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Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Spicy Start to 2017

January 3rd, 2017 | 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 podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

The Book of Spice: From Anise to Zedoary (Nonfiction, John O’Connell, 2016) Alphabetical entries cook up the erudition on spices as history, fable, remedy and, oh yes, food. Covers everything from the deadly snakes reputed to swarm in pepper trees, to the murderous rapacity of the spice trade, to the flavorings preferred by The Canterbury Tales’ cook. Did you know that when a mummy attacks, you should be able to tell it’s on its way from the smell of cinnamon, pine resin and bitumen? OK well that one’s an extrapolation on my part but you get the idea.—RDL

Finders Keepers (Film, US, Bryan Carbery and Clay Tweel, 2015) In North Carolina, a custody battle erupts over an amputated calf and foot, between the man who lost it in a small plane crash and the wannabe-Barnum who found it in a cooker bought at a storage container contents auction. Documentary finds pain and pathos behind the surface black humor of a weird news story.—RDL

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Film, New Zealand, Taika Waititi, 2016) After the sudden death of his loving new foster mom, a precocious delinquent (Julian Dennison) winds up a backwoods fugitive, along with her cranky widower (Sam Neill.) Sweet and funny outlaw pursuit flick finds Waititi widening his visual scope.—RDL

Maggie’s Plan (Film, US, Rebecca Miller, 2015) Sweetly controlling woman (Greta Gerwig), realizing that marrying a charming academic (Ethan Hawke) has allowed him to actualize into his full self-centeredness, contrives a scheme to return him to his high-strung ex-wife (Julianne Moore). Urbane NYC comedy of manners artfully bounces its stars’ established personae off of one another. Moore portrays her twitchy cultural theorist as if Madeline Kahn had played Maude Lebowski, but with a sympathetic emotional core few actors would even shoot for.—RDL

Other People (Film, US, Chris Kelly, 2016) Comedy writer (Jesse Plemons) returns home to help care for his terminally ill mom (Molly Shannon), neglecting to tell his family that he’s just broken up with his longtime boyfriend. Beautifully balanced between character comedy and drama, with skilled direction eliciting the best from a great cast. Shannon in particular gives a career-best performance.—RDL

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Film, US, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2016) As homefront interest in the Afghan war wanes, an acerbic TV journalist (Tina Fey) tries to pry herself from a career rut with an assignment to Kabul. The decision to frame the proceedings as an observational comedy, abetted by winning turns from Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman and a calmly scene-stealing Billy Bob Thornton, brings a fresh spark to the usual structure of the war correspondent sub-genre.—RDL

Good

Elvis & Nixon (Film, US, Liza Johnson, 2016) Although Michael Shannon’s weirdly disconnected Elvis is actually capable of holding the spotlight with Kevin Spacey’s manic Nixon, and a strong supporting cast backs them up, the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to do when it gets to the iconic moment. It’s not long enough for that to be a real problem, but it steps on its own mythology too much to be its own justification. –KH

La La Land (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2016) Actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet in Los Angeles while chasing impossible dreams in an old-school musical that also aims to be an old-school city symphony, an old-school romance, and an old-school showbiz picture. It almost squares the circle of “fresh nostalgia,” and looks great throughout regardless. –KH

Okay

Rounding the Mark (Fiction, Andrea Camilleri, 2007) Irascible, food-obsessed Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano finds a link between a waterlogged corpse and a child trafficking ring. There comes a time in every mystery series’ life where what was once taut goes slack, and judging from prose style and plotting this appears to be that point for this one.–RDL

Not Recommended

Phantom of the Theatre (Film, China/HK, Raymond Yip, 2016) In 30s Shanghai, a warlord’s son finds that life mirrors art, plus spontaneous combustion murders, when he directs a romantic ghost movie in a haunted theater. This bid to refashion the HK ghost genre into something sensible enough to support a lavish production might just work, if lead Tony Yang had screen presence to go with those cheekbones of his.—RDL

Ire-Inspiring

La La Land (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2016) Aspiring actress falls for struggling jazz pianist. As in his better wrought Whiplash, Chazelle presents an ethos in which creative recognition is the only thing that matters—here in a slow-starting quasi-musical where the leads sing and dance effortfully, the characters don’t deserve the sympathy the script extends to them, and the songs fade into memory on impact.—RDL

2 Responses to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Spicy Start to 2017”

  1. Tim Emrick says:

    Wow, it’s a good old-fashioned Siskel & Ebert catfight over La La Land!

  2. Shaine says:

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gets recommended over La La Land?!?

    FILL YOUR HAND, LAWS.

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