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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Barbarian, Three Thousand Years of Longing, and Bollywood’s MCU

September 21st, 2022 | 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

Barbarian (Film, US, Zach Cregger, 2022) Tess’ (Georgina Marshall) problems just begin when she arrives at her AirBnB in a desolate Detroit neighborhood to find Keith (Bill Skarsgård) already in possession. Bracingly confident horror film changes tones repeatedly while building tension and providing ever-creepier insight into the story. Marshall’s impressively naturalistic acting reinforces Cregger’s script at every turn. –KH

The Decline of Western Civilization III (Film, US, Penelope Spheeris, 1998) The final leg of Spheeris’ rock outlawry documentary trilogy focuses on the lives of homeless L.A. kids, most of them abuse survivors with substance problems, bonded together by mutual desperation and the cathartic release of punk music.—RDL

Death of Jezebel (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1948) When Isabel Drew falls from a tower during a London pageant at a trade show, Inspector Cockrill must solve a seemingly impossible crime from a steadily dwindling suspect list. Another of Brand’s nigh-caustic character portraits mixes with a gleeful game of three-card, or rather eleven-knight, monte that almost concludes too abruptly to let the reader catch their breath at the solution. –KH

Mariner of the Mountains (Film, Brazil, Karim Aïnouz, 2021) After the death of his mother, Brazilian filmmaker Aïnouz journeys to Algeria for the first time to discover the Kabylian village where his absent father grew up. Art cinema’s abstraction and distance collide with the vibrant embrace offered by a community of actual humans in this memoir/travelog documentary.—RDL

Three Thousand Years of Longing (Film, US/Australia, George Miller, 2022) While at a conference in Istanbul, narratologist Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) frees a djinn (Idris Elba) from his bottle, but recognizes that the mandatory three wishes always backfire. Gorgeous Arabian-Nights-style flashbacks in the middle of the film leave the too-elongated fourth act (tacked on to the original A.S. Byatt story) seeming even thinner, but Swinton and Elba remain entirely fascinating throughout. –KH

Trivisa (Film, Hong Kong, Frank Hui, Jevons Au & Vicky Wong, 2016) In the run-up to the 1997 Hong Kong handover, an extroverted armed robber turned kidnapper (Jordan Chan) attempts to recruit two equally notorious counterparts for a vaguely defined master crime spree. Unusual variant on the anthology structure in which the contributions of three writer-director teams are intercut with one another, suffused with the entropic fatalism of producer Johnnie To.—RDL

Good

Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva (Film, India, Ayan Mukerji, 2022) Orphaned Mumbai DJ Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) meets his true love Isha (Alia Bhatt) and awakens his destiny as wielder of the Agnyastra, the divine fire weapon. A star-studded cast kicks off what the producers doubtless hope will be Bollywood’s own MCU, inspired by Hindu mythology. This must be what watching an MCU film without any background knowledge feels like, except the CGI fight at the end doesn’t look like garbage and the opening set piece is a superlatively filmed and choreographed musical number. –KH

Okay

Stamboul Quest (Film, US, Sam Wood, 1934) The persistent attentions of a charming American (George Brent) spell trouble for a glamorous, heroic German spy (Myrna Loy) and her mission to test the loyalty of a Turkish commander. A weak third act turns this mix of espionage and romance into a curiosity piece.—RDL

RVIFF Inaugural Edition Capsule Review Round-Up

September 20th, 2022 | Robin

 

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

Audience surveys are in, and both attendees of the first annual Robin and Valerie International Film Festival have pronounced it a rousing success.

We decided to give up on the Toronto International Film Festival after last year’s outing. We became ferociously devoted fest goers in the trackless depths of the VHS era. Over the decades it ineluctably grew more expensive, inconvenient and onerous to attend, as it became more focused on premieres and less on presenting the year’s very best films. Even a few years ago replacing its mix of titles with a self-curated all-streaming slate would have been unthinkable. Now with the growth of specialty platforms, contemporary world cinema from art house experiments to provocative cult flicks, has never been more available. The trick lies in knowing what to pick, which requires both research and years of festival going for context.

In the end, out of 45 titles, there was only one I actively disliked. That compares to 8 at a typical TIFF, two whole days of dross to find a handful of gems. With RVIFF we don’t get the bragging rights that come with seeing something before everyone else. But that’s not what we were ever in it for. For seeing great films, this epic binge will remain the way to go.

