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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fincher Kings

December 12th, 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.


Icarus (Film, US, Bryan Fogel, 2017) Cyclist/filmmaker Fogel embarks on a Morgan Spurlock-esque documentary in which he subjects himself to a doping routine, only to find his Russian medical advisor in the center of an international scandal that might have placed him on the FSB hit list. Fogel hits the documentarian’s jackpot of a story that explodes into something bigger during the shoot, and makes the most of it.—RDL

Mindhunter Season 1 (Television, US,  Netflix, Joe Penhall, 2017) If you liked David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac you will groove on this series (produced by Fincher, who directed four episodes) about the creation of the FBI’s serial killer profiling system in the 1970s. Although only Holt McCallany (as the gruff veteran agent, Bill Tench) and Cameron Britten (as serial killer Ed Kemper) rise above the prosaic characterization, the real star is (as so often with Fincher) the procedure. –KH

The Punisher Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Steve Lightfoot, 2017) Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) discovers that he isn’t finished wiping out the people who killed his family, and forms a reluctant alliance with a computer hacker (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to flush out the remaining conspirators. Ultra-violence and empathy go hand in glove, with Bernthal continuing to score as a humanized Punisher, and an unusually coherent structure for a Marvel/Netflix show, in which all the subplots pay off into the main narrative.—RDL

Wild Seed (Film, US, Brian G. Hutton, 1965) 17-year old (Celia Kaye) runs away from her New York home to find her biological father in L.A., learning the ropes of hitch-hiking and rail-riding from a handsome young drifter (a fresh-faced and tenor-toned Michael Parks.) Existential road romance shot about twelve seconds before the advent of the counterculture features sympathetic characterization, a lush jazz score and gorgeous black and white location photography by Conrad Hall. The only element holding this back from unheralded masterpiece status is Kaye’s valiant struggle to meet the demands of the material.—RDL


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Film, US, David Fincher, 2008) As her mother (Cate Blanchett)  lies dying, her daughter reads the life story of her ex-lover, a man who aged in reverse. Oddball entry in Fincher’s filmography, rich in incident but light on drama, in which he keeps the trademark queasy greens and oranges but otherwise wears Steven Spielberg’s style like a jacket he’s trying on.—RDL

Pitfall (Film, US, Andre de Toth, 1948) Restless claims adjuster (Dick Powell) risks his career and family when he has a fling with a crook’s good-hearted girlfriend (Lizabeth Scott), entering the crosshairs of her sleazy ex-cop stalker (Raymond Burr.) Snappy dialogue and direction, as well as top performances from the lead distinguish this entry in the spiral-from-domesticity noir sub-genre. The script’s desire to steer clear of melodrama injects a fresh note of emotional realism, at the cost of an anticlimactic conclusion.—RDL

Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (Film, US, Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer, 2016) Fame-addled pop star (Andy Samberg) sees his tour documentary go sour when his sophomore album lays an egg. Update of Spinal Tap to today’s stadium pop and slick promotional documentaries, densely packed with jokes and cameos.—RDL


Justice League (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2017) Batman (Ben Affleck) must assemble Earth’s mightiest heroes to fight … a CGI third-tier Kirby villain. While better than the previous theatrical DCEU efforts, and even reasonably true to the comic book origin of the team, the end result remains a big missed opportunity. For a movie ten years in the making, far too much was rushed, especially including the vapid CGI — the Snyderverse works best when, like Nolan always did, he grounds it in the real. Joss Whedon’s much-bruited fixups only add dissonance and weaken Snyder’s mythic vision without building human connection. Even Danny Elfman’s score seemed bland and committee-driven. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mystery Elephant Coins and a True Crime Masterpiece

November 28th, 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 Keepers Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Ryan White, 2017) Nearly half a century after their high school teacher, a nun named Cathy Cesnik, was murdered, her former students initiate a sprawling investigation into her death, and the abusive Catholic priest who may have been involved in it. Documentary true crime series becomes all the more compelling as its central mystery grows ever more complicated and contradictory.—RDL


Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions (Nonfiction, Frank L. Holt, 2003) Elephant medallions discovered in 1887 and 1973 have politely roiled numismatic circles for decades; Holt lays out their provenance and controversy, and provides a theory to explain them that passes my Alexandrian sniff test — essentially, they were campaign coins for veterans of the Hydaspes battle. Excellent introduction to a recondite topic, ideal for refurbishing into an RPG seed. –KH

The Ghost Goes West (Film, UK, Rene Clair, 1935) Suave Scottish lord (Robert Donat) who must sell his castle tries to conceal the existence of its ancestral specter (also Donat), little suspecting that the American grocery tycoon with his eye on the place (Eugene Pallette) regards it as a selling point. Tellingly British take on the screwball comedy in which the joke is not that the nouveau riche Americans have gone silly and Europeanized, but that their affection for the old world vulgarizes tradition.—RDL

