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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Inaugural Edition

March 1st, 2016 | Robin

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Ken and Robin Consume Media, a new feature brought to you by the diligent largesse of our Patreon backers. In each installment we will provide capsule reviews of all the books, movies, and TV seasons that cross our paths, with perhaps the occasional podcast episode, longform article and maybe even cooking ingredient thrown in for good measure. If you’re a Patreon backer head on over there to find the mirrored version of this post and comment on the items you’d like to hear more about in our new upcoming podcast segment Tell Me More. If you’re not yet a backer consider this your none-too-subtle hint to join in the fun, taking us to such upcoming milestones as Ken and Robin t-shirts, show notes, and transcripts.

The Pinnacle

Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Reference, Karel van der Toorn, et al., 1998) I just used this magnificent encyclopedia (the inexact title is chosen for alliteration) again for the Starry Wisdom KWAS, (to look up Kaiwan — a Syriac god thought to represent Saturn — and the Pleiades, since you asked) and it may be the second- or third-best single-volume reference work on any topic I own. It’s a specialist work for specialists, which may be why I love it so very much — if you don’t think paragraphs arguing about Hebrew transliterations are for you, neither is the DDD. –KH

Recommended

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (Film, Korea, Han-Min Kim, 2014) Dying, disgraced 16th century admiral (Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik) plots an underdog naval battle against the invading Japanese. Rousing historical epic recreates the Battle of Myeongryang, a watery tactical counterpart to Thermopylae. —RDL

The Confession (Film, France, Costa-Gavras, 1970) Czech government official (Yves Montand) whose Communist past goes back to the International Brigades in Spain faces brutal interrogation to prepare him for his prosecution in a show trial. I wasn’t sure I needed to watch another man-ground-down-by-tyranny movie but wound up fascinated by the very particular pathological details of the Stalinist process. Costa-Gavras meant to tell an anti-Stalinist story, not an anti-Communist one, but his film has other ideas about that. —RDL

Deadpool (Film, US, Tim Miller, 2016) Fourth-wall breaking antihero tracks the super scientist who cured his cancer by turning him into a disfigured mutant. Improbable miracle of tonal balance juggles the crass, the clever and the charming. —RDL

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Film, Australia, Mark Hartley. 2014) If your parents let you alone with the cable TV in the 1980s you likely marinated in the testosterone madness of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, producer-owners of the Cannon Group studio. This documentary, by far the best thing ever associated with Brett Ratner (its producer), tells the familiar but insane story of two wannabe moguls’ rise and fall in a zippy, even explosive, style not unlike their own. –KH

The Guards (Fiction, Ken Bruen, 2004) Galway ex-cop-turned-PI’s investigation of a teen girl’s suicide crashes and burns under the pressure of his escalating alcoholism. Crime novel in which spare evocation of character and place pushes to the expected investigative sequences to the far margins. First in a long-running series. —RDL

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (Film, US, David Gregory, 2014) Interesting, and creepy if you let it be, documentary about the disastrous production of the dire 1996 film Island of Dr. Moreau. Director and co-writer Stanley lost control early, and the studio panicked and brought in John Frankenheimer to salvage the project. Surprise, it was Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando that wrecked it, although it was studio hubris (and Bruce Willis’ divorce) that made the wreck possible. –KH

Not Safe (Podcast, Nikki Glaser & Dan St. Germain) Quentin Tarantino once described the pleasure of “hang movies”, like Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, where you enjoy spending time with the characters more than you care about forward momentum. Not Safe, an offshoot of the Comedy Central show of the same name, is an ideal hang podcast, in which you listen in on the friendship and banter of two very different funny people who love each other’s company, with kibbitzing from the rest of the show’s writer’s room.  —RDL

Police Story: Lockdown (aka Police Story 2013) (Film, HK, Ding Sheng, 2013) Veteran cop’s tense meeting with his daughter in her new boyfriend’s nightclub puts him in the middle of a hostage crisis. The long-running series takes a gritty, suspenseful, character-driven turn. It’s that rarest of birds, a late period Jackie Chan movie you don’t have to make allowances for. —RDL

Good

The Detachment (Fiction, Barry Eisler, 2011) Another installment in the lefty-thriller series about ultra-assassin John Rain, which means first-rate competence porn and excellently choreographed set-piece kill scenes; high-protein game fodder for Night’s Black Agents. Eisler’s prose is generally serviceable, but this one doesn’t do what it might with its killer premise — Rain is drawn into a modern redress of the thwarted 1933 coup against FDR. –KH

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (Non-fiction, Dava Sobel, 2005) Popular history follows the career of John Harrison, who invented the clock that allowed ships to accurately measure longitude, then had to do bureaucratic battle with a bunch of astronomers who wanted to keep the prize from him. Concise, straightforward account of navigation, math and cross-disciplinary infighting. To be featured in an upcoming all-longitude episode of the podcast.  —RDL

The Martian (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2015)  Astronaut (Matt Damon) tries to survive after being stranded on Mars. Refreshing to see Scott direct a cohesive, well-wrought script, which happens surprisingly rarely. —RDL

The Quiller Memorandum (Film, UK, Michael Anderson, 1966) Based on the rather better novel The Berlin Memorandum by Adam Hall, this “thinking man’s spy film” still depends on the bad guy (Max von Sydow) being arrogant and the girl (Senta Berger) being helpless to resist George Segal. (Quiller is British in the novel, of course.) Segal takes the time to play his various covers differently, and Alec Guinness as his control is delightful. Harold Pinter’s script is too self-congratulatory by half, but there’s a truly great surveillance-escape set piece toward the end. –KH

Okay

Spooker (Fiction, Dean Ing, 1997) Someone is killing spies for their “spooker” bug-out bags — nontraceable cash, gold, and other portable wealth socked away for unofficial retirement. What looks like a really clever spy novel is actually a less clever serial killer thriller, but the pages do keep turning. –KH

Trumbo (Film, US, Jay Roach, 2015) Big-time screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Brian Cranston) fights the blacklist, as personified by gossip gorgon Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren.) By-the-numbers Oscar-grist biopic picks up when it focuses on the procedural challenges of running a black market screenplay ring. —RDL

Not Recommended

Imagine That: The History of Music Rewritten (Non-fiction, Michael Sells, 2013) Short would-be alternate histories of music: Elvis gets drafted before his first recording session, Nelson Rockefeller sends the National Guard to Woodstock, Leo Fender doesn’t build guitars. Sound interesting? Well, that’s all you get, the premise. No follow through on any of the what-ifs and some much lamer premises (what if musicians had spurned recording technology?) make this the Coldplay of AH books: sounds like it might be decent, but naah. –KH

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