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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mandalorian, Ma Rainey and Streep/Soderbergh

December 22nd, 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

Let Them All Talk (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2020) Superstar literary author (Meryl Streep) invites formerly close friends, the centered Susan (Dianne Wiest) and desperate, embittered Roberta (Candice Bergen) on a transatlantic cruise. Multiple unanswered questions lend narrative suspense to deceptively light drama driven by improvised dialogue. Soderbergh makes canny use of Streep’s star persona.—RDL

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Film, US, George C. Wolfe, 2020) At a Chicago recording date for indomitable blues performer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) an ambitious young trumpeter (Chadwick Boseman) makes his grab for stardom. Wolfe’s darting camera bridges the cinematic and the theatrical to give this contemporary stage classic a filmed treatment in accordance with its stature. This difficult feat requires electric performances, which Davis and Boseman unsurprisingly deliver.—RDL

The Mandalorian Season 2 (Television, US, Jon Favreau, Disney+, 2020) Aided along the way by a rotating roster of bad-asses, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) seeks a Jedi to take custody of the Kid. Lives up to the brilliance of the first season by keeping its arc the simplest of strings to connect independently satisfying episodes. Also of note: the way it leans into the cruelty of the setting, which the franchise has been fleeing since the Ewoks showed up. Where do I fall on the thing that happens at the end? I had both reactions!—RDL

The Two-Penny Bar (Fiction, Georges Simenon, 1932) Acting on a tip from a condemned prisoner regarding an old murder, Inspector Maigret infiltrates a community of Sunday revelers. The Maigret books don’t need to be read in order, making this structurally straight ahead entry, as usual favoring social observation over a puzzling mystery, an excellent starting point.—RDL

Good

The Flight Attendant Season 1 (Television, US, Steve Yockey, HBOMax, 2020) After a night of sex with millionaire passenger Alex (Michiel Huisman), alcoholic mess/flight attendant Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to his murdered corpse. This series wants so badly to channel Hitchcock’s mid-period neo-screwball man-on-the-run films that you kind of root for it. (It’s far from easy — even Stanley Donen just barely did it once!) Cuoco’s comedy experience gives her the needed timing in the role, and Cassie’s traumatic mental collapse (illustrated among other things by Alex reappearing to her throughout) mostly plays well. Zosia Mamet as her lawyer/best friend is a treat, too. But four hours (tops) of story across eight episodes means some arbitrary choices, second-tier dialogue, and (of course) divagating subplots. –KH

Okay

Autumn Leaves (Film, US, Robert Aldrich, 1956) Lonely typist (Joan Crawford) discovers the pathological side of her quick-talking young suitor (Cliff Robertson) only after she marries him. Aldrich, a specialist in caustic portrayals of tormented people, undercuts the therapeutic message of the script’s final act with every fiber of his noirish being.—RDL

Mannequin (Film, US, Frank Borzage, 1937) Anxious to escape poverty, a hard-working seamstress (Joan Crawford) marries a no-good fight promoter (Alan Curtis) who pushes her into the arms of a besotted shipping magnate (Spencer Tracy.) The antagonist never offers a credible threat to the happiness of the leads in this well-directed romantic melodrama.—RDL

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