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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

Ken and Robin Consume Media: CODA, Red Rocket, and the Superhuman Strength of W. C. Fields

March 15th, 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

CODA (Film, US, Sian Heder, 2021) The sole hearing member of a rough-hewn fishing family, a socially excluded high school student (Emilia Jones) is torn between loyalty to them and her dreams of a singing career. Sweet-natured, embracing indie drama with a strong supporting ensemble and a star-making role for Jones.—RDL

The Color of Lies (Film, France, Claude Chabrol, 1999) With his small Breton town already viewing him as the likely suspect in a child murder, a once-celebrated artist (Jacques Gamblin) finds himself under further pressure when a fatuous novelist (Antoine de Caunes) puts the moves on his wife (Sandrine Bonnaire.) Quietly incisive character observation hung on the framework of a murder story—which is admittedly a slightly longer way of saying “Chabrol film.”—RDL

Million Dollar Legs (Film, US, Edward F. Cline, 1932) To win the hand of his beloved (Susan Fleming), daughter of a Balkan nation’s preternaturally strong president (W. C. Fields), a cheery brush salesman (Jack Oakie) assembles a team of its superhuman citizens to enter the Los Angeles Olympics. Fast-paced comedy packed with surreal gags.—RDL

Palm Springs (Film, US, Max Barbakow, 2020) Super-chill wedding guest Nyles (Andy Samberg) has his infinity interrupted when sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti) joins him in his time-loop trap. Amiable comedy rings just enough changes on the time-loop setup, asks a couple of questions, and peaces out: what more could you want? J.K. Simmons? Okay, he’s in it, too. –KH

Red Rocket (Film, US, Sean Baker, 2021) Washed-up porn star Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) washes up in his hometown of Texas City in summer 2016. Drew Daniels’ sunny 70s 16mm cinematography and Baker’s non-exoticized Texas Citizens (including several non-actors) mash up Spielberg and Linklater for an entirely original, entirely classic look. Simon Rex’ charismatic, fast-talking performance as plausible sleazeball Mikey anchors a fresh con-artist story that never bores or even alienates the viewer. –KH

Good

Honey Cigar (Film, France, Kamir Aïnouz, 2020) In early 90s Paris, a college sophomore’s (Zoé Adjani) yearning for autonomy and sexual exploration hits the brick wall of her urbane Algerian parents’ overbearing, hypocritically traditional expectations for her. Memoir film favors authenticity over dramatic resolution.—RDL

Ladies’ Man (Film, US, Lothar Mendes, 1931) When he falls for a woman (Kay Francis) who sees through him, a melancholy gigolo (William Powell) decides to go straight, but a high-strung fling (Carole Lombard) has other ideas. From the cast and premise you might expect a screwball comedy, but this is a racy, downbeat melodrama.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Batman, Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and Oddball Pre-Codes

March 8th, 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

The Batman (Film, US, Matt Reeves, 2022) When the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins killing Gotham’s leading citizens, the revelations he unleashes get uncomfortably close to Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) family. Smeary neo-noir borrows not just from Burton and Nolan but from Se7en and Saw, though blunting their horror. Slightly over-long and lugubrious, but not cripplingly so: Zoë Kravitz’ Catwoman plays a big role in keeping the film’s energy up, as does Michael Giacchino’s score. –KH

Belfast (Film, UK, Kenneth Branagh, 2021) Nine-year-old “Buddy” (Jude Hill) sees his Belfast neighborhood and his family battered by the Troubles, while voraciously consuming media that will shape him as Britain’s Greatest Film Artist™. It’s a tribute to Branagh’s eye for shots that a movie this artificial works so well: it’s not honest childhood reactions (unlike Boorman’s Pinnacle Hope and Glory, one of the many films Branagh homages/rips off here) but what Branagh wants to believe (or wants us to believe) his childhood was like. But the artifice is, of course, much of the point, which is why I don’t ding Branagh points here any more than I would Baz Luhrmann. –KH

Drive My Car (Film, Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021) For liability reasons, bereaved stage actor-director Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) must allow taciturn Misaki (Tôko Miura) to drive his beloved Saab while he directs and produces Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. After an hour of prologue, this unlikely setup produces a magnificent festival of repressed emotion that sadly ends a little too patly. But man, the long drive in between is great, especially the wonderfully multi-layered, multi-lingual dinner scene anchoring the middle turn. –KH

