Grimoire
Cthulhu
Dracula
Abraham Lincoln
Ken
Grimoire

Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bond, Dracula, Matt Helm, and a Surprising Master Forger

October 12th, 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

Art and Craft (Film, US, Sam Cullman & Jennifer Grausman, 2014) Documentary profiles Mark Landis, a soft-spoken loner who, using materials purchased from Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart, forged works in styles from old masters to Dr. Seuss and gifted them to dozens of unsuspecting art museums throughout the US. Droll, poignant outsider portrait takes the expectations you might have formed when you read about the case and turns them on their head.—RDL

Cuadecuc, Vampir (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Using footage acquired under the pretence of shooting a behind-the-scenes doc about Jess Franco’s version of Dracula, Portabella assembles an experimental, wordless gloss on the Bram Stoker tale in blown-out black and white. Attests to the power of narrative, and this narrative especially, by showing how it stands up to an array of aural and filmic distancing effects.—RDL

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Film, US, Jim Cummings, 2020) The stress of a serial killing case that some blame on a werewolf drives an tightly wound, alcoholic sheriff’s deputy (Cummings) to the brink and beyond. Horror-tinged crime flick with a streak of black comedy zeroes in on male rage as the animating force behind the wolfman myth.—RDL

Good

The 8th Night (Film, Korea, Kim Tae-hyoung, 2021) An axe-wielding exorcist monk and surly cop, each accompanied by a contrasting sidekick, work at cross purposes as they separately pursue a demonic eyeball that kills by hopping from victim to victim in pursuit of hellish apocalypse. Investigative religious horror conjures a creepy vibe when it isn’t tripping on the exposition required by its overly complicated plotting.—RDL

Every Matt Helm Novel (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1960-1993) Ignore the Dean Martin movies. Matt Helm, a counter-espionage assassin for an unnamed US agency, prefers mordancy to humor, and although he does sleep with many women in his novels he usually understands that they have non-lascivious motives for approaching him. The Helm novels remain grounded, if not precisely realistic, but they never bore and often surprise a bit. Book 14 in the series has a cruelly wily edge to it that the better ones share. –KH

No Time to Die (Film, US/UK, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021) Retired (again) after Spectre (the film), James Bond (Daniel Craig) comes back in when SPECTRE (the group) seems to have stolen a bioweapon. A pretty fun Bond movie (with a bright color palette and everything!) hits a wall of script shrugging about two hours in, the last act having the grinding inanity of re-clearing a video game level. But Fukunaga’s direction and a fantastic 20-minute Cuba sequence in Act 2 featuring CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas) pull an unwilling Bond just barely over Okay. –KH

Not Recommended

Big Brother (Film, HK, Kam Ka-wai, 2018) Ex-US Marine (Donnie Yen) returns to his hard-luck Hong Kong high school to aggressively inspire its most challenged students. Has enough action to cut into a trailer but is otherwise an inspirational teacher flick that tackles the genre’s inherent sentimentality with all the feeling of an Excel worksheet. Yen has hit the point in his career where he has to rely almost entirely on stunt doubles, meaning that the fights have to be created in editing, American style.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Midnight Mass, Cinematographer Friendship, and a Brilliant Social Realist Procedural

October 5th, 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

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Film, US, Eliza HIttman, 2020) To evade Pennsylvania’s parental consent laws, a high schooler (Sidney Flanagan) and her cousin (Talia Ryder) travel to NYC, where she can have an abortion. Social realist procedural where the tightening suspense is driven by the question of whether she can navigate the many obstacles between the protagonist and the procedure she needs.—RDL

Recommended

Midnight Mass (Television, US, Netflix, Mike Flanagan, 2021) Communion takes on a new meaning when a young substitute priest (Hamish Linklater) arrives in a dying island fishing town, bringing with him a monstrous secret. Expansively paced creature feature, as hyperverbal as a bullshitting youth pastor, drinks from the cup of Stephen King.—RDL

No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos (Film, US, James Chressanthis, 2008) Dual documentary profile of fast friends László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond, who escaped the 1956 Soviet crackdown on Hungary to come to America and redefine the look of American films with their poetic realist style. Ably weaves together the personal, historical and aesthetic threads of its story. Key Kovacs titles: Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon, Ghostbusters. Zsigmond: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.—RDL

