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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Loki, Gunpowder Milkshake, and Heinlein Dependence

July 20th, 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 Big Sick (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2017) The romance between Chicago standup Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) goes awry when he lies to her and she goes into a medically induced coma. The script (by Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon) reliably and honestly produces laughs and tears, which used to be entry-level success for a rom-com but now rates genuine surprise. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano bat cleanup as Emily’s parents; Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff ace the more difficult position plays as Kumail’s disapproving folks. –KH

Midnight (Film, US, Mitchell Leisen, 1939) Arriving in Paris with nothing to her name but a gold lame dress, a plucky American (Claudette Colbert) agrees to continue posing as a countess in order to help a wily rich husband (John Barrymore) pry a pesky swain from his wife (Mary Astor.) But their plan doesn’t account for the determination of smitten taxi driver Don Ameche. Bubbling, witty screwball comedy adapted from a Hungarian stage play by the ace screenwriting team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.—RDL

Withnail & I (Film, UK, Bruce Robinson, 1987) Unemployed nebbishy actor (Paul McGann) and his unemployed psycho actor flatmate Withnail (Richard E. Grant) take an extremely impromptu holiday in the Lake District. Grant’s justly acclaimed Pinnacle performance hilariously and alchemically combines all the watchable sins — rage, vanity, cruelty, drunkenness, and lies — but the rest of the cast does almost as well down to the very small parts; McGann manages to somehow convey deserving his horrible friend without making us despise him. –KH

Good

Loki Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Kate Herron, 2021) Displaced from the timeline, a previous version of the Asgardian trickster god (Tom Hiddleston) gets shanghaied into service as a time cop, partnered with laconic wisecracker Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson.) The first five episodes dish out old-fashioned four-color fun, with zingy relationships and a structure emulating a comic storyline where each issue has its own distinct vibe. But by now we know the drill for Disney+ Marvel shows—the finale is yet another anticlimactic mess more interested in teasing future content than delivering a satisfying conclusion.—RDL

Okay

Gunpowder Milkshake (Film, US/Germany/France, Navot Papushado, 2021) A hit gone wrong prompts an assassin (Karen Gillan) to protect a kid from the mob, aided by her estranged killer mom (Lena Headey) and a trio of gun librarians (Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh.) I like stylistic nods to Leone and Bava at least as much as the next guy, but if you have five action leads and four of them aren’t Michelle Yeoh, you have to book the time to train them in the fight choreo instead of leaving it up to stunt doubles.—RDL

Make Happy (Standup, Netflix, Bo Burnham, 2016) Elaborately synchronized musical numbers interspersed with brief observational bits and jump-scare misdirection, all on the general theme of entertaining, and on the meta-theme of “I, Bo Burnham, am entertaining you by being edgy but not so edgy that you have to examine your relationship to the material or to me, Bo Burnham.” The trouble with meta-anything is that for it to be something besides self-congratulatory tailchasing there has to be something you’re actually willing to say, ideally something nobody else can (or will) say. If not, well … you can always claim you were being ironically ironic, I guess? –KH

Strongly Heinlein-Dependent

Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation (Fiction, Travis I.J. Corcoran, 2017 and 2018) Anarcho-capitalist moon colony rebels against a statist Earth in 2064, complete with enigmatic AI and American Revolutionary parallels. This perfectly serviceable (if somewhat bloated) modernization of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress adds uplifted Dogs and breaks up the lectures but loses zero of the didacticism as its characters remain somewhat flatter. Your response will be one grade below your rating of Heinlein’s original. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Soderbergh Crime, Winslet Crime, and Boardgame Metaphysics

July 6th, 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

Mare of Easttown (Television, UK, HBO, Brad Inglesby, 2021) Jaded, grief-burying small town detective (Kate Winslet) investigates a murder involving a local teen, where nearly all the witnesses and suspects are friends or relatives. Obsessively wielded hardscrabble social observation lends docudrama credibility to an operatic, twist-filled crime story.—RDL