A side benefit of this is that I’m telling you about movies you can find yourself, right away, as opposed to vaguely recalling a title three to eighteen months from now when it finally comes your way.

Films reviewed below appear either on subscription platforms or available for regular priced rental here in Canada. My sources are Apple rental, Crave, Criterion, Google rental, Kanopy, MUBI, Netflix, Prime, and, to add annoying confusion just like a real festival would, TVO. Availability in your territory will undoubtedly vary. Start your search for title availability and platform at JustWatch.com, which covers most regions. (But does not list Kanopy titles, so you’ll have to search there if you’re using that library-based service.)

Repeating my M.O. from many years of TIFF capsule reviews, I have listed this round-up in very rough order of preference. By the time I think about these later they may have shuffled around in my estimation.

The Pinnacle

The Legend of Tomiris (Kazakhstan, Akan Satayev, 2019, 5) After a treacherous rival tribe murders her father, a Massagetae chieftain, the clever and brave Tomiris trains as a warrior and rises to power in time to defend the steppes from Cyrus the Great. Massive historical epic with thrilling fight choreography, impressive production values and one of the best blood-spattered proposal scenes in cinema.

Drive My Car (Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021, 5) A theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) marked by a tragic event finds a kindred spirit in the taciturn young woman hired to drive him around during a production in Hiroshima. Long, strange journey into the mysteries of what we chose to hide and what we must eventually reveal.

Petite Maman (France, Céline Sciamma, 2021, 5) While at her late grandmother’s house for the last time, an eight year old finds a time slip allowing her to make a new playmate—her mother, at the same age. Still, poised, deeply felt drama finds the magic in elusive everyday moments, even before the magical realism kicks in.

Recommended

Crimes of the Future (Canada, David Cronenberg, 2022, 4) In a kinky near future where pain is a rarity, performance artists Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice push the boundaries of their work, which features the elaborate removal of the novel organs he grows with his Accelerated Evolution Syndrome. Cronenberg shows his imitators how it’s really done, splicing the throughline of 8½ into body horror and finding the destruction in the creative process.

Official Competition (Spain, Mariano Cohn & Gastón Duprat, 2021) Eccentric director (Penelope Crus) presides over a clash of egos when she rehearses her next film with a pretentious theater actor (Oscar Martinez) and a temperamental movie star (Antonio Banderas.) Monumental wide shots in an empty modernist building counterpoint a hilarious satire of actorly insecurities.

Parallel Mothers (Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2021) Photographer (Penelope Cruz) learns that the baby she took home from the hospital wasn’t hers, but refrains from telling the teen mom (Milena Smit) who is the likely biological mother. Repeatedly sets up and betrays genre expectations, in this case, melodramatic ones, in an unexpected and satisfying manner that takes an Almodovar-level master to pull off.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same (Japan, Joe Odagiri, 2019) In Meiji Japan, an elderly boatman facing the end of his trade due to bridge construction rescues an injured girl from the river. Visually stunning fable of relationship to nature and community with a ghost story on the periphery.

The Worst Person in the World (Norway, Joachim Trier, 2021) Directionless woman in her late twenties (Renate Reinsve) struggles to find fulfilling love, and herself. Observant and moving character-driven dramedy with perfectly calibrated performances from Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie as her overly analytical cartoonist boyfriend.

Coppers (Canada, Alan Zweig, 2019, 4) Retired Ontario police officers recount their often hair-raising experiences as coppers and the struggles with PTSD, alcoholism and other members of the force that resulted from them. Zweig, master of the interview documentary, lets his subjects explore the gnarly paradox of policing—that the job inherently turns people who do it into people who shouldn’t.

Fagara (Hong Kong, Heiward Mak, 2019, 4) When her father suddenly dies, an unfulfilled woman (Sammi Cheng) meets the half-sisters she didn’t know about and decides to keep his hotpot restaurant open. Luminous family drama centers on restrained, effective movie star performances from Cheng and, in a supporting role, Andy Lau.

Bergman Island (France, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2021, 4) Undertaking a residency on Ingmar Bergman’s retreat at Faroe, a filmmaker (Vicky Krieps) struggles with a script as her more celebrated, prolific husband (Tim Roth) breezes through his; she describes to him its rekindled affair at a wedding on Faroe, casting it with Mia Wasikowksa and Anders Danielsen Lie. Serenely beautiful puzzle film about the parallel mysteries of love and the creative process.

