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Ken and Robin Consume Media: It’s Recommendations All the Way Down

January 10th, 2017 | 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.

Recommended

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught (Fiction, Eric Flint, 2017) The latest installment in the Ring of Fire series returns to the main line of German history following the 1632 appearance of a 20th-century West Virginia town in Thuringia. Murad IV and his up-gunned Ottoman hordes (complete with airships and flame-tanks) blitz Vienna in what I suspect is really the first half of a long novel; fans of the series like myself have little to complain about once the action starts. –KH

Anomalisa (Film, US, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015) Star business writer headed for a breakdown (voiced by David Thewlis) instead embarks on a hotel room affair with an awkward fan (Jennifer Jason Leigh.) Carveresque tale of quotidian despond rendered surreal by depicting the action with stop-motion puppets.–RDL

Arrival (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2016) Persuasive linguist (Amy Adams) joins a joint military-CIA effort seeking to communicate with alien beings inside one of twelve spacecraft to land across the globe. Atmospheric realization of a script that brilliantly fuses its hero’s external problem solving and inner transformation. Folks watching this in the future will think, “Well, that sure was a product of the Obama era.”–RDL

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 1 (Television, Starz, 2015-2016) After 30 years of relative quiet, badass butthead Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) once again reads from the Necronomicon, summoning Deadites and prompting an alliance with two young proteges. Gleefully spins the gore, cartoonishness and frights of the second movie, plus the characterization of Ash from the third, into the series format.–RDL

The Ghost Army of World War II (Nonfiction, Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, 2015) History of the US Army’s WWII deception unit, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troop, which recruited artists, engineers and audio experts to trick the Germans into attacking imaginary units represented by inflatable tanks, recordings, and other camouflage techniques. Hybrid of art book and military history beautifully showcases the drawings and watercolors the unit’s many inveterate sketchers, including Ellsworth Kelly, Art Singer and even some comic artists, made during the conflict.–RDL

The Incendiary: the Misadventures of John the Painter, the First Modern Terrorist (Nonfiction, Jessica Warner, 2005) Reconstruction of the life and crimes of James Aitken, a young Scottish loner who in 1776 and 1777 set fires in the naval yards of Plymouth and Portsmouth in solidarity with the hated Americans. Convincingly researched account of a drift into ideological violence driven by a still-familiar psych profile, told with refreshing spareness.–RDL

The Interestings (Fiction, Meg Wolitzer, 2013) Friendships formed at an arts summer camp set a woman on a path balanced between love and envy, from Watergate to Facebook. Bullseye social details and authentic characterizations tied together by a narrative voice that isn’t afraid to be either omniscient or acerbic.—RDL

Jackie (Film, Chile/France/US, Pablo Larrain, 2016) Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), furious with grief in the hours and days after her husband’s assassination, plans his funeral. An affecting emotional trajectory, driven by a tour de force performance, becomes an origin story of American myth-making.–RDL

Zootopia (Film, US, Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016) First rabbit cop on the force (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) teams with smooth-talking fox con artist (Jason Bateman) to crack a missing otter case. Cleverly applies world-building principles to a Carl Barksian funny animal setting as it delivers a surprisingly layered take on bigotry.–RDL

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