Queen of Hearts (Film, Denmark, May el-Toukhy, 2019) Uncompromising lawyer (Trine Dryholm) loses her self-control when her wayward teenage stepson (Gustav Lindh) comes to live with the family. Drama of threatened bourgeois  domesticity, directed with subtle authority, showcases a brilliant performance from its lead.—RDL

Okay

The Killing of the Tinkers (Fiction, Ken Bruen, 2002) Cokehound ex-cop returns home to Galway and takes an assignment investigating the murders of tinkers, mostly by getting blitzed and waiting for secondary characters to swing by and give him information. Crime series authors often get bored with mystery construction to concentrate instead on open-ended character development, but it doesn’t usually set in during the second book in a series.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Suicide Squad, Norm Macdonald, Werner Herzog

September 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

Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir (Fiction, Norm Macdonald, 2016) Burying its emotional truth amid packs of lies, Macdonald’s deconstructed celebrity memoir calls to mind influences as varied as Hunter S. Thompson, Nabokov, and Alice Munro, while also being intermittently hilarious. Those who know Macdonald’s standup will recognize some recycled bits, and those who followed his career will see a kind of funhouse reflection of it, all in his inimitable voice. –KH

Family Romance LLC (Film, US, Werner Herzog, 2019) Sensitive entrepreneur (Ishii Yuichi) who runs an agency allowing people to hire actors to pose as their family members connects with a preteen (Mahiro Tanimoto) whose mother has hired him to stand in for her father. Serene, semi-improvised drama complete with the discursions Herzogians will recognize from his recent documentary work.—RDL

Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema (Film, Taiwan, 2014) Documentary survey of the eighties cinematic movement focuses mostly on its influence on filmmakers and critics around the world, which makes sense when it gets to the end and one discovers how little Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien wish to say about it. My favorite interview snippet is Apichatpong Weerasethakul praises the way these movies put him to sleep, and inspired him to make films that have the same effect.—RDL

Invisible Life (Film, Brazil, James Chressanthis, 2019) In 1950s Rio, two sisters suffer separation when their father casts one of them out for coming home pregnant without the husband, telling the other that she’s vanished. Visceral, moving novel adaptation interweaves parallel storylines of women confronting patriarchal attitudes and the demands and betrayals of the body.—RDL

La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) (Film, France, Jacques Deray, 1969) The arrival of a libertinish old mutual and his lissome daughter (Jane Birkin) interrupts the St. Tropez villa idyll of a failed novelist (Alain Delon) and a languid journalist (Romy Schneider.) Sun-soaked quadrangle of envy and lust treats the extreme hotness of Delon and Schneider as a formalist challenge.—RDL

The Suicide Squad (Film, US, James Gunn, 2021) Weapons master Bloodsport (Idris Elba) leads a crew of convict supervillains including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to attack a secret installation on a Latin American nation now in the hands of an anti-American junta. Kudos to Gunn for convincing an entertainment megaconglomerate to underwrite the most lavish, gleefully nihilistic midnight cult flick ever.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Shang-Chi, The Green Knight, Prisoners of the Ghostland

September 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 Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood (Nonfiction, Sam Wasson, 2020) Brilliantly written step-by-step of the making of Chinatown, the business conditions that briefly sparked the American New Wave, and the Icarus-like descents that would follow for three of the four principal creators. Elegantly ties together disparate threads, from macro to micro, flowing from the tortuous creation of a haunted masterpiece.—RDL

The Green Knight (Film, UK, David Lowery, 2021) King Arthur’s unproven nephew (Dev Patel) steps up when a supernatural adversary appears at Camelot on Christmas to offer a frightening challenge. Sound design and cinematography provide an immersive sense of medieval spaces as the allegory of the Gawain poem receives a modern political update.—RDL

Prisoners of the Ghostland (Film, US/Japan, Sion Sono, 2021) Corrupt local headman puts a bad-ass convict (Nicolas Cage) in booby-trapped motorcycle leathers and sends him into the dangerous land of outcasts and mutants to rescue his so-called niece (Sofia Boutella.) Post-apocalyptic samurai western is a nutzoid, ultra-stylized ramble through the imagery of the 80s SF canon. But you knew that when I said “Nicolas Cage in a Sion Sono movie.”—RDL

