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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Princess, The Gray Man and Philo Vance

August 2nd, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

Hollywood’s Eve (Nonfiction, Lili Anolik, 2019) Biography of L.A. writer, scenester and sexual adventuress Eve Babitz alludes to her unconventional approach to prose and structure without pastiching it, thank goodness. Dives deeper than the copious spicy anecdotes to find the pathos in a figure who did her best to elude it.—RDL

House (Film, Japan, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Seven schoolgirls impulsively decide to vacation in the remote house of an aunt (Yoko Minamida), unaware of the supernatural peril therein. The film careens wildly between cheesy-seeming set pieces of giddy child-fantasy and giallo-ish grand guignol. Not always successful even on its own terms but never boring or predictable, not least because Obayashi faithfully transcribes his pre-teen daughter’s fears onto film. –KH

The Moai Island Puzzle (Fiction, Alice Arisugawa, 1989) Three collegiate mystery fans come to a remote island to find a hidden treasure in diamonds – but find murder as well. After a slow-ish introductory act, this seminal shin honkaku mystery builds and braids its puzzles and relationships while maintaining a creepy neo-Gothic tone throughout. The bravura solution comes a bit out of the blue, but Christie would have happily used it. –KH

The Princess (Film, US, Lee Van-Kiet, 2022) Determined princess (Joey King) uses her secret fighting skills to battle her way out of captivity and marriage to a loathsome would-be usurper (Dominic Cooper.) The spirit of 80s Hong Kong lives, courtesy of Van-Kiet, who cut his teeth in the Vietnamese action flick scene and makes a credible, acrobatic action hero and ultra-violent Disney princess out of King.—RDL

Good

The Gray Man (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2022) Deniable CIA killer Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) must evade sociopathic “contractor” Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), tasked by the CIA to kill him. Gosling’s charming channeling of Alain Delon, and three remarkable action set pieces (of five) excitingly filmed in part by drones, drag this extremely, aggressively stupid cliché charcuterie over the line into Good. Not the least of its stupidities: mostly wasting Ana de Armas, who already proved she could more than hold her own in spy action as by far the least-bad thing in the latest Bond. –KH

The Greene Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1928) Forced to cohabitate in their ancestral New York mansion by the patriarch’s will, the Greene family falls victim to a series of murders. After a good deal of persiflage and dramatics, Philo Vance solves the case. In 1945, John Dickson Carr ranked this as among the ten best mystery novels. Even in 1945 that was probably a stretch, but the solution (while not strictly fair-play) is tremendously ingenious. –KH

Okay

The Bishop Murder Case and The Scarab Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1929 and 1930) A nursery-rhyme-minded serial killer stalks a pair of households on Riverside Drive, and a statue of Sekhmet seemingly kills the millionaire patron of an Egyptologist’s museum. In both cases, Philo Vance solves the crimes after far too much arch fiddle-faddle and showing off: as Ogden Nash wrote, “Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance.” The Scarab Murder Case adds oblivious racism to its other failings, but both novels contain arresting scenes when Van Dine lets the action speak for itself without overheated narration. –KH

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