Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Indiana Jones, Asteroid City, and an Alternate Oppenheimer

July 5th, 2023 | 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

Asteroid City (Film, US, Wes Anderson, 2023) Grieving war photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) navigates a panoply of emotional impacts during an elaborate science fair in the titular small town. Presenting his latest film as a film-of-a-play-within-a-TV-special, Anderson triples down on criticisms of his “artificial” style and methods, arguing more fiercely than ever that without artifice, art cannot exist. Anderson’s wondrous occult masterpiece rings with stellar performances from an immense cast, perhaps none better than Willem Dafoe as an acting teacher who explains the meaning of the film in about 45 seconds. –KH


Ashik Kerib (Film, USSR, Dodo Abashidze & Sergei Parajanov, 1988) Minstrel goes on a dangerous quest to win the approval of his beloved’s father, who opposes their betrothal. Hyper-theatrical evocation of Azerbaijani mythology and folklore told through music, dance and visual art.—RDL

Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race (Comics, DC, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson, 2018) When the Atom unwisely enlarges a Kandorian murder cult, old Batman and young Batgirl must enlist the reluctant Justice League to defeat them. DC wisely put two governors on the project to avoid the wild-swing-disastrous-miss that was DKII, and both Azzarello and Kubert channel Miller’s power without going nuts. The result: a high-stakes operatic super-battle like you love to see, interspersed with Miller & Janson’s almost sketchbook style art in the backup stories. –KH

The Oppenheimer Alternative (Fiction, Robert J. Sawyer, 2020) Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer builds the atomic bomb but uncovers an even more apocalyptic secret. I almost hesitate to describe even the nature of the twist in this very realistic, “you were there” narrative of Oppenheimer’s life, but suffice to say Sawyer wrings tension masterfully from this secret history turned alternate history. –KH

Sing and Like It (Film, US, William A. Seiter, 1934) Inexplicably moved by the terrible singing of an amateur actress (Zazu Pitts), a sentimental mob boss (Nat Pendleton) decides to put her on Broadway, foisting her on a long-suffering producer (Edward Everett Horton.) Snappy showbiz comedy gives witty dialogue to actors who know what to do with it.—RDL


Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (Film, Italy, Giuilio Questi, 1967) Betrayed bushwhacker’s (Tomas Milan) quest for gold and vengeance goes off the rails in a town populated by noose-happy hypocrites. With its psychosexual brutality and the characters’ dreamlike disinclination to protect themselves, this Spaghetti western presages the amoral universe of 70s Italian horror.—RDL

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Film, US, James Mangold, 2023) His god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) summons an aging Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) out of retirement and into the unfinished business from one of his WWII adventures. Much like The Force Awakens, this fifth installment essentially assembles itself from beats of its original trilogy. Eerie de-aging CGI becomes uncanny valley CGI (or just bad green screens) too often for Mangold’s great chase sequence instincts to work (and they’re usually too long, to boot), and he lacks Spielberg’s balletic gifts among other things – but at the end of the day, this is a pretty good end of the day for Indy. –KH


White Noise (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2022) Cultural studies prof (Adam Driver) and his anxious wife (Greta Gerwig) struggle to protect their kids during and after an Airborne Toxic Event. This broad, stylized satire would more accurately convey the spirit and meaning of Don DeLillo’s seminal novel if Baumbach had shot it in his usual naturalistic style.—RDL

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