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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Lost Daughter, Kimi, and Nightmare Alley on Screen and Page

March 1st, 2022 | 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

The Lost Daughter (Film, US, Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021) When a large, shady family arrives to disrupt the tranquility of her Greek beach vacation, a prickly academic (Olivia Colman) recalls her own tumultuous motherhood and commits a strange transgression. Personal drama based on an Elena Ferrante novel places intense performances from Colman and Jessie Buckley as her character’s younger self in an atmosphere of gnawing unease.—RDL

Recommended

The Big Risk (Film, France, Claude Sautet, 1960) When the former confederates who owe him offer only minimal aid, a condemned man (Lino Ventura) on the lam with his two young boys strikes up an alliance with a capable younger counterpart (Jean-Paul Belmondo.) Moody, fatalistic noir deftly sketches all its characters, from leads to walk-ons.—RDL

Goodbye Again (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1933) To the consternation of his attentive secretary/lover (Joan Blondell), an easily swayed romance novelist (Warren William) fails to resist the advances of a now-married old flame (Genevieve Tobin.) Witty, lightning-paced stage adaptation squeaks in at the end of the pre-Code era with a depiction of jealousy wreaking havoc on an open relationship. Stalwart comic character actor Hugh Herbert steals the movie as the romantic rival’s affably unconcerned husband.—RDL

The Harder They Fall (Film, US, Jeymes Samuel, 2021) When the vicious outlaw (Idris Elba) who murdered his parents and scarred him for life is released from prison, gunslinger Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) teams up with Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) to take him down. References the stylistic gestures of the spaghetti western and the studio western’s tradition of treating historical figures as mythic beings capable of fitting any storyline as it escalates from a series of duels for interpersonal dominance into a thrilling shootout finale.—RDL

Kimi (Film, US, Stephen Soderbergh, 2022) Agoraphobic tech support minion Angela (Zoë Kravitz) overhears a crime in a digital-personal-assistant error stream and takes action. For sheer economy plus brio nobody can match Soderbergh in his minimalist mode, and he builds a satisfying thriller from the pandemically-sparse “Blowup but autistic” material. Kravitz pulls a minor miracle of charisma and acting from her deliberately unidimensional part. –KH

Nightmare Alley (Fiction, William Lindsay Gresham, 1946) Carny roper Stanton Carlisle follows the Fool’s journey as he tries to stay one step ahead of his fears and weakness. Gresham loads this seedy con-artist novel with Freudian symbolism (more even than the Tarot symbolism strung throughout) but also gives us a truly shuddersome, electric villain in psychoanalyst Lilith Ritter. A raw, sporadically painful, slice of life in the Depression, honest as only crime fiction seems to manage. –KH

Good

Nightmare Alley (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2021) Damaged new carny Stan (Bradley Cooper) aims for the big time despite the codes of man, God, or carny. This adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel (supra.) adds color and luxe set design (and about 40 unnecessary minutes) but badly flattens every possible ambiguity and elision in the story. (It also weirdly downplays the Tarot theme of the book.) Del Toro’s increasing didacticism vitiates the work of a ludicrously standout cast. Re-watch Edmund Goulding’s vastly superior 1947 version instead. –KH

Okay

The Chase (Film, South Korea, Kim Hong-sun, 2017) Pushed by a retired cop with a cold case to settle (Dong-il Sung), a surly, elderly landlord (Yun-shik Baek) becomes the unlikely investigator into the serial killings of isolated retirees. Often harsh underdog murder mystery periodically disrupted by misguided bursts of incongruously cheery soundtrack music.—RDL

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