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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Matrix Resurrections, Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

January 4th, 2022 | 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

Blithe Spirit (Film, UK, David Lean, 1945) Urbane writer (Rex Harrison) researches his next novel by inviting a dotty spiritualist (Margaret Rutherford) to conduct a seance, which, to the dismay of his second wife (Constance Cummings), brings back the ghost of his first (Kay Hammond.) Though a bit past the Edwardian period, the Noel Coward play adapted here also concerns itself chiefly with the out-of-placeness of ghosts, with any lethal mayhem they may commit along the way brushed off as merely gauche. Lean, now best known for his later wide-scale epics, shows a relaxed facility for the confined spaces of a stage adaptation.—RDL

California Typewriter (Film, US, Doug Nichol, 2016) From star names like Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard to collectors, repair shop owners, and repurposing artists, this affectionate doc looks at the typewriter and the devotees keeping its memory alive. Traces an emotional arc from the expected quirkiness to the elegiac to the hopeful.—RDL

Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas (Nonfiction, Glenn Kenny, 2020) Comprehensive making-of and close reading of the 1990 Scorsese gangster classic covers everything from the screenwriting process to the troubled, damaging post-movie life of Henry Hill. Learn how many bit players were convicted for later crimes, including the not one but two cops in the “how ya doin’” tracking shot who subsequently crossed over to the mob.—RDL

The Sound of Fury (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1950) Desperate family man (Frank Lovejoy) lets a rash stick-up artist (Lloyd Bridges) lure him into a kidnapping; when it goes wrong, an intellectual columnist (Richard Carlson) stokes the community’s worst instincts. Film noir of gritty despair shifts into a message picture taking aim at press sensationalism. Fictionalization of the 1933 Thurmond-Holmes lynchings omits from its editorial ire a key component of the story, the open calls to mob justice from California governor “Sunny Jim” Rolph. Fritz Lang’s Fury (1936) is based on the same incident. Also known as Try and Get Me! —RDL

Raging Fire (Film, HK, Benny Chan, 2021) Incorruptible maverick cop (Donnie Yen) goes up against a former colleague (Nicholas Tse) bent on ultra-violent revenge. Chan’s consistency of energy and style makes this the best Yen vehicle in a long while. Advances the argument that Heat’s street shootout ought to have led to a mano-a-mano martial arts fight in a cathedral.—RDL

The Second Shooter (Fiction, Nick Mamatas, 2021) Investigating dodgy sightings of second shooters, writer Mike Karras finds himself enmeshed in an increasingly weird conspiracy. Until the ending jinks off at a weird angle, this is another terrific Mamatas political thriller, all strong characters and fringe behavior. Then it becomes a whole different (but still terrific, still political, and still Mamatas) genre thriller. I ding it a bit for that swerve but still Recommend it. –KH

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Film, US, Joel Coen, 2021) Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the ambitious co-dependents in a stark 1940s Expressionist vision of Scotland. The gothic-brut sets and staging contrast with deliberately underplayed line readings, unified by Bruno Delbonnel’s pitiless camera. A dream nobody can wake from, no matter how loud the knocking gets; a very creditable Scottish play. –KH

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) As ethnic gangs square off in a Lincoln Square facing 1950s “urban renewal,” Polish ex-gangbanger Tony (Ansel Elgort, a ham loaf) and Puerto Rican cleaner Maria (Rachel Zegler, wonderful) fall in star-crossed love. Spielberg’s camera moves through dance numbers seamlessly alternating medium and wide shots while nailing performance after performance in close one- and two-shot punches. Janusz Kaminski lights the sets with actual color and life, and Tony Kushner’s tweaks to the script (accidentally?) lace the original play’s too-pat self-congratulation with historical irony. –KH

Good

Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle (Film, Netherlands/Italy/Canada, Mike van Diem, 2017) Returning to Italy with the ashes of her mother, a lonely Montrealer (Ksenia Solo) learns the surprising truth about her real parents (Gijs Naber, Anneke Sluiters), transplanted Dutch tulip farmers who ran afoul of the local mob. A dark story told as a breezy, nostalgic fairy tale.—RDL

Wilczyca (Film, Poland, Marek Piestrak, 1983) In 1848 Poland, freedom fighter Kasper (Krysztof Jasinski) returns from the war to find his dying wife Marina (Iwona Bielska) promising to curse him as the titular she-wolf. Bielska also plays the debauched mistress of the noble house he swears to guard, and a she-wolf stalks the grounds … A perfectly competent, nicely brutal, werewolf movie that never quite makes the most of its wintry weirdness or gets inside Kasper’s mind or provides any deeper conflict than “werewolves (and occupiers of Poland) bad.” –KH

Not Recommended

The Matrix Resurrections (Film, US, Lana Wachowski, 2021) Under pressure to develop a sequel to his seminal CRPG The Matrix, game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has a psychotic break. The film drowns that pretty cool core concept under endless fanfic dialogue, and looks like a mid-season CW episode (if the CW ever showed middle-aged people). Literal intercuts with the earlier movies do this film zero favors, and the core narrative combines sloth and idiot-plotting in new (but never interesting) ways. –KH

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