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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Archive 81, Apollo 10½, and a Conspiracy-Riddled High Finance Scam

April 5th, 2022 | 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

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (Film, US, Richard Linklater, 2022) A tall tale about his covert moon landing prior to the official one frames a man’s reminiscences of growing up in a big family in 1969 Houston, an idyllic time when Baskin-Robbins and Astro-Turf were new, corporal punishment was dished out like breakfast, and you ran through DDT clouds and liked it. The trailer focuses on the fantasy sequence to make this look like a kid’s adventure movie, but don’t let that fool you. This animated memoir joins Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, as part of what is now a thematic trilogy.—RDL

Archive 81 (Television, US, Netflix, Rebecca Sonnenshine, 2022) Video archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) takes a job restoring footage taken by oral historian Melody (Dina Shihabi) from just before the 1994 fire that destroyed a haunted NYC apartment building and uncovers wouldn’t you know it a conspiracy. The two leads’ performances (withdrawn and outgoing) complement each other superbly despite almost no scenes together, a sign of the directorial talent that keeps this supernatural mystery from disappearing up its own mythology. Its own mythology is pretty cool, which helps. A somewhat weak ending was meant to set up the Season 2 that won’t happen now, so show-runners should maybe rethink this instinct. –KH

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Film, US, Stanley Nelson Jr., 2019) It could be argued that a documentary about Miles should be as boundary-shattering as the jazz styles he continually adopted and discarded, but the story of those shifts is already complicated enough. This straightahead American Masters biography does the right thing by adding interviews and archival footage to extensive passages from his autobiography.—RDL

Octopus (Nonfiction, Guy Lawson, 2012) Desperate to save his hedge fund after hidden losses turn it into a de facto Ponzi scheme, eccentric trader Sam Israel falls into the orbit of a notorious conspiracy theory figure who salts his promises of an unbeatable high-stakes investment with tales of CIA hit teams, Yamashita’s gold, alien autopsies, and the real Zapruder film. The dictum that there’s no better mark than a scammer achieves its ultimate Ouroboros form in a gobsmacking high finance crime story where everyone seems to have fallen for the con.—RDL

Only Murders in the Building Season 1 (Television, US, Hulu, Steve Martin & John Hoffman, 2022) A washed-up TV actor (Steve Martin), a failed Broadway producer (Martin Short), and a young decorator (Selena Gomez) bond over true-crime podcasts and then start one of their own when one of their neighbors turns up murdered. With less delightful stars, this comedy-mystery might be accused of meandering for the sake of meandering, but no time spent with our characters feels wasted or forced, not least because of the superb comic timing they share. The result could almost be a minor-key city symphony, maybe a building sonata? –KH

Total Blackout: The Tamborine Extended Cut (Standup, Netflix, Chris Rock, 2021) Rock re-cut his 2018 special from Bo Burnham’s original version, and that should almost be ‘nuff said right there. The new version focuses on race, sex, and Rock’s own failings as a husband, adding both grit and truth and leaving the Trump material behind as yesterday’s news. –KH

Good

Dickinson Season 2 (Television, US, Apple+, Alena Smith, 2021) As her inamorata (Ella Hunt) keeps her distance, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) flirts with publication of her poems and experiences an omen of the coming Civil War. Anachronistic comedy bio loses a touch of momentum in season two, hitting the shoals of the old “let’s separate the lovers” move.—RDL

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure (Film, South Korea, Kim Jeong-Hoon, 2022) Virtuous pirate queen (Han Hyo-joo) teams with a bombastic yet annoyingly attractive bandit (Kang Ha-neul) to chase the looted treasure of the fallen Goryeo regime. Initially choppy storytelling redeemed by a fun final swashbuckling act.—RDL

Okay

International House (Film US, A. Edward Sutherland, 1931) Beer-guzzling gyrocopter pilot (W. C. Fields) crashes into a hotel in China where industrialists from around the world seek the patent on television, attracting the murderous ire of a Franco-Russian agent (Bela Lugosi.) That description leaves out much of the chaos of this nutty kitchen sink comedy, in which Jazz Age Kardashian precursor Peggy Hopkins Joyce is top-billed as herself and the McGuffin allows the dropping in of primordial music videos from Cab Calloway and Rudy Vallee.—RDL

Willy’s Wonderland (Film, US, Kevin Lewis, 2021) Murderous animatronic kid’s restaurant mascots get more than they bargained for when their human accomplices try to feed them an obsessively diligent traveler (Nicolas Cage.) Execution fails to live up to the premise, except when Cage is onscreen, giving it 110% in a wordless, self-referential role as every robot weasel’s worst nightmare..—RDL

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