much the logo recalls the Call of Cthulhu logo when shrunk down to thumbnail size?—RDL


To avoid choking this Consume Media with a double helping of grue, I’m piggy-backing on Robin’s reviews. Where my ratings differ I mention them in my comments.—KH

“Graveyard Rats,” Episode 2, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Vincenzo Natali, 2022) Weaselly, graverobbing cemetery custodian (David Hewlett) battles prodigious rodents for the treasure buried with a prestigious new arrival. My favorite of the season shows off Natali’s mastery of the plastic elements of action horror and a deliciously big performance from Hewlett, who makes us both laugh and feel for his outwardly loathsome character.—RDL

A mediocre but effective Henry Kuttner story given real brio here, supercharging its EC Comics plot with excellent action beats interspersed with genuine panic and squick. –KH

“The Murmuring”, Episode 8, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Jennifer Kent, 2022) Grief-stricken ornithologist (Essie Davis) on a research trip with her scholarly partner and neglected husband (Andrew Lincoln) encounters the ghosts of another family in the old Cape Breton house they’re staying in. Dramatic conflict between nuanced characters lends depth to a haunted house tale, based on a story by del Toro.—RDL

Unappealing, emotionally stunted protagonist does little to awaken this potentially very creepy setup, and the birds felt both over- and under-utilized. The tired Ghost Whisperer payoff dropped it to Okay for me. –KH

“The Outside,” Episode 4, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Ana Lily Amirpour, 2022) Yearning for the acceptance of her status-conscious fellow bank clerks, a shy taxidermy enthusiast (Kate Micucci) ignores the pleas of her sensible cop husband (Martin Starr) for the supernatural allure of an infomercial skin lotion. Satirical horror with a great final scene from Micucci offers a needed tonal contrast to the rest of the series, and a refreshing woman’s vantage on social terror. Original story by Emily Carroll.—RDL

Another EC Comics style story, the joke too drawn out to retain its effectiveness despite a game try by Micucci. At a tight half hour it would have been better than Good. –KH


“Pickman’s Model” Episode 5, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Keith Thomas, 2022) Horrific visions plague a patrician art student (Ben Barnes) when he is exposed to the lifelike nightmarish paintings of colleague Richard Pickman (Crispin Glover.) Expands the setup-punchline structure of the HPL story to focus on the narrator’s descent into reality horror.—RDL

If you’re going to pad out Lovecraft’s snappiest, punchiest tale, try not to erase the story by so doing. Thurber and Pickman’s relationship makes far less sense in this version, and we lose the ghouls to boot. Barely Okay. –KH


Fulci For Fake (Film, Italy, Simone Scafidi, 2019) Documentary profile of director Lucio Fulci connects the tough blows of his private life to the reality-defying horrors of his key works. Instead of clearing the rights to excerpts from the films, this uses a labored framing device in which an actor prepares to play Fulci by conducting the talking heads interviews.—RDL

“The Viewing”, Episode 7, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Panos Cosmatos, 2022) Wealthy weirdo (Peter Weller) invites an unlikely cast of supposedly kindred spirits to his brutalist chic manor to see a strange artifact. Cosmatos dips back into his 70s revivalist vibe for a weird tale in which the horror plays as perfunctory afterthought to banter between its eccentric characters.—RDL

Robin nails it here. I’ll add that a lot of the details seemed weirdly like adolescent tryhard fixations, not 70s billionaire weirdness. Loved the Hunger-style lighting, though. –KH

Not Recommended

“Dreams in the Witch House”, Episode 6, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Catherine Hardwicke, 2022) Hoping to contact the twin sister who died as a child, an obsessed parapsychologist (Rupert Grint) moves into a house haunted by a the spirit of an evil witch. The script tackles the known problems of Lovecraft adaptation by throwing in a fistful of new elements, none of which particularly agree with one another, much less the original story.—RDL

I have a lot of respect for Hardwicke, and she put a surprisingly vibrant paint job on this lemon of a script. By the end, I almost enjoyed the incoherence and almost overlooked the Mixmaster treatment of HPL. Okay, as in “better than Curse of the Crimson Altar.” –KH

“Lot 36”, Episode 1, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Television, US, Netflix, Guillermo Navarro, 2022) Surly racist antiques wholesaler (Tim Blake Nelson) gets more than he bargained for when he purchases the contents of a storage unit belonging to a rich creep. Rote tale of supernatural punishment based on a del Toro story that centers his obvious moralism.—RDL