The Yin-Yang Master (Film, China, Weiran Li, 2021) Disgraced imperial demon-fighter who now runs a haven for outcast spirit guardians investigates the theft of a powerful artifact from his former organization. Gorgeous-looking big budget fantasy adventure blends martial arts with fun CGI creature design. And this is Chinese cinema, so even the adorable cartoon characters can get melodramatic death scenes.—RDL

Good

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021) Heir to the Ten Rings criminal empire of his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must take his proper place as a hero to prevent the end of the world. The first “get the gang together” act is pretty good, with Awkwafina especially engaging as Shang-Chi’s bff, and although the fights are ripped off from better ones, they’re at least mostly visible. But the CGI battle to save a CGI valley from CGI monsters does not compel attention, and it’s mostly shot in a murky mud pit to boot. Michelle Yeoh is of course squandered, winning this installment’s Annette Bening award. –KH

Okay

The Old Ways (Film, US, Christopher Alender, 2020) Local brujos kidnap reporter Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales) and forcibly exorcise the demon she carries. Although Kali Canales is game, and some of the demon effects are cool, this movie falls heavily between the stools of thrilling Mexploitation and intriguing culture clash, in the end presenting a by-the-numbers exorcism flick in brujeria garb with incongruous girl-power notes. –KH

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (Film, Japan, Keishi Ohtomo, 2021) In 19th century Japan, a melancholy killing machine (Takeru Satoh) is torn between service to an anti-Shogunate rebellion and the enigmatic young woman (Kasumi Arimura) who devotes herself to him. Prequel to a manga adaptation series features handsomely mounted action sequences but is weighed down by an obvious, belabored dramatic storyline.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Vintage Deconstructed Vampirism, 30s Mexican Horror, and Hardboiled Mississippi Litfic

September 7th, 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 Last Taxi Driver (Fiction, Lee Durkee, 2020) UFO-obsessed ex-novelist has a particularly bad day at work as a cabbie in an equally down-and-out Mississippi town. Hardboiled southern litfic paints a convincingly, not to mention hilariously, jaundiced portrait of life shuttling between rehabs, hospitals, motels and liquor stores.—RDL

The Phantom of the Monastery (Film, Mexico, Fernando de Fuentes, 1934) Three lost hikers, a couple and the best friend who loves the wife, encounter the supernatural in a supposedly ruined and uninhabited monastery. It’s no surprise that Mexico was finding the gothic in Catholicism long before it hit Hollywood in ‘73, as this expressionistic journey into measured eeriness attests. Sometimes translated as The Phantom of the Convent.—RDL

Vampir Cuadecuc (Film, Spain, Pere Portabella, 1970) Dissident avant-garde filmmaker Portabella somehow talked the Franco regime into giving him permission to shoot a “behind-the-scenes” documentary of schlockmaestro Jess Franco’s production of Count Dracula as its own version of Dracula. The deconstruction of the coincidentally-named Franco’s art as artifice is only part of this polysemic experience: high-contrast black-and-white shifting tones, constant fourth-wall breakage, and the charged musique-concrète score by Carles Santos all create a reality-sliding metafilm experience more Dreyer’s Vampyr than Stoker’s vampire. –KH

A Very Curious Girl (Film, France, Nelly Kaplan, 1969) Put-upon servant (Bernadette Lafont) gets revenge on the creeps and prigs of her crummy rural village by connecting with her inner witch and selling sex. Wry Bunuelian satire with a feminist vantage point on comeuppance and the restoration of order.—RDL

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Film, US, Scott Frank, 2014) Haunted ex-cop (Liam Neeson) hunts a pair of psychos who specialize in kidnapping women to squeeze their drug trafficker loved ones for ransom money. Well-crafted, grounded detective noir based on a novel from Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series.—RDL

Good

The Menacers (Fiction, Donald Hamilton, 1968) Clandestine government assassin Matt Helm gets seconded to bring a UFO witness back to Los Alamos from Mexico — or kill her if he can’t do that. The eleventh in the Matt Helm series plays with the military-intelligence side of the UFO question, while also being a cracking good thriller leavened with tough-guy pragmatic philosophizing. Helm partisans emphasize his “realism” over the Bond novels, but Fleming’s flair is what elevates his books to Recommended. Hamilton’s books mostly hit the higher reaches of Good, however, so if you don’t mind a little period grit you can absolutely do worse. –KH

