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Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Bumper Crop of Noir and Crime

May 12th, 2020 | 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

99 River Street (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1953) Ex-boxer turned taxi driver  (John Payne) races to clear himself after his disenchanted, cheating wife (Peggie Castle) takes part in a diamond heist and turns up dead in his cab. Gritty, expressionistic noir packed with supporting turns that economically add appealing distinguishing touches to such stock crime drama figures.—RDL

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Film, US, Paul Mazursky, 1969) After an intense experience at a self-actualization retreat, a documentarian and his wife (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) fumble their way toward sexual openness, to the consternation of their best married friends (Dyan Cannon, Elliot Gould.) As pivotal to late 60s cultural upheaval as Easy Rider, this drama of changing mores is layered and complicated in a way its iconic poster image overshadowed.—RDL

Mauvais Sang (Film, France, Leo Carax, 1986) Seeking cash to start a new life, a young ex-con (Denis Lavant) agrees to help heist a cure for a pandemic virus, then falls for the luminous girlfriend (Juliette Binoche) of the job’s fearful mastermind (Michel Piccoli.) Ultra-stylized film noir riff blends surrealism, romanticism, and existentialism.—RDL

Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Nonfiction, Garry Wills, 2011) Explores Shakespeare’s most Roman tragedy through the rhetorical styles of its main characters, along with a few other insights gleaned in Wills’ research into the 16th-century theater. Short, digestible, clear, and interesting without necessarily being groundbreaking, Wills nevertheless lays down a marker for Julius Caesar as it should be understood. –KH

Searching (Film, US, Aneesh Chaganty, 2018) Grief-stricken single dad (John Cho) learns how little he knew his daughter when she disappears, leaving only her online footprint to provide clues to her fate. Its presentational conceit, showing all of the action on computer, mobile or other screens, goes beyond clever gimmickry to observe the action through the platforms that mediate contemporary experience.—RDL

Good

The Case of the Constant Suicides (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1941) After the apparent suicide of the Campbell family patriarch in the Scottish castle Shira, Dr. Fell untangles a nest of insurance fraud, thwarted legacies, whisky, and oh yes murder. Praised by many Carr devotees for its multiple impossible crimes and leavening of actual situational comedy, it breezes by too fast to properly build Carr’s Gothic atmosphere. –KH

Decoy (Film, US, Jack Bernhard, 1946) Alluring psychopath (Jean Gillie) seduces an earnest prison doctor into assisting with the escape of a death row inmate, so she can get her hands on his cache of stolen loot. The spirit of weirdness pervading this noir from Poverty Row studio Monogram, somehow enhanced by its mostly stilted and charmless acting, exerts the sort of hypnotic fascination later masters of irony like David Lynch and Guy Maddin strive to emulate.—RDL

Den of Thieves (Film, US, Christian Gudegast, 2018) “Gangster cop” Big Nick (Gerard Butler, playing Russell Crowe playing Gerard Butler) faces off against ex-MARSOC bank robber Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) in Los Angeles. This somehow even more bro-y take on Heat succeeds in its shootouts and its heists but doesn’t work hard enough to reinforce its plot, or at all to advance its theme beyond Big Nick spelling out that the cops are (also) “the bad guys.” Terrific location work means I will bump it up when I see it again in fifty years.–KH

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (Film, US, Chad Stahelski, 2019) Declared excommunicado by an international assassins league that doesn’t care what words mean, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) goes on the run, over a series of spectacular fights involving library shelves, hero dogs, motorcycles, glass display cases, and special cameo attacks from alumni of The Raid series. Recommended for the stellar fight staging. The plot stringing them together is as dumb as the previous installment, though not as confusing.—RDL

Mississippi Grind (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2015) Sad-sack compulsive gambler Gerry (Mendo) gets picked up in Dubuque by compulsive extrovert Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) and they join forces to gamble down the Mississippi to beat a private card game in New Orleans. More road movie than gambling movie, and more exploration of male friendship and chance than either, this low-simmering actors’ duel consummately apes 70s film structure while discarding plot. Sadly, its location work, soundtrack, and character work too often rely on cliche to get Recommended on their own. –KH

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