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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Giallo, Poliziotteschi and Mythic Churchill

January 30th, 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

A Bay of Blood (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1971) Rival schemes for control of a valuable seaside property trigger a cascade of gruesome slayings. Marxist-nihilist giallo gives Bava a flesh-rending pretext to indulge his flair for pure cinema. The largely standalone second act, lifted from its surroundings, becomes the template for Friday the 13th and its host of slasher flick imitators. Also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve. —RDL

Caliber 9 (Film, Italy, Fernando di Leo, 1972) As Milan’s cops argue politics from the sidelines, a pardoned gangster resists the intimidation of ruthless money smugglers who think he stole $300,000 from them. Briskly brutal poliziotteschi with an eye for mod style and a dizzying third act that sucker-punches you right in the genre expectations.—RDL

Cartoon County (Nonfiction, Cullen Murphy, 2017) Vanity Fair editor (and former Prince Valiant writer) Murphy memorializes his cartoonist father John Cullen Murphy, artist of Big Ben Bolt and the post-Foster Prince Valiant, in the context of the cartoonists’ Fiddler’s Green that was postwar Fairfield County, Connecticut. There are better historians of comics, but few better writers, than Cullen Murphy in a pensive mood. –KH

Darkest Hour (Film, UK, Joe Wright, 2017) Wright’s playful cinematisms don’t shift this uncomplicated, not to say bald, narrative of national resolve that could as easily have been made in 1940 as in 2018, except that in 1940 it would have been about the Spanish Armada not WWII. Gary Oldman inhabits an iconic-hero version of Winston Churchill, in a larger-than-true-life performance that by itself justifies this 21st-century exercise in mythography. –KH

I Am Not Your Negro (Film, Switzerland/France, Raoul Peck, 2016) Documentary profile of writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin uses period interviews and excerpts from an unpublished work about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and MLK to present his thoughts on the mythologies that justify black oppression. Skips the supplementary talking heads you’d expect from the format to power itself on to subtly layered narration by Samuel L. Jackson and an apt selection of archival and contemporary footage.—RDL

Yakuglas’ Legacy: the Art and Times of Charlie James (Nonfiction, Ronald W. Hawker, 2016) Survey of the style and influence of Charlie James (1867-1937), a key carver of masks and totems from the West Coast Kwakwaka’wakw people. Covers the ways in which his work and career adjusted to the Canadian government’s 1921 outlawing of the potlatch ceremony and confiscation of its ritual objects. Scholarly but accessible study provides insights into Kwakwaka’wakw mythology and James’ parallel efforts creating works for ceremonial use and for sale to outside collectors.—RDL

Good

My Friend Dahmer (Film, US, Marc Meyers, 2017) Teen outcast Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch) becomes the ‘mascot’ of a clique of teen outsiders led by aspiring cartoonist John Backderf (Alex Wolff). In adapting Derf’s excellent graphic novel memoir, Meyers unwisely moves the center of the film from Derf’s adolescent cruelty to Dahmer’s unknowable void; the result is a movie that depends entirely on audience knowledge to really work. However, Lynch’s surprising physical acting turn as Jeff, Dallas Roberts’ heart-breaking performance as Jeff’s incapable father, and some really fine Seventies-esque color and camera work from Daniel Katz add enough to the scales to bump it to Good. –KH

Not Recommended

The Post (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2017) As Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) nervously shepherds a public offering for the company, editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) plays furious catch-up after the New York Times’ Pentagon Papers scoop. From a Creedence-blaring Nam opener to final shots out of a film noir parody, it’s the full cornball Spielberg who shows up to work for this one. Streep is a ham now and Hanks is worse.—RDL

The Shiver of the Vampires (Film, France, Jean Rollin, 1971) Honeymooners take a detour to a castle owned by the bride’s cousins, where they are preyed upon by its resident bloodsuckers. So, I decided to fill in a hole in my genre film awareness and check out a sample work by this divisive director of arty horror sexploitation. Conclusion: a groovy goth-surf score and an appealing color sense do not outweigh somnolent pacing, rudimentary plotting, pseudo-academic lecture breaks and community theater-level acting. If you’re watching this in 1973 at 3 AM in a dusk to dawn drive-in screening while stoned, sleep-deprived and making out with a hot date in the front seat of a Chevy Impala, upgrade to Okay.—RDL

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