Not Recommended

Bridesmaids (Film, US, Paul Feig, 2011) Brittle, self-pitying failure Annie (Kristen Wiig) feels her only meaningful relationship slipping away when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, and responds with selfish panic. The comedy of unease depends on actually ever sympathizing with anyone in the story, a low bar that this over-explained sluice never clears. Melissa McCarthy’s anarchic honesty and feral comic joy provide the sole bright spot, so of course she’s always the butt (literally in one case) of the joke. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Candyman, Annette, Climate of the Hunter

August 31st, 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 Bolter (Nonfiction, Frances Osborne, 2008) Biography of the Edwardian social rebel Lady Indina Sackville, whose hunger for love and sex drove her to five marriages and a life of scandal in England and colonial Kenya. Cameo appearances from bold-faced names abound in this piquant account of the swirling relationships of a shattered generation, written by the subject’s great grand-daughter.—RDL

Candyman (Film, US, Nia DaCosta, 2021) Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist living in the gentrified Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, becomes inspired by the local urban legend: Candyman. While just a little too didactic and self-congratulatory to be the equal of the 1992 near-Pinnacle, this sequel does a remarkable (and remarkably self-aware — other characters repeatedly ding McCoy’s art for its didacticism) job of renewing the legend for a new audience without copping out on the deep racial text at its core. DaCosta shoots Marina City like a beehive and Candyman like a peripheral-vision specter, and that’s just the highlights of her many-layered artwork. –KH

The Hot Rock (Film, US, Peter Yates, 1972) A museum heist to grab a diamond claimed by multiple African nations requires master planner John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) to stage a series of follow-up crimes. Lighthearted caper flick, based on a Donald E. Westlake novel, anchored by an undercoat of 70s grit.—RDL

Val (Film, US, Ting Poo & Leo Scott, 2021) Aided by home footage he’s been taking since childhood, Val Kilmer, his voice and health badly damaged by a bout with cancer, looks back on his successes and regrets. An unrevealing person cautiously reveals himself in this autobiographical documentary, with voice-alike narration from Kilmer’s son Jack.—RDL

Good

Annette (Film, France/Belgium/Germany, Leos Carax, 2021) The marriage of comedian Henry (Adam Driver) to soprano Ann (Marion Cotillard) buckles under the strain of his self-loathing in this musical written by art-pop duo Sparks. Much as it pains me to admit it, the weak link in this film is not the grandiloquence and artificiality of Carax (which repeatedly hits), but the script (and even the music) by Sparks. The music is great, but deliberately underpowered — the whole movie likewise deliberately undercuts itself, as a reach for a kind of pop-Wagnerian irony. Driver does almost too good a job integrating his character, adding another skew element to a movie not at all bereft of them. –KH

Okay

Climate of the Hunter (Film, US, Mickey Reese, 2019) Resentment between middle-aged sisters escalates when one suspects that the aging swain who has re-entered their lives is a vampire. Layers of stylistic affectation take precedence over narrative development in this talky supernatural drama.—RDL

Deadly Sweet (Film, Italy, Tinto Brass, 1967) A brooding protagonist who acts like a detective but is never explicitly identified as one (Jean-Louis Trintignant) investigates the murder of a club owner, falling for a witness (Ewa Aulin) he finds standing over the corpse. Pop art deconstructed detective flick apparently designed to turn Blow-Up into a genre, just as the Italian film industry did by obsessively imitating A Fistful of Dollars and Blood and Black Lace. Except this time it didn’t happen. Also known as I Am What I Am.—RDL

The Yellow Wallpaper (Film, US, Kevin Pontuti, 2021) Suffering from postpartum depression, a woman (Alexandra Loreth) goes mad thanks to really unpleasant wallpaper (and also patriarchal wilful blindness). Charlotte Perkins’ Gilman’s classic short horror story works not least because it compresses months of oppression into brutal momentum; although many aspects of Pontuti and Loreth’s film capture the story’s mood and themes it desperately needed 20 minutes vigorously trimmed rather than the lengthy rest cure it gets. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Green Knight, M. R. James’ Medievalism, and Where to Take a Break in the Tale of Genji