No Sudden Move (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2021) In 1954 Detroit, ex-con Curtis Goynes (Don Cheadle) and lunkhead Ronny Russo (Benicio del Toro) get paid too much to hold a schlub’s (David Harbour) family hostage and have to keep moving to avoid the setup and get out ahead. Elliptical script by Ed Solomon almost always reveals just enough (it does get a little expository at moments) and Soderbergh keeps the action and actors moving fast enough to keep all the crime-flick plates spinning. Stylish performances by the best-of-breed supporting cast (especially an Orson Welles-channeling Brendan Fraser playing a middle-management hood) and plenty of cool light remind you of what Soderbergh always has in the tank. –KH

No Sudden Move (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2021) In 50s Detroit, a gunman with powerful enemies and land to buy (Don Cheadle) agrees to a lucrative few-hour gig holding a family hostage with a luckless counterpart (Benicio del Toro) and a mouthy punk (Kieran Culkin), and awry it goes. Snappy dialogue, a deceptively matter-of-fact emotional temperature and a oneupping attitude to anamorphic lens distortion distinguish Soderbergh’s latest return to the crime genre.—RDL

Good

Avidly Reads Board Games (Nonfiction, Eric Thurm, 2019) Thurm uses personal memoir and play experience as a gateway to briefly discussing board game evolution and metaphysics. To the extent this slim volume is about anything (besides justifying its subject to a NYU Press editor), it’s about the implications of the “magic circle” of board game play for players and designers: complicity in various theoretical or political constructions, and potential to redefine experience through play and larger mechanical possibilities such as legacy games or coopetitive designs. Pleasant, clever, but too short to really bite: the Coup of board game books. –KH

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt Omnibus (Comics, Dynamite, Alex Ross & Steve Darnall and Jonathan Lau, 2015) Peter Cannon’s impulsive creation of a dragon tulpa to discourage nuclear testing blows back on every part of his life as old foes and new gather to destroy him. If Gillen & Wijngaard’s take on the same material was near-Pinnacle Recommended, this is near-Recommended Good: the comic never bored me and once or twice genuinely surprised me, but didn’t leave a whole lot behind. It’s funny how Moore’s deconstruction of Cannon has somehow become the template for every major treatment of the character since — in that respect Ross & Darnall break new (if less inviting) ground by depicting a genuinely confused Thunderbolt rather than an arch Ozymandias. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Actors, Superheroes and the Most Famous Submarine

June 29th, 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

Burn! (Film, Italy, Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969) To drive the Portuguese from a Caribbean island, a cynical strategist (Marlon Brando) turns a porter (Evaristo Márquez) into an inspirational rebel, who he must later destroy at the behest of his sugar company bosses. Polemical tone poem of colonialism and counterinsurgency draws more than a bit of its operatic scope from the era’s spaghetti westerns.—RDL

The Design and Construction of the Nautilus (Nonfiction, Demetri Capetanopolous, 2018) Reconstruction of Nemo’s submarine based on Verne’s data that attempts to answer: is it a good submarine design? (Yes) Could it have been built in 1865? (Except for the handwaved engines, surprisingly mostly yes) Really Recommended mostly for Nemo completists, but a striking example of one of my favorite exercises: real-world data (Capetanopolous is a former sub captain and engineer) retrofitted into hallmark genre fiction. –KH

The Neighbor Season 2 (Television, Spain, Miguel Esteban & Raúl Navarro, Netflix, 2021) Romantic discord ensues when stumblebum hero Javier (Quim Gutiérrez) discovers that ex-girlfriend Lola (Clara Lago)  can also use his super pills. Looming alien menace nudges the charming comedy shambolism a few inches further into genre territory.—RDL

Nothing Like a Dame (Film, UK, Roger Michell, 2018) Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins drop by Joan Plowright’s house to tease each other, discuss aging and fame, trade acting shop talk, and roll out the anecdotes. Cozy hangout documentaries like this usually feature male actors, and I was little surprised to realize how little I’ve seen any of these legends interviewed at any length. Smith of course gets off the best line, zinging Plowright’s husband, Larry Olivier.—RDL

