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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rigors of Space and Faith

February 19th, 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

At Balthazar: The New York Brasserie at the Center of the World (Nonfiction, Reggie Nadelson, 2017) Portrait of iconic NYC brasserie uses the conceit of a day’s service, from breakfast to late night drinks, to reveal the many levels of its organization, including decor, sourcing, staffing, and, of course, cooking. Beguiling food journalism shows the stunning scale of an operation that thrives on attention to detail.—RDL

Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) After the apparent closure of the previous installment and Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) in jail writing his memoirs, a new rift opens in the Hiroshima mob between old-school hotheads and a legitimacy seeking, corporate-style leader. The long-running series ends with a jolt of manic energy, largely injected by the introduction of crime flick icon Jo Shiseido as a splenetic senior yakuza.—RDL

First Man (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2018) Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) seals himself off from tragedy over the decade he spends in NASA’s astronaut program before walking on the Moon. One wonders what film Clint Eastwood (originally tabbed to direct) would have made of a stoic hero whose only antagonist is physics, but Chazelle seems as obsessively focused as his subject on getting to the Moon. Gosling and Claire Foy (who plays Janet Armstrong) refuse each other so intensely it’s almost a relief to strap into a tin can riveted to high explosives. Cool, almost elliptical editing by Tom Cross performs silent miracles here. –KH

First Reformed (Film, US, Paul Schrader, 2018) Pastor of an ill-attended, historic church (Ethan Hawke) struggles with despair after a failed attempt to counsel a depressed environmental activist. Schrader’s admiration for Bresson has never been more apparent than in this austerely masterful recapitulation of his core motifs, weighted by affecting portrayals from Hawke, Amanda Seyfried as the activist’s wife and Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as a sympathetic mega-church leader.—RDL

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Film, US, RaMell Moore, 2018) Impressionist, verite documentary seeks sublimity in the quotidian as it reveals the lives of a young black family living in impoverished rural Alabama. Makes its way to an emotional punch that justifies the occasional shot of not much going on. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this weekend’s Academy Awards.—RDL

The Tale (Film, US, Jennifer Fox, 2018) When her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote as a 13-year-old, a documentary filmmaker (Laura Dern) re-examines the childhood sexual abuse she has mentally remythologized as a relationship with an older boyfriend. Innovative storytelling techniques capture the gulf between carefully constructed memory and retrospectively revealed reality.—RDL

Good

Paradox (Film, HK, Wilson Yip, 2017) Overprotective Hong Kong cop (Louis Koo) goes to Thailand in search of his missing daughter, where he teams up with a local detective (Yue Wu) against a highly connected conspiracy. The latest in the SPL series is more grim than romantically fatalistic, leaving  the Sammo Hung action direction as the main point of attraction. Note the distinct combat styles he gives each principal, including and Tony Jaa, who shows up just long enough for a special guest fight scene.—RDL

The Wandering Earth (Film, China, Frant Gwo, 2019) Disaffected youth Liu Qi’s (Qu Chuxiao) joyride on the Earth’s frozen surface coincides with a Jovian gravity spike that endangers the “Wandering Earth” mission — to fly the planet to Alpha Centauri to escape the Sun going nova. Based on the Cixin Liu story, this film combines SF blockbuster and disaster-movie tropes with general success, aided by Roc Chen’s metal-fatigue score. Thinly sketched characters emoting amid CGI maybe won’t grab you, but the spectacle provides plenty sense of wonder. –KH

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