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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Does the Chicago Film Fest; Robin Homebrews His Own Horror Fest

October 16th, 2018 | 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

Border (Film, Sweden, Ali Abbasi, 2018) Tina (Eva Melander) looks Neanderthal, but she can sniff out shame and fear (among other things) making her a valued customs officer — until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) who looks like she does. From a story by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) who also co-wrote the script, the film plays effortlessly with many different genres from policier to horror to magical realism. –KH

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” and the History of Its Publication and Reception: A Critical Edition and Documentary Casebook (Nonfiction, Julie Bates Dock, 1998) Dock provides the first-ever critical edition of Gilman’s short-story masterpiece, complete with ample documentation from Gilman’s correspondence, contemporary reviews, and a clear overview of its textual history. Mandatory reading for people who want to opine on Gilman. –KH

Liverleaf (Film, Japan, Eisuke Naitô, 2018) Bullied transfer student Haruka (Anna Yamada) finally unbottles her rage in ultraviolent revenge, revealing secrets and burying bodies in a blizzard. Based on a manga, some of the scenes are achingly beautiful — and often gory as hell. Maybe some of the story beats could have used some signals or supports, but this is ukiyo-e after all, so maybe not. –KH

The Mercy of the Jungle (Film, Belgium/France/Rwanda, Joel Karekezi, 2018) Career Rwandan Army Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga) and peasant private Faustin (Stéphane Bak), left behind during an offensive in the Second Congo War must survive the jungle, a band of rebels, and their own psyches in this effective war movie that occasionally becomes genuinely gripping. The two leads’ strong, lived-in performances give Karekezi a solid core to return to, keeping the picaresque nature of the material reined in. –KH

Needing You … (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2000) Alpha male manager Andy (Andy Lau) and manic pixie sales rep Kinki (Sammi Cheng) discover each other and their feelings thereupon in this romantic comedy paced like a car chase film. Cheng’s effortless charm carries the film despite some grating characterization, and the comic relief is mostly actually comical, which never hurts. This won’t make you fall in love with romcoms if you don’t already love them, but its lessons in pacing apply all over the dramatic spectrum. –KH

Satan’s Slaves (Film, Indonesia, Joko Anwar, 2017) After their mom dies, a quartet of young siblings fends off supernatural assaults on their ramshackle country house. Presents the now-fashionable fusion of haunted house and Satanic cult sub-genres through an Islamic cultural lens, abetted by well-crafted scares and hints of hip style.—RDL

Terrified (Film, Argentina, Demián Rugna, 2017) A police captain with cardiac problems reluctantly joins an ad hoc group of parapsychologists probing supernatural manifestations plaguing an everyday residential street. Contrast between a mundane, grounded setting and s-u-u-u-u-per creepy haunting sequences place this among the best in the occult investigator movie canon. You could easily start an Esoterrorists series by showing your players this movie and then saying, “Okay, you’re the next team to go in.”—RDL

Good

Animal (Film, Argentina/Spain, Armando Bo, 2018) A civilized man (Guillermo Francella) disintegrates when his kidney fails. Notable for the slow-motion home invasion-demonic possession story featuring the scumbag drifter with a matching blood type who extorts him, but in the end the film feels like a writer with too many directions becoming a director without a clear vision. –KH

Boys Cry (Film, Italy, Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, 2018) Vacuous losers Manolo (Andrea Carpanzano) and Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) accidentally run over a snitch, gaining them entry to a minor mafia clan and setting off a slow fuse of moral awakening. With no glamor, an overexposed palette, and lots of close-ups of the thugs, this is not a pretty mob film; your value likely depends on whether you care to identify with these accidental goombahs. –KH

Project Gutenberg (Film, Hong Kong, Felix Chong, 2018) Rejected artist (Aaron Kwok) throws in as protege to a murderous counterfeiter (Chow Yun-Fat.) Meta-minded crime drama swerves between tropes and sub-genres, logging a thrilling extended homage to A Better Tomorrow III in one of its subversions of Chow’s classic persona. –RDL

Okay

Ash is Purest White (Film, China/France, Jia Zhangke, 2018) In 2001 in the remote city of Datong, Qiao (Zhao Tao) is the girlfriend of petty mob boss Bin (Liao Fan); in 2006 she gets out of jail to find he has deserted her and she pursues him to Fangjie; in 2017 she’s back in Datong running mah-jongg waiting for him to show up. Too long to let any of the three acts work, and too invested in an unappealing Bin to be enjoyable at any length. The middle act, where Qiao rebuilds her life one grift at a time, could have been great. –KH

John Dies At the End (Film, US, Don Coscarelli, 2012) Hunky duo of amateur paranormal hunters battle a reality-altering drug and its monstrous manifestations. A shaggy dog spirit pervades this Bill & Ted meets Cronenberg action-horror comedy. Lesson: if your lead is kinda wooden, don’t put him in an extended two-hander with Paul Giamatti.—RDL

Sibel (Film, EU/Turkey, Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, 2018) In rural Turkey, the mute daughter (Damla Sönmez) of the mayor (Emin Gürsoy) communicates using an ancestral whistling language, but most of her day is spent alone hunting a wolf. Zenciri and Giovanetti want to wrap their exoticized-society girl-power movie in fairy tale clothing, but do nothing to reconcile (or play up) the conflict between the two modes. The two leads also play differently, Sönmez bordering on histrionics while Gürsoy dives deep internally; the result is four halves of two movies. –KH

Transit (Film, Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2018) To escape a France fallen to fascist invasion, Georg (Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a dead writer; while waiting in Marseille for his papers to clear, he becomes embroiled in both his lives’ complications. Moody, slightly surreal film becomes a case study in why voiceover narration is a terrible idea. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lady Gaga and the Necronomicon

October 9th, 2018 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

A Star is Born (Film, US, Bradley Cooper, 2018) Alcoholic country-rock star (Bradley Cooper) falls for a working class waitress (Lady Gaga) who has given up on her music dreams. Cooper goes far beyond the strong performances and focus on character you expect from an actor turned director, demonstrating a full cinematic palette of composition, color, transitions and sound.—RDL

Recommended

Expect the Unexpected (Film, Hong Kong, Patrick Yau, 1998) Two HKPD cops, straight-laced Ken (Simon Yam) and loose, savvy Sam (Lau Ching-Wan) compete for the attention of a waitress (Yoyo Mung) while two gangs — one murderously competent, one bumbling — operate in her neighborhood. By turns gritty policier and amiable character piece, Yau braids the two strains, tones, and themes of his film so effortlessly that you don’t, well, expect the unexpected when they cross. –KH [Also apparently streaming now on Amazon Prime.]

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (Film, Japan, 1972, Shunya Itō) Silently defiant, ingenious inmate endures a corrupt prison system as she seeks the chance to escape and take revenge on her betraying vice cop ex. Stylistic and political radicalism justify the exploitativeness, or is it the other way around, in this lurid gut-punch of a movie. Park Chan-wook fans will recognize this as the reference point for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Caveat: If this combo of cinema’s two most problematic genres at all sounds like maybe it’s not for you, IT MOST ASSUREDLY IS NOT.—RDL

November (Film, Estonia, Rainer Sarnet, 2017) In Baroque-era rural Estonia, where the dead return periodically for dinner and farmers can turn old tools into demonic constructs, a determined peasant loves a handsome but dim neighbor who pines for a young noblewoman. Stark black and white image conjure the otherworldly quality of this earthy, eerie folk tale with touches of early Tarkovsky and the Brothers Quay.—RDL

Good

Dealt (Film, US, Luke Korem, 2017) The great risk of making a documentary about an entertainer is that the documentary pales next to the entertainment. Korem’s film about legendary card mechanic Richard Turner only really comes alive when Turner is dealing cards, or at least on screen talking about dealing cards. The human story of Turner overcoming, then accepting, his total blindness pales into conventional uplift, even with such a stubbornly individual subject. –KH

The House With a Clock in its Walls (Film, US, Eli Roth, 2018) Orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) comes to live with his eccentric magician Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in the titular house. I suspect people who haven’t read the John Bellairs masterpiece kids’ novel may enjoy this more than those of us who regret losing Bellairs’ signature childhood-fear tone for an able whack at  Amblin-meets-Harry-Potter with a side of please-let-this-be-a-franchise desperation. Cate Blanchett is a standout as the witchy neighbor Florence Zimmerman, but Kyle McLachlan sadly has less to do as revenant wizard Isaac Izard. –KH

Housewife (Film, Turkey, Can Evrenol, 2017) After her mother’s murderous rampage traumatizes her in childhood, Holly (Clementine Poidatz) finds herself a passive, frightened woman taken for granted by her artist boyfriend Tim (Ali Aksöz) and pursued by motivational cult guru Bruce (David Sakurai). This modern giallo has all the virtues (haunting score, glorious palette and production design, visceral gore) and most of the vices (misogyny (here sorta subverted) and incoherence) of that genre. –KH

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Bullied high schooler becomes passively complicit when his tormentors, forced to hang out with him, capture a CHUD-like cannibal humanoid who used to be a young girl. Less a scary movie than a grim parable of power and cruelty filled with gore and horror motifs.—RDL