Super promising premise becomes yet another adequate EC Comics story. If the demon had been a skoosh better or creepier or anything, my rating might be higher than Okay. –KH


Pacifiction (Film, France/Spain/Germany/Portugal, Albert Serra, 2022) De Roller (Benoît Magimel), the High Commissioner of French Polynesia, slouches and bleats through a few days in which the French government might be resuming nuclear testing. Serra doesn’t so much deconstruct the political thriller here as dump all the parts out on the beach and ignore them while somehow making a film shot in Tahiti look ugly and boring. Nearly three hours later, it turns out that De Roller was useless and nothing we saw mattered; Serra manages to be both facile and lugubrious. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Werewolf By Night, She-Hulk, and Paris Hangouts

October 25th, 2022 | Robin


Irma Vep (Television, France, HBO Max, Olivier Assayas, 2022) Hollywood star (Alicia Vikander) enters an unfamiliar world when she takes the lead role in a French miniseries by a neurotic auteur (Vincent Macaigne) based on his past experimental adaptation of Feuillade’s classic serial Les Vampires. Beguiling, funny hangout television about the movies, in dialogue with Feuillade, Assayas’ life and work, and less overtly but most especially, Truffaut’s Day for Night.—RDL

The Passengers of the Night (Film, France, Mikhaël Hers, 2022) Newly single mom Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) gets a job at a late-night call-in radio show and navigates the 80s in Paris. Lives and moments expand and touch in this warm hangout film anchored by Gainsbourg’s open performance. Incidents that could have been mawkish or forced instead reinforce the felt humanity of her family, while wonderfully intercut archival footage illustrates that the 80s were the best decade in Paris, too. –KH

Ultimates and Ultimates 2 (Comics, Marvel, Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch, 2010) Nick Fury assembles a team of superheroes to protect America in this grittier retelling of the Avengers origin. In its original run (2002-2007), Millar wrote the heroes as reflections of American imperialism and embedded the story in War-on-Terror geopolitics, which has aged more unevenly than Hitch’s lovingly detailed ultra-cinematic spreads. Occasional frustrations with “decompressed storytelling” aside, though, these books built the Marvel Cinematic Universe and remain foundational. –KH

Werewolf by Night (Television, US, Disney+, Michael Giacchino, 2022) A ringer (Gael Garcia Bernal) joins a group of murderous monster-hunters to compete for the right to possess a powerful artifact. Styled in homage to the Universal horror canon, this self-contained weird adventure zippily dispatches a simple narrative, and introduces three characters from the comics with not an iota of unnecessary backstory. I have arguably upgraded this a level just for the reel change marks.—RDL


1920: The Year of Six Presidents (Nonfiction, David Petrusza, 2006) Teddy Roosevelt wanted to run in 1920 but died, Wilson crippled his party with the same delusion, Hoover waited for a sure thing, Harding and Coolidge ran two races on one ticket, and FDR agreed to be the sacrificial VP candidate to build connections for the future. Petrusza tells the story of one of America’s most fascinating elections adequately but without much brio, and with barely any detail on the actual Democratic candidate. –KH

Leonor Will Never Die (Film, Philippines, Martika Ramirez Escobar, 2022) Long-retired Filipina screenwriter Leonor (Sheila Francisco) gets hit on the head by a falling TV while writing a comeback script and falls into the world of her own action film. Wonderfully loopy homage to 80s Philippine action flicks gets meta while sweetly if unsubtly plumbing family trauma, but as so often happens the ending cops out. –KH

Werewolf by Night (Television, US, Disney+, Michael Giacchino, 2022) Werewolf Jack Russell, and yes that’s really his name in the comics (Gael Garcia Bernal) competes with a clan of monster-hunters and stereotypes for the mystical monster-zorching Bloodstone. Delightful 1940s black-and-white production and a fun guest spot help the hour mostly fly by, but at the end it’s just a fine werewolf thing and not a very compelling story. –KH


She-Hulk, Attorney at Law (Television, US, Jessica Gao, 2022) After an accident involving her cousin Bruce (Mark Ruffalo) leaves her with the ability to transform into a more controlled version of the Hulk, perennially single district attorney Jessica Walters (Tatiana Maslany) takes a new job heading a defense team specializing in super-powered cases. Though it does give pause when the finale breaks the fourth wall to make critiques of past MCU content you have also read in this very column, the show never decides whether it wants to be a legal procedural, a dating travails sitcom, or a Marvel serial. If you’re going to do episodic TV, pick a formula and execute it.—RDL

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
Flying Clock
Film Cannister