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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Music, a Mogul, Mumbai

November 16th, 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

Carl Laemmle (Film, US, James L. Freedman, 2019) Documentary profiles the go-getting immigrant who set up a film distribution empire, busted Thomas Edison’s goon-assisted monopoly on film production, founded Universal Studios, and devoted his later years to fighting the American government to get Jews out of Nazi Germany. Archival images and talking head interviews paint a warm portrait of the lone mensch among the hardboiled crop of first wave studio moguls.—RDL

The Devil’s Stairway (Film, South Korea, Lee Man-hui, 1964) A calculating surgeon’s thoughts turn to murder when he gets a chance to marry the boss’ daughter but the nurse he’s been secretly bedding refuses to go quietly. Corrosive domestic noir escalates into contemporary gothic horror. Also known under the less salubrious title of The Evil Stairs.—RDL

May It Last: A Portrait of The Avett Brothers  (Film, US, Judd Apatow & Michael Bonfiglio, 2017) The Americana band looks back on their lives and career so far as they record their 2016 album “True Sadness.” A rare documentary that finds profundity by pointing the camera at a deeply functional creative team and family.—RDL

Sound of Metal (Film, US, Darius Marder, 2019) After suffering severe hearing loss, an obsessive rock drummer (Riz Ahmed) joins a deaf community which has an AA program for recovering addicts like himself. Naturalistic drama driven by Ahmed’s performance and an appropriately disorienting sound design.—RDL

Good

Sooryavanshi (Film, India, Rohit Shetty, 2021) Mumbai anti-terrorist supercop Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar) pursues a sleeper cell of Pakistani terrorists plotting a new bombing campaign. Shetty leans into his brash, patriotic high-energy style like a less-jittery Michael Bay to produce an operatic banger of an action film. The two other stars of Shetty’s “Cop Universe” franchise join Sooryavanshi for a final too-artificial act that undoes some of the sincere conviction the film depends on for effect. The screamin’ score and the eternal love of man for helicopter keeps the final rating a solid Good, though. –KH

Okay

Eternals (Film, US, Chloé Zhao, 2021) When the monstrous Deviants return after 500 years, the Eternals (Gemma Chan, et al.) must reunite to save humanity. As others have noted, this ponderous film combines the DC movies’ grandiosity with MCU flatness to no good effect. Gemma Chan is desperately unsuited to deliver Jack Kirby/Zack Snyder style dialogue, or to embody any emotion stronger than “worried about the hash browns,”  but unfortunately she’s supposed to hold the movie together. One or two good performances (Don Lee as Gilgamesh, and Harish Patel as a human POV) don’t save it. Zhao does turn in the first never-ugly Marvel film in a while though, which is something. –KH

The Mysterious Island (Film, UK, Cy Endfield, 1961) Blown far over the Pacific during an attempted escape by balloon from Confederate prison, Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) and his men land on the titular island. It’s kind of surprising how much of Verne’s original novel survives the addition of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion giant animals and shipwrecked ladies, even managing a sort of “heroic engineering” solution to the final crisis. But high points come a little too far apart, and Herbert Lom’s Nemo is only saved from anticlimax by the fact that nothing except the monster attacks has had much tension to begin with. Bernard Herrmann probably didn’t work too hard on his score, either. –KH

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Film, US, Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021) San Francisco-based underachiever (Simi Liu) embraces his martial arts mastery when his immortal father sends goons to retrieve him. Marvel’s latest tussle with the limitations of origin story structure has Tony Leung Chiu Wai but lacks tension and momentum. You’d think that the MCU’s homage to Hong Kong cinema would end with a thrillingly executed martial arts sequence but of course not it’s the algorithms fighting again.—RDL

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