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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Literary Paranoia, Inspirational Wrestling, and a Flat Circle in Afghanistan

June 15th, 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.

Recommended

The Afghan Campaign (Fiction, Steven Pressfield, 2006) Grunt’s-eye view of Alexander the Great’s three-year campaign in what would become (but is always called in the book) Afghanistan deliberately blends modern language rhythms and sensibilities with classical history to create a “time is a flat circle” effect around Western warfighting in Afghanistan. Pressfield’s story somehow never drags or even much suffers from the weight of his quasi-historical consciousness. –KH

Be Natural: The Untold Story  of Alice Guy-Blaché (Film, US, Pamela B. Green, 2018) Documentary profile of a director/producer who made films in France and then the US in cinema’s infancy, with a prodigious output ranging from comedies to message pictures to melodramas to westerns and biblical epics. Research becomes a detective quest rescuing its subject from a memory hole created by sexism and the volatility of silver nitrate film stock,—RDL

Fighting with My Family (Film, US, Stephen Merchant, 2019) Cheered on by her irrepressible family of regional wrestlers, a young Norwich woman (Florence Pugh) pursues her dreams of WWE stardom—even after her brother fails to make the cut. Merchant’s finely judged observational comedy keeps the warmth of this inspirational backstage docudrama from curdling into sentimentality. With Nick Frost, Lena Headey, and, as himself, executive producer Dwayne Johnson.—RDL

The Judge and the Assassin (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1976) In Belle Époque France, a hardline magistrate (Philippe Noiret) interrogates a vagrant serial killer who proclaims himself God’s anarchist, hoping to implicate him without allowing grounds for an insanity defense. Historical drama lightly fictionalizes the Joseph Vacher case, counterpointed by its Dreyfus-era political context.—RDL

The Mercenary (Film, Italy, Sergio Corbucci, 1970) A self-satisfied Polish gunslinger (Franco Nero) offers his expensive services as a tactical consultant to an easily swayed Mexican miner turned revolutionary (Tony Musante.) Dialectic-questioning team-up is more of a romp than Corbucci’s other Spaghetti Westerns. Jack Palance steals the film as a smirking, hateworthy villain named Curly. Aka A Professional Gun.—RDL

The Names (Fiction, Don DeLillo, 1982) American expat “risk analyst” James Axton has lost his wife to divorce and maybe his livelihood to the CIA and can’t really believe either in a tour de force of interior monologue that sometimes becomes brittle dialogue while a strange cult is killing people for linguistic reasons, maybe. DeLillo puts aphorism and analysis and epistemology together with some remarkably true-seeming but literary-sounding characters, resulting in a surface all halts and half-admissions. The cult, I should emphasize, takes up remarkably little word count, so don’t go in expecting Lavie Tidhar avant la lettre. –KH

Good

The Spiders (Film, Germany, Fritz Lang, 1919-1920) Adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl DeVogt) incurs the enmity of adventuress Lio Sha (Ressel Orla), the field commander of the secret society The Spiders, when he investigates a surviving Inca city in Part One of this silent pulp serial. In Part Two Hoog and the Spiders duel to find the Buddha’s Head Diamond. The sets and set pieces in Part One amaze, while Part Two must make do with an arbitrary plot and some rousing action traps. Little of what we think of as characteristic Lang appears in this, his first surviving work. –KH

Okay

5 Card Stud (Film, US, Henry Hathaway, 1968 ) Laidback gambler (Dean Martin) tries to figure out who’s bumping off the poker players who lynched a card cheat, with suspects including a psychopathic cattle heir (Roddy McDowall) and the town’s enigmatic new preacher (Robert Mitchum.) Oddball mix of western and murder mystery with the ambling pace of the late studio era.—RDL

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