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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Painted Love

March 10th, 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.

The Pinnacle

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Film, France, Céline Sciamma, 2019) In 1770, love kindles when painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travels to a remote manor in Brittany to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), an unwilling bride. Sciamma’s restraint, Claire Mathon’s Mannerist camera eye, and the actors’ chemistry creates a series of beautiful cameos marvellously punctuated by emotion and sparingly (but devastatingly) deployed music. –KH

Recommended

A Dandy in Aspic (Film, UK, Anthony Mann, 1968) An assignment to hunt down a KGB assassin gives a burned-out M16 desk agent (Laurence Harvey) a case of the nerves, as the man he’s supposed to kill is himself. Lonely widescreen compositions and a playing style of fey ennui place this existential spy thriller midway on the spectrum between Fleming and le Carré.—RDL

Emma (Film, UK, Autumn de Wilde, 2020) Rich, young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes a poor girl (Mia Goth) under her wing, and gets in over her match-making head. Adapting Austen’s novel well requires three things: a lead actress who can play a sympathetic sociopath, faithfulness to the book and its comic heart, and a proper dance scene. Extra points to de Wilde for keeping her film brightly lit and not full of over-mixed footsteps. –KH

The Invisible Man (Film, US/Australia, Leigh Whannell, 2020) After fleeing her abusive boyfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) discovers he’s using his invisibility suit to gaslight and stalk her. Whannell’s fluid direction and cleverly omniscient script keep this “killer B” interesting, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score glories in horror potential. But it’s Moss’ expressive gaze that fascinates throughout. –KH

Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service (Nonfiction, John Sawatsky, 1980) History of the counterespionage arm of the federal Canadian police from inception to a few years before the trouble-plagued division was replaced by a separate civilian agency. That this is still the definitive book on the subject four decades later speaks to a small media market that doesn’t turn out much spy nonfiction, and to Sawatsky’s clear, detail-rich storytelling.—RDL

The Spymasters: CIA in The Crosshairs (Film, US, Jules & Gedeon Naudet, 2015) Documentary surveys the failures and controversies of the Global War on Terror from the perspective of CIA directors and other top officials. Key interview subjects speak with surprising candor on both the emotional toll of the job and the drone strike program, which does not officially exist. What struck me most watching this now was not anything in the film, but the extent to which its central issues have been so backburnered in our present Orange Times that the GWOT seems like another historical era altogether.—RDL

Good

He Who Whispers (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) Historian Miles Hammond finds himself falling for his new librarian Fay Seton: a woman at the heart of a murder from a decade ago that could only have been committed by a vampire. Again, Carr’s blend of tension, intricate plotting, and Gothic horror — this time imbued with the threadbare feel of postwar England — lives up to its billing. However, it involves a whopping coincidence and a psychological key that I found resoundingly unconvincing. To many, though, one of Carr’s best. –KH

The Lost Gallows (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1931) Visiting London, Surete detective Henri Bencolin investigates a dead chauffeur and a terrorized Egyptian playboy. With Egyptian curses, sex, a dwarf, and a missing London street, this reads more like a particularly unstrung Stevenson novel than a Carr construction. Atmosphere it has in abundance, but in this early work Carr still can’t reliably set his metronome. –KH

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