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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bandit Lords, Jedi, and the CIA

December 19th, 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 new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Carol (Film, US, Todd Haynes, 2015) In the closeted 50s, an aspiring photographer with a passive streak (Rooney Mara) falls for a sophisticated woman (Cate Blanchett) embroiled in a custody battle with her soon-to-be-ex husband. Subtle drama marked by strong performances, a lovely use of muted color, and the director’s affinity for the period.—RDL

Cities of the Classical World (Nonfiction, Colin McEvedy, 2011) Following his unrivaled Atlas of World Population History, McEvedy began compiling data on and descriptions of 120 cities of the Greco-Roman ecumene (nothing east of Ctesiphon) for a comparative study left unfinished at his death. Featuring sketch maps of each city to the same scale, the book is necessarily uneven but nonetheless valuable and engaging. –KH

The Concubine (Film, Kim Dae-seung, South Korea, 2012) When a beautiful young bureaucrat’s daughter catches the eye of a prince, his murderously ambitious mother contrives to marry her off to her stepson, the king. Glossy, lurid tale of sex, violence and court intrigue dishes up a Korean counterpart to the Jacobean revenge tragedy.—RDL

The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central (Nonfiction, Christine Pelisek, 2017) True crime account by the reporter who broke the case to the public follows the trail of victims left by appallingly prolific L.A. serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. Goes beyond the forensic horrors to cover the case’s social context and the experiences of victims’ families.—RDL

Marketa Lazarová (Film, Czechoslovakia, František Vlácil, 1967) In the 13th century Czech hinterland, a bandit lord’s sons kidnap a rival’s convent-bound daughter, arousing the attention of the German captain tasked to bring them to heel. Visually stark, aurally haunting epic of violence and innocence told in moody, elliptical fragments.—RDL

Star Wars: the Last Jedi (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2017) As First Order ships corner the last of the Resistance, Rey attempts to persuade a reluctant Luke Skywalker to tutor her in the ways of the Jedi. Tasked with reconfiguring Empire, the thorniest of the original trilogy, Johnson serves up new variations on the requisite moral ambiguity, surprises, and a structure that moves from diffusion to convergence.—RDL

Wormwood (Television, US, Netflix, Errol Morris, 2017) In November 1953, bacteriologist Frank Olson fell to his death from the 13th floor of the Hotel Statler in New York. Morris combines documentary interviews with Olson’s son and other investigators, cinematic re-enactments (Peter Sarsgaard plays Olson), and visual collage for a trippy, murky journey through CIA skullduggery, LSD experiments, and very confidently asserted hearsay. Morris is a master at work, and everyone should know his tools. –KH

Good

Running on Karma (Film, HK, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2004) Psychic male stripper (Andy Lau) who can read auras sees the doom for a spunky junior detective (Cecilia Cheung) on the trail of a contortionist killer. An aggressively unlikely latex muscle suit wears Andy Lau in this paranormal police procedural turned Buddhist fable. To’s co-directing efforts with his screenwriting partner Wai usually set aside the former’s stoic control for the latter’s flamboyant plate-spinning, this time with extra gonzo results.—RDL

Okay

The Punisher Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Steve Lightfoot, 2017) Vigilante special op Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) uncovers the deeper reason for his family’s murder, an illegal CIA heroin ring, and (eventually) kills everyone involved with the dubious help of emo hacker Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and incompetent DHS agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah). Episode 10 is magnificent; the rest is the now-standard Marvel-Netflix first-gear-only storytelling. The acting is also notably weak; only the terrific Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll (reprising her Karen Page role) really enliven their characters. –KH

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