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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Robert Redford Then and Now

January 29th, 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

Cold War (Film, Poland/France/UK, Pawel Pawlikowsky, 2018) Communism and insecurity endanger and deform the love between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig), as well as the rest of art, music, and humanity. Lukasz Zal’s transcendent black-and-white cinematography and a cascade of period and source music carry us around Europe from 1949 to 1964, invoking without aping the Golden Age of film romance. Kot has trouble breaching Wiktor’s ironic distance, but Joanna Kulig should be a global star after this. –KH

Downhill Racer (Film, US, Michael Ritchie, 1969) Skier ruled by his ambitions (Robert Redford) pursues Olympic glory, as his tough coach (Gene Hackman) strives to keep his ego in check. Brilliant exponent of the American New Wave with thrilling skiing sequences, stunning photography, laconic script and verite editing style.—RDL

John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid (Stand-up, John Mulaney, 2015) Live at the Chicago Theater, Mulaney demonstrates the power of just the right word (“a rich man’s game of dice and small binoculars”) combined with years-in-the-making perfect timing. And call-backs. And character bits. And politics and observational humor and wife and parents and dog and all the other things you think can never be truly funny again until oh yeah a genius does them. –KH

Recommended

Burning (Film, South Korea, Lee Chang-Dong, 2018) Rusticating, unemployed shlemiel Jongsu (Yoon Ahin) meets cute Haemi (Jeon Jongseo) who claims he called her ugly as a child — after they hook up, he meets her rich playboy friend (lover?) Ben (Steven Yuen) who claims he burns greenhouses. Lee spends the next two-plus hours gradually simmering unease and uncertainty from these ingredients, Mowg’s mosquito-jazz score, and Murakami’s short story “Burning Barns.” Yuen conveys menace with offhand affability better than anyone since George Sanders. –KH

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (Film, US, Ireneusz Dobrowolski, 2018) Documenting the art and eliptonic theories of their late, eccentric friend Stanislaw Szukalski, a group of comix scene fixtures uncovers more than they bargained for. Touches lightly on Szukalski’s crank counter-history, as covered in KARTAS 179, while mostly focusing on his personality and the puzzle of his place in art history.—RDL

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Film, US, Morgan Neville, 2018) Mostly amazed by, and somewhat interested in, Fred Rogers’ legendary commitment to love and caring about children as people, Neville’s catholic retrospective becomes the equivalent of a documentary on how great butter is on bread. But oh my God have you had butter on bread? It’s great! –KH

Good

American Gods Season 1 (Television US, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green) Released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is swept along on a bizarre road trip by his garrulous, raven-assisted new employer (Ian McShane.) Applies the lush, hypnotic style of Fuller’s  “Hannibal” to the mythic riffing of Neil Gaiman’s novel, with a leisurely pace that uses the entire first season as set-up.—RDL

The Old Man & the Gun (Film, US, David Lowery, 2018) Even in his golden years, specifically 1981, bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) just can’t seem to stop robbing banks despite the horsey allure of widow Sissy Spacek and a dogged pursuit by cop Casey Affleck, both kind of wasted as foils. The very 70s-film vibe resonates down to the pre-faded palette on 16mm, and in the intentional avoidance of any moment that might be action. Occurring in the negative space around about five hundred crime films and Westerns, it’s mostly redeemed by Redford’s charm and Lowery’s man crush on those movies and their star of stars. –KH

Okay

No Questions Asked (Film, US, 1951) Jilted lawyer (Barry Sullivan) develops a lucrative business as middleman between insurance companies and robbers, until he gets mixed up in a case involving cross-dressing stick-up artists. Comes to life in spots but isn’t as much lurid fun as the previous sentence indicates. You know the hero’s a chump because he prefers Arlene Dahl to Jean Hagen.—RDL

Not Recommended

Moon Child (Film, Spain, Agustí Villaronga, 1989) Telekinetic orphan is adopted by a pseudoscientific cult, discovering their murderous plot to birth a magical being. Lays down an odd but kind of interesting stylized vibe, with acting technique straight out of Dreyer’s Vampyr—until the third act, when the characters journey to Africa and the price of adapting an Aleister Crowley novel comes due.—RDL

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