Licorice Pizza (Film, US, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021) In 1973 Encino, a precociously entrepreneurial teen actor (Cooper Hoffman) and a combative, directionless 25 year old (Alana Haim) fall for each other, despite a line their age difference stops them from crossing. I’d call this evanescent hangout romance Anderson’s Amarcord, but for the fact that he was 3 in 1973 and the script is based on the life and anecdotes of film producer Gary Goetzman.—RDL

Schmigadoon Season 1 (Television, US, Apple+, Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio; Barry Sonnenfeld, 2021) Hoping to rekindle their flagging commitment, a romantic obstetrician (Cecily Strong) and an emotionally blocked surgeon (Keegan-Michael Key) go on a hiking trip, only to wind up in a bizarre pocket dimension that follows the rules of 1950s American musicals. A cast of Broadway stars and SNL alums powers a fun, knowing show with the emotional resonance to transcend its sketch comedy premise.—RDL

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) Warfare between Puerto Rican immigrants and impoverished whites in a 50s neighborhood facing the wrecking ball threatens the young love of a sweet-natured cleaner (Rachel Zegler) and a remorseful ex-con (Ansel Elgort.)  Update of the classic stage musical to 2021 frankness and mores is almost oppressively perfect, with every scene a set-piece and every shot a rich composition dense with visual meaning.—RDL

Good

Murders in the Zoo (Film, A. Edward Sutherland, 1933) Fear of his wife’s infidelity prompts a psychopathic explorer (Lionel Atwill) to commit a string of murders at the zoo he supplies animals to. Comic relief Charlie Ruggles gets top billing in this oddball mix of laughs and lurid Grand Guignol horror.—RDL

Okay

Kiss and Make-Up (Film, Harlan Thompson, 1934) Suave celebrity plastic surgeon (Cary Grant) overlooks the affections of his loyal secretary (Helen Mack) as he falls into the romantic clutches of a domineering married patient (Genevieve Tobin). PreCode curio features jaw-dropping Art Deco sets, Grant almost carrying off a musical number, and Mack joining Edward Everett Horton in a touching duet extolling the virtues of corned beef and cabbage. CW: racist jokes.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Lost Daughter, Kimi, and Nightmare Alley on Screen and Page

March 1st, 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

The Lost Daughter (Film, US, Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021) When a large, shady family arrives to disrupt the tranquility of her Greek beach vacation, a prickly academic (Olivia Colman) recalls her own tumultuous motherhood and commits a strange transgression. Personal drama based on an Elena Ferrante novel places intense performances from Colman and Jessie Buckley as her character’s younger self in an atmosphere of gnawing unease.—RDL

Recommended

The Big Risk (Film, France, Claude Sautet, 1960) When the former confederates who owe him offer only minimal aid, a condemned man (Lino Ventura) on the lam with his two young boys strikes up an alliance with a capable younger counterpart (Jean-Paul Belmondo.) Moody, fatalistic noir deftly sketches all its characters, from leads to walk-ons.—RDL

Goodbye Again (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) To the consternation of his attentive secretary/lover (Joan Blondell), an easily swayed romance novelist (Warren William) fails to resist the advances of a now-married old flame (Genevieve Tobin.) Witty, lightning-paced stage adaptation squeaks in at the end of the pre-Code era with a depiction of jealousy wreaking havoc on an open relationship. Stalwart comic character actor Hugh Herbert steals the movie as the romantic rival’s affably unconcerned husband.—RDL

The Harder They Fall (Film, US, Jeymes Samuel, 2021) When the vicious outlaw (Idris Elba) who murdered his parents and scarred him for life is released from prison, gunslinger Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) teams up with Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) to take him down. References the stylistic gestures of the spaghetti western and the studio western’s tradition of treating historical figures as mythic beings capable of fitting any storyline as it escalates from a series of duels for interpersonal dominance into a thrilling shootout finale.—RDL

Kimi (Film, US, Stephen Soderbergh, 2022) Agoraphobic tech support minion Angela (Zoë Kravitz) overhears a crime in a digital-personal-assistant error stream and takes action. For sheer economy plus brio nobody can match Soderbergh in his minimalist mode, and he builds a satisfying thriller from the pandemically-sparse “Blowup but autistic” material. Kravitz pulls a minor miracle of charisma and acting from her deliberately unidimensional part. –KH

