Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Carmilla, Capra, and CIFF

October 22nd, 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.


Bring Me Home (Film, South Korea, Kim Seung-woo, 2019) Nurse and mother Jung Yae-on (Lee Young-ae) searches for her son, who went missing six years ago, following a lead to a fishing station and its corrupt cop enforcer Sgt. Hong (Yoo Jae-myung). Korean films do not generally soften their blows, and this genuinely harrowing psychological thriller is no exception. Even the inevitable violent climax avoids Western-style catharsis, becoming yet more chaotic horror leaving unease behind. Just another powerful triumph from by far the best national film culture on the planet. –KH

Carmilla (Film, UK, Emily Harris, 2019) Isolated in rural Sussex, young Lara (Hanna Rae) welcomes the presence of the mysterious Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) although her upright governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine) has her doubts. Harris soft-pedals the supernatural elements of LeFanu’s source novel almost into invisibility, playing up Lara’s naive excitement and love for the new girl. Although the script wavers between murk and didacticism, the strong acting and Michael Wood’s eager camera work (much of it in candle-lit night interiors) keep it on the Recommended side of the bubble. –KH

Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Film, US, Sasha Waters Freyer, 2018) Critical and biographical documentary profile of archetypal street photographer Garry Winogrand, who famously left mountains of his images unprocessed at the time of his death. Poignant testimony from his colleagues brings emotional impact to the arts doc format.—RDL

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (Film, Spain/Estonia/Ethiopia/Latvia/Romania, Miguel Llanso, 2019) CIA agents DT Gargano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo) must enter the Psychobook cyberspace to defeat the Soviet virus “Stalin” (and the Beta-Ethiopian dictator Batfro, who yes dresses as Batman) in this gonzo mashup of spy-fi, martial arts, cyberpunk, lucha, and every other genre with “-sploitation” added to it. Shot in three different formats plus stop-motion, Llanso’s inspired PKD-WSB bricolage somehow hangs together around its many many curves and triumphs, backed by a killer free-jazz soundtrack by Bill Dixon. –KH

Ladies of Leisure (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1930) Cracks appear in the hardboiled veneer of a mercenary party girl (Barbara Stanwyck) when a brusque but handsome railroad heir (Ralph Graves) hires her as an artist’s model. Surprisingly uncreaky pre-Code stage play adaptation elevated by Stanwyck’s affecting, quicksilver performance.—RDL

Varda by Agnés (Film, France, Agnés Varda, 2019) The beloved filmmaker assembled this documentary montage of her lectures on (and excerpts of) her own work just before her death this March, and the portion of it that unpacks her cinematic creation does so with the genius and generosity that became her trademarks. Most of the last half of the film deals with her post-2000 career as a digital installation artist, a less interesting and more remote body of work that leaves you wanting more of the first half. –KH


Gambling Lady (Film, US, Frank Capra, 1934) When she falls for a naive but handsome socialite (Joel McCrea) an honest gambler (Barbara Stanwyck) learns that the upper crust contains sharper characters than the underworld. Star power wins the day in a typically veering early 30s script.—RDL

Knives and Skin (Film, US, Jennifer Reeder, 2019) After teenage Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) disappears in Big River, Illinois, her mother and schoolmates remain haunted. Very ambitious blend of David Lynch and Richard Linklater ultimately drowns in a too-large cast of characters, most written in the same voice; intriguing story notes appear only to vanish like Carolyn. But the luminous color-high cinematography by Christopher Rejano, Badalamenti-esque score by Nick Zinner, and compellingly sharp edits by Mike Olenik enhance your experience throughout. –KH

Miyamoto (Film, Japan, Tetsuya Mariko, 2019) Young schlemiel with anger issues Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu) hits the rapids in his relationship with Yasuko (Yu Aoi) as we follow two halves of their story to inevitable confrontation. Ambitious plotting and roller-coaster emotion (and a viscerally unsettling fight scene) almost distract from what a drip the main character is throughout, but help drive the endings to almost inevitable anticlimax. –KH

The Whistlers (Film, Romania/France/Germany, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019) Femme fatale Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) inveigles corrupt Bucharest cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) into learning the whistling language of the Canary Islanders to break her partner out of jail, and no it doesn’t make a lot more sense than that after you’ve watched it either. Porumboiu’s deadpan style blends unevenly with the crime thriller genre, and Cristi (and the viewer) only learn he’s not the protagonist far too late in the proceedings. But it still racks up plenty of great sequences on the way to not at all being Charley Varrick with whistling. –KH


Blue My Mind (Film, Sweden, Lisa Brühlmann, 2015) 15 year old arriving mid-term at a new school throws in with the fast kids while coping with a weird bodily transformation that fuses her toes and gets her hungering for raw fish. Hews so utterly to the distressing teens realist template that it plays as an earnest plea to understand the important social problem of turning into a mythical sea creature.—RDL

La Llorona (Film, Guatemala/France, Jayro Bustamante, 2019) Mobs of protesters besiege the house of elderly, genocidal general Enrique (Julio Diaz), while the vengeful spirit La Llorona (Maria Mercedes Coroy) infiltrates it. