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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Princess, The Gray Man and Philo Vance

August 2nd, 2022 | 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

Hollywood’s Eve (Nonfiction, Lili Anolik, 2019) Biography of L.A. writer, scenester and sexual adventuress Eve Babitz alludes to her unconventional approach to prose and structure without pastiching it, thank goodness. Dives deeper than the copious spicy anecdotes to find the pathos in a figure who did her best to elude it.—RDL

House (Film, Japan, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Seven schoolgirls impulsively decide to vacation in the remote house of an aunt (Yoko Minamida), unaware of the supernatural peril therein. The film careens wildly between cheesy-seeming set pieces of giddy child-fantasy and giallo-ish grand guignol. Not always successful even on its own terms but never boring or predictable, not least because Obayashi faithfully transcribes his pre-teen daughter’s fears onto film. –KH

The Moai Island Puzzle (Fiction, Alice Arisugawa, 1989) Three collegiate mystery fans come to a remote island to find a hidden treasure in diamonds – but find murder as well. After a slow-ish introductory act, this seminal shin honkaku mystery builds and braids its puzzles and relationships while maintaining a creepy neo-Gothic tone throughout. The bravura solution comes a bit out of the blue, but Christie would have happily used it. –KH

The Princess (Film, US, Lee Van-Kiet, 2022) Determined princess (Joey King) uses her secret fighting skills to battle her way out of captivity and marriage to a loathsome would-be usurper (Dominic Cooper.) The spirit of 80s Hong Kong lives, courtesy of Van-Kiet, who cut his teeth in the Vietnamese action flick scene and makes a credible, acrobatic action hero and ultra-violent Disney princess out of King.—RDL

Good

The Gray Man (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2022) Deniable CIA killer Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) must evade sociopathic “contractor” Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), tasked by the CIA to kill him. Gosling’s charming channeling of Alain Delon, and three remarkable action set pieces (of five) excitingly filmed in part by drones, drag this extremely, aggressively stupid cliché charcuterie over the line into Good. Not the least of its stupidities: mostly wasting Ana de Armas, who already proved she could more than hold her own in spy action as by far the least-bad thing in the latest Bond. –KH

The Greene Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1928) Forced to cohabitate in their ancestral New York mansion by the patriarch’s will, the Greene family falls victim to a series of murders. After a good deal of persiflage and dramatics, Philo Vance solves the case. In 1945, John Dickson Carr ranked this as among the ten best mystery novels. Even in 1945 that was probably a stretch, but the solution (while not strictly fair-play) is tremendously ingenious. –KH

Okay

The Bishop Murder Case and The Scarab Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1929 and 1930) A nursery-rhyme-minded serial killer stalks a pair of households on Riverside Drive, and a statue of Sekhmet seemingly kills the millionaire patron of an Egyptologist’s museum. In both cases, Philo Vance solves the crimes after far too much arch fiddle-faddle and showing off: as Ogden Nash wrote, “Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance.” The Scarab Murder Case adds oblivious racism to its other failings, but both novels contain arresting scenes when Van Dine lets the action speak for itself without overheated narration. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nope, Early Sun-Baked Noirs, and the Secret History of TSR

July 26th, 2022 | 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

Barry Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, Bill Hader and Alec Berg, 2022) As avenging relatives of his past victims come out of the woodwork, Barry (Hader) tries to atone with Gene (Henry Winkler) by reviving his self-sabotaged acting career. In a finely calibrated tonal adjustment, the gloom of purgatory settles on the protagonists as they discover the price of redemption.—RDL

Desert Fury (Film, US, Lewis Allen, 1947) Resisting the control of her domineering casino operator mother (Mary Astor), a restless young woman (Lizabeth Scott) brushes off the interest of a handsome deputy (Burt Lancaster) for the worldly charms of a gambler (John Hodiak) newly returned to her desert town. Early example of sun-baked noir focuses on psychological drama and a not so subtextual gay subtext.—RDL

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (Television, US, Netflix, Rachel Dretzin & Grace McNally, 2022) Documentary series exposes the depredations of polygamous cult leader Warren Jeffs and lauds the courage of the young women who escaped their insular community and fought to expose him. In addition to putting the spotlight back on the heroes of the story and establishing the psychodynamics of cult control,  this documentary series paints the full spectrum of Jeffs’ stunning arch-criminality.—RDL

Nope (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2022) A UFO haunts the failing Hollywood horse ranch run by siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Palmer). Both the horror and the Western in this horror Western work, often magnificently but not quite in harness. Peele’s high concept – a Western where the gaze is the gun – could fuel a dozen films, it’s so strong. Kaluuya’s laconic performance as the slow-burning OJ channels Gary Cooper, also magnificently; Steven Yuen kills in a smaller part as a traumatized former child actor. –KH

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons (Nonfiction, Ben Riggs, 2022) Working from original documents, sales figures, and interviews, Riggs assembles the first comprehensive history of TSR’s fall and rise and fall from 1983-ish to 1997, i.e., the Lorraine Williams Era. More sympathetic to Williams than most outsiders (and insiders), Riggs provides a needed corrective to the smog of fantasy surrounding the death of the great red dragon. –KH

Good

The River’s Edge (Film, US, Allan Dwan, 1957) When the cultured bunco man (Ray Milland) she loves shows up to claim the dissatisfied wife (Debra Paget) of a failing rancher (Anthony Quinn), he accepts the offer of a big fee to smuggle them across the border into Mexico. Sun-baked noir makes sweaty use of the murderous love triangle motif.—RDL

Okay

Black Widow (Film, US, Nunnally Johnson, 1954) When the ambitious young woman he unwisely allowed the run of his apartment in his wife’s absence is found hanged in his shower, a tough-minded Broadway producer (Van Heflin) goes on the lam to clear his name. Gene Tierney and Ginger Rogers fill out the cast in a Technicolor murder mystery briefly enlivened by sequences in which the Wrong Man protagonist flirts with a brutal psychotic break.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stranger Things, Ms. Marvel, Thor and Kingdom

July 19th, 2022 | Robin

Recommended

Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 (Television, South Korea, Netflix, Kim Eun-hee, 2020-2021) Endangered, idealistic Crown Prince in a fictionalized 17th century discovers a link between the ambitious clan that controls the country and an outbreak of a plague that turns people into flesh-eating monsters. Smart blend of the horror and Joseon court intrigue genres cleverly writes its zombie rules to balance the two elements of its mash-up. The script is especially good at making us think we are one step ahead of it when actually we are right where it wants us.—RDL

Ms. Marvel Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Bisha K. Ali, 2022) Irrepressible, superhero-besotted New Jersey teen (Iman Vellani) discovers she has forcefield powers, granted her by a bangle connected to a family secret and the Partition of India. Vellani’s preternatural charm, and the focus on the family story over a worldshaking villain arc, make for the most consistent and satisfying MCU+ show to date.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 4 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2022) As the gang back home in Hawkins encounters a murderous inhuman wizard they nickname Vecna, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) uneasily reunites with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) to recover the powers she’ll need to stop him. Yes, the C-plot that sidelines the adults so they can’t solve the kids’ problem is almost purely dead weight, but the main action successfully recaptures the Carpenter-esque tone of the first two seasons, with plenty of GUMSHOE-esque horror investigation along the wayt.—RDL

Triple Agent (Film, France/Greece/Italy/Russia/Spain, Éric Rohmer, 2004) Exiled White Russian intelligence chief Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko) keeps his artist wife Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou), and thus the audience, in the dark about his activities and allegiance in late-1930s Paris. Rohmer adapts the Miller-Skoblin case to his perennial theme of words not matching actions – and since the only thing we see Voronin do is talk, it becomes quite a gripping ride for something that barely leaves a domestic interior set. –KH

Good

The Gold Watch (Fiction, Paul Halter, 2019) Three mysterious killings (in 1901, 1911, and the 1960s) overlap with each other, and with a blocked French playwright in 1991, linked by a gold watch, a half-recalled film noir, an invisible color, and The King in Yellow. The 1911 case, solved by Halter’s series detective Owen Burns, is a classic (and terrific) Carr-style impossible crime; the others are more impressionistic or existential. I was hoping for a fully rational connection between the threads, but didn’t get it — if I reread this knowing it’s not there, I’ll probably like it better. –KH

Okay

Thor: Love and Thunder (Film, US, Taika Waititi, 2022) Drawn back to Earth by the depredations of the God Butcher (Christian Bale), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) catches up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is also Thor. Decent bits (Bale and Portman, mostly) float in a sea of gags left way too long and crafted far too little. Even the jokes that work merely undercut any real stakes or meaning. The less said about the CGI the better, but it’s telling that Waititi’s mock-Snyder battle in the Shadow Realm is the only fight that doesn’t look like murky garbage. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Star Trek Strange New Worlds, Black Phone, and Barry

July 12th, 2022 | 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

All the Old Knives (Film, US, Janus Metz, 2022) Intense CIA agent (Chris Pine) accepts an assignment to unmask the mole behind a disastrous past operation, leading him to his former colleague and lover (Thandiwe Newton.) Spy mystery framed as a two-hander between its smoldering leads, with a beguiling love of sleek surfaces reminiscent of Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair.—RDL

Barry Season 3 (Television, US, HBOMax, Alec Berg & Bill Hader, 2022) Consequences mount for the now cripplingly borderline hitman/actor Barry (Hader) and everyone else in his orbit, in a season that successfully switches the series tone from “black comedy” to “comic bleakness.” We pay the piper for our ironic distance in previous seasons: note how many sequences are filmed in long shots with few cuts, often through silent windows. Frankly, this is such a good place and tone to end the show that the news of Season 4 has me a trifle nervous. –KH

Beasts Clawing At Straws (Film, South Korea, 2020, Kim Yong-Hoon) A Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with cash brings a struggling bath attendant (Sung-Woo Bae), an abused bar hostess (Hyeon-bin Shin), and a weasel deep in debt to the mob (Jung Woo-Sung) into complicated and violent collision. Brutal ensemble crime drama withholds its structural trick until well into its twisty running time.—RDL

The Bridge (Film, Germany, Bernhard Wicki, 1959) As American forces push deep into German territory, teen pals excitedly embrace their draft into the army and are assigned, in an act of apparent mercy, to guard the inconsequential bridge outside their home town. Drama of war’s futility earns its connection to the characters by establishing them in their relatively normal world before activating their inevitable doom.—RDL

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 (Television, US, Paramount+, Akiva Goldsman & Henry Alonso Myers, 2022) Aided by Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn), lantern -jawed captain of the USS Enterprise Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) solves space mysteries and brings the Starfleet ethos to the Alpha Quadrant. Proving that the secret to a prequel is not to add backstory to existing tales but to tell new ones within their framework, this astute homage to the original series balances Easter eggs and continuity callbacks with actual honest-to-goodness episodic problem-solving storytelling. As if begging Ken to pick up a Paramount+ subscription, its finale advances a most Hitean thesis about a certain other starship captain.—RDL

Good

The Black Phone (Film, US, Scott Derrickson, 2022) In north Denver in 1978, tween siblings Finney (Mason Thames) and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) fear the Grabber (Ethan Hawke), a serial child killer in a weird devil mask. Closely based on the short story by Joe Hill, it serves up flashes of excellent acting and a rich 70s palette but doesn’t trust the audience enough, blotting the tween dread vibe with unnecessary jump scares. A solid child endangerment puzzle movie with a nice lick of the supernatural, it never quite achieves terror takeoff. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Get Back, RRR, a Korean Political Thriller, and a Japanese Neo-Orthodox Detective Novel

June 21st, 2022 | 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 Beatles: Get Back (Television, UK/New Zealand/US, Peter Jackson, 2021) Exhaustive fly-on-the-wall documentary assembles footage shot for 1970’s Let It Be into a step-by-step study of the making of the Beatles’ next-to-final album. Essential not only for fans of the music but for anyone who wants to see what does and doesn’t work in the process of creative negotiation.—RDL

The Decagon House Murders (Fiction, Yukito Ayatsuji, 1987) Seven members of a university Mystery Club travel to a remote island (the site of a mysterious multiple murder) despite having read Agatha Christie. Ayatsuji’s inspired riff on And Then There Were None exemplifies the “neo-orthodox” (shin honkaku) school of Japanese detective fiction. Somewhat stilted prose may or may not be a translation artifact, but it doesn’t obscure the lightning joy of reading this loving tribute. –KH

The Man Standing Next (Film, South Korea, Woo Min-ho, 2020) Current KCIA Director Kim-Gyu-peong (Lee Byung-hun) is torn between his mentor and his master as former KCIA Director Park Yong-gak (Kwak Do-won) threatens to reveal dictatorial President Park Chung-hee’s (Lee Sung-min) corruption. Superbly ratcheting up the tension, not least in Lee Byung-hun’s incredible performance, this political thriller steers a slightly too-byzantine course toward the historical assassination of President Park in 1979. –KH

RRR (Film, India, S.S. Rajamouli , 2022) Village champion (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) sent to retrieve a young girl stolen by the evil British and the ultra-determined army officer (Ram Charan) assigned to hunt him down unwittingly become fast friends. Ultra-heightened action musical agitprop melodrama blockbuster is exuberantly on the nose at all times. Ends on an out-of-character musical celebration of militant ultra-nationalism, in case you somehow missed the message of the previous three hours.—RDL

Okay

Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus (Film, Croatia, Dalibor Baric, 2020) Weird meetings and ominous rendezvous promise (and withhold) the emergence of a futuristic spy narrative. Experimental animated feature adds computer image filtering to a range of techniques including cut-outs and detourned footage.—RDL

Kruty 1918 (Film, Ukraine, Oleksii Shapariev, 2019) In 1918 Kyiv menaced by the Bolshevik invaders, brothers Oleksa (Andrey Fedinchik) and Andrii (Evgeniy Lamakh) Savytskyi turn unwillingly to espionage and war, respectively. While Vitaly Saliy wonderfully chews every available surface as (historically) cartoonishly evil Russian general Muravyov, the mediocre fight and war choreography sadly undermine the propagandistic virtues of an already badly cluttered film. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Top Gun, Ghostbusters, We Own This City

June 7th, 2022 | 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

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Film, US, Jason Reitman, 2021) When their mom moves them to the middle of nowhere, teen scientist (Mckenna Grace) and her normie brother (Finn Wolfhard) discover a world-shaking mystery in the secret basement of their late, estranged grandfather. Latest attempt to revive the franchise that has never really been a franchise is surprisingly effective, thanks to Reitman’s patient focus on character, not to mention love for Harold Ramis and his own dad.—RDL

Labyrinth of Cinema (Film, Japan, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2019) On an old movie house’s last night, three audience members are pulled through the screen and into a history of Japan’s military history as told through movies. Initially kooky and frenetic, increasingly somber, epic-length look at the love of film and how it obscures and illuminates the lure of war.—RDL

The Long Divorce (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1950) Incompletely incognito, Gervase Fen investigates a plague of poison-pen letters in the town of Cotten Abbas as hatred turns to murder. Effortless braiding of plot, character, puzzle, wit, horror, and irony mark this as classic Crispin. The only real flaw might be that one of the puzzles is a bit too easy, but Crispin has a lot of balls to keep in the air. –KH

Top Gun: Maverick (Film, US, Joseph Kosinski, 2022) Egotistical, hypertalented movie star Tom Cruise (Maverick), battling age and obsolescence in a new world of streaming, IP, and CGI, is called back by his loyal patron Jerry Bruckheimer (Iceman) to make one last practical-effects, live-action blockbuster by detourning the film that retroactively doomed his species (Star Wars). Glorious real-life US Navy jets combine with Claudio Miranda’s luminous cinematography to produce an ecstatic emotional bricolage that approximates a fine fighter-pilot movie. –KH

We Own This City (Television, US, HBO, David Simon & George Pelecanos, 2022) Federal investigators unravel the massive corruption of a Baltimore anti-gun task force led by motormouth cop Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal.) Adaptation of Justin Fenton’s also highly recommended nonfiction book extends Simon’s examinations of Baltimore policing to its current nadir, treating Jenkins’ malfeasance as the egregious but inevitable result of continued devotion to the war on drugs.—RDL

Okay

Born Reckless (Film, US, John Ford, 1930) After a heroic stint in WWI, the head of a heist crew (Edmund Lowe) goes straighter as a nightclub owner, but can’t quite quit his old underworld buddies. Worth a look for students of the gangster picture, as an example of the genre right before Little Caesar and The Public Enemy cemented its baseline structure. Ford’s touch is most apparent in the brief wartime sequence.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Kids in the Hall, Chip ‘n Dale, Norm Macdonald, and Every Henry Gamadge Novel

May 31st, 2022 | 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

The Kids in the Hall Season 1 (Television, Canada, Prime; Dave Foley, Bruce McCullough, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney & Scott Thompson, 2022) Awareness of age’s ravages creeps into a new season of surreal and subversive sketches populated by bad doctors, drunk dads, and Kevin McDonald, whose voice goes up high as he waggles his finger in the air for no reason. My rating for this miraculously on-stride revival is that of a diehard who followed the Kids in their Toronto heyday. If you’re coming to it cold, probably Recommended.—RDL

Recommended

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (Film, US, Akiva Schaffer, 2022) Has-been chipmunk actors Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) reluctantly reunite to rescue their kidnapped former co-star Monte (Eric Bana). Peter Pan as the villain in a Disney movie about IP rights aside, this delightfully overstuffed romp nails the Roger Rabbit formula of taking its ridiculous world seriously, with great comic results. –KH

Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks (Film, Canada, Reg Harkema, 2022) Documentary history of the brilliant underdog sketch troupe from their origins in Calgary and Toronto to the prep for their just-released revival season reveals the famously contentious dynamic between this band of adopted comedy brothers. Who knew the worst offender during the Brain Candy fiasco was Kevin?—RDL

MacGruber Season 1 (Television, US, Will Forte & Jorma Taccone, 2021-2022) Upon his release from prison, insecure throat-ripping special agent MacGruber (Forte) tackles an old foe’s deadly scheme, attempts a reunion with his now-married flame (Kristen Wiig) and learns the secret of his mother’s murder. Cult movie adaptation from a recurring SNL skit makes an unlikely return in television form, tripling down on its technique of taking outrageous bits and beating them into the ground until they sputter to life again, and then are again gleefully belabored.—RDL

Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Television, Netflix, Norm Macdonald, 2022) Before a procedure in 2020 to treat the cancer that killed him in 2021, Norm taped a 55-minute standup routine on a webcam “just in case things went south.” While (as David Letterman notes during a fascinating half-hour roundup finale of Norm’s peers dissecting the routine while recalling their friend) the absence of an audience means we’re only getting the raw Norm without the adjustments for crowd response every standup makes to the material, the special demonstrates just how very very strong raw Norm was. –KH

Good

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (Film, US, Akiva Schaffer, 2022) An old co-star’s disappearance draws washed up chipmunk actors, risk-averse Chip (John Mulaney) and irrepressible Dale (Andy Samberg) into an adventure resembling their once-loved 80s TV show. Jokes aimed at grown-up animation fans abound in a metafictional romp that doesn’t outright tell us it’s set in the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? universe.—RDL