Nightmare Alley (Fiction, William Lindsay Gresham, 1946) Carny roper Stanton Carlisle follows the Fool’s journey as he tries to stay one step ahead of his fears and weakness. Gresham loads this seedy con-artist novel with Freudian symbolism (more even than the Tarot symbolism strung throughout) but also gives us a truly shuddersome, electric villain in psychoanalyst Lilith Ritter. A raw, sporadically painful, slice of life in the Depression, honest as only crime fiction seems to manage. –KH

Good

Nightmare Alley (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2021) Damaged new carny Stan (Bradley Cooper) aims for the big time despite the codes of man, God, or carny. This adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel (supra.) adds color and luxe set design (and about 40 unnecessary minutes) but badly flattens every possible ambiguity and elision in the story. (It also weirdly downplays the Tarot theme of the book.) Del Toro’s increasing didacticism vitiates the work of a ludicrously standout cast. Re-watch Edmund Goulding’s vastly superior 1947 version instead. –KH

Okay

The Chase (Film, South Korea, Kim Hong-sun, 2017) Pushed by a retired cop with a cold case to settle (Dong-il Sung), a surly, elderly landlord (Yun-shik Baek) becomes the unlikely investigator into the serial killings of isolated retirees. Often harsh underdog murder mystery periodically disrupted by misguided bursts of incongruously cheery soundtrack music.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Peacemaker, Titane, Kimi, and the Evolution of Maps in WWII

February 22nd, 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

Titane (Film, France, Julia Ducournau, 2021) Serial killer undergoing a weird pregnancy (Agathe Rousselle) takes the heat off her escalating kill spree by posing as the long-missing son of a steroid-addled fire captain (Vincent Lindon.) Visually arresting entry in the cinema of extremity draws on giallo and the body horror traditions of David Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto, but eschews the thriller structure in favor of sometimes memetic, sometimes utterly surreal drama. The only film ever to win both Cannes’ Palme d’Or and the TIFF Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Multiple content warnings here.—RDL

Recommended

A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps (Nonfiction, Jeremy Black, 2020) Not the predictable cartograms of Versailles-to-Nagasaki one might expect from the title, but a copiously illustrated history of the uses and evolution of maps – military, propagandistic, journalistic – throughout WWII. Remarkable study repays close attention and idle thumb-through alike, a real contribution. One nitpick: the center gutter sometimes swallows a bit of the map displayed, an irksome flaw in an otherwise beautifully designed work. –KH

Kimi (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2022) Agoraphobic tech worker (Zoe Kravitz) discovers audio evidence of a murder while conducting quality assurance for the titular Alexa-like smart home product. Soderbergh’s formalist chops lend nail-biting propulsion to a kicky chamber thriller riff on Blow Out and Rear Window.—RDL

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Film, Bhutan, Pawo Choyning Dorji, 2022) Would-be pop star reluctantly fulfills the last year of his national service by making the arduous trek to teach for a year in Bhutan’s most remote mountain village. Beautiful, simply told tale of the beauty of simplicity features luminous performances from the most charismatic cast of non-actors ever put before a camera—a device none of them had laid eyes on before shooting started.—RDL

Peacemaker Season 1 (Television, US, HBO Max, James Gunn, 2022) Helmeted vigilante (John Cena) confronts the roots of his ultraviolent manbabyism when ARGUS makes him the expendable spearhead of a B-team effort against a covert alien menace. With his signature mix of goofball camaraderie, splatter, sentimentality, and deep comics nerdery, Gunn carves out a trashy, downmarket corner of the DCU, where costumed crimefighters live in trailers, work shifts at chain restaurants, and conduct epic fights in ugly parking lots.—RDL

That Uncertain Feeling (Film, US, Ernst Lubitsch, 1941) Bored with her no-nonsense insurance exec husband (Melvyn Douglas), a socialite (Merle Oberon) turns her attentions to a misanthropic concert pianist (Burgess Meredith.) Witty love triangle comedy is lesser Lubitsch, but still Lubitsch, so ergo recommended.—RDL

