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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Black and White and Red All Over

May 7th, 2019 | 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

Shadow (Film, China, Zhang Yimou, 2019) In defiance of his king (Zheng Kai), a commoner (Deng Chao) trained to pose as a secretly wounded general prepares for deadly and politically destabilizing duel. Stately court intrigue lays the groundwork for stunningly executed, outlandish action. Stunning grayscale production design, with some red showing up at the end for obvious reasons. —RDL Seen at TIFF’18; now in North American theatrical release.

Recommended

Avengers: Endgame (Film, US, Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019) The Avengers, et al. (Robert Downey Jr., et al.) attempt to reverse Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) destruction of half the life in the universe. In a film longer, but less draggy, than Infinity War, the Russos deploy effective character beats to (mostly) successfully (mostly) land character and story arcs from 21 earlier films. With no great fight scenes and an only somewhat-better-than-average CGI battle, the film still works on its own terms. Recommended for fans of the MCU, which let’s face it, we all are. –KH

Avengers: Endgame (Film, US, Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019) Earth’s remaining superheroes, plus a spare alien or two, look for ways to undo Thanos’ elimination of half the universe’s population. Less a film than three very different, ultra-expensive TV shows laid end to end, this delivers valedictory character moments amid a recursive meta-commentary on the uber-franchise it putatively concludes.—RDL

The Founder (Film, US, John Lee Hancock, 2016) Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) discovers the McDonalds (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and takes their fast food system national. Terrific acting by Keaton, Offerman, and Lynch pull this tale of “greed makes good” up from mere biopic to something closer to the gangster film. Still a little messy, but with the kinds of flaws that wind up adding wrinkles rather than ruining story. –KH

The Human Factor (Fiction, Graham Greene, 1978) A mole hunt closes in on an MI6 Africa analyst compromised by his past as a field agent in Apartheid-era South Africa. Character-driven spy thriller remains firmly in the realm of the plausible .—RDL

Non-Fiction (Film, France, Olivier Assayas, 2019) Shop talk and debate about the digital future of the book industry act as the text for a publisher (Guillaume Canet), his wife (Juliette Binoche) a novelist (Vincent Macaigne), and their circle, with infidelity the subtext. Affectionate satire of the intelligentsia is formally conventional except for one factor—having its people talk about the things they would actually talk about.—RDL Seen at TIFF’18; now in North American theatrical release.

The Sorceress of the Strand (Fiction, L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, 1903) The brilliant beautifier, Madame Sara, plots murder and theft in six short stories. Conventional Edwardian prose (and dull detectives) can’t obscure the superb femme fatale villain or her ingenious plots. A quick, delightful read. –KH

Supernatural Season 14 (Television, US, CW, Andrew Dabb & Robert Singer, 2018-2019) As Sam Dean battle the sinister alternate-world archangel Michael, something is up with their nephilim ward Jack. The penultimate season of genre TV’s marathon running show summons a fresh, double switcheroo to vary its structural template.—RDL

A Quiet Place (Film, US, John Krasinski, 2018) In the wake of a monsterpocalypse, a man (Krasinski) and his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt) struggle to protect their son and daughter from alien creatures that hunt by sound location. 50s monster invasion tropes updated with slow burn pacing, as a metaphor for the fragility of the contemporary American family.—RDL

Good

Cats on Film (Nonfiction, Anne Billson, 2017) A fun catalogue of 100 cat-centric and cat-jacent films sorted into categories based on their feline content: Catzillas, Cataphors, etc. Billson’s range is wide, covering plenty of non-Anglophone films, occasionally in the form of short fictions (“My Day by Jones”). Cat lovers and film lovers will both get something from it, but should expect only skritches and not meat. –KH

Last Hurrah for Chivalry (Film, Hong Kong, John Woo, 1979) Nobleman wounded in a wedding day massacre enlists a swordsman and a drifter to seek vengeance on his enemy. Initially plays like a standard martial arts flick of the era, then introduces the themes of comradeship and romantic fatalism Woo will fully realize in his later heroic bloodshed films.—RDL

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