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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Scream, Hyper-Local Agitprop, and Ursine Folk Horror

January 18th, 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

Spettacolo (Film, US, Chris Shellen & Jeff Malmberg, 2017) Fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a tiny Tuscan village’s amateur theatrical troupe as they mount their annual original agitprop production. Visually and emotionally beautiful portrait of local tradition under siege features the sorts of surprising developments every documentarian dreams of.—RDL

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Emboldened by a trio of prophesying witches (Kathryn Hunter), an aging thane (Denzel Washington) and his psychopathic wife (Frances McDormand) kill the king and go blood simple. Stark, stripped-down rendition of Shakespeare’s gnarliest major tragedy as stark Symbolist nightmare, closely capturing hushed, intimate performances. Washington plays the text, as opposed to the usual Aristotelian projections onto it, by homing in on Macbeth’s fundamental weakness.—RDL

Recommended

Lokis: A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (Film, Poland, Janusz Majewski, 1970) In remote Samogitia to do ethnological research, Professor Wittembach (Edmund Fetting) is the guest of the unstable Count Szemiot (Jozef Duriasz), born nine months after a bear may have raped his now-insane mother. Combining proto-folk-horror atmosphere with wintry bright camera work, this film hits the uncanny sweet spot with increasing accuracy and power while never quite showing its hand. Or paw. –KH

A Taxi Driver (Film, South Korea, Jang Hoon, 2017) During South Korea’s 1980 declaration of martial law, a blustering Seoul cabbie (Song Kang-ho) drives a German reporter (Thomas Kretschmann) to Kwang-ju, into the heart of a military massacre of democracy protesters. Sweeping commercial moviemaking processes a national tragedy with rousing suspense and big emotion.—RDL

Good

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China (Nonfiction, Mitch Moxley, 2013) Directionless young Toronto journalist moves to Beijing, working for the state-run China Daily, then as a researcher for the CBC Olympics team, and finally as a freelancer specializing in offbeat angles on Chinese life. Provides engaging texture on an expat scene that is probably already gone or disappearing.—RDL

Scream (Film, US, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, 2022) A new Ghostface stalks Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and a bunch of other Woodsboro teens connected to the first rampage. Unexceptionable slasher whodunit suitably “requel”-izes (in the film’s obsessive even for the franchise metaspeak) the mostly fun series. Few actual scares, but competent run-and-jump direction and a surprisingly affecting turn from the returning David Arquette is worth a Good rating. –KH

Okay

The Mad Women’s Ball (Film, France, Mélanie Laurent, 2021) When a young woman (Lou de Laâge) from a aristocratic family in Belle Époque Paris mildly defies her rigid father, he commits her to the harsh confines of the Salpêtrière asylum, where her ability to communicate with the spirit world provides a connection to its stern head nurse (Laurent.) Sets aside the rich and specifically strange history of the Salpêtrière under early neurologist and mesmerism enthusiast Jean-Martin Charcot, portrayed here as a standard villain, for the beats of the imprisonment and escape narrative.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: New Tim Powers, Mads Mikkelsen Revenge, A Kafkaesque Book Tour, and a Norwegian Galoot

January 11th, 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 Book Tour (Graphic Novel, Andi Watson, 2020) The micro-humiliations of an ill-planned series of personal appearances take a turn for the sinister for a put-upon novelist. Beautiful visual design informed by 50s and 60s British magazine cartooning lends poignancy to a deceptively cozy wrong man story at the intersection of Kafka and Hitchcock. [Disclosure: Beloved Patreon backer Andi kindly provided this review copy.]—RDL

Lupin Part 2 (Television, France, Netflix, George Kay, 2021) After his son is kidnapped, a master thief emulator of Arsene Lupin (Omar Sy) redoubles his operation of vengeance against the corrupt philanthropist (Hervé Pierre) who framed his father. Netflix did this show no favors by snipping its serial season in two, but now that the rest of the story is here it satisfyingly resolves its modernization / homage to the iconic gentleman burglar.—RDL

Repeat Performance (Film, US, Alfred L. Werker, 1947) After shooting her embittered playwright husband (Louis Hayward) a Broadway star (Joan Leslie) falls through a time slip and gets a chance to relive the year leading up to the fatal event. Offbeat blend of film noir and proto-”Twilight Zone” fantasy recently rescued from oblivion by the restoration efforts of the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film Archive.—RDL

Riders of Justice (Film, Denmark, Anders Thomas Jensen, 2021) Emotionally repressed military officer (Mads Mikkelsen) walks the path of vengeance when a freshly fired probability expert (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gives him evidence that a notorious biker gang arranged the commuter train accident that killed his wife. Jensen turns the revenge actioner inside out for a darkly comic parable of grief, causality, and community between outsiders.—RDL

Stolen Skies (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2022) An off-book ONI attempt to contact aliens brings Agent Castine back into contact with former Secret Service agent Vickery and the ghost ecology of LA. A deft, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy provides an interesting riff on UFOs (very reminiscent of Declare’s djinn). Without the usual Powersian historical backdrop, these books don’t quite escape the artificiality of their setup, but his LA ghost-iverse has become a rich setting in its own right. –KH

Good

Death on the Nile (Fiction, Agatha Christie, 1937) When the heiress Linnet Doyle is shot on her Nile honeymoon, Hercule Poirot just happens to be along for the cruise. Mechanically precise, I’ll grant you, and Christie’s archaeological interests pay off somewhat, but once more we have characters who exist only as tumblers in a lock with one (1) emotional tone apiece. –KH

Lake of the Dead (Film, Norway, Kåre Bergstrøm, 1958) Six friends visit one’s brother at a remote lake cabin, and find him missing and a legendary ghost afoot. Spooky atmosphere and gauzy camera work play well off each other, but only intermittently, as a conventional detective story insists on playing out complete with period Freudianism. The viewpoint character is a galoot, which doesn’t help. —KH

The Merry Wives of Windsor (Filmed Stage Production, Canada, Barry Avrich and Antoni Cimolino, 2020) When he simultaneously sends them seductive letters, married pals (Brigit Wilson, Sophia Walker) conspire to prank the notorious old wastrel Sir John Falstaff (Geraint Wyn-Davies), arousing one of their husbands (Michael Blake) to a jealous plot of his own. Against a 50s Canadian small town setting that neither adds or detracts, Wyn-Davies and Blake show how to do Shakespearean schtick—with tightly controlled big, big energy.—RDL

Okay

Kadaicha (Film, Australia, James Bogle, 1988) Teens living on a street built on an Aboriginal burial ground see a kadaicha magician in their dreams, get cursed stones, and die! Straight-to-video Ozploitation mashes up Poltergeist and Nightmare on Elm Street, stepping on the product throughout. The second kill (a jumping spider POV) and some of the surrealism catch the eye, but the flat acting and general slack don’t keep it. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Matrix Resurrections, Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

January 4th, 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

Blithe Spirit (Film, UK, David Lean, 1945) Urbane writer (Rex Harrison) researches his next novel by inviting a dotty spiritualist (Margaret Rutherford) to conduct a seance, which, to the dismay of his second wife (Constance Cummings), brings back the ghost of his first (Kay Hammond.) Though a bit past the Edwardian period, the Noel Coward play adapted here also concerns itself chiefly with the out-of-placeness of ghosts, with any lethal mayhem they may commit along the way brushed off as merely gauche. Lean, now best known for his later wide-scale epics, shows a relaxed facility for the confined spaces of a stage adaptation.—RDL

California Typewriter (Film, US, Doug Nichol, 2016) From star names like Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard to collectors, repair shop owners, and repurposing artists, this affectionate doc looks at the typewriter and the devotees keeping its memory alive. Traces an emotional arc from the expected quirkiness to the elegiac to the hopeful.—RDL

Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas (Nonfiction, Glenn Kenny, 2020) Comprehensive making-of and close reading of the 1990 Scorsese gangster classic covers everything from the screenwriting process to the troubled, damaging post-movie life of Henry Hill. Learn how many bit players were convicted for later crimes, including the not one but two cops in the “how ya doin’” tracking shot who subsequently crossed over to the mob.—RDL

