Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Arch Playlets and an Investigating Organist

September 11th, 2018 | 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.


Holy Disorders (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1945) Organist and composer Geoffrey Vintner faces thugs, infatuation, witches, Nazis, and murder in the cathedral town of Tolnbridge, so it’s a good thing that Gervase Fen is there to eventually solve the case. Notable for Crispin’s echoing (and name-checking) John Dickson Carr, who provides the Gothic bass to Fen’s eccentric treble. Not fully satisfying as a mystery novel, but brilliant and dark like a lightning storm at night. –KH

Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier (Play, Edward Rutherford, 2018) Louche and haunted narrator (Kevin Webb) introduces six stories by the sly master, including my favorite of Collier’s, “Thus I Refute Beelzy.” Archly played, aiming for sometimes-incompatible creepiness and irony, the playlets can get broad at times privileging denouement over character depth. But the ensemble carries the moment, ably anchored by Webb. –KH [Playing through September 15 at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago.]


Frequent Hearses (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1950) Gervase Fen investigates a murder spree touched off by the suicide of up-and-coming starlet Gloria Scott. Crispin’s own career writing movie scores provides ample and interesting color to this darkish mystery. When Fen disappears from the novel leaving Inspector Humbleby center stage, the narrative slows down and marks time. –KH

Jack Ryan Season 1 (Television, US, Amazon, Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, 2018) CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) and his boss Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) uncover a terrorist plot and find themselves thrust into the field to stop it. A solid throughline and confident directing — while nothing spectacular — undergird this fast-moving, basic modern-day thriller that closely replicates the experience of reading Tom Clancy novels. The season’s sole B-plot feels as pointless as it is, but at least it doesn’t take up much of your time. –KH

Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines (Nonfiction, Nick Nolte, 2018) The star of 48 HRS and Affliction details his storied acting career and anxiety-driven battle with various addictions. Sections of ghost writerly research alternate with others that feel like Nolte’s voice.—RDL

Sharp Objects (Television, HBO, Jean-Marc Vallée, 2018) Tailspinning reporter (Amy Adams) returns to her small Missouri town to cover a serial murder case, prompting a dark reckoning with her control-obsessed mother (Patricia Clarkson.) Ethereal imagery, impressionistic editing and committed performances lend realism to a crime novel plot driven by behavior engaged in by no humans ever.—RDL


Great Directors (Film, UK/France/Italy, Angela Ismailos) Documentarian interviews a roster of directors including Agnes Varda, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Todd Lynch, Ken Loach and Liliana Cavani, with reverent but unfocused results. Bump up to Good if watched as an unchallenging appetizer to an upcoming 45-movie jaunt to one’s local international film festival.—RDL

Never So Few (Film, US, John Sturges, 1959) When not leading a liaison unit embedded with local Kachin forces in Burma, hardbitten army captain (Frank Sinatra) woos a shadowy profiteer’s worldly girlfriend (Gina Lollobrigida.) Two films with largely unrelated throughlines, a glossy romance and a fatalistic war epic, keep interrupting each other, leaving as the piece’s main virtue Sturges’ mastery of the Cinemascope frame and vivid 50s color palette. Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson appear in early supporting roles.—RDL

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