Invincible (Film, EU/US, Werner Herzog, 2001) In 1932, Jewish strongman Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) journeys to Berlin to make his fortune in the occult cabaret run by the mentalist Hanussen (Tim Roth). Herzog’s movie hearkens back to silent melodrama in its uncomplicated shots and Ahola’s guileless acting, which plays wonderfully off Roth’s oily Hanussen. Herzog mashes up history (the real Breitbart died in 1925) to create a not-quite-distant fable; buy a ticket and enjoy the show. –KH

Jim & Andy and The Great Beyond (Film, US, Chris Smith, 2017) Interviews with a now-philosophical Jim Carrey frame heretofore unseen backstage footage from the Man on the Moon shoot, where he remained obsessively in character as either Andy Kaufman or the awful Tony Clifton. Documentary only shows Carrey’s perspective, but to hear him tell it, he has finally recovered from the realization that he strove for and got everything he ever wanted—only to find it wasn’t enough.—RDL

The Man in the Iron Mask (Film, US, James Whale, 1939) Evil king Louis XIV (Louis Heyward) carries on hanging rebels and toying with the heart of the Spanish infanta (Joan Bennett), scarcely suspecting that his order to arrest a Gascon rebel raised by the four musketeers will confront him with his previously unknown twin brother. A piece set in the literal baroque period gives Whale full latitude for his baroque, frame-filling sensibility, plus a touch of the old Frankenstein days in the Bastille scenes. Screenwriters never use more than the barest whiff of the Dumas source material, in which the musketeers scheme against and betray one another, and it’s always interesting to see how any given adaptation rearranges the elements.—RDL


Little Big Soldier (Film, Hong Kong, Ding Sheng; action director Jackie Chan, 2010) During the warring states period, a conscripted peasant (Jackie Chan) captures an enemy general (Leehom Wang) and tries to get him back home to collect a reward. Economical script provides a tonally consistent showcase for Jackie’s dramatic chops, but suffers from Ding’s arbitrary compositions and over-caffeinated editing.—RDL

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 (Television, US, Netflix, Joel Hodgson, 2017) The revival of the ur-nerd-riff show does everything it needs to do competently: a chunky, amiable comic (Jonah Ray) and two robots (Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn) make fun of bad movies. But it doesn’t capture either the anarchic glee of the early Joel years or the relentless comic pile-on cruelty of the middle Mike years, relying on a labored backstory featuring the two mad scientists (Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt). The core of MST3K has always been the riffs; let’s hope next season doubles down on that. –KH


Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2016) Thirty extra minutes and an R rating don’t repair the foundational flaws in this super-Ragnarok, but they do add coherence to the story, humanity to Clark Kent, and a name to poor Jimmy Olsen. At three hours, there’s still plenty to regret here, but Snyder’s visual sense at least has something more to play off of. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heaven, Asgard and Times Square

November 14th, 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.


Counter-Attack (Film, US, Zoltan Korda, 1945) Trapped behind enemy lines in the basement of a collapsed factory, a doughty Soviet paratrooper (Paul Muni) and flinty spy (Marguerite Chapman) struggle to keep a group of German prisoners at bay. Wartime suspenser powered by tense scripting and a career-best performance from Muni. Even if it weren’t any good it would be worth a watch for its historical value as a Hollywood propaganda from the brief sliver of time when glorifying the Red Army made total sense.—RDL

The Deuce Season 1 (Television, HBO, David Simon, 2017) As a bar manager (James Franco) goes into business with an affable mobster, streetwalker Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) eyes the nascent XXX scene of early 70s New York as a way out and up. As he did to great effect in “The Wire”, Simon assembles a socioeconomic collage showing how a black market industry ties people together and bends them out of shape.—RDL

The Good Place Season 1 (Television, NBC, Michael Schur, 2016-2017) Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) dies and awakens in “The Good Place,” a sort of gated-community heaven run by its Architect (Ted Danson), even though she was actually pretty bad. You have to kind of love a comedy combining Plato and The Prisoner, or at least I do, especially given its commitment to narrative momentum via constant premise threat. –KH

Tattooed Life (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1965) In 1926, a betrayed yakuza killer flees with his mooncalf aesthete brother to a remote mining community, only to find that trouble isn’t done with them yet. Suzuki, mostly known for subversive and/or experimental low-budget crime pics, here gets the resources to weave a sweeping traditional narrative, capped with a fine ballet of katanas and revolvers.—RDL

Thor: Ragnarok (Film, US, Taika Waititi, 2017) After Odin dies and his heretofore unknown death goddess sister shows up to devastate Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds that his journey back circuits through a gladiator world and a visit with a big green co-worker. Waititi finds not only the previously missing tone for a Thor movie (dry, behind-the-beat Kiwi comedy) but pulls off the impressive trick of keeping momentum rolling in a typically overstuffed latter-day Marvel flick.—RDL


Big Bang (Film, South Korea, Park Jung-Woo, 2007) After losing his wife and his job on the same day, a priggish stickler teams with a small time crook to stage a revenge rampage. Buddy actioner increases the melodrama dosage as it accelerates.—RDL

The Posterist (Film, Hong Kong, Hui See-wai, 2016) Documentary celebration of Yuen Tai-yung, illustrator and designer of the most iconic movie posters of HK cinema’s 70s-90s golden age. On the production level this feels like an extended DVD extra, but is indispensable as film history and catnip to illustrators and illustration fans. Looking at Yuen’s work you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the work of at least three entirely different artists, as if Jack Davis, Drew Struzan and John Alvin were the same person.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Thunder God, Fairy Enchantress, Weresquito

November 7th, 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.