Necronomicon: The Book of Hell (Film, Argentina, Marcelo Schapces, 2018) When his neighbor the immortal protector of the Necronomicon dies, Buenos Aires National Library librarian Luis (Diego Velazquez) gets pulled into the resulting apocalypse. Individual shots and scenes work well, but the plot loses its thread early and never recovers; a clever invocation of Borges barely transcribes this film into Good. –KH

Okay

Corpse (Film, US, Christopher Ernst, 2018) Jealous cousin of a reality star Hillary Castaigne (Cara Loften) seeks fame while her model girlfriend Tess (Marion Le Coguic) falls victim to DNA rewritten by bioinformatician Boris (Doug Goldring) in this melange of Chambers’ Carcosa Mythos stories. I truly admire the notion of turning The King in Yellow into an art film, but Ernst’s reach pretty clearly exceeds his grasp here. The juxtapositions don’t create, they only confuse, and the story threads remain both uneven and unfinished. If you are a Carcosaholic, call it Worth Watching While Doing Something Else. –KH

Rules of Ruin (Film, Mexico, Victor Osuna, 2018) Workaholic translator Minerva (Yunuen Pardo) takes on the job of translating the titular grimoire, and invites possession and haunting by the Ancients. The human core story and Pardo’s dedicated performance keep you invested through a by-the-numbers plot, but the film doesn’t do what it could with the horror element, settling for by-the-numbers menace. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Haunting Docs and Shambolic Talk

October 2nd, 2018 | 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

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Canada, Jennifer Baichwal & Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky, 2018) Documentary prowls the world depicting the massive scale of Homo sapiens’ alterations to the planetary environment. Titanic in its scope and paradoxical in the beauty of its hellishness—though the narration does not grapple with the way its visual language portrays humanity as a destructive invasive species in need of dramatic culling.—RDL. Seen at TIFF; now in limited theatrical release.

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Film, Canada, Bill Morrison, 2016) Collage technique uses archival footage, mostly from a recovered trove of silent films found buried in the Yukon permafrost, to tell the wild story of Dawson City and its early experience of cinema culture. A haunting ambient score turns what could be a quotidian tale of film preservation into a haunting meditation on images as messages from the past.—RDL

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Film, UK, Paul McGuigan, 2017) Young Liverpudlian actor (Jamie Bell) has a romance with film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) two decades after the peak of her career, only to discover that she’s been concealing a grave health problem. Bening, probably wisely, comes off more as a generalized fading movie icon than a likeness of Grahame. She and Bell deliver affecting performances and McGuigan adds a dash of style to what could have been a talky biopic.—RDL

The Good Place Season 2 (Television, NBC, Michael Schur, 2017) Having discovered that they are in the [[SPOILER]] Place, Eleanor and the gang reluctantly accept Michael’s help in avoiding the attentions of his fellow [[SPOILERS.]] Counters the dread sophomore slump with a significant change-up to its core formula, breaking new ground for the serialized sitcom.—RDL

Quincy (Film, US, Rashida Jones & Alan Hicks, 2018) Documentary interweaves chronological bio segments presenting the many careers and accomplishments of music legend Quincy Jones with an intimate present-day portrait of a hard-partying workaholic’s confrontation with the limitations of an aging body.—RDL

Good

Norm Macdonald Has a Show Season 1 (Television, Netflix, 2018) It seems odd to think that an intentionally meandering, offputting, deconstructed talk show should be longer, but it should. Following the format of his old podcast, Norm takes his habitual talk-show-derailing affect to his own show with predictable consequences: when the guest can hang (like Michael Keaton or Jane Fonda) or fight back (David Spade, David Letterman) it’s great. When they can’t (Lorne Michaels), it’s shambolic. Most times, it’s kind of both. Recommended for full-tilt Macdonaldphiles, but the Norm sauce may be a bit too reduced for everyone to like the taste. –KH

The Tag-Along (Film, Taiwan, Cheng Wei-hao, 2015) Callow realtor, along with his girlfriend and grandma, run afoul of mosien, child-goblin-insect spirits who, after habitat encroachment on their mountainous forest homes, have expanded their range to prey on urbanites. Sublimation of Alzheimer’s fears overcomes the common stumbling block of ghost movies by having somewhere to escalate to in its third act.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nic Cage Agonistes

September 25th, 2018 | 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

Mandy (Film, US, Panos Cosmatos, 2018) A Manson-like cult leader (Linus Roache) allied with weird mutated bikers intrudes into the ominous forest idyll of an illustrator (Andrea Riseborough) and her lumberjack boyfriend (Nicolas Cage), prompting a mission of apocalyptic revenge. A doom-laden slow burn sets the stage for a upshift into ultraviolent Nic Cagery in this commanding, lysergic artsploitation flick.—RDL

