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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dune, Squid Game, and That Meddling Tree

November 2nd, 2021 | 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

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (Film, US, Errol Morris, 2016) Documentary profiles a photographer who went from documenting Beat poets, particularly her longtime pal Allen Ginsburg to specializing in deceptively ordinary large format Polaroid portraits. Morris’ style, primarily consisting of a long interview with Dorfman in her archive, mirrors the radical simplicity of her images.—RDL

Dune: Part One (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) When his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) receives the poisoned governorship of the planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) awakens to his messianic destiny. Perhaps worthy of Robin’s controversial Incomplete rating, this pounding visual-sonic epic nevertheless captures the feel (or a feel, anyhow, I do miss Lynch’s crazitude) of Frank Herbert’s thudding masterwork. Much credit goes to production designer Patrice Vermette, with special shout-outs to the ornithopters. Rebecca Ferguson kills it as Lady Jessica, vitally centering the film amid Villeneuve’s eager aping of everyone else’s epics from Ford to Lean to Coppola. –KH

Squid Game (Television, South Korea, Netflix, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021) Along with hundreds of other desperately indebted people, a compulsively life-wrecking gambler (Lee Jung-jae) joins an illicit tournament of children’s games where the survivor earns a massive payout and everyone else dies. A superstar cast, indelible production design and ingeniously thrown narrative curveballs propel a triumph of the Korean cult cinema sensibility.—RDL

Tommaso (Film, US, Abel Ferrara, 2019) Director living in Italy (Willem Dafoe) with his young wife and toddler struggles for serenity and wisdom as the demons that once drove him to drink continue to gnaw at him after six years in AA. Ferrara escalates from slice-of-life to hallucinatory reality in this sobriety drama,  a counterpoint to his classic addiction films,—RDL

Good

The Tree, the Mayor, and the Mediatheque (Film, France, Eric Rohmer, 1993) Ambitious mayor of a country village (Pascal Greggory) secures federal funding for a sports and culture complex but finds that everyone has an opinion about it, including his dotty novelist girlfriend (Arielle Dombasle) and a bloviating school principal (Fabrice Luchini.) Affectionate satire, unusually for a political film, delves into very real governance nitty-gritty. Not the place to start with Rohmer but a charming rarity for completists.—RDL

The Witches (Film, UK, Cyril Frankel, 1966) Traumatized by an escape from a witch-doctor driven rebellion in Africa, Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) takes a job as a schoolteacher in the too-idyllic English village of Heddaby. Despite a standout performance from Kay Walsh as a no-nonsense bluestocking lady of the manor, this mid-period Hammer outing just goes to show that you can in fact suck the life out of a Nigel Kneale script if you try. The final coven scene avoids even Hammer sensuality, becoming more modern dance recital than orgy. Still interesting as a precursor folk horror. –KH

Okay

A Quiet Place Part II (Film,US  John Krasinski, 2020) Armed with the frequency that weakens the death angels, the Abbott family sets out from their ruined hideout to spread the word, reluctantly aided by a traumatized family friend (Cillian Murphy.) The brilliantly calibrated suspense of the original turns out to be an unrepeatable trick in this well-executed rendition of a dutiful  script.—RDL

Not Recommended

Never Cry Werewolf (Film, Canada, John Sheppard, 2008) Teenaged Loren (Nina Dobrev) discovers that her neighbor Jared (Peter Stebbings) is a werewolf, but the only person she can turn to for help is late-night TV big-game personality Redd Tucker (Kevin Sorbo). Look, if it were just me, “beat-for-beat uncredited Fright Night remake with a werewolf and Nina Dobrev” would at least be a high Okay. But I can’t in good conscience recommend this mostly joyless galumph: the dimestore budget prevents any of the horror moments from clicking, and Peter Stebbings is no Chris Sarandon. –KH

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