Stranger Things Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2017) Mixing James Cameron into their Carpenter-Spielberg blend, the Duffer Brothers aim for Aliens or Terminator 2 but don’t quite manage to make an 80s sequel that equals the first installment. Like Aliens, it swaps in action beats for Season 1’s paranoia and the uncanny, not a net gain. The story spreads a little thinner this time, but the characters remain both colorful period types and well and sympathetically drawn humans, which counts for a lot. Extra points of course for including 80s Chicago as the nexus of adventure that it was, even if that episode (like most of the Eleven storyline) could have been stronger. –KH

Wu Yen (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2001) Feckless Emperor Qi (Anita Mui) and gallant swordswoman Wu Yen (Sammi Cheng) accidentally release the Fairy Enchantress (Cecilia Cheung), who interferes with their destined love by pitching woo to both of them. To’s journey into the crowd-pleasing schtick of the New Year’s comedy pays homage to a Chinese opera genre where women play the male leads as well as the female ones. Bundles clowning, gender gyrations, songs, martial arts, shadow puppets, and of course the semiotically essential fart gags.—RDL


From the Lives of Marionettes (Film, Germany, Ingmar Bergman, 1980) Flashbacks and police interviews probe the motivations of a businessman who fantasized about killing his wife but instead murdered a prostitute. Deliberately uncinematic, dialogue-driven inquiry into the impossibility of human understanding finds Bergman at his most acidic and unsparing. Feel the pain of cinematographer Sven Nykvist, clearly instructed to strip every image of his trademark luminosity.—RDL

Joan Didion: the Center Does Not Hold (Film, US, Griffin Dunne, 2017) Loving documentary portrait of the essayist, novelist and screenwriter finds its emotional core in the personal losses explored in her books The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. Dunne, Didion’s nephew, enjoys access it’s hard to imagine any filmmaker getting from her, but the familiarity sometimes misses out basic story points. This would really benefit from the absolutely conventional talking heads montage at the beginning, for example, where we are told who the subject is and why she is important.—RDL

Thor: Ragnarok (Film, US, Taika Waititi, 2017) When Hela (Cate Blanchett) invades Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must act by going on a road-movie tour through about three signature Marvel stories including Planet Hulk for some reason. The best of the Thor movies, this one finally gets a perfect mix of science, magic, and beautiful pointlessness for Asgard, possibly thanks to the Mark Mothersbaugh synth score. Tessa Thompson’s feisty Valkyrie is great, as is Jeff Goldblum’s camp Grandmaster. That said, Waititi’s comic timing is uneven at best, the script loses steam and tension repeatedly, and Bing and Bob Thor and Loki are not. –KH

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter (Film, US, Christopher R. Mihm, 2016) After surviving Nazi experiments that turned him into the titular were-mosquito, John Baker (Douglas Sidney) hunts the mad scientist who created him. This no-budget black-and-white flick suffers from really terrible acting from the villain, but plays itself refreshingly straight rather than straining for tiresomely ironic camp effect. This could easily be a lost AIP monster three-reeler, although even Samuel Z. Arkoff would probably have sprung for an actual diner set. –KH


Brooklyn (Film, Ireland, John Crowley, 2015) Young Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) adjusts to a new life in the US. Affectingly acted comfort movie doesn’t introduce any real conflict until the beginning of the third act.—RDL

Guilty of Romance (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2011) A housewife’s frustration with her distant, austere author husband make her easy prey for a professor who moonlights as a prostitute and her pimp. Starts as psychological realism and escalates to extreme cinema, except the psychology in the ramp-up projects more male desire than credibility.—RDL

Not Recommended

Police!!! (Fiction, Robert W. Chambers, 1915) Self-regarding naturalist and oft-thwarted would-be swain Professor Percy Smith meets a series of deserved comeuppances as he investigates cryptozoological phenomena ranging from giant minnows to three-eyed men. Inexplicably titled anthology of dated buffoonery pokes fun at scientists, ad men, artists, and feminists, while resolutely not containing the menagerie of interesting creatures Ken remembers it for. Once again the proposition, “Surely in all of his prodigious output Chambers wrote something of value other than the Yellow King stories,” is answered with a resounding nope.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: This Dracula is a Dracula, This Other Dracula is a Rasputin

October 31st, 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.


Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Nonfiction, Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo, 2009) Account of the activities of John Drewe, who sold dozens of fake modernist works into the art market by infiltrating British archives and adding doctored documents to lend them credibility. Ably distills a narrative made all the more complex by its central figure, a pathological liar who prospered not on credible untruths, but through a thick and ever-shifting cloud of BS, all delivered with unshakable self-belief.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2017) As Chief Hopper keeps Eleven under wraps, and thus separated from a mournful Mike, a vastly powerful shadow entity from the Upside Down gets its psychic hooks into Will. Sophomore seasons are hard, so it’s not surprising to see the giddy perfection of season one settle into the solid, if a tad diffuse, storytelling of this follow-up. Points for maintaining its affection for its characters, and for a supernatural genre tale where the protagonists actually share information with one another.—RDL


Have a Nice Day (Film, China, Jian Liu, 2017) When driver Xiao impulsively steals a bag with a million yuan at knife-point from a courier for “Uncle Liu” it sets off an early-Tarantino-ish tour through the grifters and criminals and weirdos connected to Xiao, Liu, or the bag. Animated in strong line and color against detailed unmoving backgrounds depicting a grottily anonymous Chinese city, and scored with (not enough) pop music, it’s its own beast even if that beast is a shaggy dog. –KH

The Throne (Film, South Korea, Lee Joon-Ik, 2015) Having ordered him nailed in a box to die of exposure, an 18th century king (Song Kang-ho) recalls a life spent undercutting his son, who he deems insufficiently scholarly to rule. Stately melodrama assumes a close knowledge of Joseon era royal court law and custom; viewers steeped in Korean history may rate it a bump higher.—RDL


Dracula (Play, Timothy F. Griffin and Sean Graney, 2017) Arch farce and Clifford Odets-style social theater are both tough to stage, much less in the same play … and neither are what one might leap to as “how to best adapt Dracula.” Unsurprisingly, the result is kind of a mess. Breon Azell’s Dracula is at least excellent in a broad, unleashed-id role; Erin Barlow’s Alice Renfield relishes all the good lines as an ironic madwoman. (Playing through Nov. 5 at the Mercury Theater in Chicago.)—KH

R-Point (Film, South Korea, Su Young Gong & Kong Su-chang, 2004) South Korean platoon fighting in the Vietnam War seek the whereabouts of missing soldiers last seen at a haunted temple. Lacks the pacing or directorial assurance to realize the coolness of its weird war premise.—RDL

Rasputin the Mad Monk (Film, UK, Don Sharp, 1966) Wine-guzzling, sexually predatory Russian monk (Christopher Lee) uses his decidedly supernatural powers of healing and hypnosis to gain power as a favorite of Czarina Alexandra. In structure and style, this Hammer oddity is a Dracula flick reskinned with period drama trappings. TCM recently showed a print of this Cinemascope pic compressed to Academy ratio, making the already imposing Lee look about nine feet tall.—RDL

Not Recommended

Death Rides a Horse (Film, Italy, Guilio Petroni, 1967) Sharpshooter on a white horse (John Philip Law) hunts the gang that killed his family when he was a child, but an ex-con on a black horse (Lee van Cleef) wants them too. As crisp as Petroni’s comic-panel visual compositions might be, what really lingers in the mind here are the intermittent blasts of gratuitous and stunningly blatant, lefty, white-savior racism. This is what you get when your 60s Italian Marxist screenwriters try to inject social commentary into your cartoony spaghetti western.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: An Estonian Werewolf and Guillermo del Toronto

October 24th, 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 Experimental City (Film, US, Chad Friedrichs, 2017) Zippily edited and filmed in a period-TV filter and palette, this documentary tells the story of a progressive technocratic dream of a domed city in Minnesota, and the local protests that stopped it in 1973. Makes excellent and ample use of archival recordings and footage of other Modernist urban mirages to illuminate and even celebrate its quixotic subject. –KH

Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters (Exhibit, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2017) No one who listens to KARTAS and is close enough to get to this show, featuring highlights from the director’s prodigious collection of geekanalia, needs me to sell them on it. So instead I’ll mention that this iteration of the show features items from the AGO’s collection selected by del Toro to complement his stuff, including memento mori netsuke, Victorian hidden mothers photos, along with works by Piranesi, John Scott, and Victoria Mamnguqsualuk.—RDL

How to Steal a Dog (Film, South Korea, Sung-ho Kim, 2015) Thinking it will let her buy a house, a primary school kid who secretly lives in a pizza van with her mom and younger brother enlists a schoolmate in a dognapping scheme. Tone-perfect mix of comedy, caper and melodrama features a level of craftsmanship not normally associated with movies for kids—and of course, an incredibly adorable, stunningly lit pooch. A great choice for a kid old enough to follow subtitles.—RDL

Mindhunter Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Joe Penhall, 2017) Lightly fictionalized docudrama traces the origins of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences unit, as an arrogant young straight-arrow and his older, skeptical partner embark on a hush-hush program of interviewing the murderers they’ll eventually label as serial killers. Keynote director David Fincher’s flair for investing seemingly quotidian moments with import and mystery anchor a narrative more intrigued by bureaucratic struggles than the case-breaking of traditional cop procedurals.—RDL

November (Film, Estonia/Netherlands/Poland, Rainer Sarnet, 2017) Teen peasant girl (and werewolf) Liina loves teen peasant boy Hans who loves the newly arrived German baroness. Set in a world infused with Estonian folk belief, from the Devil and the personified plague on down to love potions, and lensed in amazing black and white by Mart Taniel, this film evokes actual fairy tales better than almost anything I’ve ever seen. –KH

