Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Karloff, Lovecraft, and Vanilla Extract

September 6th, 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.


Hell or High Water (Film, US, David Mackenzie, 2016) Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) rob banks in West Texas, while Texas Rangers Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Parker (Gil Birmingham) close in on them in this Western driven by (and set in) the post-2008 hollow economy. The acting is universally the high point here, followed by Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography, which unfolds small-town New Mexico (standing in for its neighbor) as a land of desperation equal to any John Ford box canyon. Taylor Sheridan’s excellent script tries just a little bit too hard for my money, but if you put this one on the Pinnacle I won’t say you’re wrong. —KH

The House of Rumour (Fiction, Jake Arnott, 2013) The reader imposes what structure there is on this “novel” assembled as 22 slit-chamber chapters, each using a card of the Tarot Major Arcana as its motif. Some characters — Rudolf Hess, Jack Parsons, Ian Fleming — recur more often, as does the somewhat-central figure of Larry Zagorski, a verisimilitudinous though fictional SF author. The book winds up being a meditation on turning points, hidden interconnectedness, and history, kind of a Hite-forward Bridge of San Luis Rey. —KH

Loving Day (Fiction, Mat Johnson, 2015) Failed comic book artist returns to his childhood home in Philly, where his hunt for a school for his previously unknown teen daughter draws them into a utopian community intent on changing the nature of biracial identity. Funny, trenchant novel of personal crisis, straining at the seams with sharply delineated characters.—RDL

My Pantry: Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Your Own (Nonfiction, Alice Waters, 2015) In her rapturous, guilelessly presumptuous style, the titan of pure ingredients cuisine tells you how she lovingly prepares the things she has in her kitchen to make other things out of, from red wine vinegar to almond paste to vanilla extract. I never make anything straight out of a Waters book but always find inspiration to attempt something more feasible. This one is particularly aspirational, going beyond food porn to also become free time porn and, for this apartment dweller, storage space porn. I might have a go at the brown rice and quinoa porridge.—RDL

Sea Fog (Film, South Korea, Shim Sung-Bo, 2014) Desperate fishing boat captain agrees to take on a load of illegal immigrants. Nautical noir keeps on raising the stakes.—RDL Originally reviewed at TIFF ‘14; now on Netflix in the US & Canada and maybe elsewhere.


Carter & Lovecraft (Fiction, Jonathan L. Howard, 2015) Thanks to mysterious hugger-mugger, ex-cop Dan Carter inherits a bookstore in Providence run by Emily Lovecraft, the last living descendant of you-know-who, and she’s black for some reason. Lest you think that thudding labored irony is all JLH brings to the party, know that he presents a strong detective element convincingly, and his descriptions of the effect on the observer of the Lovecraftian hypergeometric cosmos are both original and authentic, which is a tough note to hit. But oh how the hugger-mugger doth mug. —KH

The Man They Could Not Hang (Film, US, Nick Grinde, 1939) Police interrupt the attempt of a pioneering medical researcher (Boris Karloff) to bring a volunteer back from induced death, leading to the eponymous hanging and then to vengeance from beyond the grave. Despite the suspicion that it achieves its 64-minute running time by ripping entire sections out of a more fully developed screenplay, it does give Karloff the chance to display his full range, which is always a treat. The bit where he traps his victims in his house and announces he’s going to kill them one by one could easily be turned into a con scenario. The Karloff character bears a certain resemblance to early KARTAS subject Dr. Alexis Carrel.—RDL


British Intelligence (Film, US, Terry Morse, 1940) German agents (Boris Karloff, Margaret Lindsay) attempt to spy on and/or blow up the British war cabinet in 1917. Or are they? Brisk and packed with identity switches, but ultimately interesting mostly as an artifact of the two-year period in which Hollywood prepped American audiences for entry into WWII by injecting anti-Nazi propaganda into their rousing entertainments.—RDL

The Ten Thousand (Fiction, Harold Coyle, 1993) I picked this up because it promised me a modern military technothriller based on Xenophon’s Anabasis, and I suppose it sort of delivers. The geopolitics (an American armored corps invades the Ukraine to recover loose nukes, but the duplicitous Germans keep the nukes and close the border) are ridiculous even by the forgiving standards of the genre, and the characterization makes Tom Clancy look like Thomas Hardy. The writing is unforgivably padded, except during the tank-on-tank action, which is in fact just as thrilling as advertised. —KH

One Response to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: Karloff, Lovecraft, and Vanilla Extract”

  1. Prayerborne says:

    Ah, the early 90s technothriller–a genre that had just built up a big head of steam when the Cold War ended (MAD magazine called its parody of the first Clancy film “The Hunt for Last October”).
    Of similar vintage, and only slightly more plausible: Larry Bond’s “Cauldron”, in which an aggressive Franco-German alliance invades Poland, and America lays the smackdown (Fun Fact: Written early in Clinton’s first term, this was set during the first term of the guy who unseated him in ’96, a clear Jack Kemp analogue…oh, if only)

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