Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Witch Well Actuallys and the Ip Man Cinematic Universe

April 23rd, 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.


Amazing Grace (Film, US, Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott, 2019) Film of Aretha Franklin’s live recording of her best-selling gospel album in an LA Baptist church in 1972. Abandoned by Pollack and re-synched and re-cut by Elliott, the footage comes together now as a tribute to the community of sacred music as much as it does a showcase for Aretha’s phenomenal gift. –KH

The Boxer’s Omen (Film, HK, Kuei Chi-Hung, 1983) Seeking vengeance against the kickboxer who paralyzed his brother in the ring, a Hong Kong gangster goes to Thailand, discovering his true calling as a monk defending the desiccated, talkative remains of a Buddhist abbot from a local sorcerer. Big(gish) budget Shaw Brothers entry into the east Asian black magic horror sub-genre pelts the viewer with a gobsmacking array of uneasily related elements. Kickboxing! Gross-outs galore! Location shoots in Thailand and Nepal! Gratuitous nudity! Disgusting yet adorable creature puppets! Unexpected flashes of spiritual beauty!—RDL

Dance, Girl, Dance (Film, US, Dorothy Arzner, 1940) Earnest aspiring dancer (Maureen O’Hara) is swept along as her calculating sexpot pal (Lucille Ball) rises to burlesque stardom. Light melodrama gets a generation ahead of the feminist curve by taking on the then pervasive good girl/bad girl dichotomy from a woman’s perspective.—RDL

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Film, HK/China, Yuen Woo-ping, 2019) Despite his renunciation of Wing Chun, a shopkeeper (Max Zhang) is drawn into 1960s gangland turf battles, whose figures include a legitimacy-seeking triad boss (Michelle Yeoh) and a well-connected chef (Dave Bautista.) The Ip Man Cinematic Universe kicks off with a lavishly mounted period melodrama advanced by bravura  fight sequences.—RDL

Murder by Contract (Film, US, Irving Lerner, 1958) Self-actualized hitman (Vince Edwards) comes to L.A. to kill a witness in an upcoming trial, driving his local minders (Philip Pine, Herschel Bernardi) up the wall with his eccentricities. Crime drama with a wry, minimalistic style, including a mordant guitar score, that distinctly prefigures Jarmusch.—RDL

The Scorpion’s Tail (Fiction, William Haggard, 1975) On vacation in Spain and retired from the Security Executive, Colonel Russell happens on mysterious Soviet doings on an island. Haggard leans into the retired Russell as unmoved catalyst-witness to events with a hint of mysticism; the result satisfies more than most of these late Haggards. –KH

The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present (Nonfiction, Ronald Hutton, 2017) Examination of the converging belief systems that led to the European witch hunting spree applies updated historical and anthropological scholarship to the question of why it ran rampant in certain jurisdictions and remained muted in others. Stock up on well actuallys as this comprehensive treatment shows that many traditions, when not outright invented by back-projecting academics, appear later and are more geographically constrained than one might assume.—RDL


The Burglar (Film, US, Paul Wendkos, 1956) Tensions ratchet as a crew of jewelry thieves, led by a gutsy safecracker (Dan Duryea) and including his smoldering quasi-sister (Jayne Mansfield) wait out the aftermath of a big score. Sometimes overwrought acting, and an age gap between Duryea and Mansfield that misses the point of their relationship, mar an otherwise taut and atmospheric noir crime thriller. The pathos of her performance shows how underused she was in her usual roles as a cartoonier Marilyn substitute. Screenplay by David Goodis, based on his novel.—RDL

Happy Death Day (Film, US, Christopher Landon, 2017) Bitchy student Tree (Jessica Rothe) finds herself repeatedly reliving her birthday when someone in a baby mask murders her on it. This amiable blend of Groundhog Day and Scream doesn’t do anything very original, but it doesn’t do anything very wrong either. Bear McCreary’s score adds fun. –KH

The Last Laugh (Film, US, Fearne Pearlstein, 2016) Can you joke about the Holocaust? Should you? A collection of comedians (mostly Jewish) and Holocaust survivors weigh in on the lines between and around comedy and tragedy. The doc doesn’t pick a side, and even Mel Brooks seems a little scandalized at times. A shrug isn’t a very satisfying answer, but it may be the best one. –KH

The Lineup (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1958) San Francisco cops trace a reckless heroin smuggling ring that has hired psychotic gunman Dancer (Eli Wallach) to recover dope-ridden items from innocent travelers. Enjoying the tense direction, evocative location shooting, and cast of hardboiled mugs requires the viewer to set aside the implausibility of the antagonists’ scheme.—RDL

The Old Masters (Fiction, William Haggard, 1973) An attempted assassination of Tito (called “Milo” in the book) on the literal doorstep of retired head of the Security Executive Colonel Russell throws him into a showdown over a mining concession in Yugoslavia. While the plot and motives remain strong (including one uncharacteristic first-rate gunfight) sadly Russell remains almost an inert spectator. –KH

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