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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Harlem Renaissance Detecting, Italian Renaissance Painting, and That Play You’ve Heard About

July 7th, 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.

Recommended

The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art (Nonfiction, Noah Charney and Ingrid Rowland, 2017) Biography of Tuscan Renaissance painter and architect Giorgio Vasari, whose 1550 book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects established the precepts of art history as we know it. Packed with lively detail on its obsessively deadline-meeting protagonist, and also his precursors, contemporaries, and era.—RDL

The Conjure-Man Dies (Fiction, Rudolph Fisher, 1932) Harlem doctor John Archer and black NYPD detective Perry Dart must solve the murder of a West African conjure-man which rapidly becomes more than even the impossible crime it appeared. This first detective novel by an African-American writer joins Golden Age structure with Hammett-style street culture, without any white characters. The mystery compels, and if the ending is somewhat abrupt the narrative continuously fascinates and surprises on the way there. –KH

Dark and Bloody Ground: A True Story of Lust, Greed, and Murder in the Bluegrass State (Nonfiction, Darcy O’Brien, 1993) Fired East Kentucky prison guard becomes the accomplice of her chiseled felon lover as he joins a home invasion gang, whose loot later ensnares a colorful defense attorney. Minutely reported true crime saga situates its depraved criminal protagonists, who would be at home in either an Elmore Leonard novel or a Coen brothers film, in the broader context of place and social milieu.—RDL

Ford v Ferrari (Film, US, James Mangold, 2019) Sidelined by heart trouble, a determined former Le Mans champ (Matt Damon) enlists a hotheaded driver (Christian Bale) in the Ford Motor Company’s quixotic plan to beat legendary Italian car designer Enzo Ferrari at that most harrowing of competitions. With an expansiveness reminiscent of 60s widescreen epics, fits the many challenges of the race car flick into the reliable and satisfying chassis of a makers vs. suits story.—RDL

Hamilton (Film, US, Thomas Kail, 2020) Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) joins the Revolution, serves under George Washington, founds American capitalism, and dies in a duel against Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.). Cut together from film of two 2016 original-cast performances of the smash musical, the movie essentially offers a “you are there” experience while reveling in the actors’ performances. Patriotic, optimistic, multiracial, and centrist, a fitting embodiment of the Obama era’s self-image. –KH

Good

Circus of Books (Film, Rachel Mason, 2019) Documentarian trains her lens on her self-certain mom and affable dad as they close up the West Hollywood porn emporium that for decades served as a fulcrum for L.A.’s gay community. Balances sweet family portraiture with community history at a time of sudden social change.—RDL

Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga (Film, David Dobkin, 2020) Oblivious dimwit (Will Ferrell) teams with the sweetly positive dimwit (Rachel McAdams) who has always loved him to pursue unlikely pop victory for their native Iceland at the titular celebration of titanic kitsch. Amiable spin on the Ferrell formula likely earns a star for those equipped to get the affectionate Eurovision in-jokes.—RDL

Okay

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Film, US, Kevin Smith, 2019) Conned out of their names by a Hollywood studio, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) head across the country to stop a reboot of Bluntman & Chronic and yes you’ve already seen this film in 2001, except then it had a budget and production values. Mewes has aged even worse than his acting, and Smith mugs more than usual, rendering sadly painful what should be at least a snicker-worthy nostalgia trip. Even as a devoted Askewniverse fan, Okay is as high as I go. –KH

Shockproof (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1949) Tough but naive parole officer Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde) gets in too deep when trying to pry a sultry murderer (Patricia Knight) from the suave gambler who led her down the path to crime. The main interest here is seeing a Samuel Fuller script realized by a more polished stylist, but you have to go in prepared for a tacked-on happy ending to lazily handwave away the noir moral transgression at the heart of the story.—RDL

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