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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wonder Woman, Alien, Pirates and Way Way More

June 6th, 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.

The Pinnacle

The Girl With All the Gifts (Film, UK, Colm McCarthy, 2016) Preteen girl (Sennia Nanua) whose version of the fungal infection that has triggered a zombie apocalypse flees the base where she was about to be vivisected along with a sympathetic teacher (Gemma Arterton), gruff sergeant (Paddy Considine) and the single-minded researcher who still regards her as a vital biological sample (Glenn Close.) Would be worth a recommend strictly for its well-extrapolated fungal undead rules; the emotional journey of its unique protagonist makes it an instant add to the zombie canon.—RDL

Recommended

The Americans Season 5 (TV, FX, 2016-2017) The best show on television takes an inward turn this season, focusing on the human costs of — and the surprising potential for trust within — the spy careers of KGB sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, whose tremendous acting gets even stronger). Because it drives me absolutely bananas when people say things like “you really need to have watched the first four seasons to get how truly great this one was” I just docked it a level for slackening its narrative momentum, but if you watched the first four seasons you likely know why I put it on my personal Pinnacle. –KH

Headshot (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, 2016) Bullet fragment lodged in the brain of a battle-scarred hospital patient (Iko Uwais) prevent him from remembering that he was raised to be one of several super-henchmen serving a legendary gangster—but his former allies haven’t forgotten. Stylish, ultra-hard martial arts extravaganza will revise whatever mental image you currently associate with paper-cutters.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now on Netflix.

Nazi Agent (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1942) German emigre bookseller (Conrad Veidt), fiercely loyal to his new American home, discovers to his horror that the head of the Reich’s spy network in the US is his estranged twin (also Veidt.) Rousing little gem from Hollywood’s propatainment era,  anchored by a subtle, affecting performance from Veidt.—RDL

The Real Spy World (Nonfiction, Miles Copeland, 1978) Only slightly changed from its 1974 incarnation Beyond Cloak and Dagger, CIA agent Copeland’s wry, engaging description of the espionage and intelligence business may still remain the best in its breed. Like Copeland’s own career it focuses on case officer and analyst work more than straight tradecraft, but provides a few pointers in such things as home cryptography and how to recognize spies in a club (they’re on tight expense accounts so they stick to beer instead of fancy cocktails). –KH

Secrets of the French Police (Film, US, A. Edward Sutherland, 1932) Sûreté inspector (Frank Morgan) employs forensics, disguise and an alliance with a witty jewel thief to investigate a murder case involving hypnotism and the Princess Anastasia. Packed with pulpy flourishes and begging to be ported into your next Trail of Cthulhu scenario.—RDL

Wonder Woman (Film, US, Patty Jenkins, 2017) Last child of the Amazons (Gal Gadot) grows up to rescue a downed pilot (Chris Pine) and follow him into WWI so she can find and slay the war god Ares. With its tight throughline, classic take on an iconic character, clear and rousing action choreography, and a star-making performance from Gadot, Wonder Woman shield-leaps over most pitfalls of the modern superhero flick.–RDL

Good

Lovecraft Country (Fiction, Matt Ruff, 2016) A secret heritage pulls a family living in Chicago’s south side into a weird struggle within a network of sorcerous lodges. Short stories linked by a story arc view classic horror and SF tropes through the lens of the mid-century black experience in America. I hope that in its upcoming HBO adaptation the story editor prunes out its many verbal anachronisms.–RDL

Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery (Stand-up, Netflix, 2017) MacDonald’s ultimate gift is delivery, which means any hour of material from him will land better than it reasonably should. This routine covers some familiar ground (getting old, things these days) and some less familiar (auto-erotic asphyxiation). Very little of it ascends to the epic, manic level of the moth joke but very little of it is unfunny. –KH

Okay

The Berlin Project (Fiction, Gregory Benford, 2017) In this alternate history, chemist Karl Cohen (Benford’s father-in-law, as it happens) pushes centrifuge diffusion into the mainstream of the Manhattan Project, so the A-bomb is ready for D-Day. Benford’s prose is workmanlike, but his speculative energies balk and shy once we leave the lab for the battle front. The editing is spotty, missing errors of fact and consistency, and allowing lots of repetition; all disappointing, as only Benford (who knew most of the Project scientists personally) could have written this novel at all and he could have written a much better one. –KH

Not Recommended

Alien: Covenant (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2017) Weyland-Yutani has changed their crew mix to about 70-30 twitchy-idiotic in this sequel to Prometheus that leans further into the previous Alien films, complete with a Ripleyesque hairdo for xenomorph-killer Daniels (Katherine Waterston). (The Alien-phile I’m married to thought it was Okay.) Scott frames some jaw-droppingly gorgeous shots and intermittently attempts a newly overt Frankenstein theme with a dash of Milton. Sadly, the script takes an endless time killing characters we don’t care about and then hammers suspense flat in the last act. –KH

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Film, US, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, 2017) Apparently I am under a pirate curse of some kind forcing me to see these. Shiploads of daddy issues collide in murky, unchoreographed battle scenes that waste Javier Bardem and some cool zombie sharks. Golshifteh Farahani’s witch Shansa likewise belongs in a better film, and given the lack of setup or payoff her character receives, may well have teleported in from one. –KH

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