The Sound of Fury (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1950) Desperate family man (Frank Lovejoy) lets a rash stick-up artist (Lloyd Bridges) lure him into a kidnapping; when it goes wrong, an intellectual columnist (Richard Carlson) stokes the community’s worst instincts. Film noir of gritty despair shifts into a message picture taking aim at press sensationalism. Fictionalization of the 1933 Thurmond-Holmes lynchings omits from its editorial ire a key component of the story, the open calls to mob justice from California governor “Sunny Jim” Rolph. Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) is based on the same incident. Also known as Try and Get Me! —RDL

Raging Fire (Film, HK, Benny Chan, 2021) Incorruptible maverick cop (Donnie Yen) goes up against a former colleague (Nicholas Tse) bent on ultra-violent revenge. Chan’s consistency of energy and style makes this the best Yen vehicle in a long while. Advances the argument that Heat’s street shootout ought to have led to a mano-a-mano martial arts fight in a cathedral.—RDL

The Second Shooter (Fiction, Nick Mamatas, 2021) Investigating dodgy sightings of second shooters, writer Mike Karras finds himself enmeshed in an increasingly weird conspiracy. Until the ending jinks off at a weird angle, this is another terrific Mamatas political thriller, all strong characters and fringe behavior. Then it becomes a whole different (but still terrific, still political, and still Mamatas) genre thriller. I ding it a bit for that swerve but still Recommend it. –KH

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the ambitious co-dependents in a stark 1940s Expressionist vision of Scotland. The gothic-brut sets and staging contrast with deliberately underplayed line readings, unified by Bruno Delbonnel’s pitiless camera. A dream nobody can wake from, no matter how loud the knocking gets; a very creditable Scottish play. –KH

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) As ethnic gangs square off in a Lincoln Square facing 1950s “urban renewal,” Polish ex-gangbanger Tony (Ansel Elgort, a ham loaf) and Puerto Rican cleaner Maria (Rachel Zegler, wonderful) fall in star-crossed love. Spielberg’s camera moves through dance numbers seamlessly alternating medium and wide shots while nailing performance after performance in close one- and two-shot punches. Janusz Kaminski lights the sets with actual color and life, and Tony Kushner’s tweaks to the script (accidentally?) lace the original play’s too-pat self-congratulation with historical irony. –KH

Good

Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle (Film, Netherlands/Italy/Canada, Mike van Diem, 2017) Returning to Italy with the ashes of her mother, a lonely Montrealer (Ksenia Solo) learns the surprising truth about her real parents (Gijs Naber, Anneke Sluiters), transplanted Dutch tulip farmers who ran afoul of the local mob. A dark story told as a breezy, nostalgic fairy tale.—RDL

Wilczyca (Film, Poland, Marek Piestrak, 1983) In 1848 Poland, freedom fighter Kasper (Krysztof Jasinski) returns from the war to find his dying wife Marina (Iwona Bielska) promising to curse him as the titular she-wolf. Bielska also plays the debauched mistress of the noble house he swears to guard, and a she-wolf stalks the grounds … A perfectly competent, nicely brutal, werewolf movie that never quite makes the most of its wintry weirdness or gets inside Kasper’s mind or provides any deeper conflict than “werewolves (and occupiers of Poland) bad.” –KH

Not Recommended

The Matrix Resurrections (Film, US, Lana Wachowski, 2021) Under pressure to develop a sequel to his seminal CRPG The Matrix, game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has a psychotic break. The film drowns that pretty cool core concept under endless fanfic dialogue, and looks like a mid-season CW episode (if the CW ever showed middle-aged people). Literal intercuts with the earlier movies do this film zero favors, and the core narrative combines sloth and idiot-plotting in new (but never interesting) ways. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Licorice Pizza and a Folk Horror Doc

December 28th, 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

Dillinger (Film, US, John Milius, 1973) Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger (Warren Oates) leads an all-star roster of gunmen across the west and midwest with dogged G-Man Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson) on his trail. With a docudrama veneer misdirecting from its romanticism and operatic body count inflation, Milius explores the paradox at the heart of American conservatism: do you root for the government agents shooting the rebellious crooks, or the rebellious crooks shooting the government agents?—RDL

