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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Haunted Housing, Tom Cruise Reaches, and the Gunslinger John Brown

February 9th, 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.

The Pinnacle

The Good Lord Bird (Television, US, Showtime, Ethan Hawke & Mark Richard, 2020) When John Brown (Ethan Hawke) precipitates a gunfight that kills his father, a boy (Joshua Caleb Johnson) flees slavery, dressed as a girl, for life on the run with the gun-slinging, hard-praying abolitionist. Adaptation of the James McBride novel stands as a miracle of tone, using comedic characterizations as a pathway into a troubling historical subject matter. Hawke modulates his performance from caricature of Kubrickian proportions to frailty and humanity. Daveed Diggs’ rock star take on Frederick Douglass offers another highlight.—RDL

Recommended

His House (Film, UK, Remi Weekes, 2020) Refugee applicants from South Sudan (Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu) discover something terrible inhabits the government-assigned housing they are not permitted to leave.  Brilliantly plays with the key theme of the contemporary ghost movie, assigning its underlying housing anxiety to characters who feel it with life-or-death urgency.—RDL

How About Never—Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons (Nonfiction, Bob Mankoff, 2014) The New Yorker’s longtime cartoon editor describes his upbringing, his break into that most notoriously difficult of markets, the new generation of cartoonists he brought along, and the statistical secrets of winning that damnable caption contest. Heavily illustrated with Mankoff’s work, along with that of  cartoonists from the classic era to the mid-teens.—RDL

Straight Up (Film, US, James Sweeney, 2020) Neurotic coder Todd (James Sweeney) questions his gayness by dating a hyperverbal actress with intimacy issues, Rory (Katie Findlay). Sweeney’s dialogue plays like a screwball Whit Stillman (with touches of Tarantino) while his script compassionately addresses self, sexuality, and the social requirements of both. A remarkable first film by actor-director-writer Sweeney, with a dizzying performance by Findlay to boot. –KH

Good

Belle of the Nineties (Film, US, Leo McCarey, 1934) Sultry singer (Mae West) maintains her independence while a sleazy vaudeville impresario and a naive boxer vie for her affections. West, in one number appearing as a spider, a bat, and the Statue of Liberty, is an explosion in a semiotics factory in this occasionally lurid musical melodrama. An appearance by Duke Ellington and his band strikes a suitably anachronistic note.—RDL

Jack Reacher (Film, US, Christopher McQuarrie, 2012) Drifter Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former MP, arrives in Pittsburgh where the lawyer (Rosamund Pike) for an accused sniper hires him to investigate. McQuarrie does a pretty fair job adapting the novel One Shot (one of the better, more mystery-ish, Reacher novels) and his economical directing (and a strong cast including retired sniper Robert Duvall and villain Werner Herzog) carries the film over the bumps. Cruise is completely wrong for the role, but gives it his all (except the smile) as only he can. –KH

Space Sweepers (Film, South Korea, Jo Sung-hee, 2021) The loose cannon crew of a space debris-clearing ship protects an adorable little girl from a eugenics-obsessed terraformer. Blockbuster-scaled sci-fi action epic clutches a bit delivering its extensive exposition.—RDL

Okay

Olympus Has Fallen (Film, US, Antoine Fuqua, 2013) Banished from the Presidential detail, Secret Service badass Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must save the President (Aaron Eckhart) when North Korean terrorist Kang (Rick Yune) takes over the White House. Fuqua reliably drains any tension out of the “Die Hard in the White House” premise, leaving a result best described as “high-budget Golan-Globus” — but only the terrorist attack sequence conveys any of the energy that would normally imply. –KH

One Response to “Ken and Robin Consume Media: Haunted Housing, Tom Cruise Reaches, and the Gunslinger John Brown”

  1. Hank Harwell says:

    I would have rather watched a movie about “retired sniper Robert Duvall” than Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher.

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