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (Stand-up, Netflix, 2017) Oswalt mounts a very dark, very personal performance centering on the sudden death of his wife and to a lesser extent his despair following the 2016 election. A weirdly vulnerable, compellingly watchable gallows humor replaces the gasping-for-breath laugh riot of his previous specials. –KH

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream (Film, US, Peter Bogdanovich, 2007) You wouldn’t think you could fill four hours of documentary with nothing but the musical development of Tom Petty, with very occasional side ventures into his battles with his record labels and the 1987 arson of his home. But Bogdanovich does, at the steady upbeat lope of mid-period, Jeff Lynne-produced Petty, peppering the film with amiable reminiscences by various Heartbreakers and other collaborators, and anchoring it with Petty’s own wry commentary and ample concert footage. –KH


Lights Out (Film, US, David Sandberg, 2016) Young woman protects her brother from an clawed, murderous entity that has anchored itself to their mentally ill mom (Maria Bello) and can only exist in complete or partial darkness. Features a suitably creepy, if exposition-heavy, monster, while finding lots of business to execute around the need to find light sources. The ending commits a big storytelling no-no, though.—RDL

The Line (Film, Slovakia/Ukraine/Czech Rep, Peter Bebjak, 2017) Slovakian cigarette smuggler Adam faces family pressures from mom, wife, and daughter, and professional pressures from his Ukrainian mafiya supplier to run drugs. A fine crime story, especially for Dracula Dossier GMs looking for more on the Count’s Slovakian smuggler minions, but nothing except the setting particularly stands out. –KH


Budapest Noir (Film, Hungary, Éva Gárdos, 2017) High gloss and low budget can work but don’t here: the overlighting minimizes menace and the empty streets remove realism from this toothless tale of a reporter in 1936 Budapest investigating a murdered prostitute. (Glimpses of Budapest’s hidden self are sparse but welcome.) But our protagonist has no skin in the game, no wounded nature, and no iconic code: being a jerk is not actually a tragic flaw. –KH

Control (Film, Belgium, Jan Verheyen, 2017) Belgian police detectives Vincke and Verstuyft (reason and emotion, respectively) hunt a serial killer in Antwerp but their partnership founders when Verstuyft sleeps with a near-victim and possible material witness. Plays like a two-hour television episode from a well-shot procedural TV show; since it’s the third in a series of films, it essentially is. –KH

Gemini (Film, US, Aaron Katz, 2017) Personal assistant (Lola Kirke) to a movie star (Zoë Kravitz) becomes a suspect in her murder. I was all set to love this stylized, prefab tour through the “Hollywood crime story” trope box until it just ran out of road with a terminal anticlimax. Kirke is super, though, so keep her on your radar for when she hopefully gets a script with a fourth act. –KH

Not Recommended

The Reptile (Film, UK, John Gilling, 1966) After inheriting a cottage from his dead brother, a retired military man and his wife discover that his demise might have caused by lamia activity. Given the poky storytelling and unmagnetic performances, it turns out that the best way to experience this is to see a photo of the creature make-up in Famous Monsters of Filmland when you’re eleven, and then imagine the rest.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Unkillable Samurai, Vengeful Ghost

October 17th, 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.


Baking With Kafka (Comics, Tom Gauld, 2017) Writer jokes and strong line art, have I ever asked for anything more? The only problem with this goofy-under-staid collection is that if you have a Twitter feed full of bookish British lefties like I do, you’ve already seen about a third of them. –KH

Blade of the Immortal (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2017) Unkillable samurai Manji battles the weapon masters of the antinomian Itto-ryu fencing school (and hordes of mooks) in one of the best superhero films I’ve seen since Winter Soldier. Bloody carnage, moral nuance, chambara action, nods to Leone, and did I mention bloody carnage build to a magnificent elegy for the age of heroes. Miike continues his art’s laudable climb out of nihilism in this, his 100th film. –KH

Chasing the Blues (Film, Chicago, Scott Smith, 2017) Record collector (Grant Rosenmeyer) resumes his quest for a legendary blues album the instant he gets out of prison. Likeable shaggy dog comedy gets good value from brief appearances by Jon Lovitz and Steve Guttenberg, but it’s really a fun excuse to make up a blues legend and riff on it. –KH

Faces/Places (Film, France, Agnes Varda and J.R., 2017) Famed director Varda and hipster poster artist J.R. team up and hit the road to capture and depict the stories of ordinary French people. Sweet and nice as French pastry, and nourishing as French bread, this celebration of la joie de vie makes a virtue of its fabrication, much as do the artists involved. –KH

Ghost of Yotsuya (Film, Japan, Nabuo Nakagawa, 1959) Feckless ronin’s trail of murder leads to a confrontation with vengeful ghosts. Adaptation of an oft-filmed kabuki play shifts from stately samurai drama to Hammer-like literary horror with gruesome, theatrical effects. —RDL

The Merciless (Film, South Korea, Byun Sung-hyun, 2017) Undercover cop infiltrates a smuggling ring in Busan, but this being an Asian film, finds himself ever-closer friends with his gangster target. Tiny script wobble in the last act can’t erase the control and ease of the direction, or the power of the acting. –KH