Nomad: in the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (UK, Werner Herzog, 2019, 4) Herzog conducts another of his documentary journeys of wonder and reverence, encountering ley lines, songlines, and the totemic powers of a life-saving rucksack, in tribute to his friend Bruce Chatwin, whose novel he adapted into his 1987 film Cobra Verde. In vowing to ensure that the protagonist is not himself but Chatwin, who was like a brother to him, Herzog reveals more of himself than perhaps any other of his many works.

Benedetta (France/Belgium/Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven, 2021, 4) Young nun (Virginie Efira) in 17th century Italy supplements her passion for a rustic novice (Daphne Patakia) with gory visions of a sword-wielding Jesus, fueling a rise to power in her convent. Verhoven gives his zest for the lurid full reign as sensuality and mortification intertwine and the clash of competing fanaticisms unleashes chaos.

Holy Emy (Greece, Araceli Lemos, 2021, 4) As she manifests miraculous healing abilities, a young woman (Abigael Loma) in Ahens’ Filipino community faces a choice between her devout sister and the ex-employer  who exploited her mother’s similar powers. Magic realist drama heightened by a strong sense for imagery.

The Spy Gone North (South Korea, Yoon Jong-bin, 2018) Spy adopts a new persona as a brash businessman to infiltrate the North Korean inner circle, only to learn that his right-wing bosses have been paying Kim Jong Il to interfere in the South’s elections. Political spy thriller docudrama engagingly fictionalizes a series of implausible true events.

The Other Side of Hope (Finland, Aki Kaurismaki, 2019) Syrian refugee claimant bonds with the staff of a floundering restaurant run by a taciturn former shirt salesman. Stoic deadpan camaraderie results when an urgent real crisis enters Kaurismaki’s distinctive world of down-at-the-heels retro cool.

Zero Fucks Given (France, Julie Lecoustre & Emmanuel Marre, 2019) Despite her desires to lose herself in distractions, a young flight attendant for a budget airline is forced to seek promotion. Realist character study at first appears to be a working person’s film for the service industry era, then goes deeper.

Twilight’s Kiss (Hong Kong, Ray Yeung, 2019, 4) Closeted retirement-age cab driver (Tai-Bo) strikes up a relationship with a contemporary (Ben Yuen) who is likewise not out to his family but yearns for a closer connection. Restrained character drama honors and regrets the stoic resignation of its characters.

Gagarine (France, Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh, 2020, 4) Soulful high school student stays behind in his housing project, which like him is named after Yuri Gargarin, after it is slated for demolition. Mix of lyricism and social realism laced with elegiac imagery of a vanished space age.

Plaza Catedral (Panama, Abner Benaim, 2021, 4) Grief-stricken, closed-off architect (Ilse Salas) takes in a street kid (Fernando Xavier De Casta) suffering from a gunshot wound. Benaim shows an eye for composition and control of the cinematic palette in this taut character drama.

Midnight (South Korea, Oh-Seung Kwon, 2021, 4) After witnessing a serial killer (Wi Ha-joon) with his latest victim, a deaf customer service rep (Ki-joo Jin) flees for her life. Unity-of-time thriller keeps the inventive suspense beats coming fast.

Night Raiders (Canada, Danis Goulet, 2021, 4) In a grim near future, a Cree woman reluctantly unites with a resistance cell of fellow tribe members to rescue her daughter from a totalitarian military academy. Allegory of the residential schools system framed as a dystopian thriller designs its futuristic elements to look like drably naturalistic found locations.

Hive (Kosovo, Blerta Basholli, 2021) Determined woman (Yllka Gashi) assembles fellow presumed widows of Kosovo War ethnic cleansing to form a company to make pepper preserves, defying village prejudices against women driving or working. Incisively told social drama features committed, immediate performances.

Sheep Without a Shepherd (China, Sam Quah, 2019, 4) Movie-mad, hard-pressed supplier of Internet hardware plots to cover up his daughter’s killing of her abuser as he attacked her mother—but his mother, a corner-cutting police chief (Joan Chen), is determined to find out what happened. Presented in hyper-accentuated style that might be expressed in the equation ((John Woo + Tony Scott) × Bollywood), this upends the wrong man thriller into a premise where the protagonists did do it and we’re rooting for them to get away with it.