August 17th, 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

The Tale of Genji (Fiction, Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Dennis Washburn, 11th century/2015) A preternaturally handsome and charismatic Heian-era courtier and his descendants cause and endure suffering as a result of their romantic entanglements. The first long-form narrative readable as one would a contemporary mimetic novel, here in a lucid, accessible translation, limns the mores and atmosphere of a hothouse social milieu. The last third of this extremely long piece stands alone as a sequel to the rest, so you might want to set that aside that for later.—RDL

Recommended

The Green Knight (Film, US, David Lowery, 2021) Royal nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) seeks honor by answering the deadly challenge of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Lowery’s departures from the original 14th-century poem will irritate purists, and some of his insertions may well confound everybody regardless of prior knowledge. Our 21st-century failson Gawain seeks self-improvement through a series of lush, eerie set pieces that don’t quite add up — yet Patel sells them and himself, and you’re never bored watching Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematographic tapestries. Sean Harris’ exhausted Arthur imbues the film with special pathos. –KH

Jewel Robbery (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1932) Bored countess (Kay Francis) falls for a suave jewel robber (William Powell.) Adaptation of a frothy Hungarian play keeps the focus where it belongs, on the interplay between its charming leads.—RDL

Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James (Nonfiction, Patrick J. Murphy, 2017) Rather than a study of medieval elements in James’ ghost stories (although there is a decent amount of that) this book expounds the thesis that the discipline of “medieval studies” — just coming into being as James wrote — becomes the crucial lens through which to view James’ work. Rather than death or sex or body, the boundary James’ specters and protagonists transgress is the disciplinary boundary between antiquarianism and academe. I’m not sure I buy it, but Murphy also uncovers a lot of new details about the tales, and I did learn a good deal about “medieval studies” to boot. –KH

Pig (Film, US, Michael Sarnoski, 2021) Chef-turned-hermit (Nicolas Cage) returns to the city he abandoned in a stoic, implacable quest for his stolen truffle pig. Absurdist story elements played absolutely straight, in a strange feat of tonal control, with a plot adjacent to the noir and vengeance genres and an interiorized but nonetheless deeply Cagey lead performance.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Every Travis McGee Novel

August 10th, 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

Every Travis McGee Novel (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1964-1984) Houseboat-dwelling South Florida “salvage contractor” Travis McGee contracts to get something stolen from his client by fair means or foul, in exchange for half the take. Meanwhile, we enjoy the South Florida scenery, the (usually doomed) lady guest star (all MacDonald’s characters really live and breathe), McGee’s witty (even mordant) observations, and the con-artistry and fisticuffs along the way. Not entirely hard-boiled, not pure crime fiction, certainly not “mysteries,” the 21 Travis McGee novels carved out their own niche and then spawned the “Florida crime” subgenre and emblematized the transition of the American knight-errant hero (McGee regularly compares himself to Don Quixote) from the cowboy to the P.I. to the thriller badass. Start with the first one, or the two I’ve already reviewed, or The Long Lavender Look (featuring one of my favorite McGee structures, man vs. town). –KH

Small Axe: Lovers Rock (Film, UK, Steve McQueen, 2020) Young members of London’s Anglo-Carribean community attend a house party in search of romance and/or catharsis. Experiential drama told with beguiling formal control that puts other slice-of-life flicks in the corner.—RDL

The Suicide Squad (Film, US, James Gunn, 2021) Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of supervillains (Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, et al.) to wipe out a black project on foreign soil that turns out to be Starro the Conqueror. I give this “splatter war comedy” the bump over the Recommended bubble for the same reason I did Gunn’s first Guardians movie — it looks like the product of an actual directorial vision, with bright visuals, a strong script tone, and deliberate throwback 70s-style editing. (Dialogue a little less good than Guardians, ending rather better.) Going in, remember that Gunn cut his teeth at Troma. –KH

Good

Godzilla vs. Kong (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2021) An ancestral grudge sets two enormous monsters at each other’s throats, when the real menace lurks in the high-tech facility of a sinister science businessman (Demián Bichir.) In a surprise move for this latest Godzilla series, Wingard asks the question, “Hey what if these tried to be fun?”—RDL