Good

Disaster at Stalingrad: An Alternate History (Fiction, Peter G. Tsouras, 2013) Admiral Raeder’s death leads to defeat for PQ-17, Turkey enters the war against Russia, and Hitler replaces von Paulus with Manstein: Tsouras abandons the “least change” model of alternate history for a Rube Goldberg meditation on Lend-Lease that ends essentially as fanfic. But buy the premise(s) and you get a ripping yarn about how if everything went just right, Stalingrad would maybe have fallen. –KH

I Want You Back (Film, US, Jason Orley, 2022) Dumped by their partners, a complacent functionary for an evil nursing home corp (Charlie Day) and a stuck receptionist (Jenny Slate) strike up a friendship and plot to break up the new relationships that ruined their lives. Smart romcom keeps its character and central contrivance charming and real.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Boba Fett, Belfast, and the Hand of God

February 15th, 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.

Ken is on the road.

Recommended

Belfast (Film, UK, Kenneth Branagh, 2021) A nine-year-old boy (Jude Hill) sees his world suddenly upturned when his street becomes a battlefield in Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict, with his father (Jamie Dornan) wanting to leave and his mother (Caitríona Balfe) equally determined to stay. Heartfelt but by no means treacly memoir film threads its character-driven moments together by disciplined adherence to its throughline.—RDL

The Book of Boba Fett (Television, US, Disney+, Robert Rodriguez, 2021-2022) With trusty assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) at his side, Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison) recalls a transformative experience in the desert and declares dominion over Jabba the Hutt’s former territory. The structural discursions of this backdoor third season of The Mandalorian will inspire less head scratching if you go in knowing that this is Rodriguez’s chance to remake Desperado with Star Wars characters.—RDL

A Letter to Three Wives (Film, US, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949) When a friend sends them a catty note informing them that she’s run off with one of their husbands, an ambitious radio playwright (Ann Sothern), rags-to-riches bootstrapper (Linda Darnell) and nervous town newcomer (Jeanne Crain) recall moments of crisis in their marriages. The underrated Darnell is particularly affecting in this quasi-satirical domestic drama, from an era where it was possible to acknowledge the status consciousness even of sympathetic characters.—RDL

Manson (Nonfiction, Jeff Guinn, 2013) Biography covers Charles Manson from childhood to imprisonment, placing him and his crimes in their historical and social context. A definitive work of serious history provides complicating detail at odds with the streamlined version of events that has passed into popular myth.—RDL

Good

The Hand of God (Film, Italy, Paolo Sorrentino, 2021) A withdrawn Neapolitan teen (Filippo Scotti) from a large, bumptious family dreams of a filmmaking career and copes with the intermittent warfare between his prank-playing mother (Teresa Saponangelo) and philandering father (Toni Servillo.) Episodic memoir film shows Sorrentino’s brilliant, visually stunning scene making, but also his lesser interest in placing those elements into a fully coherent narrative.—RDL

Okay

Teen Spirit (Film. UK/Germany, Max Mingella, 2018) Isolated Isle of Wight teen (Elle Fanning) enlists the aid of a broken down former opera tenor (Zlatko Burić) as she enters a reality show singing contest. Fanning’s screen presence does the heavy lifting in an underdog competition drama that isn’t so much ambivalent about its protagonist’s goal as clinically detached from it.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Reacher, The Mysteries of Cabling, and Lovecraftian Gothic Catholicism

February 8th, 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

1987: When the Day Comes (Film, South Korea, Jang Joon-hwan, 2017) A recalcitrant prosecutor’s refusal to rubber-stamp the interrogation torture death of a student activist snowballs into a scandal that threatens the dictatorship of Chun Doo-Hwan. Turns the events of the June Democracy Protests into a rattling thriller spiced with biting humor and rousing idealism.—RDL

Hired Gun (Film, US, Fran Strine, 2016) Rock doc profiles the unsung employed studio players and side men of the post-Wrecking Crew era, from the 70s to today. Alice Cooper is the mensch and Billy Joel the heel in this portrait of the precarious, sometimes familial, sometimes exploitative conditions of the people you didn’t know were playing on all those hit records.—RDL