Double Lover (France, Francois Ozon, 2017, 4) After moving in with her former psychotherapist (Jérémie Renier), a young woman (Marine Vacth) discovers that he has a secret twin, also a psychotherapist. Coolly controlled erotic thriller is Hitchcock homage with a Cronenberg homage growing parasitically inside it.

Red Rocket (US, Sean Baker, 2021, 4) Fast-talking hasbeen adult performer (Simon Rex) returns to his small Texas hometown to wheedle his way back into the life of his ex-wife / ex-co-star (Bree Elrod) and set his sights on a not-so-innocent 18-year old (Susanna Son.) Satirical character drama where the suspense lies in the exact manner of the lead character’s foreordained flame-out.

Hey There! (Turkey, Reha Erdem, 2021, 4) With Istanbul under COVID quarantine, a scammer turns to computer videoconferencing to blackmail minor offenders in the guise of a law enforcement official. Lockdown webcam musical comedy finds hope for the future in warm, embracing cynicism.

Eyimofe (This is My Desire) (Nigeria, Arie Esiri & Chuko Esiri, 2020, 4) A Lagos mechanic and hairdresser a degree of separation from one another struggle to raise money needed to emigrate. Energetic slice of life drama of life in a touch city where every interaction by necessity devolves into a transaction.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Romania, Radu Jude, 2021, 4) Middle school teacher faces parent and administration backlash when a sex video she made with her husband appears online. Three-sectioned satire updates Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mystery of the Organism to COVID-era Romania.

My Name Is Gulpilil (Australia, Molly Reynolds, 2021, 4) In the late stages of lung cancer, actor David Gulpilil, who represented the Australian indigenous experience on-screen from the age of 14 to 64, looks back on his career, personal struggles, and connection to his culture. Sticks to the POV of its frank, straightforward subject, skipping the sincere but unilluminating tributes from colleagues that fill out the standard arts profile documentary.

The Trouble with You (France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018, 4) Guilt-ridden police chief (Adèle Haenel) tries to help an embittered ex-con (Pio Marmaï) her husband and predecessor framed for a jewel robbery. Haenel shows how star power works by investing this irreverent cop comedy with a performance of simmering emotion.

The Paper Tigers (US, Quoc Bao Tran, 2020) Insurance man struggling to keep up as a divorced dad (Alain Uy) reluctantly reunites with former fellow martial arts students (Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Ron Yuan) to investigate the death of their sifu. Mix of grounded, observational comedy and martial arts flick kept aloft by the winning leads.

A Family (Japan, Michihito Fujii, 2020) After the death of his junkie father, a stubbornly focused young man finds a substitute in the person of an old-school gang boss. Instead of briefly handwaving to it and then continuing on with the usual genre tropes, this handsomely mounted yakuza drama takes as its main subject matter the recent death spiral of the yakuza in the wake of comprehensive anti-crime statutes.

El Planeta (Spain, Amalia Ulman, 2021) After her father dies, a young woman (Amalia Ulman) and her mother (Alejandra Ulman) struggle to get by in the glum city of Gijon. Droll, low-key character piece in sparking black and white.

Neither Heaven Nor Earth (France, Clément Cogitore, 2015) Mysterious disappearances plague French soldiers stationed at a remote Afghan outpost, to the increasing discomfiture of their hard-headed Captain (Jérémie Renier.) Naturalistically shot, weird war tale featuring a threatening force of elusive ambiguity.

Zombie for Sale (South Korea, Lee Min-jae, 2020, 4) Family of scammers and losers who own a decrepit gas station try to cash in when they capture a cabbage-loving zombie with a rejuvenating bite. Lovably dysfunctional underdogs unite in this fun zomcom.

Strawberry Mansion (US, Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney, 2021, 4) Suggestible taxman (Kentucker Audley) arrives at elderly artist’s house to assess overdue taxes on her backlog of dreams, only to find that they are stored on tape, not the now-required airstick method. Quirky romantic dreamquest with adorable handcrafted creatures and effects.

Peace by Chocolate (Canada, Jonathan Keijser, 2021, 4) Syrian refugee relocated to the snowy small town of Antigonish Nova Scotia is torn between his desire to attend medical school and his father’s wish to rebuild the chocolate business that was destroyed back home. Thoughtfully crafted script does a good job of maintaining conflict the context of a light and affirming docudrama.

Heavy Trip (Finland, Juuso Laatio & Jukka Vidgren, 2018, 4) After twelve years of practice and the completion of one original song, a metal band that practices in the guitarist’s parents’ basement sets its sights on the Northern Damnation music festival in Norway. Good-natured broad comedy with SCA Vikings and a wolverine punch-up, powered by the screams of a thousand reindeer on their way to reindeer hell.

