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Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Golem and a Gill-Man

January 16th, 2018 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Creed (Film, US, Ryan Coogler, 2015) Impelled from childhood to prove himself with his fists, Apollo Creed’s son (Michael B. Jordan) quits his white collar job and moves to Philadelphia in hopes that a reluctant Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) will train him as a boxer. Coogler invests the dramatic bits with a refreshing honesty and naturalism, then demonstrates a similar mastery when the film climbs into the ring.—RDL

The Good Place Season 1 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2016) Through a cosmic oversight, selfish telemarketer Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself in a cheerfully whimsical afterlife, overseen by a kindly, bow-tied immortal entity (Ted Danson.) Hard to think of anyone other than Schur who could pull off a delightful network sitcom that doubles as a 101 course on moral philosophy. William Jackson Harper is a particular revelation, pulling off the always difficult straight man role with precision and aplomb.—RDL

The Limehouse Golem (Film, UK, Juan Carlos Medina, 2017) In 1880, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) of Scotland Yard investigates the serial killer called the “Limehouse Golem,” and comes to believe that accused poisoner Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) holds the key. Scriptwriter Jane Goodman pulls off a tour de force adapting Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant original novel, which alludes not just to the Ripper but to the Ratcliff Highway murders, the Maybrick poisoning, and the whole “London tapestry.” Douglas Booth superbly plays (historical) transvestite comedian Dan Leno, the unlikely axis around which film and novel both pivot. –KH

The Shape of Water (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2017) Sweet but lonely custodian (Sally Hawkins) develops a covert bond with a gill-man imprisoned at the Cold War scientific installation where she works as a custodian, placing her in danger with its brutal security chief (Michael Shannon.) Dark adult fairy tale reminds us that del Toro’s best ally is a tight script. A couple of years I might have dinged this a notch for obviousness, but what used to be heavy-handed allegory is now social realism.—RDL

Tokyo Drifter (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1966) Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a deadly but reformed yakuza, must leave Tokyo to ensure the safety of his substitute father, former yakuza lord Kurata (Ryuji Kita), and the singer who loves him (Chieko Matsubara). Foes hunt Tetsu through increasingly heightened settings until the final insane shootout in a surrealistic white-painted nightclub. Suzuki responded to the constraints of budget and genre not just with the aforementioned surreal collage but by editing a film with a manga sensibility, a scene’s (or shot’s) action abruptly stopping once its “panel” has conveyed the story beat. –KH

Zero K (Fiction, Don DeLillo, 2016) A man who drifts between challenging but uninvolving jobs travels to a transhumanist outpost in Central Asia, where his ultra-rich father and terminally ill stepmother have made plans for her cryogenic preservation. Hypnotically compelling futurist vision, in which DeLillo demonstrates that your protagonist can be a passive observer if what’s being observed is sufficiently compelling. In a genre novel you’d be waiting for the mutants to break out of the secret lab and start eating people but this is a literary novel so you’re not.—RDL

Good

The Anderson Tapes (Film, US, Sidney Lumet, 1971) Just-released ex-con burglar Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) decides to rob the ritzy apartment building his girlfriend (Dyan Cannon) lives in and assembles a crew (including Martin Balsam and Christopher Walken) unaware that his every move is being taped or filmed or both by the FBI, IRS, BNDD, HUAC, and a private detective agency. Lumet doesn’t do much with the surveillance motif (which was admittedly a gimmick even in the original novel) except clog up an otherwise terrific heist movie packed with great character actor turns. –KH

XTC: This is Pop (Film, UK, Roger Penny & Charlie Thomas, 2017) Career survey of the group behind such hits as “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Dear God,” and “Peter Pumpkinhead,” bookended by a hilarious anti-rockumentary rant by bandleader Andy Partridge. I was surprised to discover that they didn’t break in the US until “Dear God,” because they were big here in the tasteful wilds of Torontoland from the first album on.—RDL

Okay

Hostiles (Film, US, Scott Cooper, 2017) In 1892, U.S. Cavalry captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) must escort dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) from New Mexico to Montana. Cooper tries and fails to blend the cavalry Western with the nihilist road movie against majestic (albeit familiar) scenery beautifully lensed by Masanobu Takayanaki. Bale’s acting, and that of Rosamund Pike as a widow Blocker rescues along the way, try and fail to wring meaning from a facile story. –KH

I, Tonya (Film, US, Craig Gillespie, 2017) Casting figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) as both harbinger of and scapegoat for America’s descent into folly, Gillespie wants to have his cake and eat it too: mock Harding and her possible co-conspirators as white trash idiots, while exalting her postmodern “truth” as the victim of abuse at the hands of her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and mother (Allison Janney). The result is a moral hash that also suffers from the standard flaws of the Worst Genre (the biopic); occasional stabs at meta-narration don’t add dimension or diversion to the story. Robbie and Janney’s performances carry the film on their backs, but it’s barely worth the effort. –KH

Kong: Skull Island (Film, US, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) In the wake of the US pullout from Vietnam, a joint scientific/military survey of an uncharted island arouses the ire of its guardian, a titanic ape. Overstuffs its mix of disaster movie ethos and Apocalypse Now references with so many characters it forgets to make any of them its protagonist, coming to life only when John C. Reilly’s grizzled survivor character occupies the screen.—RDL

Not Recommended

7 Sisters (Film, UK/France/Belgium, Tommy Wirkola, 2017) Septuplets who pose as a single person (all played by Noomi Rapace) one day of the week apiece risk exposure in a totalitarian future Europe that ruthlessly enforces a one-child policy. Anti-abortion SF action thriller racks up a kill count not unlike Wirkola’s Dead Snow, but here it’s happening not to cartoonishly drawn dolts but to sympathetic characters played with grounded intensity by a compelling actor, to glumly punishing effect. Alternate title: What Happened To Monday.—RDL

One Response to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Golem and a Gill-Man”

  1. Tim Emrick says:

    I’m currently watching The Good Place on Netflix, and heartily agree with Robin’s rating. The show grapples with some surprisingly heady topics for a sitcom, and Bell and Danson are in fine form.

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