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Archive for the ‘Audio Free’ Category

RVIFF Reviews: Outlandish Indian Action, French Infidelity, and Two Tilda Swintons

September 15th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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.

I’m Your Man [Germany, Maria Schrader, 2021, 4] Cuneiformist from the Pergamon museum (Maren Eggert) agrees to test a lifelike robot (Dan Stevens) calibrated to be her perfect life partner. Engagingly acted dramedy eschews the catastrophes typical of AI movies for a grounded, ambiguous look at emotional consequences.

Weirdly attentive readers will note that the above is a substitution for another title. At the last minute I noticed that despite its high Rotten Tomatoes number the previously scheduled film had a low IMDB rating—not a great sign. So I found another German film to drop in instead. This is the RVIFF equivalent of hearing in a line-up that a film you have a ticket for isn’t great and heading to the box office to make a last minute swap. Except you generally can’t pick another film from the exact same country.

Both Sides of the Blade [France, Claire Denis, 2022, 4] Trouble returns to the apparently blissful lives of a radio journalist (Juliette Binoche) and an ex-con (Vincent Lindon) when his old associate (Grégoire Colin), also her ex-lover, resurfaces. Lacerating love triangle drama about people wedded to their lies and evasions.

The Eternal Daughter [UK, Joanna Hogg, 2022, 4] Filmmaker (Tilda Swinton) takes her mother (Tilda Swinton) to an imposing Victorian inn hoping her recollections of the place will trigger material for a screenplay. Playful gothic imagery frames an intimate chamber drama of memory and loss, with a pair of touching, observant performances from Swinton.

This is one of those minimalist gems that is maybe best seen in a festival context, even if it’s one you make for yourself on your couch.

The VOD description tags it as horror, a dirty trick I hope has not caused unsuspecting genre fans too much perplexity and anger.

Thunivu [India, H. Vinoth, 2023, 4] A sardonic ultra-badass mastermind (Ahith Kumar) takes over a bank robbery already in progress. Outlandish action paced at the speed of Adderall-laced Mountain Dew shifts into an anti-corruption message, with dance numbers to keep the exposition lively.

As the lyrics say, our hero crushes the bones of those who break his heart.

The seasoned Toronto fest goer knows not to risk a commercial Indian film, as the producers often cancel repeat screenings due to piracy concerns. Not a concern at RVIFF!

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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 Political Thriller at Al-Azhar, Body Shame Horror, and Early Indigenous Indie Cinema

September 14th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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 Exiles [US, Kent Mackenzie, 1961, 4] Native American residents of L.A.’s Bunker Hill neighborhood blow off steam as the pregnant wife of one partier waits and frets. Early slice-of-life indie drama presents a frank, sympathetic portrait of a community, and incidentally provides a time capsule of a now demolished neighborhood.

I programmed this to emulate a fondly remembered program from the classic TIFF years, Open Vault, dedicated to restored prints and archival rarities.

Master Gardener [US, Paul Schrader, 2023, 4] Ordered by his exacting employer (Sigourney Weaver) to offer an apprenticeship to her prodigal grand-niece (Quintessa Swindell), a rigorous gardener (Joel Edgerton) steps onto a path that will reveal his former self. Taut character study as obsessively controlled as its protagonist, but I said Paul Schrader already.

Cairo Conspiracy [Sweden/France/Finland/Denmark, Tarik Saleh, 2022, 4] When the Sunni Grand Imam dies, an unworldly new student at Al-Azhar University becomes a pawn in the covert political struggle to choose his successor. Masterfully told political thriller with fresh mosque-and-state twists and turns.

Piggy [Spain, Carlota Pereda, 2022, 4] Fat teen conceals what she’s seen when classmates who torment her over her weight are taken by a serial killer. Slasher horror builds wrenching identification with its protagonist as it centers themes of bullying and body shame.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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: Lyrical Folk Horror in Macedonia, and Udo Kier Showcase, and the Romantic Advantages of Rohmer Fandom

September 13th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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.

Girlfriends and Girlfriends [Spain, Zaida Carmona, 2022, 4] Aspiring filmmaker on the rebound (Zaida Carmona) triggers drama and partner-shifting in Barcelona’s lesbian culturati community. References to Rohmer go beyond stylistic reference to form a key story point in this kicky indie character comedy.

You Won’t Be Alone [Australia/UK/Serbia, Goran Stolevski, 2022, 4] in 19th century Macedonia, a girl doomed to a fate as a blood-drinking hag called a Wolf-Eateress assumes the forms of her victims in an attempt to live among mortals. Lyrical shakycam folk horror tone poem.

Noomi Rapace briefly appears as one of the protagonist’s victims/guises.

Swan Song [US, Todd Stephens, 2021, 3.5] Retired hairdresser (Udo Kier) departs his care home for a journey to downtown Sandusky OH to tend to his former best client (Linda Evans) at her funeral. Generous indie dramedy celebrates gay elders and the iconic stature of its lead actor.

Based on the life of a real person and full of affectionate local flavor.

Tori and Lokita [France, Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2022, 4] A teen girl and a younger boy, African migrants who have adopted each other as siblings, survive in Belgium by taking part in the drug trade. Nail-biting social realist gut punch.

Once Upon a Time In Ukraine [Ukraine, Roman Perfilyev, 2020, 2] Trained in the art of the sword by a Ukrainian samurai, the nationalist poet Taras Shevchenko fights to rescue his love from a brutal landowner and his ninja allies. Tongue-in-cheek action film fitfully fulfills its premise. A gratuitous element of sexual sadism compounds its tonal issues.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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: Savior Complex Love, An Eco-Terrorism Procedural, and The Creature from a Finnish Egg

September 12th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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 Real Thing [Japan, Kôji Fukada, 2020, 4] Noncommittal toy salesman enmeshes himself in a troubled woman’s complicated life after preventing her stalled car from being hit by a train. Epic-length dissection of dysfunctional romance puts the co- In codependency.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline [US, Daniel Goldhaber, 2023, 4] Young radical environmentalists come together to perform the titular act of oil industry sabotage. Tense political thriller draws on the reliable cinematic power of showing people executing complicated practical tasks under pressure.

Hatching [Finland, Hanna Bergholm, 2022, 4] Preteen gymnast with perfectionist influencer mother finds an egg that hatches a strange creature which acts on her sublimated desires. Satirical horror with standout production design probes the gooey depths of girl rage.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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: Coffee Shop Time Recursions, Steamy Intrigue, and Profundity from a Balcony

September 11th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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 Balcony Movie [Poland, Pawel Lozinski, 2021, 4] Over the course of a year, a documentarian conducts interviews with passersby from his apartment balcony, coaxing them to reveal their lives and worldviews. Simple premise yields a rich portrait of humanity.

Naturally a film about people walking along a sidewalk also features many excellent dogs.

Broker [South Korea, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2022, 4] An unlikely temporary family forms when a dry cleaner (Kang Song-ho) and his accomplice (Gang Dong-won) attempt to sell a young woman’s (Ji-eun Lee) baby, with a tough minded cop (Boona Dae) on their trail. Koreeda’s deft touch with emotion illuminates material that in lesser hands would easily slop over into manipulative sentimentality.

Stars at Noon [France, Claire Denis, 2022, 4] Trapped and on the skids in COVID-era Nicaragua, a flailing journalist (Margaret Qualley) involves herself with a British businessman (Joe Alwyn) who turns out to be in worse trouble than she is. Denis reconfigures the international intrigue genre to her moody, elliptical style, with a sexual frankness no American director would dare attempt. Qualley burns the screen with a nervy, livewire portrayal of a woman in distress in a world without rescuers.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes [Japan, Junta Yamaguchi, 2020, 4] A coffee shop owner and his pals look for ways to capitalize on the fact that TV monitors in the cafe and his apartment upstairs are connected on a two minute time delay. Fun, fast-moving micro-budget time travel comedy shot on a phone in a single take.

