Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Double Annihilation

March 6th, 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.


Annihilation (Film, US, Alex Garland, 2018) After her spec-op husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) emerges near death from an alien ecosystem, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition into the heart of the Shimmer. Loosely based on the novel by Jeff Vandermeer and more closely modeled on Tarkovsky’s Stalker, this film captures the weird sublime in a palette (and sound design) all its own. Performances are of course excellent, although casting Jennifer Jason Leigh as a closed-off martinet plays frustratingly against her strengths. –KH

Annihilation (Film, US, Alex Garland, 2018) After her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns from a mission strangely altered,  a cancer researcher (Natalie Portman) follows in his footsteps to explore an eerie contaminated zone. Employs Tarkovsky’s palette and Cronenberg’s motifs to intermingle the DNA of The Lost Patrol with “Colour Out of Space.”—RDL

Blaise Pascal (Film, Italy/France, Roberto Rossellini, 1972) Taxman’s son (Pierre Arditi) battles prevailing misconceptions and chronic ill health to advance the fields of physics and mathematics, plus a thick slice of Jansenist theology. Deliberately paced, painterly biopic keeps the conflict at the margins of the action to portray the mid 17th century as an alien thought-world.—RDL

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Film, US, David Wain, 2018) Despite swirling self-doubt instilled in him by a disapproving father, writer Doug Kenney (Will Forte) shapes comedy for a generation as co-founder of the National Lampoon. Avoids the usual biopic pitfalls by conjuring the conquering wiseass style of 70s comedy and by spinning out an array of brilliant, surprising transitional devices. Among the many current comedy mainstays channeling their past counterparts, Thomas Lennon does a particularly memorable turn as nihilist legend Michael O’Donoghue.—RDL

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Film, Italy, Ruggero Deodato, 1976) Model-handsome blond cop (Ray Lovelock) and model-handsome dark-haired cop (Marc Porel) wage urban warfare against a gambling kingpin and assorted other violent criminals. Absolutely bananas, covertly satirical poliziotteschi dishes up a jolly buddy cop tone even as its sublimated homoerotic heroes operate as a two-man death squad.—RDL

Paterson (Film, US, Jim Jarmusch, 2016) Bus driver (Adam Driver) who shares a name with his New Jersey hometown works, writes poems, and delights in his life with his adorable if unworldly wife Golshifteh Farahani. Ode to life’s quiet sublimity that only Jarmusch could make.—RDL

Valis (Fiction, Philip K. Dick, 1981) Writer Philip K. Dick recounts the efforts of his friend and alternate self Horselover Fat to uncover the real meaning behind a visionary experience and/or psychotic break he had in 1974. Depending on how you choose to interpret it, this is either an SF novel concerning an alien satellite directing the actions of mankind from outside time and space, or literary fiction about the after-effects of a consciousness-shattering neurological event.—RDL


Black Empire (Fiction, George S. Schuyler, 1993 (critical ed.)) In “Black Internationale,” Dr. Henry Belsidus uses the knowhow of his global black secret society to conquer Africa; in “Black Empire” he defends the continent against white imperialism with terrorism, air power, and (yes!) a death ray. Journalist Schuyler, the “black Mencken,” serialized this sensational pulp “hokum” in 1936-1938 in the black Pittsburgh Courier. The serial betrays its slapdash composition, but the imaginative experience of a black Fu Manchu uplifting his race by genius and terror is almost as arresting to white readers now as it must have been to black readers then. –KH

The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Nonfiction, Douglas Valentine, 2004) A Thing I Always Say is that nothing beats an outraged lefty book on a topic for horror game research. Valentine paints a grim picture indeed of heroic drug agents constantly blocked from investigating the Establishment’s ties to narcotics trafficking. Although beginning with a pro forma discussion of the Rothstein ring in 1919, the majority of the book covers the FBN’s investigations in the 1950s and 1960s, ideal for Noir World or Fall of Delta Green Handlers looking for darkness in high places. –KH


Gun Runners (Film, Canada, Anjali Nayar, 2015) After a pair of Kenyan bandits turn in their AK-47s in exchange for amnesty, one pursues politics; the other, his dream of glory as a marathon runner. Documentary, intent on shaping a tale of redemption through perseverance, remains oddly incurious about key questions of policy, economics, and ethics behind its central situation.—RDL

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