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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mumbai Rap Dreams and Classic Fu Comedy

February 26th, 2019 | 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

Dirty Ho (Film, HK, Chia-Liang Liu, 1979) Bumpkinish thief (Wong Yue) reluctantly submits to the reforming efforts of an incognito martial artist (Gordon Liu), whose pursuing enemies must for court intrigue reasons also disguise their fighting mastery whenever they try to kill him. Comedy martial arts choreography requires not just the athleticism, precision and inventiveness of the regular kind; it has to be funny, too, and this gives us the form at its apex. Be aware that Hong Kong comedy of this period is not about sensitivity culture.—RDL

Gully Boy (Film, India, Zoya Akhtar, 2019) In Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, emo poet Murad (Ranveer Singh) finds inspiration and a dream in rap. Hitting all the standard “rise of the rocker” beats (Murad is roughly based on Mumbai rapper Naezy), Akhtar works visual and social contrasts in Mumbai to great advantage. She superbly leverages Singh’s star power, and that of Alia Bhatt as Singh’s equally driven girlfriend; Siddhant Chaturvedi provides strength as his rap mentor. If the story stakes are mostly old-Mumbai (or old-Hollywood) low, the acting and directing are new-Mumbai strong. –KH

Hereditary (Film, US, Ari Aster, 2018) Harried artist (Toni Collette) grapples with her lack of grief on the death of her toxic mother, and then crushing grief when another disaster strikes her family, and supernatural manifestations close in. Slow burn horror in which the archetypal characters are elevated by shaded writing and performances from Collette, Gabriel Byrne (as the skeptical husband) and Ann Dowd (as the conveniently helpful new confidant.)—RDL

Of Fathers and Sons (Film, Germany, Tala Derki, 2018) Verite documentary goes inside the daily life of a starry-eyed member of a Syrian al-Qaida affiliate as he looks forward to the apocalypse, defuses land mines, and prepares his eight young sons to become jihadi soldiers. Stunning for the degree of access afforded the filmmaker, this reveals not so much the banality of evil as a casual, workaday devotion to an ideology of violence and death.—RDL

Good

All About Ah-Long (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 1989) The lives of a loutish construction worker (Chow Yun-Fat) and his irrepressible 10-year-old son hit a curve when the boy’s mother (Sylvia Chang), now a successful commercial producer, comes back into the picture. Come to see To in the middle of his evolution into his mature style, stay for the magnetism of the leads and the rip-your-heart-out-and-then-stomp-on-it-and-shoot-it-a-couple-of-times-for-good-measure melodrama.—RDL

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Audio drama, Julian Simpson, BBC, 2018) Adapting the Pinnacle Lovecraft novel as a faux true-crime podcast investigating a modern locked-room murder deserves points for audacity and high concept. Its execution, however, trades Lovecraft’s clear mystery concept and historical grounding for a more chaotic (in all senses) postmodern feel, without particularly enlivening the characters. –KH

God of War (Film, China, Gordon Chan, 2017) Uxorious general (Vincent Zhao) overcomes limp support from the Ming Court to battle Japanese-backed pirates. Rousingly mounted war/action epic focuses on weapons and tactics, occasionally handwaving in the direction of a character arc for its virtuous hero.—RDL

Okay

The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington (Fiction, Charles Rosenberg, 2018) The hated British kidnap General Washington in 1780 and put him on trial in the Old Bailey in a gamble to end the stalemated war. Real-life lawyer Rosenberg should probably have amplified the legal thriller side of this earnest but flatly told story, which strays too close to implausibility without the necessary buttress of bafflegab. –KH

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