Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dickinson & Noir from Around the World

November 24th, 2020 | 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

Any Number Can Win (Film, France/Italy/US, Henri Verneuil, 1963) Aging ex-con Charles (Jean Gabin) recruits hot-blooded young ex-con Francis (Alain Delon) for one last perfect job: a casino robbery on the Riviera. Verneuil uses the acting to drive the story, allowing the script to beautifully lay out the heist and its obstacles; low-key tension throughout flares up in a final tour-de-force scene. –KH


The Assistant (Film, US, Kitty Green, 2020) Diligent film company assistant (Julia Garner) can’t help but spot the accumulating evidence of its top exec’s extensive sexual harassment. Exacting, hyper-naturalistic examination of the ambient complicity baked into most any work hierarchy.—RDL

Cold War (Film, Poland, Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018) The tumultuous love of a musical director (Tomasz Kot) and a singer (Joanna Kulig) play out over many years on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Drama of hurtful love between people whose relationship only works under external oppression, with crystalline black and white photography by Łukasz Żal.—RDL

Dickinson (Television, US, Alena Smith, Apple+, 2019) Between colloquies with Death (Wiz Khalifa) in his ghostly carriage, teen poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) defies her loving but forbidding father (Toby Huss), loves her brother’s fiancee (Ella Hunt), and generally commits to keeping it weird. Biographical comedy knocks the stuffiness from the 19th century with contemporary dialogue and needle drops, with emotionally truthful performances from Steinfeld and cast to keep the archness at bay. Zosia Mamet and John Mulaney vie for funniest guest spot honors as commercially-minded Louisa May Alcott and pompous dickweed Henry Thoreau.—RDL

Leave Her to Heaven (Film, US, John M. Stahl, 1945) Obsessive beauty Ellen (Gene Tierney) latches onto writer Richard (Cornel Wilde) and does anything to keep him for herself. Lush Technicolor and surging melodrama lull you into watching perhaps the most blood-freezing murder scene in American film history. Even a pre-plummy Vincent Price as a fixated D.A. can’t equal the threat of Gene Tierney in tortoiseshell shades. –KH

Out of the Dark (Fiction, Patrick Modiano, 1996) In mid-60s Paris, a callow bookhound falls for the magnetically elusive girlfriend of a small-time gambler. Sparely told tale of love and memory with noirish undertones.—RDL

Panique (Film, France, Julien Duvivier, 1947) Local ne’er-do-wells Alice (Viviane Romance) and Alfred (Paul Bernard) frame sad-sack Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) for murder in a lovely clockwork noir based on a Simenon novel. Simon’s performance, alternately off-putting and sympathetic, establishes the human truth at the heart of the story. –KH

Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Season 7 (Television, US, Penn Jillette & Teller, CW, 2020) Magicians Penn and Teller invite fellow magicians to perform a trick; they try to figure out how it’s done. Basically a variety/competition show, except with generosity, wonder, and kindness as the emotional keys. I find its world of professionalism, history, fellowship, and honesty makes for ideal lockdown viewing; I picked this season just because it’s the most recent one I’ve watched, but they’re all Recommended. –KH


Razzia sur la Chnouf (Film, France, Henri Decoin, 1955) Gangster Henri Ferre (Jean Gabin) returns from America to take a crucial middle-management role in a heroin ring getting slack. Gorgeously shot, this  hangout film of the French drug underworld keeps us at a distance as Henri seemingly tours aimlessly through his new empire. The last act tightens considerably, though almost arbitrarily, so I’m not sure the combo scores. Marc Lanjean’s jazzy score absolutely scores, though. –KH

Rusty Knife (Film, Japan, Toshio Masuda, 1958) While the cops fruitlessly try to bust local yakuza boss Katsumata, ex-con (and ex-yakuza) Tachibana (Yujiro Ishihara) tries to keep his murderous rage from boiling over. Like many Nikkatsu directors of the era, Masuda ladles on scenes and developments without any particular care for logic or tone, creating a layered urban setting almost despite himself. The underplayed yet powerful romance between Tachibana and a pretty journalist on the crime beat provides a throughline if you want one. –KH

Not Recommended

Ad Astra (Film, US, James Gray, 2019) Spacecom sends closed-off astronaut (Brad Pitt) on a mission to contact his father (Tommy Lee Jones), whose long-lost craft is bathing the Earth in deadly cosmic radiation. Centering a heaping serving of daddy issues inside a pastiche of 2001 and Heart of Darkness, this exemplifies the very specific kind of bad that results when talented filmmakers devote wholehearted seriousness to a dumb idea.—RDL

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