Thoroughbreds (Film, US, Cory Finley, 2017) Teenage Connecticut rich girls Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) find friendship in sociopathy and plot the murder of Lily’s odious stepfather. Finley’s playwriting experience pays off in a taut script perfectly played by his two leads and Anton Yelchin as a lower-class drug dealer whose moral compass maybe hasn’t corroded completely. –KH

The Weird and the Eerie (Nonfiction, Mark Fisher, 2016) Fisher’s last book is a brief introduction-by-case-study to the concepts of the weird (“that which does not belong”) and the eerie (“a failure of absence or a failure of presence”), running from their exemplars (Lovecraft and M.R. James) through H.G. Wells, The Fall, Dick, and Lynch and through Kneale, du Maurier, Atwood, and Joan Lindsay, among others. Clear if far from complete, it stakes interesting theoretical and critical ground that sadly Fisher won’t be able to explore. –KH


Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) The heavy hand of coincidence puts replicant cop K (Ryan Gosling) on the trail of former blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford). The banal artificiality of the plot is actually pretty Dickian, but PKD usually had something else going on. What this film has going on is 2 hours and 40 minutes of gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography and another low-key great performance by Robin Wright as K’s boss. –KH

The Foreigner (Film, UK/China, Martin Campbell, 2017) After a rogue IRA bombing kills his daughter, former Vietnam War special forces asset Quan (Jackie Chan) carries out a one-man terror campaign against former IRA commander and current British cabinet minister Liam (Pierce Brosnan) to get the names of the bombers. The commendable decision to accurately depict a competent British security state sidelines Quan’s vendetta, leaving the film somewhat adrift, but seeing Chan and Brosnan in action bumps it up from Okay. –KH

The Purge: Election Year (Film, US, James DeMonaco, 2016) On the annual night when all criminal laws are suspended, the presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge flees assassins aided by her bodyguard (Frank Grillo) and a group of righteous neighborhood folk led by deli owner Mykelti Williamson. The political themes underlying the series come to the fore for this horror-flavored action thriller.—RDL

Progeny of the Adder (Fiction, Leslie H. Whitten, 1965) Washington DC homicide cop Harry Picard hunts a serial killer — who turns out to be a vampire — in this solid police procedural. While the vampire element is handled well (and is considerably ahead of its time) the police aspects are resolutely of their time, both the novel’s strength and weakness. –KH

Reconciliation (Film, Poland, Maciej Sobieszczański, 2017) In 1945, Silesian farm boy Franek becomes a guard at a Communist labor camp to rescue an inmate: Anna, the Polish girl he loves. Her lover Erwin, a German, is also interned there, and the tragic drama builds from there. A little slow and a lot brutal, the film distances itself from the characters in the interest of universality, but at the expense of involvement. –KH

Sicilian Ghost Story (Film, France/Italy/Switzerland, Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza, 2017) Middle-school girl Luna becomes increasingly obsessed, suffering nightmares and waking dreams after her true love Giuseppe is abducted by the Mafia. Based on a real 1993 kidnap-murder, the directors cast Sicilian unknowns as the children to quite frankly amazing effect. The dream, fairy tale, and mythic elements don’t quite blend with the crime and love stories, which is the only reason this ambitious film (barely) misses the Recommended mark. –KH


Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Teen bullies and their sullen target capture a c.h.u.d. and slowly weaponize it between bouts of torture — while its sister searches for her lost sibling. Gets points for a good monster and a properly decrepit mise en scene, but I remain of the opinion that having a completely unsympathetic protagonist is usually a mistake. –KH

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2017) If Sono had made this as a standalone film rather than recutting 2 hours and 22 minutes from his Amazon Japan miniseries, it would likely rank much higher. Sono’s trademark combination of stunningly beautiful images and hyperviolence adds two feuding clans of vampires, but his wild inventiveness seems more like flailing at TV sprawl lengths. –KH

Not Recommended

Cult of Chucky (Film, US, Don Mancini, 2017) Past victim of animate killer doll Chucky, confined to an psychiatric facility for the murders he committed, tries in vain to convince the staff that he’s coming for her again. Until it tosses it all away by not having a third act, is a surprisingly solid continuation of the series, explicitly about a gaslighting male establishment that refuses to believe a woman’s warnings about a misogynistic predator.—RDL

Gold is Where You Find It (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1938) In 1877 California, a hydraulic strip-mining engineer (George Brent) and an orchard-loving young woman (Olivia de Havilland) fall in love, to the increasing dismay of her wheat magnate father (Claude Rains.) That this is still kinda watchable, despite the low-wattage Brent in the lead, and a script in which he does next to nothing until the end and then does something ridiculous, stands as a tribute to Curtiz and his ineluctable mastery of filmic momentum. Maintains some historical interest as an early example of Hollywood environmentalism.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deckard, Cronenberg, Owlman

October 10th, 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.


Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) Replicant cop (Ryan Gosling) who pursues older androids capable of rebellion works a case that puts him on the trail of long-missing predecessor Deckard (Harrison Ford.) Visually stunning in a way that evokes Kubrick chill more than Ridley Scott flash, set in  an ultra-dystopia where evidence of basic human connection has been shipped off-world.—RDL

Fighter Squadron (Film, US, Raoul Walsh, 1947) As the burgeoning US Air Force’s latest assignments take it ever closer to Berlin, a maverick pilot who wins by his own rules (Edmond O’Brien) must shoulder the straight-laced responsibilities of higher command. Walsh’s eye for the rituals of masculinity and typical focus on doomed individuality infuse this rousing, overtly jocular Technicolor war flick with a darker undercurrent.—RDL

Maps to the Stars (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 2014) Young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in L.A., becoming a personal assistant to a distraught actress (Julianne Moore) and triggering a series of Sophoclean events involving the family of a cruel, freshly-rehabbed child star. Never has Cronenberg’s camera been this icy and clinical, or his characters more universally monstrous—and that’s saying a bunch.—RDL

They Remain (Film, US, Philip Gelatt, 2017) Two scientists (William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson) investigating anomalous animal behavior on the wilderness site of an infamous cult killing slowly degenerate in this moody, slightly surreal adaptation of a Laird Barron novella. If Polanski made Repulsion in a forest in upstate New York, it might look like this. –KH

They Return at Evening (Fiction, H.R. Wakefield, 1928) Nine supernatural stories including at least four small masterpieces: the shuddery “The Red Lodge” and the dizzying “Professor Pownall’s Oversight” are probably the best. Both harder edged and more glib than M.R. James (the overt James pastiche is enjoyable but a bit sloppy), Wakefield incorporates elements of detective fiction along with towering cynicism about women and publishing. –KH


The Black Gloves (Film, Scotland, Lawrie Brewster, 2017) The prequel to Brewster’s terrific 2013 creeper The Lord of Tears follows a psychiatrist (Nicholas Vince) seeking redemption to the estate of a ballerina (Alexandra Nicole Hulme) in seclusion — and all three are haunted by the Owlman. The magnificent climax comes an act too early, and the black and white doesn’t quite match the warmth of 1940s film, but strong acting and writing keep it watchable. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Now Ken’s in the Black Lodge

October 3rd, 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

Twin Peaks: The Return (TV, Showtime, David Lynch, 2017) Picking up 25 years after Lynch’s seminal oneiric soap opera murder mystery ended, it is more of some of those things, most especially “Lynch’s.” I love that I could never see ahead down Lynch’s road, and also: Robert Forster. Penderecki’s “Threnody.” Magic and romance just out of frame. Bzzzkkkzztt (and all the rest of Lynch’s amazing sound design) That shot of NYC. Trees. Coffee! Charred men. “The Nine Inch Nails.” //erusolC// –KH


Call Me Lucky (Film, US, Bobcat Goldthwait, 2015) Documentary profile of radical comedian’s comedian Barry Crimmins explores the origins of his righteous rage as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Loving portrait of a many-faceted man, made by a longtime friend.—RDL

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her (Nonfiction, Joanna Connors, 2016) A generation after her brutal rape by a stranger, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter seeks context by researching the life of the now-deceased perpetrator. Unsparing work of personal journalism finds answers to the literal questions if not the teleological ones, but mostly a deep well of unspeakable, cyclic suffering.—RDL


The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) A relatively enjoyable “impossible crime” outing for Carr’s second-tier detective Sir Henry Merrivale, who is more annoying than Gideon Fell. Remarkable for solving the locked room (actually a locked castle) two different ways, because Carr is a showoff; the Egyptian color ticks it up from Okay. –KH

Giant Days, Vols. 1-3 (Comics, John Allison, 2015-6) Compilations of Allison’s comic about three girls and their travails in university, mostly involving idiotic romantic partners. As warm and sweetly human as Allison’s work elsewhere (one character, Esther de Groot, carries over from his Bad Machinery/Bobbinsverse) but without the overt weirdness (here calmed into eccentricity) and frenetic storytelling. –KH

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Film, UK/US, Matthew Vaughn, 2017) Proletarian gentleman superspy Eggsy (Taron Egerton) returns to battle a drug lord (Julianne Moore) with the help of the American superspy group Statesman (Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal). Too much bad, unnecessary CGI (and some over-obvious direction) obscures a surprisingly not-terrible script; still, worth seeing for those seeking the thrills James Bond once provided. –KH

Night’s Master (Fiction, Tanith Lee, 1978) Linked short stories of innocence corrupted or maintained lay out an eon in the existence of a seductive demon lord. Lapidary prose and 70s sex abound in this neo-Symbolist outing in the Dunsany tradition.—RDL

A Report on the Party and the Guests (Film, Czechoslovakia, Jan Němec, 1966) Cosmopolitan guests at an influential figure’s country banquet are subjected to subtly menacing power games. Absurdist drama looks at how quickly the comfortable rationalize their own oppression. But even in this relatively free period of cinema in the Soviet satellite nations, it has to rely on the viewer to infer the dark conclusion it’s so clearly setting up.—RDL

