Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Menu, Slow Horses, and The Big Four

January 10th, 2023 | 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 Automat (Film, US, Lisa Hurwitz, 2021) Documentary profiles the rise and fall of the Horn & Hardart restaurant chain, which served cheap quality food to New Yorkers and Philadelphians through automated windows that opened when you put a nickel in. Talking head Mel Brooks adds comic energy to a fascinating commercial and social history.—RDL

A Bride for Rip van Winkle (Film, Japan, Shunji Iwai, 2016) Ashamed to have no one to invite to her wedding, a painfully withdrawn bride-to-be (Haru Kuroki) enlists a supplier of paid guests (Gô Ayano), who has a complex scheme of his own in mind. Quietly commanding chamber epic sets up and then confounds neo-gothic expectations. —RDL

Death on the Nile (Film, UK, John Guillermin, 1978) When millionaire heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) is murdered on her honeymoon cruise on the Nile, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) must untangle the mystery. A best-of-breed 1970s star-studded mystery extravaganza featuring Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, and Maggie Smith in a three-way camp-off and a weirdly simpering Poirot that Ustinov somehow makes appealing. Anthony Shaffer’s script handles the clockwork Christie story with aplomb, and Guillermin lets the actors breathe. –KH

Going Highbrow (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1935) With the cheerful acquiescence of her newly rich down-to-earth husband (Guy Kibbee), a heartlander yearning for New York social status (Zasu Pitts) enlists the aid of a high-status, low-net worth family’s scheme-happy financial advisor (Edward Everett Horton.) Unusual screwball comedy puts the comic character actors upfront, with the romantic plot driving the action without taking the spotlight.—RDL

The Menu (Film, US, Mark Mylod, 2022) Obsessed foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his less-so date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) arrive at an island restaurant for chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) masterpiece. Squid-ink-black satire might have been too broad without Fiennes and Hoult’s laserlike timing; Taylor-Joy ably blends her audience stand-in role with her own plot in slow reveals. The resulting horror: deconstructed Buñuel, with a Colin Stetson score featuring notes of mineral and threat. –KH

Slow Horses Season 2 (Television, UK, Will Smith, 2022) Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) stubbornly probes the murder of a long-discarded agent, exposing a sleeper agent plot. Unable to repeat the first season’s underdogs versus real MI6 conflict, the series settles into a satisfying case-of-the-week (or -series if you insist on getting technical about it) thriller rhythm.—RDL

Three Thousand Years of Longing (Film, US, George Miller, 2022) Contentedly lonely narratologist (Tilda Swinton) deploys her understanding of myth to avoid becoming a cautionary tale when she frees a handsome djinn (Idris Elba) in her academic conference hotel room. Miller looses his mastery of visual plasticity on a romantic tale both intimate and wondrous.—RDL


The Big Four (Film, Timo Tjahjanto, 2022) A quartet of assassins in hiding after the assassination of their master face pursuit from a dogged cop and a psychotic rival. Brilliantly executed grand guignol fight sequences without enough of a storyline to sustain momentum between them.—RDL

Death on the Nile (Film, US, Kenneth Branagh, 2022) When millionaire heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) is murdered on her honeymoon cruise on the Nile, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must untangle the mystery. Branagh restrains his worst tics as actor and director while trusting the inherent (albeit CGI-enhanced) spectacle of the piece, so rather better than his previous Poirot. Neither Branagh nor writer Michael Green know what to do with half the cast; Branagh really only wants juice and energy out of Gadot and Sophie Okonedo (playing a blues singer in lieu of the original’s romance novelist). Emma Mackey and Annette Bening force our attention nonetheless. –KH


The Angel’s Game (Fiction, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 2008) In interwar Barcelona a young pulp writer loses his grip on reality after accepting a commission to write a new religious mythology from a Luciferian client. In the second of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, Zafon permits himself a multitude of sins by fully embracing pulp structure, in the end raising the question of how much the reader can attach to events described by a completely unreliable narrator.—RDL

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