Making of shots alongside the credits roll include a shot of the whiteboard where the filmmakers diagram the story’s many time recursions.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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 Girl with Uncanny Powers, Sonic-Culinary Experimenters & Javier Bardem Schemes and Squirms

September 10th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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 Kings of the World [Colombia, Laura Mora Ortega, 2022, 4] Receiving notice that he has won legal title to a small restituted property, a Medellin street kid sets out with his buddies on a dangerous journey into the rural highlands. An immersive quest as unnerving as it is visually poetic, in a style that traces its descent from Terence Malick.

The Five Devils [France, Léa Mysius, 2022, 4] Uncanny powers awaken in an observant 8 year old (Sally Dramé) when the release of her father’s sister (Swala Emati) from psychiatric confinement upsets her beloved mom (Adèle Exarchopoulos.) Creates an absorbing union of opposites by presenting Stephen King-esque subject matter in an assured French art cinema style.

This might have scored a higher profile among fans of horror-adjacent or fantastic cinema if the North American marketing campaign had remotely hinted at its actual content.

By the Grace of God [France, François Ozon, 2019, 4] When they discover years after their childhood abuse that the priest responsible is still in contact with children, a group of men in Lyon launch what becomes a multi-pronged process to seek justice and reform of the Catholic church. Ozon adopts a matter-of-fact docudrama style that embraces the literal and emotional complexities of an infuriating and all too familiar real story, here with the victims at its center.

The Good Boss [Spain, Fernando León de Aranoa, 2021, 4] Paternalistic factory owner (Javier Bardem) over-involves himself in the lives of his employees. Bardem alternately schemes and squirms in this droll, progressively acidic workplace satire.

Flux Gourmet [UK, Peter Strickland, 2022] Internal tensions come to a head for a sonic-culinary performance art group when they accept a residency at a strange institute run by a demanding benefactor (Gwendoline Christie.) Surreal, horror-inflected black comedy of digestive anxiety might be Strickland’s most fully developed look at the destructive power of art.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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: Film About Film, Yakuza Vengeance, and Plenty of Soju

September 9th, 2023 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

For the second year running, my wife Valerie and I are attending our own at-home film festival. It takes the place in our hearts and vacation plans formerly reserved by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Robin and Valerie International Film Festival is the cinema event you can play along with at home, with a roster of streaming service and SVOD titles. Its roster includes the foreign, independent and cult titles we used to love to see at TIFF, but cheaper, hassle-free, and on the comfort of our own couch. 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.

Hal [US, Amy Scott, 2018, 4] Documentary profiles Hal Ashby, the combative, instinct-driven director of seminal American New Wave films including Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Coming Home and Shampoo. Moving portrait of an uncompromising artist who fought the system when it was weak enough to sometimes lose.

I Like Movies [Canada, Chandler Levack, 2022, 4] High school senior and aspiring filmmaker who masks his mental health issues with insufferable arrogance gets a shot of reality when he takes a job at a video store. Observational dramedy regards its protagonist with a rueful sympathy that cuts through the usual phony nostalgia of the coming-of-age genre.

The Novelist’s Film [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo, 2022, 4] A day of mostly chance encounters with past acquaintances leads an acclaimed novelist (Lee Hye-yeong) to try her hand at filmmaking. A strong entry in the prolific director’s career-long exploration of social awkwardness, metatextuality, and the revelatory permission granted by alcohol—in this case, makgeolli.

Alcarràs [Spain, Carla Simón, 2022, 4] Family of peach farmers face an uncertain future when their orchard, which they own only by an old verbal contract, is slated for replacement by a solar panel installation. Naturalistic ensemble drama portrays the 21st century version of the agrarian struggle, with a truthful look at familial conflicts.

Return to Seoul [France, Davy Chou, 2022, 5] Young French woman (Park Ji-min) initiates years of inner turmoil when, during an unexpected trip to Korea she ambivalently seeks her birth parents. Incisive writing and emotion-packed visuals brought into stunning focus by a searing, lucid performance from Park. And it’s her first movie role!

Outrage Coda [Japan, Takeshi Kitano, 2017, 4] A murder committed by a dimwitted  mid-level yakuza on Jeju Island Korea brings the dangerous gangster Otomo (Beat Takeshi) back to Japan to unleash a final eruption of violent reprisal. After the nihilistic contempt of the first two installments, Kitano lets some of the elegiac wryness of his earlier crime films creep back into the trilogy’s conclusion.

Arab Blues [France/Tunisia, Manele Labidi, 2019, 4] Parisian psychoanalyst (Golshifteh Farahani) moves back to her childhood home in Tunis to open a practice, finding surprising demand for treatment and resistance from family and a handsome but rule-bound police officer. Comic drama takes on the clash between secular and Islamist worldviews with the subversive weapon of charm.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are 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: Barbie, Renfield, and More Noir City

September 5th, 2023 | 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

Barbie (Film, US, Greta Gerwig, 2023) Weird feelings prompt Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) to journey to the troubling real world, where tagalong Ken (Ryan Gosling) learns about the patriarchy and resolves to bring it back to the innocent Eden that is Barbie Land. Surreal essay film with jokes and musical numbers uses women’s ambivalence toward the iconic doll as a synecdoche for their ambivalence toward gender expectations. Ironically given the theme, the juiciest, most layered part goes to Gosling, who makes a full feast out of it—RDL

Blood on the Moon (Film, US, Robert Wise, 1948) Drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) rides into a conflict between rancher John Lufton (Tom Tully) and homesteaders backed by his friend Tate (Robert Preston) but uncovers chicanery, while finding love in Lufton’s daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes). Wise keeps an atmosphere of uncertainty and menace brewing throughout the film, even as the plot takes its own sweet time getting to the final gunfight. Mitchum is, of course, magnificent, as is homesteader Walter Brennan. –KH

Chicago Deadline (Film, US, Lewis Allen, 1949) Reporter Ed Adams (Alan Ladd) discovers a dead beauty (Donna Reed) and becomes obsessed with tracking her history, uncovering unsavory secrets along the way. Crackling dialogue, ample Chicago shooting locations, and another strong weasel turn from Berry Kroeger as a gangster make this film a delight, though never a Laura. —KH

Dark Archives:  a Librarian’s Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin (Nonfiction, Megan Rosenbloom, 2020) In her role as a member of the Anthropodermic Book Project, the author visits special collections throughout the US and Europe gathering samples for the DNA test that separates authenticity from legend for books reputed to be bound in tanned human remains. Contrary to horror tropes, the most prolific makers of these troubling artifacts turn out not to be blasphemous occultists, but 19th century men of science, And obviously a fictionalized ABP is your next group of player characters.—RDL

Fanny: The Right to Rock (Film, Canada, Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021) Now in their sixties, the core members of Fanny, a hard-rocking early 70s band with an all-woman, Filipina, queer roster that broke barriers without ever quite breaking through, reunite to record a new album. Arts profile documentary loves and celebrates its subjects as they look ruefully at the past and hopefully to the future.—RDL

Larceny (Film, US, George Sherman, 1948) Con men Rick (John Payne) and Silky (Dan Duryea) plan to grift a war widow (Joan Caulfield) out of the money for a no-fooling teen center and war memorial but Silky’s girl (Shelley Winters) has her own angle. A beautiful con and two beautiful dames plus Dan Duryea at his oiliest and most menacing keep John Payne hopping on the edge of disaster throughout, propelling the film zippily through a smorgasbord of wonderful character moments. –KH

Young and Innocent (Film, US, Alfred Hitchcock, 1937) Straight-laced police inspector’s daughter (Nova Pilbeam) breaks all the rules to help a handsome young man (Derrick de Marney) prove it wasn’t him who murdered an older actress. This early example of Hitchock’s favorite innocent fugitive formula features such quintessentially English obstacles as people posing as members of other social classes and the need to extricate oneself from an awkward social obligation.—RDL