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2021) Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles a team of superheroes to defend the Earth from apocalyptic invasion. Everything about this film — the editing, the shot composition and lighting, the fights, the character development, the absence of ass jokes — vastly improves on the “Whedon cut” released to theaters in 2017, most especially the all-new neo-Wagnerian score by Tom Holkenborg. That said, it’s still four hours long and feels longer — especially with the entirely gratuitous alternate-history “Knightmare” dream ending (meant as a lead-in to the abandoned JL2) seemingly tacked on for no reason except to spend AT&T’s money. –KH

Okay

The House That Dripped Blood (Film, UK, Peter Duffell, 1971) Another Amicus portmanteau film, this one based on four Robert Bloch stories. Despite the title (and the presence of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Ingrid Pitt) the house never even so much as sprinkles blood — and this toothless approach also defangs half the horrors. Denholm Elliott as a writer haunted by his homicidal creation, and Christopher Lee as a man terrified of his young daughter, at least bring the horror via their performances but half-Good is just Okay. –KH

Private Detective 62 (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) Burned secret service agent (William Powell) turns private eye and falls for a socialite his crooked partner wants him to discredit. Powell’s charm and Curtiz’ sure direction lend watchability to a tossed-off script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Blood Red Sky, Summer of Soul, and the History of Weird Tales

August 3rd, 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

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) Worried mom’s transatlantic flight to a clinic to cure her nosferatuism is taken over by hijackers. Smart, well-executed combo platter of vampire tropes and Die Hard inspired action thriller beats.—RDL

The Green Ripper (Fiction, John D. MacDonald, 1979) When a terrorist assassin kills his girlfriend Gretel, Travis McGee infiltrates their compound to exact revenge. In this uncharacteristic installment, McGee switches from “fixer in a crime novel” about a third of the way through to a “thriller hero” that prefigures Jack Reacher. MacDonald keeps the suspense going throughout that section, a surprising shift in style. Perhaps in this 18th book in the series, he was open to shaking up the formula. –KH

He Ran All the Way (Film, US, John Berry, 1951) On the lam after shooting a cop, a doubt-wracked stick-up man (John Garfield) takes an anxious bakery worker (Shelley Winters) and her family hostage. Tight, expressionistic film noir notable for Winters’ poignant, layered performance.—RDL

Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil (Film, Netherlands, Pieter van Huystee, 2016) Dutch historians embark on a perhaps contradictory quest to both assemble Bosch paintings from top museums for a major exhibition, while also minutely examining them to find out which ones are really his. Though packaged as a standard old master profile, this documentary is actually something much more interesting—a fly-on-the-wall view of the sometimes sharp-elbowed curatorial politics behind  blockbuster art shows.—RDL

Money Bots (Film, Germany, Friedrich Moser & Daniel Andrew Wunderer, 2020) Documentary examination of high-frequency trading traces the history of algorithmic finance from its 70s origins, to the race for ever-faster data connections, to its present status as a weird parasitic infestation of the stock exchange system. Or as one interviewee suggests, maybe it’s all a cover for deep collusion between markets and traders, and thus not new at all.—RDL

Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Film, US, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021) Featuring Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, the Fifth Dimension, the Staple Singers, Buddy Guy, and many many more, the five-day 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival concerts should rightfully overshadow the months-later (and much lamer) Woodstock. But instead, the film of this event remained mostly unbought and ignored for fifty years. While assembling this superb doc around the question “Why Didn’t We Know This?” the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter movement refocused Questlove on the question “Why Haven’t Things Changed Enough Despite the Changes We See in this Footage?” Rather than really answer either question, the doc shows a Harlem crowd and a Black musical scene both on the cusp of vanishing and at the peak of their cultural power. –KH

Good

The Thing’s Incredible: The Secret Origins of Weird Tales (Nonfiction, John Locke, 2018) Not so much the “secret” origin of “the Unique Magazine” but the first actually researched origin. Locke delves deep into the various memoirs, Lovecraft’s letters, and period trade magazines to piece together the actual story of Weird Tales’ founding, crucial early missteps, and disastrous near-disappearance after thirteen issues in 1924. While clearly Recommended for devotees and scholars, it’s pretty in-the-weeds stuff for someone who just wants the 101, and it assumes (rather than particularly demonstrating) the importance of its subject. –KH

