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Ken and Robin Consume Media: With Cate You Only Need Eight

July 3rd, 2018 | 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 Big Clock (Fiction, Kenneth Fearing, 1946) Considerably darker than the film version (q.v.), and as a result more believable in its plot action. Multiple viewpoints slow tension but also provide verisimilitude. Fearing’s weird digressions jazz up the novel like his ever-chiming “big clock” metaphor mostly doesn’t. –KH

The Newburgh Sting (Film, US, David Heilbroner and Kate Davis, 2014) Documentary unwinds a 2009 case in which an FBI informant recruited four small-time criminals from a poverty-wracked African-American community into a terror plot for the government to triumphantly bust. Interweaves interviews with government surveillance footage to clarify a complex story. For those doing the math, yep, the FBI head who appears for a celebratory victory lap before a Congressional committee is none other than Robert Mueller.—RDL

Ocean’s 8 (Film, US, Gary Ross, 2018) Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gets out of prison, reunites with her sidekick Lou (Cate Blanchett) and recruits a crew for an impossible heist during which many things seem to go wrong but either they didn’t or the crew fixes them on the fly. Yep, it’s an Ocean’s movie! (Minus the editing, which is a little slack, leading to a more toothless feel.) Daniel Pemberton does a great job shifting David Holmes’ cool jazz toward funk, and everyone is fun to watch, especially Anne Hathaway as the biggest Anne Hathaway ever. –KH

The Villainess (Film, Jeong Byeong-Gil, South Korea, 2017) A shadowy government agency retrains an already bad-ass assassin, but a complex web of bloody betrayals still waits to ensnare her. Wild, hyper-violent action sequences bookend a twisty, chronologically fractured narrative.—RDL

Good

The Big Clock (Film, US, John Farrow, 1948) Crime editor George Stroud (Ray Milland) winds up the intended patsy for a murder committed by his tyrannical publisher Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), who unwittingly assigns Stroud to track himself down. After the idiot plot maneuvers Stroud into position, the tense self-manhunt propels the last two thirds of the film, juiced by Laughton’s delightful mannered cruelty and a screwball turn by Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric painter. –KH

Chains (Film, Italy, Raffaello Matarazzo, 1949) Garage owner’s wife conceals from her husband the efforts of her ex-fiancee, now a caddish car thief, to win her back. Noir-tinged melodrama loses steam when its third act turn switches to a less compelling conflict.—RDL

Legion Season 2 (Television, FX, Noah Hawley, 2018) Now working for the anti-mutant agency he used to fight, David loses his grip on reality and his moral bearings as he pursues the Shadow King. The most visually inventive season of TV ever shot burrows so deeply into subjective reality—not to mention time travel and alternate realities—that it’s often impossible not just to know what is happening, but what one wants to see happen.—RDL

The Powder Barrel (Fiction, William Haggard, 1965) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must deal with a too-independent Chinese agent trying to kill the Foreign Secretary and destabilize a fragile British oil protectorate. Like the best Haggard thrillers, this one turns on personalities, but Haggard’s normally tight control of the plot seems a little stop-and-start in this one. –KH

Not Recommended

Historical Atlas of Ancient Mesopotamia (Nonfiction, Norman Bancroft Hunt, 2004) Although the mix of maps and archaeological plans scants historical continuity in favor of snapshot cultural views, I would be inclined to call it Okay or even Good if the text didn’t contain several considerable errors of fact. Most notably to our listeners, Hunt confuses Mithridates II of Parthia with Mithridates VI of Pontus. –KH

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