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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Into the Poirot-Verse

April 9th, 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

High Life (Film, France, Claire Denis, 2019) Death row inmates, including a monkish resister (Robert Pattinson) and a controlling scientist (Juliette Binoche) take a one-way spaceship journey beyond the solar system to send astronavigational and reproductive data back to Earth. Hypnotic and distressing, horrible and beautiful vision of hijacked fecundity.—RDL Seen at TIFF, now in US theatrical release.

Recommended

Jorge Luis Borges (Critical Lives) (Nonfiction, Jason Wilson, 2006) Concise biography of the iconic Argentine fantasist teases out the connections between the short stories and the experiences of their author. Even before becoming fully blind in 1955, Borges led a circumscribed existence, so a short bio like this is the way to reckon with the life behind the work.—RDL

Lucha Mexico (Film, US, Alex Hammon &, Ian Markiewicz, 2016) Documentary profiles the stars of the various Mexican wrestling circuits, many of them second generation performers, as bruised and battered heroes of and for the working class. Goes behind the expected layer of outlandish stagecraft to find the poignant reality outside the ring.—RDL

Swan Song (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1947) The death of odious opera star Edwin Shorthouse looks like suicide by hanging — but detective don Gervase Fen solves the locked room mystery with his customary élan, though with less of Crispin’s customary riotous humor. Here, Crispin seems to care a bit more about his side characters’ emotional lives (and about his musical setting), deepening the book nicely. –KH

Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe (Nonfiction, Adam Zamoyski, 2008) Fast-paced, stylish history of the 1920 Russo-Polish War and its climactic “Miracle on the Vistula” that saved peace and democracy in Eastern Europe for two decades. Zamoyski concentrates on the military maneuvers, sidelining the political dimension — a bit of a shame, given how readable Zamoyski can be on such topics. –KH

Good

The Highwaymen (Film, US, John Lee Hancock, 2019) Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) come out of retirement in 1934 to hunt down the killers Bonnie and Clyde. Old Costner is great in any rifle-toting squinting role, and once Harrelson shows up to rescue the script from serial cliche this Western/policier finds a rhythm, but “more historically accurate than Arthur Penn” is not in itself a reason to make a movie. –KH

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (Film, Australia, Mark Hartley, 2010) With equal parts rue and perverse pride, interviewees recount the wild period in the early 70s when Roger Corman and others took advantage of ultra-cheap conditions to make a string of boundary-trampling exploitation flicks in the Philippines. Documentary covers an understandably unheralded movie scene rife with paradox, from the films’ misogynistic feminism to a reliance on revolutionary themes made with the eager assistance of the Marcos dictatorship.—RDL

Murder on the Orient Express (Film, US/UK, Sidney Lumet, 1974) Detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) solves the murder of American thug Ratchet (Richard Widmark) on the titular train. Paul Dehn’s script highlights Christie’s mystery, and Lumet deepens characterization in the all-star cast, with excellent performances from (among others) Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, and Vanessa Redgrave. Finney, however, plays Poirot with a hunched posture and nasal Belgian accent that never seem remotely natural. –KH

Shazam! (Film, US, David F. Sandberg, 2019) Orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gains the power of the titular wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and becomes [Captain Marvel] (Zachary Levi). The strength of the film lies in its amiable nature and in the strong casting of Batson and his sidekick Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer); these carry it over a drawn-out origin story and through a too-long final showdown. –KH

Okay

Murder on the Orient Express (Film, US, Kenneth Branagh, 2017) Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solves the murder of American thug Ratchet (Johnny Depp) on the titular train. Branagh spends far more time on 65mm tracking shots and bombastic action sequences than establishing the mystery or even directing his all-star cast, who mostly fall back on their favored tics instead; Michelle Pfeiffer runs away with the story, such as it is. Branagh’s Poirot has OCD rather than merely being a fussbudget, but Branagh does intermittently channel the detective’s supreme arrogance. –KH

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