Good

Moonrise (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1948) Tormented by his father’s hanging for murder, borderline Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark) both lashes out and flees within himself in a performance that tries to entirely internalize the noir transgression-and-pursuit (and doesn’t entirely land). Gail Russell is luminous as the girl who almost involuntarily sees the wounded boy inside, but Borzage indulges his silent-film instincts for big drama at the final expense of tension and tone. –KH

Renfield (Film, US, Chris McKay, 2023) Seeking to break his codependent relationship with his master (Nicolas Cage) Dracula’s longtime familiar (Nicholas Hoult) teams up with an incorruptible New Orleans cop (Awkwafina) bent on taking down the crime family that killed her dad. Juicy performances and a gleefully over-the-top vibe almost rescue a script that fails to find its footing after rushing the setup and generally appears to have come out the worse for wear from the development process.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Noir City 2023 and an Aubrey Plaza Double Bill

August 29th, 2023 | 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

Call Northside 777 (Film, US, Henry Hathaway, 1948) Crusading reporter P.J. McNeal (Jimmy Stewart) re-investigates the case of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), convicted cop killer. Propulsive true-crime thriller full of real-life Chicago locations ignites thanks to Stewart’s patented slow-burning outrage. Not actually noir, but shot like one by Joseph MacDonald. –KH

Emily the Criminal (Film, US, John Patton Ford, 2022) Beleaguered food service worker (Aubrey Plaza) accesses her repressed dark side after she becomes a runner for a credit fraud gang. Socially aware, character-driven crime drama with Plaza’s intense, layered performance as its centerpiece.—RDL

Force of Evil (Film, US, Abraham Polonsky, 1948) Numbers-racket lawyer Joe Morse (John Garfield) sticks his neck out for his small-time brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) as the mob and big business forcibly consolidate the numbers rackets in New York City. A superb noir in which the transgression is (selfish) brotherly love against a soulless capitalist system, it manages both a crime-insider and romantic tone without breaking stride. –KH

He Walked By Night (Film, US, Alfred L. Werker, 1948) Electronics nut Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) graduates from burglary to murder and armed robbery in L.A. while staying one step ahead of the cops (Roy Roberts and Scott Brady). Basehart’s feral charm and John Alton’s noir lensing keeps you watching this (actual) proto-Dragnet as the twists and turns of the case accelerate. When an uncredited Anthony Mann shot the climactic storm-sewer chase, I bet he thought “This is going to be the best noir sewer chase filmed in 1948.”  Based on the real-life case of Erwin “Death Ray” Walker and featuring the dawn of the Identikit. –KH

The Last Duel (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2021) The events surrounding a rape accusation resolved through trial by combat in late 14th century France are retold from the varying perspectives of the impetuous, self-concerned husband (Matt Damon), the sleazy, well-connected perpetrator (Adam Driver) and the outraged, determined victim (Jodie Comer.) Historical drama varies the Rashomon structure by depicting revealing but relatively subtle differences in understanding between the focus characters.—RDL

Unfaithfully Yours (Film, US, Preston Sturges, 1948) Convinced of his wife’s (Linda Darnell) adultery, conductor Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) plans her murder. A weird but very funny slapstick domestic comedy perhaps best understood as a parody of noir, its high point is musical director Alfred Newman’s synchronization of the diegetic classical score (both thematically and rhythmically) with de Carter’s fantastic thoughts of revenge, and the return of those scores as farce in the final act. –KH

The Velvet Touch (Film, US, John Gage, 1948) Broadway actress Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell) murders her grasping producer Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) and watches her unhappy rival Marian (Claire Trevor) take the fall. As great as the murder triangle is, the real highlight of this Broadway noir is Sydney Greenstreet as a proto-Columbo (and the least New York NYPD cop in history). Leo Rosten’s script often achieves proper wit and bite, disguising a fairly straightforward story. –KH