Okay

Blood Red Sky (Film, Germany, Peter Thorwarth, 2021) On the Munich-New York redeye seeking a cure for her vampirism, Nadja’s (Peri Baumeister) flight gets hijacked. What on paper must have sounded irresistible (Passenger 57 with a vampire!) turns downright stodgy on the screen. It’s incomprehensible to me that a movie 11 minutes shorter than Die Hard feels about twice as long, with momentum-choking flashback scenes interspersed with ample running and murky badly-choreographed vampire fights. Nadja’s young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) essentially serves as the viewpoint character, a decision that whatever its payout in pathos leaves the actual hijacking (you know, the other half of the story) nearly opaque. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cage Hits the Pinnacle, Magic Performance Art, and Tarantino Self-Novelizes

July 27th, 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

Pig (Film, US, Michael Sarnoski, 2021) Grizzled off-the-grid truffle hunter Robin (Nicolas Cage) leaves the woods for the city in search of his abducted truffle pig. This is absolutely not “John Wick but with a pig”. Layered reveals build character and quasi-mythic story (archetypally Myrddin, the Wild Prophet of the Woods) in tandem, punctuated by superb physical acting by Cage, and equally superb performances by Alex Wolff as his reluctant helpmeet and Adam Arkin embodying the corruption and cruelty inherent in the modern food scene. A Pinnacle on a keynote of grief. –KH

Recommended

Forbidden Science 3: On the Trail of Hidden Truths, The Journals of Jacques Vallee 1980-1989 (Nonfiction, Jacques Vallee, 2013) UFOlogy’s existential heretic keeps up with the times by becoming a venture capitalist, as the field is overtaken by abduction mythology and a shadowy cast of disinformation agents. Another essential wellspring of Eliptony, with any slackening of interest being the fault of the 80s and not the author. Also he convinces his wife to let him build a tower for his books, not that I know anyone who would aspire to that.—RDL

In & Of Itself (Filmed Theater, US, Hulu, Frank Oz, 2020) Magician/performance artist Derek Delgaudio repurposes card magic and mentalism to explore fables of identity involving elephants, Russian roulette, and intolerance experienced as the child of a gay woman. Attention-grabbing presentation fuses the aesthetics of Ricky Jay and Spalding Gray, provoking audience epiphany via classic trickery.—RDL

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Fiction,Quentin Tarantino, 2021) Less a straight novelization of Tarantino’s film than a second approach to the main characters — the entire third act becomes a one-paragraph flash-forward on page 110. Tarantino’s choices in fiction as in film are idiosyncratic collages, including ample film-criticism, studio gossip, fourth-wall breaking comments about the novel’s greater opportunity to depict a hero’s immorality, and a whole two chapters of what appear to be the novel that Lancer came from in the film’s continuity. Like Ellroy or Leonard (two clear models), once you get into the author’s rhythm, the pages fly past; just as I did after the movie ended, I wanted a whole lot more time with the characters. –KH

Raining in the Mountain (Film, Taiwan, King Hu, 1979) A fake-pious businessman and corrupt general vie to steal a priceless sutra scroll from a monastery as its abbot searches for a successor. A simple martial arts narrative serves as framework for Hu’s compositional mastery, arranging figures, structures and landscapes with a sublime harmony that echoes the script’s Buddhist message.—RDL

Good

F9 (Film, US, Justin Lin, 2021) When his jealous brother Jake (John Cena) brings down Mr. Nobody’s plane, Dom (Vin Diesel) reluctantly joins his team to stop Jake’s Eurotrash boss (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) from stealing a super-cyberweapon. A bit of a reset that pares the core cast back from F8 bloat (but returns a welcome Han (Sung Kang)), it suffers from lack of villain focus as Cena, Rasmussen, and a returned Charlize Theron all take turns trying to break Dom in various ways. The Jake-and-Dom backstory likewise probably takes up more weight than it needs to, although it’s a refreshing callback to the first, still underrated, film in the franchise. –KH

The Flash Season 7 (Television, US, CW, Eric Wallace, 2021) As longtime team members depart and newer ones step up, Flash confronts an imbalance of cosmic forces and battles the many clones of Godspeed. In another of its returns to form, the show recommits to its core elements of speedster fights and Hallmark moments. Though the series is definitely in its dotage, it did manage eighteen episodes of costumed comfort viewing in the middle of a pandemic, and we all deserve to be graded on a curve right now.—RDL

Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
d8
Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister