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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Othello Goes Jazz

October 4th, 2016 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

All Night Long (Film, UK, Basil Dearden, 1962) Desperate drummer Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan) schemes to break up the marriage of jazz pianist Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and retired singer Delia Lane (Marti Stevens) in this terrific transposition of Othello to the 1960s London jazz scene. Michael Relph’s mod split-level set design opens Dearden’s visuals up, while Nel King and Paul Jarrico’s all-in-one-night script tightens his story down. Even moreso, the music is the real draw, and the real deal: Charlie Mingus and Dave Brubeck are only the A+ listers in a side cast of jazz greats performing source music throughout, and the score also feeds the story superbly. –KH

Magical Girl (Film, Spain, Carlos Vermut, 2014) Man obsessed with acquiring luxury-priced anime merchandise for his dying 12-year-old daughter sleeps with a married woman as a prelude to blackmail. Lurid events unfold in a detached, hyper-controlled style that invites us to consider their place in a grander enigma.—RDL

My Big Night (Film, Spain, Alex de la Iglesia, 2015) Grueling taping of a New Year’s Eve TV extravaganza devolves into chaos. Explosion of comic energy from beginning to end. Full of Spain-specific media in-jokes, I am told, but uproarious even without the background to get them.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘15; now on Netflix.

La Pointe-Courte (Film, France, Agnes Varda, 1955) Phlegmatic young man (a baby-faced Philippe Noiret) brings his Parisian girlfriend back to his hardscrabble fishing village in an attempt to get her to stay there as his wife. Setting a template still crowding film festival screens today, Varda evokes the rhythms of life in a real, hard-pressed community, with locals playing basically themselves in supporting roles. Stunning photography and compositions help make up for the lack of conventional narrative development. Retroactively considered the first film of the French New Wave.–RDL

Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia (Nonfiction, S.T. Joshi and Stefan R. Dziemianowicz eds., 2005) With 1,000 entries in three thick volumes, this really is the reference work of first resort on horror (and similar) fiction from Apuleius to Tananarive Due. Although dominated by American and British authors, not quite as critically minded as it wishes to be, and in need of a final copy edit, the other nits one could pick come down to matters of taste or the occasional missing favorite edge case (no Pamela Dean or James Blish or Lisa Goldstein?), not factual errors. –KH

Good

Death’s Bright Day (Fiction, David Drake, 2016) The eleventh volume of Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy space opera series sends bold Captain Daniel Leary and sociopathic data-collector Adele Mundy to put down a rebellion deep in the former enemy’s sphere of influence. While I don’t hesitate to call the series as a whole Recommended, this particular installment seems to mark time a bit more (and repeat character beats a lot more) than the others. That said, Drake’s patented blend of realistic military fiction and Napoleonic fighting sail pastiche works a treat when he gets down to brass — er, iridium — tacks. –KH

An Honest Liar (Film, US, Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein, 2014) Documentary profile of escape artist, magician and debunker of psychics and faith healers James (“The Amazing”) Randi takes a personal turn when his partner of 25 years is suddenly arrested on an identity theft charge that could lead to his deportation. Shows you the vulnerable human inside the oh-so-Canadian persona of curmudgeonly rationalist wiseass.—RDL

Okay

Blair Witch (Film, US, Adam Wingard, 2016) Although it adds a couple of potentially interesting ingredients like a drone and local Blair nerds to the mix, this sequel winds up vitiating the weirdly ritual nature of the original while larding on the empty jump scares to make up for it. One or two sequences in the last act do work really well, and it plays respectfully with the mythology, but you just can’t go home again, especially if home is a creepy house in the Black Woods near Burkittsville. –KH

The History Atlas of North America (Nonfiction, Philip Davies et al, 1998) It’s not the editors’ fault that North American history is shorter and (relatively) less involved than that of other continents, but the map choices seldom emphasize or illustrate the historical dynamics at play with either clarity or originality. Too often map and text disagree, and production errors add to the confusion. It is nice to see a map of the Mexican Revolution, though, however inadequate. –KH

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