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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Vintage Deconstructed Vampirism, 30s Mexican Horror, and Hardboiled Mississippi Litfic

September 7th, 2021 | 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

The Last Taxi Driver (Fiction, Lee Durkee, 2020) UFO-obsessed ex-novelist has a particularly bad day at work as a cabbie in an equally down-and-out Mississippi town. Hardboiled southern litfic paints a convincingly, not to mention hilariously, jaundiced portrait of life shuttling between rehabs, hospitals, motels and liquor stores.—RDL

The Phantom of the Monastery (Film, Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1934) Three lost hikers, a couple and the best friend who loves the wife, encounter the supernatural in a supposedly ruined and uninhabited monastery. It’s no surprise that Mexico was finding the gothic in Catholicism long before it hit Hollywood in ‘73, as this expressionistic journey into measured eeriness attests. Sometimes translated as The Phantom of the Convent.—RDL

Vampir Cuadecuc (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Dissident avant-garde filmmaker Portabella somehow talked the Franco regime into giving him permission to shoot a “behind-the-scenes” documentary of schlockmaestro Jess Franco’s production of Count Dracula as its own version of Dracula. The deconstruction of the coincidentally-named Franco’s art as artifice is only part of this polysemic experience: high-contrast black-and-white shifting tones, constant fourth-wall breakage, and the charged musique-concrète score by Carles Santos all create a reality-sliding metafilm experience more Dreyer’s Vampyr than Stoker’s vampire. –KH

A Very Curious Girl (Film, France, Nelly Kaplan, 1969) Put-upon servant (Bernadette Lafont) gets revenge on the creeps and prigs of her crummy rural village by connecting with her inner witch and selling sex. Wry Bunuelian satire with a feminist vantage point on comeuppance and the restoration of order.—RDL

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Film, US, Scott Frank, 2014) Haunted ex-cop (Liam Neeson) hunts a pair of psychos who specialize in kidnapping women to squeeze their drug trafficker loved ones for ransom money. Well-crafted, grounded detective noir based on a novel from Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series.—RDL

Good

The Menacers (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1968) Clandestine government assassin Matt Helm gets seconded to bring a UFO witness back to Los Alamos from Mexico — or kill her if he can’t do that. The eleventh in the Matt Helm series plays with the military-intelligence side of the UFO question, while also being a cracking good thriller leavened with tough-guy pragmatic philosophizing. Helm partisans emphasize his “realism” over the Bond novels, but Fleming’s flair is what elevates his books to Recommended. Hamilton’s books mostly hit the higher reaches of Good, however, so if you don’t mind a little period grit you can absolutely do worse. –KH

Not Recommended

Bridesmaids (Film, US, Paul Feig, 2011) Brittle, self-pitying failure Annie (Kristen Wiig) feels her only meaningful relationship slipping away when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, and responds with selfish panic. The comedy of unease depends on actually ever sympathizing with anyone in the story, a low bar that this over-explained sluice never clears. Melissa McCarthy’s anarchic honesty and feral comic joy provide the sole bright spot, so of course she’s always the butt (literally in one case) of the joke. –KH

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