Good

Burst City (Film, Japan, Gakuryū Ishii, 1982) In the proto-apocalyptic outer slums of Tokyo, rival punk bands do battle as yakuza press quasi-mutants into forced labor on a construction project. Frenetic, assaultive extreme cinema piece documents the vibe of the original Japanese punk scene.—RDL

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (Film, Guy Ritchie, 2023) Ultra-competent operative (Jason Statham) trades barbs with his luxury-loving handler (Cary Elwes) and glamorous techie (Aubrey Plaza) as they pursue a high-tech macguffin about to be sold off by a roguish arms dealer (Hugh Grant.) Sleek, breezy celebration of its performers’ charisma.—RDL

Road House (Film, US, Jean Negulesco, 1948) Spoiled sociopath Jefty (Richard Widmark at his Widmarkiest) hires new flame Lily (Ida Lupino) to sing at his nightclub/bowling alley, to the consternation of his friend and enabler Pete (Cornel Wilde). The architecturally insane road house set is a visual gift that keeps on giving, Celeste Holm is charmingly snappish as good girl Susie, and Ida Lupino lovers should definitely bounce this up to Recommended. –KH

Incomplete

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Film, US, Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson, 2023) Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) reunites with Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and discovers that he’s been left out of the interdimensional spider-hero league as a dread mythic development barrels his way. On one hand, features many engagingly animated spider persons; on the other, is 15% longer than Citizen Kane and consists entirely of set-up for another movie, without even the courtesy of a decent cliffhanger.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Star Trek, Yellowjackets, and Ma Dong Seok Slapping Yet More Dudes

August 22nd, 2023 | 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

Accident Man (Film, UK, Jesse V. Johnson, 2018) Cold-hearted hitman (Scott Adkins) traces the death of his pregnant ex to his own colorful assassination gang. Skillfully choreographed and staged martial arts flick takes its time to establish its characters and their relationships.—RDL

The Round Up (South Korea, Sang-yong Lee, 2022) Burly police lieutenant Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong Seok aka Don Lee) is back, this time on the trail of an expat kidnapper who has been killing his fellow Korean nationals in Vietnam. Like many sequels, this leans into self-aware comedy, but does so without sacrificing smart police procedural plotting and the crunching ass-beatings we’ve signed on for.—RDL

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 (Television, US, Paramount+, Akiva Goldsman & Henry Alonso Myers, 2023) The shadows of wars past and future hang over Pike and the Enterprise crew as they continue their interstellar exploration mission. Though thrown off-balance by three comic change-of-pace episodes in a ten episode season, the show keeps its focus on procedural problem-solving and navigates clear of a sophomore slump.—RDL

Yellowjackets Season 1 (Television, US, Showtime, Ashley Lyle & Bart Nickerson & Jonathan Lisco, 2021-2022) A blackmail scheme and a likely murder provoke unwanted recollections for a group of women (Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, Tawny Cypress) who as members of a high school soccer team were stranded after a plane crash and did some terrible things. It’s a testament to our era of siloed culture that this tense, funny double ensemble piece, which is popular and much-talked about, could so clearly establish itself as folk horror from episode one yet gain comparatively little mindshare among genre nerds.—RDL

Good

Anonymous Club (Film, Australia, Danny Cohen, 2019) Impressionistic documentary depicts singer songwriter Courtney Barnett as she struggles with self-doubt and depression on the road and at home. You’ll learn more about the subject from her songs than in this diffuse portrayal, but it does portray the outwardly uninteresting life of a prolific artist and closes on a profound bit at the end.—RDL

Okay

Extraction 2 (Film, US, Sam Hargrave, 2023) Not actually dead after the first film, self-loathing commando Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) returns to bust his sister-in-law (Tinatin Dalikashvili) out of a Georgian prison. Golshifteh Farahani has a little bit more to do this time out as Rake’s handler, and the pseudo-single-take prison break is almost too lavishly violent, but the rest of the film grinds into messy predictability, losing the tension and tang that made the first one mostly kind of work. –KH

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