Recommended

BlacKkKlansman (Film, US, Spike Lee, 2018) In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, wisely underplaying the role), the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, talks himself (literally) into the assignment of infiltrating the KKK. Lee’s didactic tendencies mar a movie that absolutely doesn’t need over-explaining, but the underlying power of the historical story, Lee’s indictment of cinema (specifically Birth of a Nation but also blaxploitation), and his presentation of varieties of black political action and life provide plenty of juice and body. Standout supporting performances from Adam Driver (as the Jewish officer who impersonates the “white Ron Stallworth”), Topher Grace (as a nebbishy David Duke), and Harry Belafonte (as lynching witness Jerome Turner) help it across the Recommended line. –KH

The Dream Years (Fiction, Lisa Goldstein, 1985) A Surrealist writer in 1920s Paris falls in love with a radical singer from forty years in the future. More a light fable than a full novelistic feast, and not as intense as some of her other work, but a lovely variation on themes of love, revolution, art, and temporality. –KH

Ex Libris: the New York Public Library (Film, US, Frederick Wiseman, 2017) Three and a half hour documentary presents an impressionistic portrait of the NYPL system, from after school programs at local branches to high-profile author appearances to executive meetings grappling with its changing mission in an e-information era. Wiseman uses his hallmark epic-length verite technique to compose a quietly compelling paean to vital social services.—RDL

Good

Hell Baby (Film, US, Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon, 2013) Expectant parents (Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb) move into a decrepit New Orleans manor, the Maison de Sang, unaware that one of the twins in her womb is the spawn of Satan. Horror comedy packed with actors mostly from “The State” and “Childrens Hospital” knows its exorcism movie tropes and is always gleefully prepared to kill momentum to extend the premise of a scene beyond its limits. Keegan-Michael Key is particularly hilarious as an affable squatter with strong opinions about ghost dogs.—RDL

Predator 2 (Film, US, Stephen Hopkins, 1990) In the gang-plagued future Los Angeles of 1997, maverick cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) takes the presence of a Predator (and a bigfooting federal task force headed by Gary Busey) personally. About half of this film is kind of brilliant, and half is kind of idiotic (including a sorta racist parallel between the Predator and Jamaican “Killer Voodoo” gangbangers) but on balance Glover keeps enough of the human shock and anger real to remain engaging throughout. RIP, Bill Paxton. –KH

Second Skin (Play, Kristin Idaszak, 2018) Three women tell their interlocking monologues on stage: a daughter (Stephanie Shum), her mother (Paula Ramirez), and a selkie (Hilary Williams). Idaszak’s stories and their tellers (especially Ramirez) compel in the moment, and the production design is first-rate, but the play — possibly because the characters never directly interact — doesn’t screw down the uncanny the way it could have. [Disclosure, ad, and brag: Runs through October 18 at the Den Theater in Chicago in a production by WildClaw Theatre, where I am an Artistic Associate.]

Okay

Lifeline (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To, 1997) Firefighters, led by soft-hearted maverick Lau Ching-Wan, perform rescues during a rough patch that has colleagues from other stations treating them as as ill-starred jinxes. To musters his mastery of space and movement to deliver thrilling firefighting sequences, particularly the final act set piece. Too bad no one rescued him from the emotionally off-key scripting of its irrelevant soap opera scenes.—RDL

The Predator (Film, US, Shane Black, 2018) Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) stumbles onto Predator-on-Predator conflict in Mexico but still manages to endanger his son because the first Predator’s ship crash landed near his house in America or something? I got nothing. The game cast (especially Keegan-Michael Key) doing their best “direct to video 80s movie” bits drag this squib up to Okay, but the muddled (and re-shot) script, murky fight direction, and unthinkable waste of Jake Busey do not help. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Golden-Eyed Vampire and a Predator

September 18th, 2018 | 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.

Robin’s media consumption this week took place at the Toronto International Film Festival. Check out his capsule reviews here. Those reviews will reappear here when titles are released theatrically or on home video.

Recommended

Predator (Film, US, John McTiernan, 1987) Tasked by CIA agent Dillon (Carl Weathers) to enter Nicaragua on an ostensible rescue mission, Special Forces major Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his squad also enter the killing ground of an alien trophy hunter. Somehow I never saw this second film of McTiernan’s mind-bogglingly good first four. This one succeeds almost entirely on the back of McTiernan’s assured direction, although both Arnold’s control of his swaggering machismo and of its transformation into animal cunning are underrated. And man, nothing blows up like an 80s Commie base. –KH

Good

Lake of Dracula (Film, Japan, Michio Yamamoto, 1971) Years after suffering a nightmarish vision of a golden-eyed vampire (Mori Kishida), Akiko (Midori Fujita) tries to paint her trauma by the side of a peaceful lake. Combining a Hitchcock-style psychoanalytic thriller with would-be Hammer Films action on a Toho Studios budget, the result comes off slightly disjointed but never boring. Watching it on the splendid, crisp Blu-Ray transfer by Arrow Films is Recommended. –KH