Snowflake (Germany, Adolfo J. Kolmerer, 2017, 4) In a dystopian near future Berlin, bantering killers (Reza Brojerdi, Erkan Acar) discover that their actions are dictated by a screenplay written by a dentist. Meta cult hitman movie about vengeance and narrative inevitability.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (South Korea, Lee Won-tae, 2019) When a brutal gang lord (Ma Dong-seok) survives the random attack of a serial killer, a maverick cop (Mu-Yeol Kim) persuades him to join the hunt to track him down. Investigative crime drama makes the most of a juicy premise, in which cat and mouse becomes cat and cat and other cat.

Good

Baby Assassins (Japan, Yugo Sakamoto, 2021, 3.5) Two teen girl killers, one outgoing, the other withdrawn, have trouble meshing when the oddly bureaucratic enterprise they work for requires them to live together and get part-time jobs. Offbeat cult comedy bookended by fun fight sequences.

Good Manners (Brazil, Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, 2017, 3.5) Woman in precarious circumstances (Isabél Zuaa) takes a job as nanny-to-be for a pregnant, unanchored rich woman (Marjorie Estiano) who develops somnambulism and a thirst for blood when the moon is full. Compelling and chameleonic, if structurally unbalanced, werewolf film essays radical shifts of style and premise that variously references Lewton, Landis, Disney and maybe a hint of Fassbinder.

Okay

Scarborough (Canada, Shasha Nakhai & Rich Williamson, 2021) Families attending a parenting and literacy drop-in center in a low-income neighborhood experience travails and triumphs. With so many issues stuffed into one movie, this is the Love Actually of social realist movies, and not without the heavy-handedness the genre has always indulged.

Not Recommended

Alone with Her Dreams (Italy, Paolo Licata, 2019, 1) In early 60s Sicily a preteen girl chafes at the authority of her tyrannical grandmother after her parents emigrate to France, leaving her temporarily behind. Syrupy, then harshly manipulative, coming of age drama.


 

If you enjoy this RVIFF series and don’t yet do so, consider supporting the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: War Between Actors, Grounded Martial Arts Comedy and Hired Killer Meta-Narrative

September 19th, 2022 | Robin

 

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

 

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

 

The last day of RVIFF went off as scheduled yesterday. I hear that the Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up too, handing its coveted and Oscar-portending Peoples Choice Award to a scrappy newcomer named Steven Spielberg.

When attending actual TIFF I would always start with the final day in hopes of loading it up with lighter and more energetic fare. Sometimes this would be possible, ending with a midnight Gamera flick, for example. Other years the scheduling gods showed less consideration to movie-addled brains and the best choice to end on would be a solid but downbeat drama or something disturbing.

As RVIFF programmer finishing with fun was suddenly an easier matter.

Peace by Chocolate (Canada, Jonathan Keijser, 2021, 4) Syrian refugee relocated to the snowy small town of Antigonish Nova Scotia is torn between his desire to attend medical school and his father’s wish to rebuild the chocolate business that was destroyed back home. Thoughtfully crafted script does a good job of maintaining conflict the context of a light and affirming docudrama.

This is the RVIFF title you can take your mom to. Based on a true and celebrated story, with prominent tips of the hat to the Sobey’s grocery chain and Justin Trudeau. The best of its Canada jokes occurs when the protagonist is immediately issued a toque on arrival at the airport.

We meant to lay in a supply of Peace by Chocolate to eat during the film but somehow failed that logistical challenge. A strong word with festival organizers is called for.

Snowflake (Germany, Adolfo J. Kolmerer, 2017, 4) In a dystopian near future Berlin, bantering killers (Reza Brojerdi, Erkan Acar) discover that their actions are dictated by a screenplay written by a dentist. Meta cult hitman movie about vengeance and narrative inevitability.

The Paper Tigers (US, Quoc Bao Tran, 2020, 4) Insurance man struggling to keep up as a divorced dad (Alain Uy) reluctantly reunites with former fellow martial arts students (Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Ron Yuan) to investigate the death of their sifu. Mix of grounded, observational comedy and martial arts flick kept aloft by the winning leads.