The Transfiguration (Film, US, Michael O’Shea, 2016) Affectless, vampire-obsessed, neglected, and bullied African-American teen Milo (Eric Ruffin) eventually befriends his abused, self-destructive white neighbor Sophie (Chloe Levine). Essentially a loose remake of Romero’s Martin set in the Brooklyn projects, it suffers by comparison (its slow burn goes down to embers more than once) but on its own merits adds a few liters of AB+ to the vampire genre. –KH


Chasing the Dragon (Film, HK, Wong Jing & Jason Kwan, 2017) Loyal gangster Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen) and honorable corrupt cop Lee Rock (Andy Lau) rise together in the British-managed Hong Kong crime world of the late 60s and early 70s. Mythologized crime biopic maintains an unusually consistent tone for a Wong Jing effort, but is overloaded with plot points—because, weirdly, this is a remake of two previously unrelated films: the caustic, greatly superior To Be Number One and Lee Rock, featuring Andy Lau in the same role he plays here. Scored a big mainland release usually denied to violent HK gang pictures by dialing up the anti-colonial angle.—RDL

Preacher Season 2 (Television, US, AMC, Sam Catlin, 2017) With the Saint of Killers on his heels, Jesse drags Tulip and Cassidy to New Orleans in search of God, who has gone AWOL from heaven. Bursts of bravura weirdness can’t conceal the momentum stall of a season in which the protagonist makes zero progress toward his goal.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sapient Dogs and a Vanishing Toyshop

September 26th, 2017 | Robin

The Pinnacle

Master of None Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang, 2017) Dev falls for an engaged friend and moves up in the food television world. The show leans even further into its innovative format, telling a story arc through episodes structured as individual short films. Its focus on representation has been widely praised already, so let’s note its phenomenal cinemascope-ratio cinematography, which gives it a visual weight rarely attempted in the comedy-drama genre.—RDL


Fifteen Dogs (Fiction, Andre Alexis, 2015) Apollo and Hermes make a wager, granting human intelligence to a group of dogs at a downtown Toronto veterinary hospital. Works both as a fable about the relationship between awareness and happiness, and a compelling extrapolation of what the world might look like to sapient canines.–RDL

Jerry Before Seinfeld (Stand-up, Jerry Seinfeld, Netflix, 2017) Jerry Seinfeld performs his pre-1981 material in the West Side comedy dive he started out in, the Comic Strip, punctuated with (thankfully brief) reminiscences. As with virtually everything he’s done this millennium, this special shows Seinfeld’s work ethic and deep sense of his art form’s traditions while still being playful and, yes, funny. –KH

A Light Affliction: A History of Film Preservation and Restoration (Nonfiction, Michael Binder, 2014) Informed and accessible look at the field from the Lumieres to DCPs focuses as much on the quirky founding personalities of the preservation movement as on the technical challenges of keeping films alive. Fun fact: Hollywood resisted the switch from nitrate because its ultra-dangerous nature required highly trained operators, thus discouraging pirate screenings.—RDL

The Moving Toyshop (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1946) Poet Richard Cadogan stumbles onto a murder upstairs from a toyshop — which vanishes the next morning. Good thing he’s in Oxford, and friends with the detective don Gervase Fen. This assured mystery shifts between grim crime, classic detection, and giddy nigh-Wodehousian humor between breaths, while remaining tightly plotted and consistently characterized. P.D. James considered it a Pinnacle, which should tell you something. –KH

Queenpin (Fiction, Megan Abbott, 2007) Young woman groomed by a classy older mentor as a mob courier puts the mentorship in peril when she succumbs to the brutal charms of a degenerate gambler. Unlike most modern shots at period noir, Abbott gets the voice right, avoiding the competing shoals of parody and anachronism.—RDL

The Woman on the Beach (Film, US, Jean Renoir, 1947) Soon-to-retire, PTSD-haunted Coast Guard officer (Robert Ryan) falls for the restless wife (Joan Bennett) of a tormented, blind ex-painter (Charles Bickford.) Reskinned gothic in which the great French director absorbs a touch of Val Lewton strangeness from next door on the RKO backlot.—RDL


The Greatest Show on Earth (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1952) Circus manager Brad (Charlton Heston) has to deal with lovestruck trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton), her rival (and his) The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), and the criminal element (Lawrence Tierney) while keeping the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus in the black. Betty Hutton is the weak link here, but you also get the wonderful Gloria Grahame as an elephant trainer, and Jimmy Stewart as an enigmatic clown. Unfairly lambasted for beating High Noon for the Best Picture Oscar — it’s no High Noon, but it’s no Crash, either — this final DeMille spectacle movie provides ample circus spectacle, a magnificent train crash, and even some intermittently excellent tension on and off the high wire. If you’re pro-circus I’d call it Recommended. For extra fun play “spot the Spielberg engrams,” as this was the first movie Spielberg remembers seeing. –KH

mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) Dutiful wife (Jennifer Lawrence) to a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) spirals into hallucinatory nightmare when he invites oddball strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) into the home she’s painstakingly renovating. Becomes less interesting as the allegory fully clunks into view, but still worth seeing for its disorienting use of sound design and handheld extreme close-ups.—RDL

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
Flying Clock
Film Cannister