Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fashion Victims, Far-Flung Travels and a Hospital Shoot-Out

June 28th, 2016 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.


Instruments of Darkness (Fiction, Robert Wilson, 1996) Can noir exist in a setting where everything is already known to be corrupt? Hired to find a missing expatriate, fixer Bruce Medway gets beaten up, meets femme fatales, drinks, and talks fast at gunpoint in this assured mystery set in 1990s West Africa. The setting fascinates and compels, and the rest of the novel doesn’t disappoint. –KH

The Neon Demon (Film, France/Germany, Nicholas Winding Refn, 2016) A beautiful ingenue (Elle Fanning) on the verge of becoming the next “it” girl in Los Angeles’ modeling scene falls into a vortex of gorgeously shot art cinema and ritualized horror. See it in the theater to fully experience the powerful sound design and Cliff Martinez’ subdermal score. The emptiest and least moral of Refn’s three major films, but hey … as the characters in this film all believe, beauty is everything. –KH

The Night Manager (TV, UK, BBC, Susanne Bier, 2016) War vet turned hotel concierge (Tom Hiddleston) turns into an undercover operative to bring down an urbanely sinister arms dealer (Hugh Laurie.) Yeah, the John Le Carre source material includes some over-familiar plot devices. That said, director Susanne Bier’s mix of glossy surfaces and constricting suspense, and the acting duel between the two leads, meet or exceed the spy genre specs. Plus bonus Olivia Colman! —RDL

Orphan Black Season 4 (TV, Canada, 2016) The clone conspiracy circles back toward its past as Sarah and the sestras uncover the fertility clinic that acts as Neolution’s latest front operation. Season 4 finds the show pruning previous plot threads on a welcome back-to-basics initiative.—RDL

Three (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 2016) A cop engaged in a misconduct coverup (Louis Koo) and a risk-taking neurosurgeon (Vicky Zhao) play out a tense waiting game as a factoid-spewing armed robber with a bullet in his head waits for buddies to effect a guns-blazing rescue. Watch the master of spatial relationships methodically put all the dominoes in place for one of his trademark explosions of elegant chaos.—RDL

Three (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 2016) To intertwines the medical drama and the policier as three wounded protagonists — a workaholic neurosurgeon (Vicky Zhao), a rule-breaking cop (Louis Koo), and a criminal mastermind with a bullet in the brain (Wallace Chung) — collide in a Hong Kong hospital ward. Effortlessly layered and beautifully designed genre film builds even beyond the hyper-theatrical gunfight to a true catharsis: healing through pity and terror. –KH

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Nonfiction, Randall Munroe, 2014). Yes, it’s just as great as you think it is. If you’re a fan of xkcd but somehow haven’t visited his “What If” page, do so. This is that, only bigger and heavier. Asimov and Sagan are gone, but we can still find out what happens if you pitch a baseball at light speed. (Everything blows up.) –KH


Adventures in Arabia (Nonfiction, William Seabrook, 1927) A relatively sedate piece of travel writing from the adventurous-minded Seabrook, who enjoys the ironic contrast of his own romantic and sensationalistic tendencies against the reality of 1920s Arabia. The chapter on the “Yezidee Devil Worshipers” is paradigmatically wry, and Seabrook an engaging tour guide throughout. –KH

Memories of Baku (Nonfiction, Nicholas V. Iljine (ed.), 2013) From 1872 to 1920, Baku in Azerbaijan pumped half the world’s oil, and drew millionaires, sharpers, spies, and inventors to its medieval walls and Belle Epoque mansions. Lavishly illustrated with period postcards, maps, and photographs, this collection of essays and thumbnail sketches lays out the world of the first great oil-boom town in chamber-of-commerce fashion, which is a shame given the wealth of gameable chicanery, violence, and subterfuge it glosses over. –KH

Return of the Badmen (Film, US, Ray Enright, 1948) Retired rancher (Randolph Scott) defends Oklahoma’s banks from a gang of robbers including the Youngers, the Daltons, Billy the Kid, and trigger-happy psychopath the Sundance Kid (Robert Ryan.) I can’t make an argument for this but nonetheless found myself enjoying it not in spite of, but because of, its unpredictably oddball script choices. Most notable of these: establishing the cheerfully ahistorical premise of an all-star outlaw team-up and then relegating it to the background for one of those good girl / bad girl love triangles postwar Hollywood couldn’t get enough of.—RDL

Wandering Spirits: Traveling Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Nonfiction, Selena Chambers, 2016) Slim collection of letters by the SF/horror writer describing her encounters with three places of Frankenstein: the Villa Diodati, Ingolstadt, and Mont Blanc. Slight and not particularly incisive literary criticism, but enjoyably Romantic in tone and thought; if you’re as big a Frankenphile as I, you might even elevate it to Recommended. –KH


Bridge of Spies (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2015) As the wall goes up in Berlin, an American  lawyer (Tom Hanks) deniably negotiates a swap of his Russian spy client (Mark Rylance) for downed pilot Francis Gary Powers. The corny, ham-fisted Spielberg of yore comes back to take the reins from the darker, more restrained Spielberg we’ve seen more of lately. On a formal level, it is cool to see him take something you’re not supposed to do—move a camera outfitted with spherical anamorphic Cinemascope lenses, because its curves distort the image—and do it constantly in as many ways as possible.—RDL

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (Film, UK, Gareth Carrivick, 2009) To the extent anything does, Chris O’Dowd and Anna Faris anchor this amiable nerdtroping of “three blokes in a pub.” There’s a lot of potential in the premise — boy meets time traveller, temporal hijinks ensue — but this watery brew was probably all the budget would buy. –KH


The Neon Demon (Film, Denmark/US, Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016) Teen model imbued with an irresistible innocence (Elle Fanning) enters the predatory world of L.A. fashion. Giallo-inflected outre drama in which Refn flips from his usual exploration of self-destructive hyper-masculinity to a world of exaggerated hyper-femininity–plunging off a diving board into risible misogyny. Reaches depths of terrible available only to highly talented filmmakers.—RDL

One Response to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fashion Victims, Far-Flung Travels and a Hospital Shoot-Out”

  1. Will Ferguson says:

    ‘The Code of Honor’ rules for dueling is INDEED available online, for free, here:

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