The French Dispatch (Film, US, Wes Anderson, 2021) Aided by his jailer muse (Lea Seydoux), an imprisoned painter (Benicio del Toro) confounds the art world; a solitude-seeking journalist (Frances McDormand) gets too close to a naifish student protester (Timothée Chalamet); a Baldwinesque writer (Jeffrey Wright) witnesses the kidnapping of a police commissioner’s son. Hyper-stylized tribute to The New Yorker and American dreams of Paris puckishly treats New York intellectualism of the 60s to 80s as a fandom to be rebooted and Easter Egged. The anthology format affords insufficient room for the underlying melancholy to build, making this mid-shelf Anderson. —RDL

Hawkeye Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Jonathan Igla & Kevin Feige, 2021) While on family vacation to Christmastime New York, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is drawn by a hero-worshiping young archer (Hailee Steinfeld) into a conspiracy involving her mother’s oily new beau and an old costume he’d sooner forget. Renner turns in one of the MCU’s most affecting performances as a battered, world-weary Avenger, and Steinfeld is winning in a potentially annoying role. But most of all we finally have a Disney+ Marvel show with a bona fide conclusive ending.—RDL

Licorice Pizza (Film, US, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021) Hustling child actor Gary (Cooper Hoffman) falls for directionless twentysomething Alana (Alana Haim) in 1973 Encino. Seventies hangout film told as picaresque scenes in a glowingly recalled romance, tonally nailed by Anderson and held together by two terrifically natural performances as Gary realizes there’s things he can’t hustle and Alana slowly gets a life. Innately shaggy-dog narrative can’t quite compete with PTA’s Pinnacles, but not for lack of charm. Bradley Cooper’s wild turn as Jon Peters deserves a callout. –KH

Pietr the Latvian (Fiction, George Simenon, 1931) Indefatigable flying squad inspector Jules Maigret pursues a border-hopping con man, picking up a deeply personal motivation along the way. The first novel in the classic series finds Maigret’s iconic ethos fully in place, albeit in more of a thriller mode than later installments. You don’t have to start here, but unlike other long running series, it doesn’t hurt.—RDL

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Film, US, Joe Watts, 2021) His secret identity revealed, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to erase the world’s memory but of course things aren’t that simple. Less empty than the previous film thanks to Willem Dafoe’s effortless gift, and full of the joy of the franchise, much of it borrowed (to delightful immediate effect) from Into the Spider-Verse. If you love (or even kinda like) Spider-Man, I unreservedly Recommend this film even as I admit it’s basically Ready Peter One. –KH

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (Film, US, Kier-La Janisse, 2021) Beginning with the Unholy Trinity canon, Janisse and fifty talking heads set out an expansive 192-minute geography of this film mode or subgenre or vibe. Showing more national cinematic approaches to folk reaction than just England, Janisse reads the voodoo film, the folk-monster film, the vampire film, and many other types through a folk-horror lens, ironically winding up arguing against the subgenre as currently understood. –KH

Good

Dillinger (Film, US, Max Nosseck, 1945) Glowering stick-up man John Dillnger (Lawrence Tierney) busts his cellmates out of prison to stage a series of ingenious bank jobs across the west and midwest. Deromanticizes Dillinger as a resentful churl, with a script unbesmirched by historical detail.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lovecraft Tales, Succession, Only Murders, and the Psychology of Poker

December 21st, 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 Biggest Bluff (Nonfiction, Maria Konnikova, 2020) Aided by her psychology background and one of the world’s best players, New Yorker writer Konnikova goes from absolute novice to poker champion. Engrossing interweaving of Plimptonesque experiential journalism and pop science uses Texas Hold ‘Em to explore the twists and traps of the decision-making process.—RDL

Lovecraft: The Great Tales (Nonfiction, John D. Haefele, 2021) Lengthy, layered critical analysis of Lovecraft’s oeuvre traces the underrated influence of other authors on HPL and casts the whole corpus as one multi-textual great work. Haefele expands compellingly on the neglected structuralist insights of George Wetzel (neglected even by Haefele, as it happens) in a great work of his own that all serious Lovecraftians should engage seriously. If my book whets your appetite, this is the big picnic. –KH

