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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ip Man, Dracula, and the Sack Lunch Bunch

January 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 Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Fiction, Georges Simenon, 1931) A pair of dissolute teens mix themselves up in the murder of a foreign businessman visiting Liege, Belgium, as Inspector Maigret takes his sweet time showing up and putting everything right. A piquant example of Simenon’s use of the mystery format as a frame for brisk social observation.—RDL

Ip Man 4: The Finale (Film, HK, Wilson Yip; action direction Yuen Woo-Ping, 2019) Diagnosed with cancer, legendary Kung fu instructor Ip Man (Donnie Yen) travels to San Francisco to find a school for his recalcitrant son, encountering injustice in the form of a vindictive INS agent and brutal marines intent on keeping Chinese martial arts out of their training. Returns to the structure of the original—as a melodrama advanced by fights rather than an action thriller—with this outing’s evil karate masters American instead of Japanese. A square-off featuring Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruce Lee satisfyingly homages his fighting style, though Lee might not approve of the wire work. Toronto fu fans, note the first name of the secondary villain and the surname of the main baddie.—RDL

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch (Television, US, Netflix, John Mulaney, 2019) Mulaney’s latest presents a one-off episode of an ever-so-slightly-skewed kids’ show (think an episode of Zoom or Electric Company, fellow Gen-Xers) ever-so-slightly nihilist in tone. Highlights include David Byrne joining a musical number on the theme “Pay Attention!” and a catastrophically over the top Jake Gyllenhaal as an under-rehearsed “Mister Music.” Leitmotifs of death and failure link what might otherwise just be over-clever irony in kid sketch format. –KH

Knives Out (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2019) The chronically honest nurse (Ana de Armas) to a relative-plagued author (Christopher Plummer) finds herself in the hot seat when sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the details of his apparent suicide. Mustering skilled plotting rare for a Hollywood script in these darkling times, Johnson takes makes one of the season’s freshest entertainments out of the unlikeliest of vehicles, the cozy mystery.—RDL

The Lady Hermit (Film, HK, Ho Meng-Hua, 1971) Seeking a sifu to train her to take on the cruel martial artist Black Demon, a brash would-be hero (Szu Shih) searches for missing legendary fighter Lady Hermit (Cheng Pei-Pei.) Classically told actioner varies a favorite motif by assigning the mentor-student relationship at the heart of martial arts cinema to women.—RDL

Letterkenny Seasons 1 & 2 (Television, Canada, Crave, Jacob Tierney & Jared Keeso, 2016) Hunky-awkward farmer Wayne (Keeso), a man of firm opinions and semi-reluctant fists, hangs out with his sidekicks and self-possessed sister (Michelle Mylett) in a rural community divided between the three basic social groups: hicks, skids, and hockey players. Offbeat comedy combines the camaraderie and rapidfire dialogue of Howard Hawks with the raunch of Kevin Smith and the backwater social comedy of The Trailer Park Boys.—RDL

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Nonfiction, David Grann, 2017) In 1920s Oklahoma a conspiracy of respectable white citizens forms to systematically kill off members of the Osage tribe, stripping them of their sudden oil wealth. Gripping investigative true crime account exposes a shocking, buried history. Currently being prepped as Martin Scorsese’s next film, to star Robert De Niro and Leonardo di Caprio as key figures in the murder gang.—RDL

Richard Jewell (Film, US, Clint Eastwood, 2019) When schlubby security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) finds a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the FBI (Jon Hamm) and media (Olivia Wilde) railroad him as the bombing suspect. Eastwood’s remarkably minimalist direction and tame palette accentuate the standout acting of Hauser, Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mom, and Sam Rockwell as his lawyer. The result: A film that feels strangely like a 1940s melodrama without the melos. –KH

Veronica Mars Season 4 (Television, US, Hulu, Rob Thomas, 2019) Worried about her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and resisting her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring), Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigates a string of bombings on Neptune’s beachfront. The show had mostly abandoned its perfect structure by Season 3, but fortunately the characters and writing remain strong. Izabela Vidovic steals the series as Veronica’s protege Matty, not easy to do in a show with strong turns from Patton Oswalt, JK Simmons, and deputy, now FBI guy, Leo (Max Greenfield). –KH

Okay

Dracula (Television, UK, Netflix/BBC, Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffatt, 2020) Three episodes build increasingly vaguely on the novel: Harker in Transylvania, the voyage of the Demeter, and the turning of Lucy. The casting of Dracula (Claes Band) and Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) works, but the talky, stagy script defeats both of them. As depressingly always with this team, a few good (even startling) ideas at the outset eventually drown under self-indulgence, pointlessness, and sheer idiocy. Points, however, for shooting at Orava Castle and Bray Studios. –KH

The Kid Who Would Be King (Film, UK, Joe Cornish, 2019) After pulling Excalibur from a stone in a construction site, a bullied schoolkid enlists his tormenters to help him fight Morgan LeFay and her flaming skeleton army. Dour kids’ adventure struggles to tries to bend Arthurian myth into a vehicle for contemporary liberalism.—RDL

The Verdict (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1946) Aided by a bon vivant illustrator (Peter Lorre), a disgraced Scotland Yard superintendent (Sydney Greenstreet) investigates a locked-room murder. Siegel directs the hell out of an unambitious script, shooting backlot Victorian London with expressionistic angles, lighting, and dread.—RDL

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