Operation Finale (Film, US, Chris Weitz, 2018) In 1960, Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) suffers from survivor’s guilt as he leads a team to kidnap Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) in Argentina for trial in Israel. The script, based on the memoirs of the real Israeli agents, wisely compresses historical time and offers some tasty dialogue, but doesn’t manage to fully cohere around either a heroic spycraft story a la Argo or a psychological exploration a la Munich. The implicitly promised actors’ duel between Isaac and Kingsley doesn’t quite come off, either. –KH

Not Recommended

In the Quarter (Fiction, Robert W. Chambers, 1894) As his fellow art students roister in Paris, Reginald Gethryn falls for a grisette despite the warnings of his older friend Braith. Lively and true to life in parts, this novel’s mild melodramatic joys do not make it past the two (two!!) stereotyped Jews who serve as the odious cardboard villains. At least Trilby has hypnotism to go with its anti-Semitism; Chambers just has local color, and it’s not even yellow. Some characters from this novel appear in the later stories in The King in Yellow, however. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Arch Playlets and an Investigating Organist

September 11th, 2018 | 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

Holy Disorders (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1945) Organist and composer Geoffrey Vintner faces thugs, infatuation, witches, Nazis, and murder in the cathedral town of Tolnbridge, so it’s a good thing that Gervase Fen is there to eventually solve the case. Notable for Crispin’s echoing (and name-checking) John Dickson Carr, who provides the Gothic bass to Fen’s eccentric treble. Not fully satisfying as a mystery novel, but brilliant and dark like a lightning storm at night. –KH

Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier (Play, Edward Rutherford, 2018) Louche and haunted narrator (Kevin Webb) introduces six stories by the sly master, including my favorite of Collier’s, “Thus I Refute Beelzy.” Archly played, aiming for sometimes-incompatible creepiness and irony, the playlets can get broad at times privileging denouement over character depth. But the ensemble carries the moment, ably anchored by Webb. –KH [Playing through September 15 at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago.]

Good

Frequent Hearses (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1950) Gervase Fen investigates a murder spree touched off by the suicide of up-and-coming starlet Gloria Scott. Crispin’s own career writing movie scores provides ample and interesting color to this darkish mystery. When Fen disappears from the novel leaving Inspector Humbleby center stage, the narrative slows down and marks time. –KH

Jack Ryan Season 1 (Television, US, Amazon, Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, 2018) CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) and his boss Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) uncover a terrorist plot and find themselves thrust into the field to stop it. A solid throughline and confident directing — while nothing spectacular — undergird this fast-moving, basic modern-day thriller that closely replicates the experience of reading Tom Clancy novels. The season’s sole B-plot feels as pointless as it is, but at least it doesn’t take up much of your time. –KH

Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines (Nonfiction, Nick Nolte, 2018) The star of 48 HRS and Affliction details his storied acting career and anxiety-driven battle with various addictions. Sections of ghost writerly research alternate with others that feel like Nolte’s voice.—RDL

Sharp Objects (Television, HBO, Jean-Marc Vallée, 2018) Tailspinning reporter (Amy Adams) returns to her small Missouri town to cover a serial murder case, prompting a dark reckoning with her control-obsessed mother (Patricia Clarkson.) Ethereal imagery, impressionistic editing and committed performances lend realism to a crime novel plot driven by behavior engaged in by no humans ever.—RDL

Okay

Great Directors (Film, UK/France/Italy, Angela Ismailos) Documentarian interviews a roster of directors including Agnes Varda, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Todd Lynch, Ken Loach and Liliana Cavani, with reverent but unfocused results. Bump up to Good if watched as an unchallenging appetizer to an upcoming 45-movie jaunt to one’s local international film festival.—RDL

Never So Few (Film, US, John Sturges, 1959) When not leading a liaison unit embedded with local Kachin forces in Burma, hardbitten army captain (Frank Sinatra) woos a shadowy profiteer’s worldly girlfriend (Gina Lollobrigida.) Two films with largely unrelated throughlines, a glossy romance and a fatalistic war epic, keep interrupting each other, leaving as the piece’s main virtue Sturges’ mastery of the Cinemascope frame and vivid 50s color palette. Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson appear in early supporting roles.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Neo-Poliziotteschi and Devonshire Rustication

September 4th, 2018 | 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 Glimpses of the Moon (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1977) Rusticating and procrastinating among eccentric neighbors in Devonshire, detective don Gervase Fen pokes into a local case of decapitation and mutilation. Crispin’s last novel was published posthumously, and given that Crispin himself had been rusticating in Devonshire for 20 years and retained his somewhat acidic irony throughout, it’s probably for the best that he escaped his neighbors’ discovery of his opinion of them. Like Crispin’s other works, it’s a classic mystery complete with locked room (or tent) and the occasional Wodehousian detour into minor characters’ manias. –KH

Let the Corpses Tan (Film, France, Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Armored car robbers shoot it out with a motorcycle cop in the ruined seaside villa of an eccentric artist (Elina Lowensohn.) Tribute to 70s Italian poliziotteschi in which every shot is an ostentatiously perfect image further amped by slamming sound design.—RDL, Seen at TIFF ‘17, Now in US theatrical release.

Sami Blood (Film, Sweden, Amanda Kernell, 2016) Sent to a residential school to become Swedish—but not too Swedish—a Sami teenager (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) runs off to the city, hellbent on full assimilation. Social realist drama draws its power from the performance of its young lead, who plays a swirling mix of rage, shame, vulnerability and determination while always ringing true.—RDL

Good

Desperate (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1947) Young newlyweds go into hiding to escape the vengeance of a grudge-holding warehouse heister (Raymond Burr.) In his first in a classic cycle of crime dramas, Mann applies a heady layer of noir style to a straightforward tale of good pursued by evil.—RDL

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (Fiction, P.W. Singer and August Cole, 2015) In around 2026, China and Russia team up to decapitate America’s tech advantage, and (non-nuclear) war ensues. Technothrillers must contain tech and thrills, and Ghost Fleet contains heaps of both in spades. Cyberwar expert Singer and defense journalist Cole stick to their fields of expertise (and grind a few axes) to good effect, wisely sticking to bold, uncomplicated characters to carry the plentiful action. –KH

The Prime Ministers Who Never Were (Nonfiction, Francis Beckett, ed., 2011) Collection of alternate histories of alternate Prime Ministers running from Austen Chamberlain (leads the Tories out of coalition in 1922) to David Miliband (edges out Gordon Brown for Labour Party leadership in 2007). Although the two WWII-era guys we all want to read about show up (Oswald Mosley comes off, of all things, as more relatable and successful than Lord Halifax), many of the essays repeatedly if understandably alter the Thatcher and Blair eras, reinforcing a rather samey repertory theatre effect. (Nobody likes Peter Mandelson, apparently.) British readers with an ironic political appetite might even Recommend the collection; they will surely get more of the in-jokes than I did. –KH

Psychokinesis (Film, South Korea, Yeon Sang-ho, 2018) Loser security guard tries to use his new telekinetic abilities to reestablish a relationship with the daughter he abandoned, as she battles crooked developers intent on destroying her restaurant and neighboring businesses. Jab at endemic corruption in South Korea disarmingly wrapped as a broad, crowd-pleasing mix of comedy, sentiment and super powered action.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hybrid Nomads, Jane Birkin and Loads More Noir

August 28th, 2018 | 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

Keep On Keeping On (Nonfiction, Alan Bennett, 2016) The latest collection of diary entries from lauded playwright Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) covers 2005-2015, including historic church visits, the perils of privatization, funerals for lost colleagues, crap architectural renovations, bad reviews, aging, and what various birds are up to. The best two anecdotes feature Bennett’s fellow Beyond the Fringe alum Jonathan Miller’s quixotic stands against public urination.—RDL

Jane B. by Agnes V. (Film, France, Agnès Varda, 1988) Deconstructed documentary profile of actress and singer Jane Birkin interweaves quasi-conventional interviews with clips from hypothetical films ranging from a western and an art heist thriller to a Joan of Arc biopic. A visually lush exploration of star charisma from cinema’s most playful formalist.—RDL

Pickup (Film, US, Hugo Haas, 1951) Elderly railroad dispatcher Jan Horak (Haas) meets gold-digger Betty (Beverly Michaels), who plays him for a sap, of course. Or worse, if she can get Horak’s co-worker Steve (Allan Nixon) to do her dirty work. Often derided as a kind of 1950s Russ Meyer, Haas was actually a great actor and director in Prague before the Nazi takeover; both qualities show here in this stark moral fable. Beverly Michaels’ marvelous disdain helps power the film past its Poverty Row budget. –KH

The Scarlet Hour (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1956) After overhearing a planned jewel theft, adulterous lovers Marsh (Tom Tryon) and Paulie (Carol Ohmart) plot to hijack it to fund their escape from her husband (James Gregory). Curtiz peppers this capable noir with some simply amazing shots; based on her wonderfully feral performance, Ohmart deserves more fame than she got then or now. Elaine Stritch is only the best of the stalwart supporting players. –KH

The Turning Point (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1952) Naïve crusading special prosecutor John Conroy (Edmond O’Brien) needs help from cynical reporter Jerry McKibbon (William Holden) to bring down racketeer Neil Eichelberger (Ed Begley, Sr.). Superb noir narrative punishes feckless good and ironic detachment, along with the regular sins of corruption and cheating, amidst great LA location shots. Well worth seeing. –KH

Good

Empires of the Silk Road (Nonfiction, Christopher Beckwith, 2009) This enthralling narrative history of Central Eurasia from the proto-Indo-Europeans to the War on Terror fills notable gaps in world historiography, not least by its sympathy with the hybrid nomad-sedentary cultures of the area often libeled as “barbarians.” Beckwith is a Tibetologist and linguist, so while the book is cranky, it is not a crank book. That said, two whole chapters fulminating against Modernism (basically the post-1900 section) stand out as particularly weak regardless of one’s sympathies, and even I know you can’t just posit that Old Chinese began as an Indo-European language and expect to get away with footnoting your own work. –KH

I Was a Shoplifter (Film, US, Charles Lamont, 1950) Judge’s klepto daughter Faye Burton (boring Mona Freeman) gets pinched for shoplifting, drawing her into a ring of thieves headed by Ina Perdue (Andrea King). King runs this movie like she runs her criminal enterprise, with raised eyebrows and clever patter; her sizzling repartee with detective Scott Brady is what the Breen Office should have been concerned with, not the nugatory shoplifting advice. –KH

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Film, US, Felix Feist, 1950) When rich Lois Frazier (Jane Wyatt) kills her husband, her cop boyfriend Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) helps her cover her tracks while his brother (John Dall) investigates the crime. Cobb and Dall and some terrific San Francisco location shots make this film worth watching despite the casting misfire of Wyatt as the femme fatale. –KH

The People Against O’Hara (Film, US, John Sturges, 1951) Shortly after recovering from a stress-related alcoholic breakdown, attorney James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy) takes a murder case defending Johnny O’Hara (James Arness). Despite noirish lensing by John Alton, its domestic subplot lumbers this fully conventional courtroom drama, which gains tension only when it becomes a policier in the last act. Future squire of Gothos William Campbell has a star turn as an improbably Czech hoodlum. –KH

The Spiritualist (Film, US, Bernard Vorhaus, 1948) Pining for her dead husband, Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) proves an easy mark for fake spiritualist Alexis (Turhan Bey). Bey gives good charming weasel, and the script and John Alton’s cinematography go the extra mile despite the limitations of the budget and Bari (cast at literally the last minute). Worth extra notice for genuine magician Harry Mendoza as a detective, and the attention to the details of Alexis’ racket. –KH

Okay

Suspiria (Film, Italy, Dario Argento, 1977) American dancer (Jessica Harper) newly enrolled at a strange German dance academy suspects a malign connection between the murder of her predecessor and various ominous manifestations. Commanding soundtrack and visuals, including a super-saturated color scheme, overshadow a rudimentary script.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media Takes a Turn For the Noir

August 21st, 2018 | 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

Conflict (Film, US, Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) In love with her sister, Richard Mason (Humphrey Bogart) murders his wife — or does he? Sydney Greenstreet is the suspicious psychiatrist in this unique role-switch that screws tension and interest to a fever pitch for 98 percent of its length. Bogart plays Mason’s disintegrating self so well that the noir script holes just flit past unremarked. –KH

Devil in a Blue Dress (Film, US, Carl Franklin, 1995) Unemployed black veteran “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington) stumbles into detective work, and into murders, when white fixer Albright (Tom Sizemore) hires him to find the missing Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals). Excellent transposition of Walter Mosley’s novel to film relies equally on Washington’s intelligence, Tak Fujimoto’s expertly sun-faded camera work, and a manic turn by Don Cheadle as Rawlins’ psycho ace in the hole, “Mouse.” –KH

I Walk Alone (Film, US, Byron Haskin, 1948) Released from prison after fourteen years, gangster Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster) seeks a reckoning with his old partner Noll Turner (Kirk Douglas), but finds that times have changed. Come for the Lancaster-Douglas showdown, but stay for the jaw-dropping set piece in which Frankie discovers the real crime of business accounting. –KH

Love Education (Film, Taiwan, Sylvia Chang, 2017) After her mother’s death, a stubborn schoolteacher (Sylvia Chang) launches a campaign to relocate her father’s grave, over the objections of his equally indomitable first wife, the ear-grabbing honorary granny of a close-knit rural community. Moving and funny drama with a wry eye for character observation.—RDL

Love Season 2 (Television, Lesley Arfin & Paul Rust & Judd Apatow, 2017) Despite her resolve to keep her distance, and his inability to navigate her boundaries, love addict Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and awkward Gus circle ever closer to official relationship status. In an era of sophomore slumps, it’s exciting to see a series, especially one so dependent on a keen balance between sharp comedy and real behavior, understand and deliver on what made it great in the first place.—RDL

One False Move (Film, US, Carl Franklin, 1992) Three crooks (Michael Beach, Cynda Williams, and Billy Bob Thornton) fleeing a multiple murder in LA bring big-city cops and gritty violence to the cornpone flyspeck of Star City, Arkansas, and its exuberant police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton). Franklin blends the crime film and the Western better than most directors handle either genre. Williams’ character anchors the movie, allowing Paxton and Thornton to blow up their parts gloriously. –KH

Understudy For Death (Fiction, Charles Willeford, 1961) When a well-to-do housewife in a small Florida town kills herself and her children, the cynical local reporter assigned to pry into the case stumbles into infidelity. Revived after half a century and still mis-marketed as a crime novel, this features Willeford’s unsparing hardboiled voice but is really an exercise in mid-century American alienation. As if a typical noir cast decided to set aside mystery and murder and stick to the behavior of Cheever or Yates characters. If you don’t know Willeford, start with Cockfighter.—RDL

The Unsuspected (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1947) A seeming suicide, a return from the dead, and a mysterious marriage throw the household of radio true-crime host Victor Grandison (Claude Rains) into dramatic disarray. Although Rains oils and conspires beautifully, if Curtiz had gotten his first casting choices (Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine) this would have been another of his Pinnacles. The dialogue crackles, the cameras zoom and float, and shadows loom and stab in this not-quite-flawless thriller. –KH

Good

Blind Spot (Film, US, Robert Gordon, 1947) A drunk writer (Chester Morris) may have murdered his publisher in a locked room right after coming up with a locked-room mystery plot. Strong viewer identification and the beautiful Constance Dowling (as the publisher’s pawed-at secretary) push this light work up to Good for me, but Morris’ ridiculous “drunk” performance in the first act and the lack of true mystery may drop it to Okay for others. –KH

Bodyguard (Film, US, Richard Fleischer, 1948) Dismissed from the LAPD, maverick cop Mike Carter (Lawrence Tierney) finds bodyguard work, and skullduggery afoot, in the Dyson meat-packing clan. Either you want to see Lawrence Tierney bully, slink, and growl his way through plenty of vital, interesting Los Angeles location shots or you don’t. –KH

Strange Impersonation (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1946) Biochemist Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) experiments on herself with a new anesthetic, sending the viewer on a thrill ride of blackmail, identity theft, alembics, and post-surgery cigarettes, with a terrific Anthony Mann shot every so often to goose the emotional stakes. Even William Gargan as the inexplicable bone of romantic contention can’t stop things dead. –KH

Okay

Escape in the Fog (Film, US, Budd Boetticher, 1945) Recuperating nurse Eilene (Nina Foch) has a nightmare of seeing a man stabbed on the Golden Gate Bridge — and then meets him when her waking screams bring him running. Budget limits and a hack script waste the appealing Foch and a great premise on a rote spy-smashing B-picture. Boetticher doesn’t really bother trying here. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Aquatic Humanoids and the New Tim Powers

August 14th, 2018 | 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

Alternate Routes (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2018) A former Secret Service agent who now works for a ghost-proof courier service in LA collides with an ongoing government program that’s weakening the walls between worlds. This is a very Powers-y novel, albeit one more rooted in the present than his usual. The ghost cosmology bubbles inventively, a blend of Expiration Date and “Down and Out in Purgatory,” with a few new wrinkles. Although the action seldom lets up, it’s not quite the barn-burner that the Powers Pinnacles are, with only one truly vertiginous revelation. –KH

Black is the Color (Graphic Novel, Julia Gfrörer, 2013) Sailor set adrift by his desperate shipmates attracts the attentions of an affectionate but sinister mermaid. Deadpan, haunting weird tale told in spare, almost monoplanar line art.—RDL

Cold Skin (Film, France/Spain, Xavier Jens, 2017) Weather station operator (David Oakes) newly arrived on a remote, barren island joins with its only other human inhabitant, a truculent lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson) to fend off nightly attacks from aquatic humanoids. Stark, beautifully shot period horror reminiscent of William Hope Hodgson.—RDL

Good

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (Film, US, Lou Adler, 1982) After minor celebrity makes Corinne “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) unemployable in her small town, she talks her (awful) band The Stains (Lane, Marin Kanter, and Laura Dern) onto the tour of the Metal Corpses (various Tubes) and the Looters (Ray Winstone fronting various Clash and Sex Pistols). What ensues, murkily directed and recorded, is the origin myth of the Riot Grrrl movement via All About Eve. Nancy Dowd took her name off the script, which as shot and cut can’t figure out if it’s indicting the Spectacle or Burns or both. Lane and Winstone are great, though. –KH

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