Only Murders in the Building Season 1 (Television, US, Hulu/Disney+, Steve Martin & John Hoffman, 2021) The fishy apparent suicide of a resident in an upscale NYC apartment building unites a washed up actor (Martin), a flailing stage director (Martin Short) and a young woman with a secret (Selena Gomez) as neophyte true crime podcasters and amateur sleuths. Comedy-mystery draws on a deep well of solitude but has the sense and taste to undercut its Hallmark moments with big gags.—RDL

Succession Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, Jesse Armstrong, 2021) Kendall (Jeremy Strong) renews his rogue mission against Logan (Brian Cox) as Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) jockey for the number two slot at Waystar-Royco. Where other shows become discursive after a strong early run, Succession achieves success by sadistically tightening its focus on its core hothouse of hilariously awful, conspiratorial characters.—RDL

Voir Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, David Fincher, 2021) Series of brief essays on cinema features analyses ranging from the political (Walter Chaw on 48 HRS) to the technical (animation character design) to the personal (Sasha Stone on memories of childhood in the summer of Jaws.) The reenactments in the latter have to be the most gorgeously shot in documentary history.—RDL

Good

The Asakusa Kid (Film, Japan, Gekidan Hitori, 2021) Intent on a comedy career but without discernible skills, young Takeshi Kitano (Yûya Yagira) apprentices himself to a fading burlesque troupe’s dyspeptic master (Yô Ôizumi.) Yagira goes way overboard imitating Kitano’s physical tics, and the piece is much more conventional and sentimental than the filmography of its subject, but the depiction of a bygone showbiz world does hold interest.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Power of the Dog, DIE, and Classic Lubitsch

December 14th, 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

Cluny Brown (Film, US, Ernst Lubitsch, 1946) Suave Czech emigre (Charles Boyer), lightly on the run from Hitler, befriends a sweet young woman (Jennifer Jones) whose love of life is about to be crushed by the English class system. If you ever want to know what the famous “Lubitsch touch” for light, elegant comedy looks like, point yourself toward this gentle romantic comedy of manners.—RDL

DIE Vol. 4: Bleed (Comics, Image, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, 2021) The kidnapped gaming group discovers what it takes to leave Die. The dismount was always going to be the hardest part of this book to pull off, and Gillen wisely does it in rocket stages honoring each character rather than try for One Big Ending. Hans still arts the big fantasy reveal as well as anyone ever has, while using color like a film score throughout. –KH

The Pursuit of Love (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1945) Romantic illusions lead the charismatic daughter of eccentric country nobles to a pair of marriages to unsuitable, undeserving husbands. Pointed yet sympathetic social observation propels this bittersweet comedy of manners and changing mores.—RDL

The Power of the Dog (Film, New Zealand/UK, Jane Campion, 2021) When his kinder, introverted brother (Jesse Plemons) unexpectedly marries, an insecure, hypermasculine rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) bullies his sweet-natured bride (Kristen Dunst), arousing the protective instincts of her sensitive med student son (Kodi Smit-McPhee.) Sweeping pictorial beauty counterpoints the subtle authority of direction and performance in this noir-themed Western drama.—RDL

Too Late For Tears (Film, US, Byron Haskin, 1948) Status-conscious housewife (Lizabeth Scott) lets her ruthless streak come out when she and her cautious husband (Arthur Kennedy) receive a bag of cash meant for blackmailer Dan Duryea. Acid-etched noir places its femme fatale dead center as its anti-heroic protagonist.—RDL

Not Recommended

Doctor Who: Flux (Season 13) (Television, UK, BBC, Chris Chibnall, 2021) An engineered space-time collapse destroys most of the universe, pitting the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) against sundry chrono-villains as she and her pals struggle to reverse it. A breathless mish-mosh of plotlines, overstuffed with antagonists and supporting characters, answers the unasked question, “What if the whole season played like the set-up to a two-parter?”—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Besieged Fortress, a Sinister Snorkel, and Some Ghosts In Need of Busting

November 30th, 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 Fortress (Film, South Korea, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017) When Qing forces pin down the Joseon court in a remote, wintry fortress, rival courtiers (Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yoon-seok) pull the frightened king between honorable doom and pragmatic acquiescence. Period war epic interweaves military tactics on the receiving end of a siege with the lethal intrigue of Korean royal politics.—RDL

The Shadow of the Wind (Fiction, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001) In 50s Spain, the naive son of a bookseller investigates the origins of a rare novel, stepping into the paths of a psychopathic secret policeman and the mysterious burned man determined to destroy every copy. Thrilling literary page-turner fuses mystery structure with neo-gothic elements.—RDL

The Snorkel (Film, UK, Guy Green, 1958) When her creepy sponger stepfather (Peter Van Eyck) uses the titular breathing apparatus to commit the seemingly perfect murder of her mother, a teen no one will believe (Mandy Miller) vows to expose him. Hammer Studios domestic thriller, set in an Italian resort town, takes a while to rev back up again after a supremely unnerving wordless cold open.—RDL

Good

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI (Nonfiction, Kate Winkler Dawson, 2020) Tormented obsessive rises from poverty to become a famed freelance criminalist, pioneering key techniques and taking part in notorious cases, including his determined participation in the railroading of Fatty Arbuckle. Biography of a prickly figure provides a detailed source on the state of forensics, and the difficulty of convincing jurors to pay attention to it, in the Call of Cthulhu era.—RDL

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Film, US, Jason Reitman, 2021) Egon Spengler’s unknowing grandkids (Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace) move into the house in rural Oklahoma where he died, and uncover a mystery. “Ghostbusters, but make it The Goonies” is perhaps the only way to properly make a sequel to the 1984 Pinnacle, and as long as the movie does that it remains a happy success. Sadly, grownup stories intervene with less uniform effect (although Carrie Coon is remarkably good in a thankless role as the mom), and even Dan Aykroyd looks a little tired of what he helped spawn. –KH

Tatja Grimm’s World (Fiction, Vernor Vinge, 1987) On a metal-poor ocean planet, a young mutant genius rises to power while searching for aliens like her. A fixup of Vinge’s first (1969) novel, itself a fixup of a 1968 novelette about Tatja manipulating the crew of a SF magazine barge (!!) to seize the throne. As a novel, it’s clunky, but as three shorts it’s pretty grand worldbuilding from probably the 1990s’ best SF author. –KH

Okay

Army of Thieves (Film, US/Germany, Matthias Schweighöfer, 2021) As an offscreen zombie plague roils financial markets, heister Gwen (Nathalie Emmanuel) recruits safecracking wannabe Sebastian (Schwieghöfer) to open three legendary safes. While one of the better sidekicks in the Army of the Dead ensemble, Schweighöfer’s Dieter (nee Sebastian) can’t particularly hold a whole movie, especially one that takes about an hour to start, you know, thieving anything. Plus, watching safes not open cannot be made interesting with more CGI of the interior of the safe: audiences need a way to judge the action, not simply wait for it to finish. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Harder They Fall, Wrath of Man, and Tolkien Landscapes

November 23rd, 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 Harder They Fall (Film, US, Jeymes Samuel, 2021) Outlaw Nat Love’s (Jonathan Majors) quest for revenge on his father’s killer puts him athwart the scheme of said killer, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). The attempt to squish a sprawling cast of historical (if often wildly out-of-period) Black heroes and villains into the straightforward story of a Leone-style Western alternately chokes the narrative and spins entertaining diversion, but never quite settles into a hangout rhythm. The same, sadly, could be said for the ambitious final gunfight act. But there are classic Western moments aplenty, a few terrific jokes, many beautiful shots both gun- and cinematic, a reggae-infused score by Samuel (and an even better soundtrack of banger needle drops), and a mega-cool Delroy Lindo as legendary Oklahoma territorial marshal Bass Reeves, more than enough to get Recommended. –KH

The Worlds of JRR Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth (Nonfiction, John Garth, 2021) Tolkien scholar Garth breaks down the types of locations in Middle-Earth (and the larger Tolkien legendarium) and provides plausible (if a wee bit over-certain at times) inspirations from Tolkien’s life and travels: the Swiss Alps birth the Misty Mountains, rural Sarehole the Shire, the Somme’s no-mans-land the Dead Marshes, etc. Beautifully produced and illustrated, and copiously footnoted, it’s not the last word in Tolkien landscapes but it’s an excellent first word on them. –KH

