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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

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