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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Booze, Gambling, and Crime

June 8th, 2021 | 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.


Bloody Nose Empty Pockets (FIlm, US, Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross, 2020) Longtime habitues of a Vegas dive bar mark its last day in business with a marathon drinking session. Poignant fly-on-the-wall pseudodocumentary shows the mutual caretaking, as addictive as booze itself, that binds together a community of lushes. Joins the works of O’Neill, Goodis, Bukowski and Waits in the grand canon of American alcoholism.—RDL

The Gambler (Film, US, Karel Reisz, 1974) A massive debt to the mob prompts a gambling-addicted college professor (James Caan) to double down on self-destruction. You won’t find a clearer depiction of compulsive gambling as death wish than this unsparing American New Wave character study,—RDL

Pale Gray for Guilt (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1968) When his college buddy Tush Bannon gets in the way of a land deal, “salvage artist” Travis McGee deals himself in. There may yet be a Consume Media entry for “all the Travis McGee novels” but this one deserves to be singled out. Not only is the story a thoroughly satisfying double con squeeze play, but McGee’s self-image takes a few well-deserved knocks. This novel essentially spawned the whole “Florida crime fiction” subgenre despite being the ninth in the series. –KH

Philly D.A. (Television, US, PBS, Ted Passon & Yoni Brook & Nicola Salazar, 2021) Determined, data-quoting Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his idealistic team attempt to use the substantial but limited powers of his newly won office to enact progressive reforms in a city accustomed to incarceration and extended supervision. In-the-room documentary roots for its subject as it reveals the exacting grind of confronting entrenched institutional power. Mine it for rhetorical strategies your GMCs can use when shutting down player character proposals that threaten their power. —RDL

Unbelievable (Television, US, Netflix, Susannah Grant & Ayelet Waldman & Michael Chabon, 2019) In Washington state, detectives browbeat a vulnerable young woman (Kaitlyin Dever) into recanting her account of an intruder rape; years later in Colorado, two cops, one (Merritt Weaver) empathetic, the other (Toni Colette) abrasive, team up across jurisdictions to investigate attacks with the same M.O. Dual chronology crime docudrama mixes social realist observation with a compelling deep dive into real-world investigative technique.—RDL


Escapes (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2016) Blade Runner screenwriter, ex-actor and former child flamenco dancer Hampton Fancher retells his life as a series of self-lacerating anecdotes. Minimalist documentary profile of the man who saw that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? should be a movie conveys the feeling of hanging out in a bar for a night with a fascinating, rueful raconteur.—RDL


The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Film, US, Patrick Hughes, 2017) Disgraced but top-notch bodyguard Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) must protect free-spirited hit man Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) before he testifies at the war crimes trial of the dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman). Triple threat talent squandered on desperately routinized action-comedy, with half a good chase scene and a joyous near-cartoon-violence flashback celebrating Salma Hayek, the only person who actually bothered to show up for the filming. –KH

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy (Film, HK, Jazz Boon, 2019) Two cops, one (Louis Koo) tightly wound, the other (Nick Cheung) also tightly wound, fight an international shadowy conspiracy that abducts children to train as sleeper agents. Handsomely mounted, overcomplicated globe-hopping technothriller partially redeems itself when it stages a gunfight and car chase during the running of the bulls at Pamplona and remembers what Hong Kong action movies are like. A thematic sequel to 2016’s also mediocre Line Walker, meaning that both have Koo and Cheung in them  —RDL

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