Staged Season 1 (Television, UK, Simon Evans, 2020) When the pandemic shuts down a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, a gormless director (Simon Evans) persuades his leads, the petulant David Tennant (David Tennant) and tetchy Michael Sheen (Michael Sheen) to rehearse remotely. Considerable wit, a couple of superstar cameos, and of course the charm of the stars gleefully sending themselves up, overcomes one’s natural reluctance to sit through Zoom meetings or relive the early months of COVID.—RDL

Good

Project Superpowers Vols 1-3 (Comics, Dynamite, Jim Krueger & Alex Ross & divers hands, 2018-2019) The public-domain superheroes of the 1940s emerge from Pandora’s Urn into a modern dystopia and set about setting things to rights in the overarching frame story of Vol. 1. Vol. 2 focuses on the Black Terror, Vol. 3 on several different heroes and villains, the stories interacting with the frame crossover-style. (The X-Mas Carol and Owl stories in Vol. 3 are Recommended.) Ross’ covers are amazing, as are his art notes in the back, but he primarily acts as co-plotter and art director, so the actual art is kind of all over the place. The story mostly remains Big Reveals About Characters You Barely Remember, to necessarily limited effect, but the second half of Vol. 1 gets close to giddy Bronze Age event comics thrills, and Edgar Salazar’s art lives up to Ross’ potential there too. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Peter Cannon & The Sparks Brothers

June 22nd, 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 Big Gundown (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1968) Implacable gunslinger (Lee van Cleef) tracks a an weaselly but ingenious criminal (Tomas Milian) accused of child murder. Quest-structured, Morricone-scored spaghetti western with emphatic staging, a wry eye for human perversity, and a classic frenemy dynamic between the leads.—RDL

The Clockmaker of St. Paul (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1976) Mournful watch store proprietor (Philippe Noiret) struggles to understand how his son could have murdered his girlfriend’s supervisor and gone on the lam. Restrained character piece with a political undertone, based on a Simenon novel. Aka The Watchmaker of St. Paul or The Clockmaker.—RDL

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt (Comics, Dynamite, Kieron Gillen & Caspar Wijngaard, 2020) Peter Cannon, heir to the Ancient Scrolls of a lost civilization, reluctantly defends his Earth against a faked alien invasion. I could write an essay about this intelligent, honest response/homage to Watchmen, but suffice it to say that Gillen’s engagement with the form and the content of comics’ eternal, nigh-fatal masterpiece provides the best possible argument for broad reading in the classics as a basis for creative effort. Its biggest flaw is that unlike its model it doesn’t quite encompass a superhero story — but Gillen intends that lacuna, as well. Wijngaard’s art counterpoints both Gillen and Gibbons’ genius (two difficult tasks!) with remarkable fluidity and strength, and Mary Safro’s coloring quietly amazes. –KH

The Sparks Brothers (Film, US/UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Rockumentary tracks the origin and evolution of the seminal, vastly influential glam-synth-comic-pop-art duo Sparks (Russell and Ron Mael) over five decades and 25 albums. Wright has as much fun as he can (which isn’t a whole lot) with the standard talking-heads-plus-footage format but fortunately the Maels’ dry seen-it-all vibe lets his puppyish auteurism bounce off and the music shine through. Nearly two and a half hours fly by with the only cavil being “oh I wish he’d dived deeper into [your favorite Sparks era] and also let Jane Wiedlin talk way more instead of Fred Armisen.” –KH

Okay

Dark City (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1950) Remote gambler (Charlton Heston) realizes that he and his confederates have been targeted for death by someone connected to a garrulous out-of-towner who killed himself after they fleeced him. Hardboiled noir falters until late in the game, when the protagonist finally gets far enough into his redemption arc for the viewer to stop rooting for his demise. Jack Webb appears in an uncharacteristic role as a contemptible heel.—RDL

Sword of Sherwood Forest (Film, UK, Terence Fisher, 1960) The Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing) pursues a fugitive into Sherwood, prompting Robin Hood (Richard Greene) to investigate a wider conspiracy. Hammer Films extends its policy of weaving new storylines around public domain characters into swashbuckler territory, resulting in an affable time-waster.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Literary Paranoia, Inspirational Wrestling, and a Flat Circle in Afghanistan

June 15th, 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 Afghan Campaign (Fiction, Steven Pressfield, 2006) Grunt’s-eye view of Alexander the Great’s three-year campaign in what would become (but is always called in the book) Afghanistan deliberately blends modern language rhythms and sensibilities with classical history to create a “time is a flat circle” effect around Western warfighting in Afghanistan. Pressfield’s story somehow never drags or even much suffers from the weight of his quasi-historical consciousness. –KH

Be Natural: The Untold Story  of Alice Guy-Blaché (Film, US, Pamela B. Green, 2018) Documentary profile of a director/producer who made films in France and then the US in cinema’s infancy, with a prodigious output ranging from comedies to message pictures to melodramas to westerns and biblical epics. Research becomes a detective quest rescuing its subject from a memory hole created by sexism and the volatility of silver nitrate film stock,—RDL

Fighting with My Family (Film, US, Stephen Merchant, 2019) Cheered on by her irrepressible family of regional wrestlers, a young Norwich woman (Florence Pugh) pursues her dreams of WWE stardom—even after her brother fails to make the cut. Merchant’s finely judged observational comedy keeps the warmth of this inspirational backstage docudrama from curdling into sentimentality. With Nick Frost, Lena Headey, and, as himself, executive producer Dwayne Johnson.—RDL

The Judge and the Assassin (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1976) In Belle Époque France, a hardline magistrate (Philippe Noiret) interrogates a vagrant serial killer who proclaims himself God’s anarchist, hoping to implicate him without allowing grounds for an insanity defense. Historical drama lightly fictionalizes the Joseph Vacher case, counterpointed by its Dreyfus-era political context.—RDL

The Mercenary (Film, Italy, Sergio Corbucci, 1970) A self-satisfied Polish gunslinger (Franco Nero) offers his expensive services as a tactical consultant to an easily swayed Mexican miner turned revolutionary (Tony Musante.) Dialectic-questioning team-up is more of a romp than Corbucci’s other Spaghetti Westerns. Jack Palance steals the film as a smirking, hateworthy villain named Curly. Aka A Professional Gun.—RDL

The Names (Fiction, Don DeLillo, 1982) American expat “risk analyst” James Axton has lost his wife to divorce and maybe his livelihood to the CIA and can’t really believe either in a tour de force of interior monologue that sometimes becomes brittle dialogue while a strange cult is killing people for linguistic reasons, maybe. DeLillo puts aphorism and analysis and epistemology together with some remarkably true-seeming but literary-sounding characters, resulting in a surface all halts and half-admissions. The cult, I should emphasize, takes up remarkably little word count, so don’t go in expecting Lavie Tidhar avant la lettre. –KH

Good

The Spiders (Film, Germany, Fritz Lang, 1919-1920) Adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl DeVogt) incurs the enmity of adventuress Lio Sha (Ressel Orla), the field commander of the secret society The Spiders, when he investigates a surviving Inca city in Part One of this silent pulp serial. In Part Two Hoog and the Spiders duel to find the Buddha’s Head Diamond. The sets and set pieces in Part One amaze, while Part Two must make do with an arbitrary plot and some rousing action traps. Little of what we think of as characteristic Lang appears in this, his first surviving work. –KH

Okay

5 Card Stud (Film, US, Henry Hathaway, 1968 ) Laidback gambler (Dean Martin) tries to figure out who’s bumping off the poker players who lynched a card cheat, with suspects including a psychopathic cattle heir (Roddy McDowall) and the town’s enigmatic new preacher (Robert Mitchum.) Oddball mix of western and murder mystery with the ambling pace of the late studio era.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Booze, Gambling, and Crime

June 8th, 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

Bloody Nose Empty Pockets (FIlm, US, Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross, 2020) Longtime habitues of a Vegas dive bar mark its last day in business with a marathon drinking session. Poignant fly-on-the-wall pseudodocumentary shows the mutual caretaking, as addictive as booze itself, that binds together a community of lushes. Joins the works of O’Neill, Goodis, Bukowski and Waits in the grand canon of American alcoholism.—RDL

The Gambler (Film, US, Karel Reisz, 1974) A massive debt to the mob prompts a gambling-addicted college professor (James Caan) to double down on self-destruction. You won’t find a clearer depiction of compulsive gambling as death wish than this unsparing American New Wave character study,—RDL

Pale Gray for Guilt (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1968) When his college buddy Tush Bannon gets in the way of a land deal, “salvage artist” Travis McGee deals himself in. There may yet be a Consume Media entry for “all the Travis McGee novels” but this one deserves to be singled out. Not only is the story a thoroughly satisfying double con squeeze play, but McGee’s self-image takes a few well-deserved knocks. This novel essentially spawned the whole “Florida crime fiction” subgenre despite being the ninth in the series. –KH

Philly D.A. (Television, US, PBS, Ted Passon & Yoni Brook & Nicola Salazar, 2021) Determined, data-quoting Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his idealistic team attempt to use the substantial but limited powers of his newly won office to enact progressive reforms in a city accustomed to incarceration and extended supervision. In-the-room documentary roots for its subject as it reveals the exacting grind of confronting entrenched institutional power. Mine it for rhetorical strategies your GMCs can use when shutting down player character proposals that threaten their power. —RDL

Unbelievable (Television, US, Netflix, Susannah Grant & Ayelet Waldman & Michael Chabon, 2019) In Washington state, detectives browbeat a vulnerable young woman (Kaitlyin Dever) into recanting her account of an intruder rape; years later in Colorado, two cops, one (Merritt Weaver) empathetic, the other (Toni Colette) abrasive, team up across jurisdictions to investigate attacks with the same M.O. Dual chronology crime docudrama mixes social realist observation with a compelling deep dive into real-world investigative technique.—RDL

Good

Escapes (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2016) Blade Runner screenwriter, ex-actor and former child flamenco dancer Hampton Fancher retells his life as a series of self-lacerating anecdotes. Minimalist documentary profile of the man who saw that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? should be a movie conveys the feeling of hanging out in a bar for a night with a fascinating, rueful raconteur.—RDL

Okay

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Film, US, Patrick Hughes, 2017) Disgraced but top-notch bodyguard Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) must protect free-spirited hit man Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) before he testifies at the war crimes trial of the dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman). Triple threat talent squandered on desperately routinized action-comedy, with half a good chase scene and a joyous near-cartoon-violence flashback celebrating Salma Hayek, the only person who actually bothered to show up for the filming. –KH

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy (Film, HK, Jazz Boon, 2019) Two cops, one (Louis Koo) tightly wound, the other (Nick Cheung) also tightly wound, fight an international shadowy conspiracy that abducts children to train as sleeper agents. Handsomely mounted, overcomplicated globe-hopping technothriller partially redeems itself when it stages a gunfight and car chase during the running of the bulls at Pamplona and remembers what Hong Kong action movies are like. A thematic sequel to 2016’s also mediocre Line Walker, meaning that both have Koo and Cheung in them  —RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Capes, Cops, Copperfield

June 1st, 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 Boys Season 1 (Television, US, Prime, Eric Kripke, 2019) When a corporate superhero’s homicidal negligence kills his girlfriend, a nebbishy electronics retailer (Jack Quaid) is drawn into a cell of operatives, led by a ruthless wetworker (Karl Urban), that fights to shut them down—while at the same time falling for the super team’s light-powered new ingenue (Erin Moriarty.) Unlike other revisionist superhero takes, this adaptation of the Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson keeps a moral compass or two in its tool kit. Antony Starr plays its psychopathic Superman/Captain America figure with multi-layered brilliance.—RDL

The Personal History of David Copperfield (Film, UK, Armando Iannucci, 2019) Twists of fortune pull a studious young man (Dev Patel) up and down a social ladder populated by lovable eccentrics and contemptible villains. Sunny, mad dash through the Dickens novel, performed with brio by Patel and a supporting cast including Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton.—RDL

The Multiversity (Comics, DC, Grant Morrison & divers hands, 2015) Under attack by extracosmic embodiments of fear, the heroes of various Earths of the DC Universe investigate and fight back, alone and in concert. A classic Grant Morrison high concept riff on the Silver Age DCU, in which each Earth was another Earth’s comic books. Occasionally reaches true peaks of genius homage, especially in the Charlton-Watchmen story, the Earth-Prime Ultra Comics comic, and the Shazam! tale, but never dull or easily anticipated. A little too in the weeds for casual fans, maybe. –KH

Peaky Blinders Season 3 (Television, BBC, Steven Knight, 2016) As Arthur (Paul Anderson) looks for redemption and a way out, a sinister priest/spy (Paddy Considine) squeezes Tommy (Cillian Murphy) into a double game involving White Russian emigres. False suspense and other series-extending tricks start to creep in around the edges of the show’s narrative compression and big finish suspense.—RDL

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption (Nonfiction, Justin Fenton, 2021) As the doomed effort to prosecute police officers for the death of Freddie Gray grinds through Baltimore courts, a much-lauded anti-gun squad boldly steals a staggering quantity of cash and drugs from the city’s dealers. Journalistic true crime saga exposes the lack of accountability at the heart of America’s policing meltdown, with a command of storytelling that more than withstands the inevitable comparisons to the genre-defining books of David Simon.—RDL

Good

The Burnt Orange Heresy (Film, US/Italy, Giuseppe Capotondi, 2020) Glib art critic (Claes Bang) brings his self-possessed new inamorata (Elizabeth Debicki) to the villa of a collector (Mick Jagger) who wants him to steal a painting from the legendarily reclusive artist (Donald Sutherland) living in his guest house. Crisp dialogue and characterizations elevate this art-world noir, though the script misses the point of the Charles Willeford novel it adapts, downgrading its anti-hero’s perverse intellectual motivation tof standard issue weaselry.—RDL

Let’s Not Meet (Film, US, Ryan Callaway, 2018) Pizza delivery girl Aya (Breanna Engle) gets drawn into bad doings in the woods, along with five campers she didn’t much like in high school. On its zero budget, this film accomplishes a lot: introduces a raft of characters you believe in and sort of care about, spins a creepy backstory with perhaps too much exposition, provides good slow-burn scares in places. The acting and lighting punch considerably above their weight; the editing and camera setups a little less so. Not quite Owlman great, but well above the microbudget horror average. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Zombies and Cocktails (But Not the Zombie Cocktail)

May 25th, 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.

The Pinnacle

Peaky Blinders Season 2 (Television, UK, BBC, Stephen Knight, 2014) As the Shelby Company mounts a violent incursion into the London gang scene, Campbell (Sam Neill) returns to squeeze Tommy into a covert mission against Irish nationalists. Scripts show just how tight serialized ensemble storytelling can be, always jumping forward to the next big plot point, culminating in a bravura suspense episode.—RDL

Recommended

Imbibe! (Nonfiction, David Wondrich, 2007/2015) 19th century America’s invention of the cocktail as we know it kicks off with the advent of the ice industry, flows through San Francisco, and winds up in New York, topped up with showmanship and heaps of muddled sugar. Obsessive research and lively prose mixes food, history, and giddy anecdote.—RDL

Good

The Conjuring (Film, US, James Wan, 2013) After moving into a super-haunted house, the Perrons (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) call in demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). Wan puts together an update of the Amityville Horror style haunting movie from a hundred other films, getting nothing particularly wrong but achieving nothing particularly unique either. Wan plays it entirely straight, which feeds into the strong 1970s vibe he establishes — but squelches any brio anyone might have brought to this ghostly hotdish. –KH

Zombieland: Double Tap (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2019) Six years after the first film, domestic frustrations send Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) on the road, and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) ride to the rescue. Achieves the medium bar of “The first film, but not surprising in any way,” while not precisely squandering Zoey Deutsch and Luke Wilson among other guest stars. Stay for the post-credits Bill Murray sequence though! –KH

Okay

Army of the Dead (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2021) Billionaire hires badass Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to assemble a team to heist his own vault, left behind in zombie-plagued Las Vegas, just before the government nukes the city. After a traditionally superb Snyderian opening credits/exposition sequence, Snyder settles down to chew this terrific high concept to mush with too many cartoonish characters in too many subplots. I can certainly understand Snyder’s desire to make father-daughter reconciliation the emotional hook of the film, but I can’t forgive his willingness to make both of them dumb as rocks. Someone somewhere will unlock the secret of strong performances from Bautista, but not this time. On the other hand, zombie white tiger! –KH

Crazed Fruit (Film, Japan, Kō Nakahira, 1956) A naive teen (Masahiko Tsugawa) who looks to his faster older brother (Yujiro Ishihara) to lead him into the world of girls and parties falls for a self-possessed young woman (Mie Kitahara) who meets questions about her home life with cagy deflection. An obvious, drawn-out conclusion deflates an alluring look at emerging teen culture, bursting with pressure cooker fifties eroticism.—RDL

Tesla (Film, US, Michael Almereyda, 2020) Visionary electrical engineer Nikolai Tesla (Ethan Hawke) spars with self-satisfied rival Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and is pursued by determined heiress Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson.) Formally unconventional biopic uses anachronism and info slides similar to the ones Spike Lee has taken up lately to overcome the hurdle of an utterly withdrawn central figure. Doesn’t quite work, but in its experimentation is more interesting than less ambitious films that do.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Wrath of Man, Succession, Kong

May 18th, 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.

The Pinnacle

Succession Season 1 (Television, US, HBO, Jesse Armstrong, 2018) When a cerebral event sidelines a domineering media mogul (Brian Cox), his esteem-deprived heir apparent (Jeremy Strong) makes a bid for control, variously abetted and thwarted by his siblings, a cynical political consultant (Sarah Snook), a scenester jackanape (Keiran Culkin) and a granola libertarian (Alan Ruck.) Slashing wit is the elevating factor of a Sirkian business melodrama that revels in the awfulness of its characters while finding pathos in, well, some of them.—RDL

Recommended

Awaara (Film, India, Raj Kapoor, 1956) Happenstance reunites a charming petty criminal (Raj Kapoor) with his childhood sweetheart (Nargis), now a law student whose pathologically judgmental magistrate guardian (Prithviraj Kapoor) is determined to keep them apart. And also, unbeknown to either, the disadvantaged suitor’s father. Foundational Bollywood musical melodrama features social conscience, expressionist visuals, and a surreal, mythic dream sequence dance number full of gods and demons.—RDL

Wrath of Man (Film, US/UK, Guy Ritchie, 2021) Robbery-plagued armored car company hires new  guard H (Jason Statham) but it seems he has another agenda. Remaking a French armored-car-heist version of High Plains Drifter with lashings of Seijun Suzuki and Heat seems to have given Guy Ritchie enough to do that he tones his manic style way down, matching the overlapping menace that Statham and composer Christopher Benstead bring. Jeffrey Donovan is a joy as the main heister, while Scott Eastwood seems to delight in playing the negative space around his dad. –KH

Good

The End of the F***ing World Season 1 (Television, UK, Channel 4, Charlie Covell, 2017) Alienated by her family situation, a stroppy teen (Jessica Barden) runs away with an introverted classmate who fancies himself a budding serial killer. Supplies the chemistry needed for an entry in the couple on the lam sub-genre, but with a structure that lands it in the nether zone between feature film and serialized TV.—RDL