Lapsis (Film, US, Noah Hutton, 2020) Hoping to fund experimental treatment for his brother, who suffers from a mysterious malady, an airport baggage courier joins the curious world of cabling, a gig economy job laying quantum cables through national parks. Speculative indie satire astutely skewers the infantilizing layer of fake-happy propaganda that covers the exploitative practices of app-driven labor.—RDL

Reacher Season 1 (Television, US, Amazon, Nick Santora, 2022) Enormous drifter and former MP Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson) gets arrested for murder in Margrave, Georgia, and dismantles the conspiracy responsible. Truly satisfying junkburger show seamlessly adapts Lee Child’s first Reacher novel into a propulsive eight episodes with plenty of head butts and elbow scythes in the excellent fight choreography. Not Justified, by any means, but it’s not impossible to hope it might get within shouting distance in a season or two. –KH

Records (Film, Canada, Allan Zweig, 2021) Documentarian Zweig returns to the subject of his 1995 Vinyl to once again explore the joy and obsession of record collecting. Reflecting the changed personal circumstances of its maker, this docu requel acts as a corrective to the bleak original, zeroing in on the hobby’s affirming, art-embracing side.—RDL

Wife of a Spy (Film, Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2020) In wartime Japan, the impassioned wife (Yû Aoi) of a secretive silk merchant (Issey Takahashi) discovers that he and his assistant have been delving into military secrets. The stripped-down approach of genre revisionist Kurosawa turns the period spy thriller into an intense chamber drama.—RDL

Good

Dark Waters (Film, Russia/UK, Mariano Baino, 1993) Upon the death of her father, Elizabeth (Louise Salter) returns to the convent on the remote Black Sea island of her birth. Lovecraftian vibes mesh well with Gothic Catholicism in this ambitious, atmospheric, candle-lit creeper that plays like (somewhat) chilled-out Fulci. Not anything really spectacular, but not disappointing, which is an accomplishment worth noting. –KH

Not Recommended

The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Rachel Ramras & Hugh Davidson & Larry Dorf, 2022) Traumatized by divorce and her daughter’s death, Anna (Kristen Bell) mixes drugs and wine and bad suspense novels and maybe sees a murder? Apparently, the showrunners fell in love with the idea of doing a tribute to the “woman on the edge of a crime-movie breakdown” genre but sporadically inserted arrant nonsense. The resulting casserole accomplishes neither comedy nor suspense but does thoroughly waste four hours and Kristen Bell. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Killers on the Lam, the Fall of European Aristocracy, and a Temperamental Mentalist

February 1st, 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.

Ken is on assignment.

Recommended

Evenings for Sale (Film, US, Stuart Walker, 1932) Financially ruined Count (Herbert Marshall) becomes a taxi dancer, to the dismay of his new nouveau riche inamorata (Sari Maritza) and the delight of a naive American widow (Mary Boland.) Romantic comedy-drama marks the postwar wreckage of the European aristocracy with melancholy and a heartening generosity toward its characters.—RDL

The Fable (Film, Japan, Kan Eguchi, 2019) After racking up a spectacular body count in a restaurant hit, a young man who knows only assassination (Jun’ichi Okada) agrees to lay low in Osaka for a year, not knowing that his mentor plans to murder him if he kills anyone during his stay.  Cult cinema actioner offers an offbeat blend of comedy styles, whipsawing from deadpan to over-the-top and back. Broadpan?—RDL

The Great Buck Howard (Film, US, Sean McGinly, 2008) Law school dropout (Colin Hanks) learns the byways of small-time showbiz as road manager to a temperamental mentalist (John Malkovich) on fame’s downward slide. Deceptively slight indie comfort flick scores by declining to hype the stakes of its memoiristic narrative.—RDL

Night in Paradise (Film, South Korea, Park Hoon-jung, 2021) On the lam after retaliating for the mob hit that killed his terminally ill sister and her daughter, a determined young gangster establishes a prickly bond with his temporary host’s hostile, terminally ill, gun-toting daughter. Serene, controlled character drama with bursts of surprising, brutal violence.—RDL

Good

A Pistol For Ringo (Film, Italy/Spain, Duccio Tessari, 1966) Cheerfully mercenary gunslinger (Giuliano Gemma) agrees to infiltrate a bandit gang trapped with hostages at the ranch of a rich sophisticate (Antonio Casas) and his judgmental daughter (Lorella deLuca.) Spaghetti Western hostage drama takes the anti-heroism of the Man With No Name one cynical step further.—RDL