Wrath of Man (Film, US, Guy Ritchie, 2021) Self-possessed crime crew boss (Jason Statham) goes undercover at an armored truck company in search of the inside man who got his son killed. Ritchie pares back his style to a Soderberghian level of formalism in this slow-burn combination of revenge thriller and upended heist flick.—RDL

Good

The Beetle: A Mystery (Fiction, Richard Marsh, 1897) A shape- and species- and gender-shifting Egyptian sorcerer seeks revenge on rising Liberal parliamentarian Paul Lessingham. Told Wilkie Collins-style from four perspectives (terrified, ironic, earnest, and cop), this “mystery” wonderfully manages to explain almost nothing you want to know while providing eventual “solutions” for what you need to know. The result: an unsettling and uncanny novel of the unnatural foreign Other that (for 20 years) outsold Dracula. –KH

Last Night in Soho (Film, UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Psychically sensitive fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) rents a Soho bedsit, spiraling her into an initially beguiling, soon horrifying dream journey into the life of a sixties singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) exploited by a ruthless pimp (Matt Smith.) Two acts of vertiginous cinematic mastery at the intersection of style and feeling, followed by a conclusion that violates the cardinal rule of plot twists. (Pinnacle + Pinnacle + Not Recommended/ 3)  = Good.—RDL

Okay

Red Notice (Film, US, Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2021) When Interpol questions his FBI profiler cred, Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is forced to work with chatterbox narcissist thief Booth (Ryan Reynolds) who’s trying to spoil art theft mastermind The Bishop’s (Gal Gadot) plan to steal the three eggs of Cleopatra. Netflix has somehow spent $200 million re-inventing the TV movie: bland “I recognize those people” mush moving peristaltically through set-up cliche sequences, farting supposedly-arch dialogue. In 1978, it would have starred Lou Ferrigno, Robert Conrad, and Jaclyn Smith, everyone wouldn’t have daddy issues, and the location shooting wouldn’t have all been garbage CGI.  –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Music, a Mogul, Mumbai

November 16th, 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

Carl Laemmle (Film, US, James L. Freedman, 2019) Documentary profiles the go-getting immigrant who set up a film distribution empire, busted Thomas Edison’s goon-assisted monopoly on film production, founded Universal Studios, and devoted his later years to fighting the American government to get Jews out of Nazi Germany. Archival images and talking head interviews paint a warm portrait of the lone mensch among the hardboiled crop of first wave studio moguls.—RDL

The Devil’s Stairway (Film, South Korea, Lee Man-hui, 1964) A calculating surgeon’s thoughts turn to murder when he gets a chance to marry the boss’ daughter but the nurse he’s been secretly bedding refuses to go quietly. Corrosive domestic noir escalates into contemporary gothic horror. Also known under the less salubrious title of The Evil Stairs.—RDL

May It Last: A Portrait of The Avett Brothers  (Film, US, Judd Apatow & Michael Bonfiglio, 2017) The Americana band looks back on their lives and career so far as they record their 2016 album “True Sadness.” A rare documentary that finds profundity by pointing the camera at a deeply functional creative team and family.—RDL

Sound of Metal (Film, US, Darius Marder, 2019) After suffering severe hearing loss, an obsessive rock drummer (Riz Ahmed) joins a deaf community which has an AA program for recovering addicts like himself. Naturalistic drama driven by Ahmed’s performance and an appropriately disorienting sound design.—RDL

Good

Sooryavanshi (Film, India, Rohit Shetty, 2021) Mumbai anti-terrorist supercop Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar) pursues a sleeper cell of Pakistani terrorists plotting a new bombing campaign. Shetty leans into his brash, patriotic high-energy style like a less-jittery Michael Bay to produce an operatic banger of an action film. The two other stars of Shetty’s “Cop Universe” franchise join Sooryavanshi for a final too-artificial act that undoes some of the sincere conviction the film depends on for effect. The screamin’ score and the eternal love of man for helicopter keeps the final rating a solid Good, though. –KH