Official Competition (Spain, Mariano Cohn & Gastón Duprat, 2021, 4) Eccentric director (Penelope Crus) presides over a clash of egos when she rehearses her next film with a pretentious theater actor (Oscar Martinez) and a temperamental movie star (Antonio Banderas.) Monumental wide shots in an empty modernist building counterpoint a hilarious satire of actorly insecurities.

And that’s a wrap. Unlike TIFF, we did not have to end it by walking down an escalator that has broken down for the second time this week, walk to the subway, and then stumble home bleary. Instead we are already at home, bleary.

Tomorrow I’ll post the roundup of all capsule reviews in rough order of preference.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.

 


 

If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: Dream Taxation, a Magic Realist Time Slip, and Korean Zombie Comedy

September 18th, 2022 | Robin

 

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

 

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

 

Plaza Catedral (Panama, Abner Benaim, 2021, 4) Grief-stricken, closed-off architect (Ilse Salas) takes in a street kid (Fernando Xavier De Casta) suffering from a gunshot wound. Benaim shows an eye for composition and control of the cinematic palette in this taut character drama.

Strawberry Mansion (US, Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney, 2021, 4) Suggestible taxman (Kentucker Audley) arrives at elderly artist’s house to assess overdue taxes on her backlog of dreams, only to find that they are stored on tape, not the now-required airstick method. Quirky romantic dreamquest with adorable handcrafted creatures and effects.

Petite Maman (France, Céline Sciamma, 2021, 5) While at her late grandmother’s house for the last time, an eight year old finds a time slip allowing her to make a new playmate—her mother, at the same age. Still, poised, deeply felt drama finds the magic in elusive everyday moments, even before the magical realism kicks in.

Zombie for Sale (South Korea, Lee Min-jae, 2020, 4) Family of scammers and losers who own a decrepit gas station try to cash in when they capture a cabbage-loving zombie with a rejuvenating bite. Lovably dysfunctional underdogs unite in this fun zomcom.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.

 


 

If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: Korean Spy Games, A Strange Force in Afghanistan, and Almodovarian Mastery

September 17th, 2022 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

El Planeta (Spain, Amalia Ulman, 2021, 4) After her father dies, a young woman (Amalia Ulman) and her mother (Alejandra Ulman) struggle to get by in the glum city of Gijon. Droll, low-key character piece in sparking black and white.

Neither Heaven Nor Earth (France, Clément Cogitore, 2015, 4) Mysterious disappearances plague French soldiers stationed at a remote Afghan outpost, to the increasing discomfiture of their hard-headed Captain (Jérémie Renier.) Naturalistically shot, weird war tale featuring a threatening force of elusive ambiguity.

For the first few minutes I was afraid that I’d seen this already. This was after all the oldest title I picked for the RVIFF. But then I was able to relax and not feel like my brain has broken. It’s just that the first ten minutes of any film about the Afghan war tend to replicate all of the others. Shot from the watch tower? Check. Civilian challenged while heading toward the fortress gate? Check. Negotiation with villagers over a livestock loss? Check.

Parallel Mothers (Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2021, 4) Photographer (Penelope Cruz) learns that the baby she took home from the hospital wasn’t hers, but refrains from telling the teen mom (Milena Smit) who is the likely biological mother. Repeatedly sets up and betrays genre expectations, in this case, melodramatic ones, in an unexpected and satisfying manner that takes an Almodovar-level master to pull off.

The Spy Gone North (South Korea, Yoon Jong-bin, 2018, 4) Spy (Hwang Jung-min)adopts a new persona as a brash businessman to infiltrate the North Korean inner circle, only to learn that his right-wing bosses have been paying Kim Jong Il to interfere in the South’s elections. Political spy thriller docudrama grippingly fictionalizes a series of implausible true events.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.


If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: A Space Age Housing Project, Finnish Metalheads, and Secrets Revealed in a Saab 900

September 16th, 2022 | Robin

 

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

 

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

 

The Trouble with You (France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018, 4) Guilt-ridden police chief (Adèle Haenel) tries to help an embittered ex-con (Pio Marmaï) her husband and predecessor framed for a jewel robbery. Haenel shows how star power works by investing this irreverent cop comedy with a performance of simmering emotion.

Gagarine (France, Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh, 2020, 4) Soulful high school student stays behind in his housing project, which like him is named after Yuri Gargarin, after it is slated for demolition. Mix of lyricism and social realism laced with elegiac imagery of a vanished space age.