Not Recommended

Ryan’s Daughter (Film, UK/US, David Lean, 1970) Finding her new schoolteacher husband (Robert Mitchum) a cold fish, a passionate young woman stuck in a desolate coastal Irish village (Sarah Miles) strikes up an affair with the war-damaged British officer (Christopher Jones) in charge of its occupying detachment. Many notorious bombs warrant reappraisal, but critics were right the first time with this thick slab of pseudo-Irish ham. Misconceived on every level, from casting to performance, from scale to viewpoint. But if you’re doing a Lean retrospective, or are a student of things going wrong in narrative, watching it is a price you have to pay.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Scream, Hyper-Local Agitprop, and Ursine Folk Horror

January 18th, 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

Spettacolo (Film, US, Chris Shellen & Jeff Malmberg, 2017) Fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a tiny Tuscan village’s amateur theatrical troupe as they mount their annual original agitprop production. Visually and emotionally beautiful portrait of local tradition under siege features the sorts of surprising developments every documentarian dreams of.—RDL

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Emboldened by a trio of prophesying witches (Kathryn Hunter), an aging thane (Denzel Washington) and his psychopathic wife (Frances McDormand) kill the king and go blood simple. Stark, stripped-down rendition of Shakespeare’s gnarliest major tragedy as stark Symbolist nightmare, closely capturing hushed, intimate performances. Washington plays the text, as opposed to the usual Aristotelian projections onto it, by homing in on Macbeth’s fundamental weakness.—RDL

Recommended

Lokis: A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (Film, Poland, Janusz Majewski, 1970) In remote Samogitia to do ethnological research, Professor Wittembach (Edmund Fetting) is the guest of the unstable Count Szemiot (Jozef Duriasz), born nine months after a bear may have raped his now-insane mother. Combining proto-folk-horror atmosphere with wintry bright camera work, this film hits the uncanny sweet spot with increasing accuracy and power while never quite showing its hand. Or paw. –KH

A Taxi Driver (Film, South Korea, Jang Hoon, 2017) During South Korea’s 1980 declaration of martial law, a blustering Seoul cabbie (Song Kang-ho) drives a German reporter (Thomas Kretschmann) to Kwang-ju, into the heart of a military massacre of democracy protesters. Sweeping commercial moviemaking processes a national tragedy with rousing suspense and big emotion.—RDL

Good

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China (Nonfiction, Mitch Moxley, 2013) Directionless young Toronto journalist moves to Beijing, working for the state-run China Daily, then as a researcher for the CBC Olympics team, and finally as a freelancer specializing in offbeat angles on Chinese life. Provides engaging texture on an expat scene that is probably already gone or disappearing.—RDL

Scream (Film, US, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, 2022) A new Ghostface stalks Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and a bunch of other Woodsboro teens connected to the first rampage. Unexceptionable slasher whodunit suitably “requel”-izes (in the film’s obsessive even for the franchise metaspeak) the mostly fun series. Few actual scares, but competent run-and-jump direction and a surprisingly affecting turn from the returning David Arquette is worth a Good rating. –KH

Okay

The Mad Women’s Ball (Film, France, Mélanie Laurent, 2021) When a young woman (Lou de Laâge) from a aristocratic family in Belle Époque Paris mildly defies her rigid father, he commits her to the harsh confines of the Salpêtrière asylum, where her ability to communicate with the spirit world provides a connection to its stern head nurse (Laurent.) Sets aside the rich and specifically strange history of the Salpêtrière under early neurologist and mesmerism enthusiast Jean-Martin Charcot, portrayed here as a standard villain, for the beats of the imprisonment and escape narrative.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: New Tim Powers, Mads Mikkelsen Revenge, A Kafkaesque Book Tour, and a Norwegian Galoot

January 11th, 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

The Book Tour (Graphic Novel, Andi Watson, 2020) The micro-humiliations of an ill-planned series of personal appearances take a turn for the sinister for a put-upon novelist. Beautiful visual design informed by 50s and 60s British magazine cartooning lends poignancy to a deceptively cozy wrong man story at the intersection of Kafka and Hitchcock. [Disclosure: Beloved Patreon backer Andi kindly provided this review copy.]—RDL