Okay

Eternals (Film, US, Chloé Zhao, 2021) When the monstrous Deviants return after 500 years, the Eternals (Gemma Chan, et al.) must reunite to save humanity. As others have noted, this ponderous film combines the DC movies’ grandiosity with MCU flatness to no good effect. Gemma Chan is desperately unsuited to deliver Jack Kirby/Zack Snyder style dialogue, or to embody any emotion stronger than “worried about the hash browns,”  but unfortunately she’s supposed to hold the movie together. One or two good performances (Don Lee as Gilgamesh, and Harish Patel as a human POV) don’t save it. Zhao does turn in the first never-ugly Marvel film in a while though, which is something. –KH

The Mysterious Island (Film, UK, Cy Endfield, 1961) Blown far over the Pacific during an attempted escape by balloon from Confederate prison, Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) and his men land on the titular island. It’s kind of surprising how much of Verne’s original novel survives the addition of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion giant animals and shipwrecked ladies, even managing a sort of “heroic engineering” solution to the final crisis. But high points come a little too far apart, and Herbert Lom’s Nemo is only saved from anticlimax by the fact that nothing except the monster attacks has had much tension to begin with. Bernard Herrmann probably didn’t work too hard on his score, either. –KH

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021) San Francisco-based underachiever (Simi Liu) embraces his martial arts mastery when his immortal father sends goons to retrieve him. Marvel’s latest tussle with the limitations of origin story structure has Tony Leung Chiu Wai but lacks tension and momentum. You’d think that the MCU’s homage to Hong Kong cinema would end with a thrillingly executed martial arts sequence but of course not it’s the algorithms fighting again.—RDL

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Last Night in Soho, The French Dispatch, and Minor Romantic Disasters

November 9th, 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

All Hands on Deck (Film, France, Guillaume Brac, 2020) Entranced after a one-night encounter with a charming redhead, a brash but needy home nurse (Eric Nantchouang) makes a 600 km journey to surprise her during her countryside family vacation, roping in his reserved best buddy and their nebbishy ride sharer. Sun-dappled comedy of romantic negotiation and minor disasters in a Rohmeresque vein.—RDL

The French Dispatch (Film, US/Germany, Wes Anderson, 2021) Upon the death of founding editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) the staff of the French Dispatch magazine assemble a final “best-of” issue; anthology film ensues. Dense yet light like the perfect meringue, these comic vignettes examine the inability of art to remain separate from life and (ideally) vice versa. Almost a self-parodic ode to fussy perfection amid chaos, it always charms and in two out of three cases (the comic turn on the Mai ‘68 ironically lacks engagement) absolutely lands perfectly. –KH

Last Night in Soho (Film, UK, Edgar Wright, 2021) Country mouse Eloise (Thomasin Mackenzie) moves to London to study fashion design, and finds herself mystically intertwined with Soho ‘60s girl Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Although the fourth act drops the film from magnificent urban genius-loci folk-horror into a more conventional register, Wright’s commitment to old-fashioned virtues like color, sound, music, editing, and lighting more than complements his interrogation of the dangers and sins of nostalgia; if he’d stuck the landing this would be up there in counterpoint with Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood as an urban symphony. –KH

Runaway Train (Film, US, Andre Konchalovsky, 1985) Hardened bank robber (Jon Voight) and chatterbox tagalong (Eric Roberts) bust out of an Alaska maximum security facility only to wind up on the titular out-of-control vehicle. Though based on an unproduced Akira Kurosawa screenplay, the guiding ethos of this gritty, frozen actioner is that of co-writer Edward Bunker, America’s great writer of prison life.—RDL

The Sicilian Clan (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1968) Hardened bank robber (Alain Delon) brings the criminal family who helped him bust out of prison, as headed by no-nonsense patriarch Jean Gabin, into a mid-air jewel heist. Lino Ventura also stars as the cop on their trail. Caper with noir motifs oozes vintage cool. Verneuil shot English and French versions simultaneously; you want the International cut, on disc in North America but not on streaming.—RDL

Okay

Whipsaw (Film, US, Sam Wood, 1935) Federal agent (Spencer Tracy) goes undercover as the self-appointed bodyguard to a good-hearted jewel thief (Myrna Loy) on the run from her partners’ rivals. The script of this crime romcom spends more time on plot than character, but it’s still fun to see the leads together.—RDL

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