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Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Vietnamese Mole and the Dread Secrets of Telemarketing

July 17th, 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 a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

The Sympathizer (Fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015) An erudite revolutionary mole inside the South Vietnamese secret police flees the fall of Saigon with his boss/target, adding American to his list of confusing opposed identities. A big, ambitious, funny and horrifying wallop of a novel, haunted by ghosts and vodka.—RDL

Recommended

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Film, US, Peyton Reed, 2018) Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) risks another prison sentence to help Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) rescue her mother from the quantum zone. It’s not Reed’s fault that the trailers gave away most of the fun, creative impact that shrinking has on chase and fight scenes, but it’s a good thing he has believable, strong villains in illicit supertech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and desperate quantum victim Ghost (Hannah-John Kamen). Charming actors playing good dialogue well in between original, interesting super-fights: what’s not to love? –KH

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook (Nonfiction, Alice Waters with Christina Mueller & Bob Carras, 2017) Autobiography follows the future epigone of the local ingredients movement from a buttoned-down 50s upbringing, to Berkeley during the Free Speech movement and the opening of her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. Unusually readable for a book assembled in the  “as told to” format uses plentiful flash-forwards to show us our hero after she becomes the person we’re interested in. Most startling takeaway: Waters’s approach to food happens after she opens Chez Panisse!—RDL

The Good Place Season 2 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2018) Not-Good Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her confused sort-of-torturer Michael (Ted Danson) zip through afterlife whack-a-mole in a giddy comedy that makes premise threat its premise. If every episode were as glorious as “The Trolley Problem” this would be a solid Pinnacle, but like Eleanor, we must accept its merely being much better than it should be. –KH

The Hardliners (Fiction, William Haggard, 1970) Now retired from the Security Executive, Colonel Russell gets involved when a friend’s father threatens to publish memoirs that could turn Czechoslovakia (never named as such) into a gulag. Personalities, pacing, and a lot of detail about shoes — this is a quintessential Haggard novel complete with ever-tautening plot. Except there is, in fact, some (tsk!) physical action. –KH

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2017) A lifetime’s tsuris dealing with their oblivious, narcissist artist father (Dustin Hoffman) comes to a head for half-brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matt (Ben Stiller) when they, along with quietly desperate sister Jean try to care for him after a mishap. Funny, unsparing character piece recognizes the fundamental unresolvability of most family conflict.—RDL

Sorry To Bother You (Film, US, Boots Riley, 2018) Skint Oaklander (Lakeith Stanfield) prospers at his new telemarketing job by affecting a white voice, leading him to a bizarre conspiracy. Hilariously biting satire with an initially stoned and dreamy vibe is relevant to KARTAS listener interests in a way the publicity campaign takes care not to spoil.—RDL

Good

The Bad Batch (Film, US, Ana Lily Amanpour, 2017) Exiled into a Mad Max LARP for no discernible reason, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) loses an arm and a leg to cannibals led by the Miami Man (Jason Momoa) and embarks on a journey to … something? Beautiful and dreamlike (Lyle Vincent’s cinematography kills throughout), but sadly aimless (just like its protagonist) this film succeeds more as an inchoate succession of vivid images, soundscapes, and emotional moments than as, say, a story. –KH

The Revenant (Film, US, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015) Frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives a bear mauling to pursue the truculent expedition member (Tom Hardy) who murdered his son. Visually and aurally awe-inspiring, unnecessarily long parable of religious redemption through mortification of the flesh.—RDL

Okay

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Film, Japan, Toshiya Fujita, 1974) Weary assassin (Meiko Kaji) is saved from the gallows by the secret police and sent to spy on a handsy anarchist (Juzo Itami), but the spirit of righteous vengeance needs only a fresh whiff of gore to reawaken. In lieu of plot obstacles, sidelines its iconic heroine for a very long and unnecessary torture-filled second act.—RDL

The Saint (Film, US, Ernie Barbarash, 2017) Partners in crime Simon Templar (Adam Rayner) and Patricia Holm (Eliza Dushku) chase down a kidnapper (Ian Ogilvy) and $2.5 billion in stolen charity money. Man, did I want to like this, not least for rescuing Patricia Holm from the forgotten pages of Leslie Charteris’ early novels. And man, was this a TV pilot shot in 2013 and not picked up, so nope. Some nice fight choreography and a good heist density can’t rescue clunky delivery, cheap production, and the overstuffed, underwritten cast. –KH

Spielberg (Film, US, Susan Lacy, 2017) Interviews new and archival, plus the requisite beautifully presented film clips, trace the life and filmography of director Steven Spielberg. A film made with the full cooperation of its subject can gesture toward, but not really grapple with, the central question of his wildly inconsistent output.—RDL

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