Heavy Trip (Finland, Juuso Laatio & Jukka Vidgren, 2018, 4) After twelve years of practice and the completion of one original song, a metal band that practices in the guitarist’s parents’ basement sets its sights on the Northern Damnation music festival in Norway. Good-natured broad comedy with SCA Vikings and a wolverine punch-up, powered by the screams of a thousand reindeer on their way to reindeer hell.

Drive My Car (Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021, 5) A theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) marked by a tragic event finds a kindred spirit in the taciturn young woman hired to drive him around during a production in Hiroshima. Long, strange journey into the mysteries of what we chose to hide and what we must eventually reveal.

Based on a Haruki Murakami story.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.

 


 

If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: Directionless in Oslo, Hitchcockian Cronenbergism, and a Rousing Epic of the Kazakh Steppe Tribes

September 15th, 2022 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

Alone with Her Dreams (Italy, Paolo Licata, 2019, 1) In early 60s Sicily a preteen girl chafes at the authority of her tyrannical grandmother after her parents emigrate to France, leaving her temporarily behind. Syrupy, then harshly manipulative, coming of age drama.

Had I spotted it before today, the pull quote from Oliver Stone praising the film might have served as a warning that I was entering heavy-handed waters.

Unlike TIFF, at RVIFF it has taken until Wednesday to hit a film I fully disliked. This shows a remarkable unity between my taste and that of the programmer.

The Legend of Tomiris (Kazakhstan, Akan Satayev, 2019, 5) After a treacherous rival tribe murders her father, a Massagetae chieftain, the clever and brave Tomiris trains as a warrior and rises to power in time to defend the steppes from Cyrus the Great. Massive historical epic with thrilling fight choreography, impressive production values and one of the best blood-spattered proposal scenes in cinema.

Admittedly I am as much in the target demographic for this as anyone not from Kazakhstan, but if you are reading this, chances are so are you.

The last time I checked in on Kazahk cinema I saw a kinda slow emerging world verite drama about a man who drives around and has an epiphany at a school. Now comes this, with huge battle sequences and a CGI fire manticore. (Which appears strictly in dream sequences. This is not that kind of movie. If it was a mainland Chinese film the fire manticore would show up in the main action.)

Double Lover (France, Francois Ozon, 2017, 4) After moving in with her former psychotherapist (Jérémie Renier), a young woman (Marine Vacth) discovers that he has a secret twin, also a psychotherapist. Coolly controlled erotic thriller is Hitchcock homage with a Cronenberg homage growing parasitically inside it.

Plus allusions to Sisters and Eyes Wide Shut thrown in for extra seasoning. Based on a Joyce Carol Oates novel.

The Worst Person in the World (Norway, Joachim Trier, 2021, 4) Directionless woman in her late twenties (Renate Reinsve) struggles to find fulfilling love, and herself. Observant and moving character-driven dramedy with perfectly calibrated performances from Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie as her overly analytical cartoonist boyfriend.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.


If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

RVIFF Reviews: Sublimely Gorgeous Japanese Period Drama, Twilight of the Yakuza, and a Cat and Cat and Other Cat Crime Thriller

September 14th, 2022 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Romania, Radu Jude, 2021, 4) Middle school teacher faces parent and administration backlash when a sex video she made with her husband appears online. Three-sectioned satire updates Makavejev’s WR: Mystery of the Organism to COVID-era Romania.

A Family (Japan, Michihito Fujii, 2020, 4) After the death of his junkie father, a stubbornly focused young man finds a substitute in the person of an old-school gang boss. Instead of briefly handwaving to it and then continuing on with the usual genre tropes, this handsomely mounted yakuza drama takes as its main subject matter the recent death spiral of the yakuza in the wake of comprehensive anti-crime statutes.

The strong production values on this one represent another example of Netflix spending more on the Japanese film industry than any of its established players do these days.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same (Japan, Joe Odagiri, 2019, 4) In Meiji Japan, an elderly boatman facing the end of his trade due to bridge construction rescues an injured girl from the river. Visually stunning fable of relationship to nature and community with a ghost story on the periphery.

If when you read “visually stunning” you inferred “cinematography by Christopher Doyle,” why yes that was exactly what I was implying.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (South Korea, Lee Won-tae, 2019, 4) When a brutal gang lord (Ma Dong-seok) survives the random attack of a serial killer, a maverick cop (Mu-Yeol Kim) persuades him to join the hunt to track him down. Investigative crime drama makes the most of a juicy premise, in which cat and mouse becomes cat and cat and other cat.

The Other Side of Hope (Finland, Aki Kaurismaki, 2019, 4) Syrian refugee claimant bonds with the staff of a floundering restaurant run by a taciturn former shirt salesman. Stoic deadpan camaraderie results when an urgent contemporary crisis enters Kaurismaki’s distinctive world of down-at-the-heels retro cool.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.


If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Three Colours and Ken’s New Queen of Crime

September 13th, 2022 | 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

Three Colours: Blue (Film, France/Switzerland/Poland, Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993) After her daughter and composer husband die in a car crash, Julie (Juliette Binoche) tries to liberate herself from other people. Near-perfect sound, lighting, score, and production design buttress the twin triumphs of Kieślowski’s direction and Binoche’s performance, which pulls the whole film from despair to grief to a veritable struggle against art and love. Overwhelmingly great. –KH

Three Colours: Red (Film, France/Switzerland/Poland, Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994) In Geneva, model Valentine (Irene Jacob) hits a dog belonging to retired judge Joseph (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and enters his bleak web of fraternity. Remarkable two-hander scenes power and illuminate the core of this “anti-tragedy” about chance, fate, connection, love, need, and time. Amazing inverted pyramid of a film ends the trilogy perfectly on a still image. –KH

Recommended

London Particular (Fiction, Christianna Brand, 1952) [Published as Fog of Doubt in the US.] A thick fog blankets London when a Belgian bon viveur gets his head smashed in a doctor’s house: can Inspector Cockrill see through it? Remorseless fair-play mystery showcases Brand’s unsentimental but winning character portraits, a masterpiece of misdirection in every sense. I may have a new Queen of Crime. –KH

Three Colours: White (Film, France/Switzerland/Poland, Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994) After his wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) cruelly dumps and destroys him, schlemiel Polish hairdresser Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowsky) resolves to equalize their situation. The comic heart of the film bats between opposites and twins – East and West, crime and friendship, love and hate, Karol and his ally Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), life and death. Not quite as beautiful or pure as the other two “Colours,” so merely a superb film instead of a transcendent one. –KH

Good

Girls on Film (Nonfiction, Alicia Malone, 2022) Film writer Malone connects the events of her own life to classic movies and the attitudes toward women they created and reflect, tracing her journey from preteen cineaste to Turner Classic Movies host. Insightful, accessible intertwining of the personal and political.—RDL

Okay

The Late Monsieur Gallet (Fiction, Georges Simenon, 1931) Inspector Maigret investigates the hotel shooting death of a sickly traveling salesman who was more than he seemed. Simenon strays from his usual social realism into a gimmicky mystery with outlandish backstory.—RDL

RVIFF Reviews: Gay Hong Kong Seniors, A Trainwreck of a Dude Returns Home, and a Rapid-Fire Korean Pursuit Thriller

September 13th, 2022 | Robin

 

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

 

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

 

Twilight’s Kiss (Hong Kong, Ray Yeung, 2019, 4) Closeted retirement-age cab driver (Tai-Bo) strikes up a relationship with a contemporary (Ben Yuen) who is likewise not out to his family but yearns for a closer connection. Restrained character drama honors and regrets the stoic resignation of its characters.

Zero Fucks Given (Belgium, Julie Lecoustre & Emmanuel Marre, 2019) Despite her desires to lose herself in distractions, a young flight attendant for a budget airline is forced to seek promotion. Realist character study at first appears to be a working person’s film for the service industry era, then goes deeper.

Every TIFF there was at least one film whose program book description led me to expect a wrong different tone and premise. The tradition continues at RVIFF, but I still very much liked what Zero Fucks Given turned out to be.

Red Rocket (US, Sean Baker, 2021, 4) Fast-talking hasbeen adult performer (Simon Rex) returns to his small Texas hometown to wheedle his way back into the life of his ex-wife / ex-co-star (Bree Elrod) and set his sights on a not-so-innocent 18-year old (Susanna Son.) Satirical character drama where the suspense lies in the exact manner of the lead character’s foreordained flame-out.

Midnight (South Korea, Oh-Seung Kwon, 2021, 4) After witnessing a serial killer (Wi Ha-joon) with his latest victim, a deaf customer service rep (Ki-joo Jin) flees for her life. Unity-of-time thriller keeps the inventive, surprising suspense beats coming fast.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.

 


 

If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

Film Cannister
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Film Cannister