Every Henry Gamadge Novel (Fiction, Elizabeth Daly, 1940-1951) Henry Gamadge, upper-class document authenticator and sometime bibliophile, solves mysteries embedded in family dynamics: an American version of the “country house” mystery genre. Daly was Agatha Christie’s favorite American writer, and her puzzles equal Dame Agatha’s while her characters remain human and three-dimensional. Gamadge’s real superpower is general genteel niceness: he knows everybody and gets along with most people, he’s the only Golden Age detective you’d actually want to hang with. Daly’s New York is the uptown version of Nero Wolfe’s, and her puzzles are better. Start with my most Recommended titles of the sixteen: Arrow Pointing Nowhere, The Book of the Dead, And Dangerous to Know; then hit the slightly out-of-mode Evidence of Things Seen. –KH

Okay

The Beast With Five Fingers (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1947) In a creepy old house in Italy, an obsessive astrologer (Peter Lorre) blames a venal lawyer’s death on the severed hand of a dead pianist.  Even the granddaddy of undead hand horror can’t fully commit to the premise, leaving the first act, in which Curt Siodmak’s script establishes its cast of gothic, Buñuelian characters, as the strong point.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: 60s LA, 80s Argentina, 30s Germany, and Classic SF Art

May 17th, 2022 | 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

Eve’s Hollywood (Nonfiction, Eve Babitz, 1972) Autobiographical essays of girlhood at late-50s Hollywood High and young adulthood in the heyday of the Sunset Strip assert an unsparing but wholehearted love for Los Angeles. Voice is everything in these sere, incisive gems of the memoirist’s art, never mind brushes with the Manson family or the time she introduced Dalí to Zappa.—RDL

Recommended

Azor (Film, Argentina/France/Switzerland, 2021) Uneasy Swiss banker (Fabrizio Rongione) travels to junta-era Argentina with his vigilant wife (Stephanie Cléau) to sort out business deals complicated by a colleague’s ambiguous disappearance. Handles the material of the political thriller with a hushed minimalism, wringing dread from anodyne surroundings.—RDL

Better Days (Film, China, Derek Tsang, 2019) Withdrawn girl (Zhou Dongyu)  targeted for vicious senior-year bullying seeks the aid of a street tough (Jackson Yee.) Intense performances from the young leads and the director’s urgent visual style lift this gritty crime drama above the po-faced declarations of Party propaganda inserted around its hard-hitting social critique.—RDL

Chroma: The Art of Alex Schomburg (Nonfiction, Jon Gustafson, 1986) Puerto Rican artist Schomburg began illustrating for Gernsback in 1925, drew covers for Golden Age superhero comics, and survived self-exile in Spokane to return as an SF art grand master. If there were another study of Schomburg, this one (which spends too many of its slim 108 pages describing potted history) might only be Good, but as the only survey of a near-forgotten master, it deserves Recommendation. –KH

Little Man, What Now? (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1934) When his optimistic fiancée (Margaret Sullavan) gets pregnant, a young clerk’s (Douglass Montgomery) struggle to find a stable job in Depression-era Germany reaches a point of desperation. Borzage’s humanism overcomes Montgomery’s wooden ingenuism in this adaptation of Hans Fallada’s observational novel.—RDL

Okay

Crazy Samurai: 400 vs. 1 (Film, Japan, Shimomura Yuji, 2021) Disgraced Yoshioka clan seeks revenge on sword master Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi) by ambushing him with 400 samurai and ronin, setting up a one-take, 77-minute fight scene. Sadly, the cheapout production undermines the “killing is pointless” message the dull choreography hopefully intends. More like watching a really good gardener pull 400 weeds than anything else. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Moon Knight, Picard, and a Javelin-Throwing Cary Grant

May 10th, 2022 | 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

Blondie Johnson (Film, US, Ray Enright, 1933) Desperate for a break, an unemployed gal (Joan Blondell) uses her smarts to rise in the ranks as a gangster consigliere, keeping the less bright accomplice she loves (Chester Morris) at arm’s length. Peppy crime drama lightly gender-flips the Warners gangster structure.—RDL

This is the Night (Film, US, Frank Tuttle, 1932) To defuse the jealousies of his lover’s javelin-throwing husband (Cary Grant), a put-upon sophisticate (Roland Young) hires a desperate young woman (Lila Damita) to pose as his wife for the duration of a trip to Venice, Droll farce given further oomph by a scene-stealing Charles Ruggles as our hero’s enabler and rival.—RDL

Good

The Bandit (Film, Italy, Alberto Lattuada, 1946) With his old life shattered, a POW returned from Austria (Amedeo Nazzari) becomes the lover of a hard-bitten criminal (Anna Magnani), assembling a robbery gang from the ranks of her hangers-on. Combines the arc of the gangster film, the stark, expressionist visuals of film noir, and, unfortunately, the shameless sentimentality of neo-Realism.—RDL

Okay

Moon Knight Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Jeremy Slater, 2022) Meek Londoner Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) discovers that he is also American mercenary Marc Spector, who is also the superhero Moon Knight and a servant of an Egyptian god, and that the god’s previous host (Ethan Hawke) has a plan to destroy the world’s potential sinners. Once again for MCU TV, a winning performance and characterization builds to a disappointing conclusion.—RDL

Picard Season 2 (Television, US, Paramount+, Terry Matalas, 2022) An encounter with strange new Borg prompts Q to send Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) and his newfound crew to 2024 to prevent the emergence of the darkest timeline. A freeway pile-up of colliding homages to iconic Trek episodes epitomizes the crisis of referentiality rippling across the geek franchise space—RDL

Ken has been consuming carnitas in Texas.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tokyo Vice, Slow Horses, and the Making of Ghostbusters

May 3rd, 2022 | 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

Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters (Film, UK, Anthony Bueno, 2019) Lots of talking heads – especially Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Ivan Reitman – tell the story of the No. 1 film of 1984. Lots of focus on Richard Edlund’s team of SFX makers, and the joy expressed by everyone involved, compensates for the absence of Murray and Moranis. Not a cutting edge “making of” doc, but a justifiably proud film about people justifiably proud to have made a Pinnacle. –KH

Slow Horses Season 1 (Television, UK/US, Apple+, Will Smith, 2022) Sidelined to Slough House, the place MI5 careers go to die, an ambitious young agent (Jack Lowden) ignores the elaborate vituperations of his brilliant, slovenly new boss (Gary Oldman) for an investigation that entraps the department in a false flag scheme. Adaptation of the first in a series of novels by Mick Herron fuses overt le Carré homage with contemporary spy thrills. The result gives Oldman an unforgettable character to make an exquisite meal of, and that he surely does.—RDL

Tokyo Vice Season 1 (Television, US, HBO Max, J.T. Rogers, 2022) Naive gaijin (Ansel Elgort) becomes an oversized bull in a journalistic dishware department when he joins a Tokyo newspaper as a crime reporter, forging contacts with a principled maverick cop (Ken Watanabe), an ambitious club hostess (Rachel Keller), and a neophyte Yakuza (Shô Kasamatsu.) The grounding authenticity of Jake Adelstein’s nonfiction memoir and the energy imparted by the Michael Mann-directed pilot elevates this ensemble crime drama. I would have liked the season closer better had I known to expect a cliffhanger, so I’m telling you that now.—RDL

Okay

Murder at the Vanities (Film, US, Mitchell Leisen, 1934) The fast-talking stage manager of a Broadway revue (Jack Oakie) stays one step ahead of a lunkish cop (Victor McLaglen) when a series of slayings threatens to disrupt an opening night performance already in progress. Very Pre-Code musical mystery is  notable for a Duke Ellington number, a musical ode to marihuana, and as a filmed record of the Vanities series of ultra-racy theatrical extravaganzas.—RDL

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Cartoon Rocket
d8
Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister