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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, Uncut Gems, and Marriage Story

December 31st, 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.

The Pinnacle

Marriage Story (Film, US, Noah Baumbach, 2019) Hopes for an amicable, lawyer-free divorce for a stifled actress (Scarlett Johansson) and a wunderkind theatrical director (Adam Driver) blow up when she wants to move their son with her to L.A. Driven by poignant performances, this subtle drama delivers one standout scene after another without ever cheating its emotional realism.—RDL

Uncut Gems (Film, US, Josh & Benny Safdie, 2019) Heavily indebted to his increasingly impatient bookie, NYC jeweler and all-around risk junkie Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) keeps finding new ways to dig his hole deeper. In a marvel of presence and performance, Sandler keeps you riveted with concern for a messed-up antihero who is not only doomed but has it coming. Daniel Lopatin’s bubbling score plays the role of Ratner’s jacked-up neurochemistry.—RDL

Uncut Gems (Film, US, Josh & Benny Safdie, 2019) Jeweller and compulsive gambler Howie (Adam Sandler) launches a dizzying series of schemes around an uncut black opal and Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett (playing his 2012 self) to stay out of the clutches of angry bookie Arno (Eric Bogosian). A literally manic scammer thrill ride, a sheer heart attack of a movie that never lets up on the viewer, a virtuoso plot that seems to spring naturally from the Manhattan gem world setting and dysfunctional humanity alike. Sandler is unsurprisingly (to those of us who remember Punch Drunk Love) terrific in a straight part as a broken man, but this one draws more from his comedian’s stores of ego, timing, and loathing. –KH

Recommended

1917 (Film, UK, Sam Mendes, 2019) In April 1917, Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George Mackay) must get an urgent message to another unit to prevent a slaughter. Mendes’ man-on-a-mission script is nothing special, but it’s not his usual junk, either, presenting World War I as a haunted house built around intermittent metaphors. His “one continuous take” affect throughout cheats, and is merely clever. The Recommendation comes from Roger Deakins’ supernatural cinematographic art; the starshell sequence finds pure rapture in nightmare, but it’s only the best of many. –KH

Carmine Street Guitars (Film, Canada, Ron Mann, 2019) Musicians ranging from Lenny Kaye to Bill Frisell to the Sadies drop into the Greenwich Village shop of Rick Kelly, who makes guitars from reclaimed wood taken from demolished 19th century New York buildings. A comforting, contemplative study of the quiet craftsmanship that goes into the tools for rocking out.—RDL

Dinosaurs Rediscovered (Nonfiction, Michael J. Benton, 2019) Roundup of developments in the last two decades of paleontology depict a revolution in understanding driven by computer modeling. Clear and engaging practitioner’s account sparingly deploys the now-obligatory pop science personal anecdotes.—RDL

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird (Film, US, Steven-Charles Jaffe, 2013) Arts profile documentary looks at the work and mordant vision of cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Aside from learning that Wilson is not as I had pictured him but as I should have been picturing him, the key bit here is watching the extremely humble method he used to produce his intricate, inimitable pieces.—RDL

Knives Out (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2019) When mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) seemingly commits suicide on the night of his 85th birthday, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play in a houseful of suspects. Wonderfully structured riff on the classic star-stuffed mystery movie provides comic and suspense turns in abundance. –KH

The Mandalorian Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Jon Favreau, 2019) In the opening years of the new Republic, a Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) finds a target he cannot ethically take, and rebels against the Guild to protect it. Combining Lone Wolf & Cub with (mostly spaghetti) Westerns, Favreau builds strong episodic television while infusing the series with the true Star Wars spice. Special shout-outs to the production design and guest casting. –KH

Shooting Script (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1966) Charter pilot Keith Carr gets tangled up with the Caribbean Republica Libre (sort-of Dominican Republic) and with movie star Walt Whitmore (sort-of John Wayne) in another taut aviation thriller. The brutal hero, kerosene realism, and riveting aerial detail (including a dogfight between Carr’s unarmed cargo plane and a jet fighter) elevate it above all but Lyall’s best. –KH

Veronica Mars Season 4 (Television, US, Hulu, Rob Thomas, 2019) With her dad (Enrico Colantoni) losing a step and Logan surprising her with an unwanted proposal, Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigates a series of spring break bombings. Seamless revival proves that a show can ditch both its original premise and structure if the attitude and relationships remain intact. In the writers room this time out: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!—RDL

Good

6 Underground (Film, US, Michael Bay, 2019) Led by tech billionaire “One” (Ryan Reynolds), a team of experts fakes their own deaths to take down a dictator. I think Michael Bay may actually have read and internalized Charlie Jane Anders’ famous 2009 review in which she (jokingly?) called Bay the world’s most successful auteur of art film — of film that discards (or transcends) narrative for image and emotion. In his newest opus, more than ever, Bay’s frenetic but surgical cuts and increasingly jaw-dropping stylized shots convey pure feeling and adrenaline, jerking (and lifting) us away from mere plot. –KH

Okay

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Film, US, J.J. Abrams, 2019) The dead speak! Mostly about how mad they are at Rian Johnson! Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was secretly alive all this time, and he wants Rey (Daisy Ridley) dead or alive or something, while Finn (John Boyega) yells. Adam Driver (great but alone) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) do essentially the only acting in the movie, which resolves into a cloud of empty, stakes-free, mawkish, half-baked action set pieces that go nowhere. But Richard E. Grant chews on a star destroyer and there’s a pretty good lightsaber fight on a stormy ocean moon. –KH

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Film, US, J.J. Abrams, 2019) The return of Emperor Palpatine prompts a search for the hidden planet of the Sith—and the true secret of Rey’s parentage. Half an hour of moving tribute to the original trilogy packaged inside an hour-forty worth of time-killing plot gyrations.—RDL

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