The Servant (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1963) A manservant who is both more and less than he appears (Dirk Bogarde) insinuates himself into the life and psyche of his callow aristocratic employer (James Fox.) Chilly portrayal of the English class system as a study in codependency which, perhaps because it has to subtextualize its characters’ sexuality, executes its spiral into madness a shade abruptly.—RDL

Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (Television, US, Netflix, Joshua Zeman, 2021) Journalist Maury Terry uncovered evidence that David Berkowitz did not commit the Son of Sam killings alone, and spun that out into a sprawling Satanic-cult narrative that eventually broke his life. Essentially four overlapping and under-argued docs, this series throws the usual Netflix quality at the wall but Zeman (who was friends with Terry in his later years) can’t really make it stick. –KH

Okay

Kong: Skull Island (Film, US, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) In 1973, frustrated air-cav Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) escorts a team of geologists exploring the newly-discovered Skull Island. If you’re going to insist on making your giant ape movie a Vietnam War metaphor, try not to do it so heavy-handedly. Kong vs. Huey gunships is a truly great sequence, but there’s another 90 minutes of sententious blather after that. Johns Goodman and C. Reilly try to infuse the needed manic weirdness into this wannabe Apocalypse Kong but fail for lack of support and overall vision. Hey, it is a Vietnam War metaphor! –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Godzilla vs. Kong, Tenet, and the King of Ontario Bootleggers

May 11th, 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.

The Pinnacle

A New Leaf (Film, US, Elaine May, 1971) Having burned through his own fortune, a haughty idler (Walter Matthau) woos a mousy, rich botanist (Elaine May), planning to murder her after the wedding. Witty dialogue and a hilarious Matthau turn are the obvious pleasures of this black romantic comedy, but it’s the tightrope tonal balance between jaundice and warmth that justly earns its cult fave status.—RDL

Recommended

Colonia (Film. Germany, Florian Gallenberger, 2015) English flight attendant (Emma Watson) joins a cult that, among other crimes, tortures dissidents for the freshly installed Pinochet regime, in hopes of finding and freeing her German activist boyfriend (Daniel Bruhl.) Nail-biting suspense flick places an appalling real-life horror in a genre package.—RDL

Godzilla vs. Kong (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2021) After Godzilla mysteriously attacks an Apex Corp research station, Apex recruits geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead an expedition to the Hollow Earth and he convinces Kong’s handler Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) to bring Kong as their guide. I have just spent almost as much time setting this up as the film does, getting us into the monster fights and hollow earth tourism efficiently. Script and direction embrace the operatic nonsense that is the other way (besides, you know, genuine horror or pathos) to make a great kaiju film, wisely sidelining human characters as often as possible. –KH

Tenet (Film, US, Christopher Nolan, 2020) Ultra-competent CIA operative (John David Washington) draws the abused ex-wife (Elzabeth Debicki)  of a psychopathic oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) into his bid to capture reality-shattering devices from the future. Nolan once again pits a thriller protagonist against the forces of Borgesian unknowability, with gob-smacking action set pieces and inverted exposition meant not to explain, but to baffle.—RDL

Whisky King (Nonfiction, Trevor Cole, 2017) Armed with a mastery of gangland diplomacy and a common law wife who acts as his full co-equal in crime, Rocco Perri runs bootlegging in Prohibition-era Ontario, with undercover RCMP investigator and fellow Italian immigrant Frank Zaneth on his trail. Rich portrayal of a murder-strewn history belies my province’s myth of beatific dullness. If you like historical true crime, you’ll dig this, even if none of the crime scenes are within walking distance of your apartment.—RDL

Good

Mandalay (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1934) After the gun runner she loves (Ricardo Cortez)  sells her to a Rangoon nightclub, a glamorous White Russian refugee (Kay Francis) gains power over men and seeks a new life. Atmospheric melodrama with a decidedly pre-Code approach to its protagonist’s feminist liberation..—RDL

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