Lupin Part 2 (Television, France, Netflix, George Kay, 2021) After his son is kidnapped, a master thief emulator of Arsene Lupin (Omar Sy) redoubles his operation of vengeance against the corrupt philanthropist (Hervé Pierre) who framed his father. Netflix did this show no favors by snipping its serial season in two, but now that the rest of the story is here it satisfyingly resolves its modernization / homage to the iconic gentleman burglar.—RDL

Repeat Performance (Film, US, Alfred L. Werker, 1947) After shooting her embittered playwright husband (Louis Hayward) a Broadway star (Joan Leslie) falls through a time slip and gets a chance to relive the year leading up to the fatal event. Offbeat blend of film noir and proto-”Twilight Zone” fantasy recently rescued from oblivion by the restoration efforts of the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film Archive.—RDL

Riders of Justice (Film, Denmark, Anders Thomas Jensen, 2021) Emotionally repressed military officer (Mads Mikkelsen) walks the path of vengeance when a freshly fired probability expert (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gives him evidence that a notorious biker gang arranged the commuter train accident that killed his wife. Jensen turns the revenge actioner inside out for a darkly comic parable of grief, causality, and community between outsiders.—RDL

Stolen Skies (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2022) An off-book ONI attempt to contact aliens brings Agent Castine back into contact with former Secret Service agent Vickery and the ghost ecology of LA. A deft, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy provides an interesting riff on UFOs (very reminiscent of Declare’s djinn). Without the usual Powersian historical backdrop, these books don’t quite escape the artificiality of their setup, but his LA ghost-iverse has become a rich setting in its own right. –KH

Good

Death on the Nile (Fiction, Agatha Christie, 1937) When the heiress Linnet Doyle is shot on her Nile honeymoon, Hercule Poirot just happens to be along for the cruise. Mechanically precise, I’ll grant you, and Christie’s archaeological interests pay off somewhat, but once more we have characters who exist only as tumblers in a lock with one (1) emotional tone apiece. –KH

Lake of the Dead (Film, Norway, Kåre Bergstrøm, 1958) Six friends visit one’s brother at a remote lake cabin, and find him missing and a legendary ghost afoot. Spooky atmosphere and gauzy camera work play well off each other, but only intermittently, as a conventional detective story insists on playing out complete with period Freudianism. The viewpoint character is a galoot, which doesn’t help. —KH

The Merry Wives of Windsor (Filmed Stage Production, Canada, Barry Avrich and Antoni Cimolino, 2020) When he simultaneously sends them seductive letters, married pals (Brigit Wilson, Sophia Walker) conspire to prank the notorious old wastrel Sir John Falstaff (Geraint Wyn-Davies), arousing one of their husbands (Michael Blake) to a jealous plot of his own. Against a 50s Canadian small town setting that neither adds or detracts, Wyn-Davies and Blake show how to do Shakespearean schtick—with tightly controlled big, big energy.—RDL

Okay

Kadaicha (Film, Australia, James Bogle, 1988) Teens living on a street built on an Aboriginal burial ground see a kadaicha magician in their dreams, get cursed stones, and die! Straight-to-video Ozploitation mashes up Poltergeist and Nightmare on Elm Street, stepping on the product throughout. The second kill (a jumping spider POV) and some of the surrealism catch the eye, but the flat acting and general slack don’t keep it. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Matrix Resurrections, Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

January 4th, 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

Blithe Spirit (Film, UK, David Lean, 1945) Urbane writer (Rex Harrison) researches his next novel by inviting a dotty spiritualist (Margaret Rutherford) to conduct a seance, which, to the dismay of his second wife (Constance Cummings), brings back the ghost of his first (Kay Hammond.) Though a bit past the Edwardian period, the Noel Coward play adapted here also concerns itself chiefly with the out-of-placeness of ghosts, with any lethal mayhem they may commit along the way brushed off as merely gauche. Lean, now best known for his later wide-scale epics, shows a relaxed facility for the confined spaces of a stage adaptation.—RDL

California Typewriter (Film, US, Doug Nichol, 2016) From star names like Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard to collectors, repair shop owners, and repurposing artists, this affectionate doc looks at the typewriter and the devotees keeping its memory alive. Traces an emotional arc from the expected quirkiness to the elegiac to the hopeful.—RDL

Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas (Nonfiction, Glenn Kenny, 2020) Comprehensive making-of and close reading of the 1990 Scorsese gangster classic covers everything from the screenwriting process to the troubled, damaging post-movie life of Henry Hill. Learn how many bit players were convicted for later crimes, including the not one but two cops in the “how ya doin’” tracking shot who subsequently crossed over to the mob.—RDL

The Sound of Fury (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1950) Desperate family man (Frank Lovejoy) lets a rash stick-up artist (Lloyd Bridges) lure him into a kidnapping; when it goes wrong, an intellectual columnist (Richard Carlson) stokes the community’s worst instincts. Film noir of gritty despair shifts into a message picture taking aim at press sensationalism. Fictionalization of the 1933 Thurmond-Holmes lynchings omits from its editorial ire a key component of the story, the open calls to mob justice from California governor “Sunny Jim” Rolph. Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) is based on the same incident. Also known as Try and Get Me! —RDL

Raging Fire (Film, HK, Benny Chan, 2021) Incorruptible maverick cop (Donnie Yen) goes up against a former colleague (Nicholas Tse) bent on ultra-violent revenge. Chan’s consistency of energy and style makes this the best Yen vehicle in a long while. Advances the argument that Heat’s street shootout ought to have led to a mano-a-mano martial arts fight in a cathedral.—RDL

The Second Shooter (Fiction, Nick Mamatas, 2021) Investigating dodgy sightings of second shooters, writer Mike Karras finds himself enmeshed in an increasingly weird conspiracy. Until the ending jinks off at a weird angle, this is another terrific Mamatas political thriller, all strong characters and fringe behavior. Then it becomes a whole different (but still terrific, still political, and still Mamatas) genre thriller. I ding it a bit for that swerve but still Recommend it. –KH

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the ambitious co-dependents in a stark 1940s Expressionist vision of Scotland. The gothic-brut sets and staging contrast with deliberately underplayed line readings, unified by Bruno Delbonnel’s pitiless camera. A dream nobody can wake from, no matter how loud the knocking gets; a very creditable Scottish play. –KH

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) As ethnic gangs square off in a Lincoln Square facing 1950s “urban renewal,” Polish ex-gangbanger Tony (Ansel Elgort, a ham loaf) and Puerto Rican cleaner Maria (Rachel Zegler, wonderful) fall in star-crossed love. Spielberg’s camera moves through dance numbers seamlessly alternating medium and wide shots while nailing performance after performance in close one- and two-shot punches. Janusz Kaminski lights the sets with actual color and life, and Tony Kushner’s tweaks to the script (accidentally?) lace the original play’s too-pat self-congratulation with historical irony. –KH

Good

Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle (Film, Netherlands/Italy/Canada, Mike van Diem, 2017) Returning to Italy with the ashes of her mother, a lonely Montrealer (Ksenia Solo) learns the surprising truth about her real parents (Gijs Naber, Anneke Sluiters), transplanted Dutch tulip farmers who ran afoul of the local mob. A dark story told as a breezy, nostalgic fairy tale.—RDL

Wilczyca (Film, Poland, Marek Piestrak, 1983) In 1848 Poland, freedom fighter Kasper (Krysztof Jasinski) returns from the war to find his dying wife Marina (Iwona Bielska) promising to curse him as the titular she-wolf. Bielska also plays the debauched mistress of the noble house he swears to guard, and a she-wolf stalks the grounds … A perfectly competent, nicely brutal, werewolf movie that never quite makes the most of its wintry weirdness or gets inside Kasper’s mind or provides any deeper conflict than “werewolves (and occupiers of Poland) bad.” –KH

Not Recommended

The Matrix Resurrections (Film, US, Lana Wachowski, 2021) Under pressure to develop a sequel to his seminal CRPG The Matrix, game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has a psychotic break. The film drowns that pretty cool core concept under endless fanfic dialogue, and looks like a mid-season CW episode (if the CW ever showed middle-aged people). Literal intercuts with the earlier movies do this film zero favors, and the core narrative combines sloth and idiot-plotting in new (but never interesting) ways. –KH

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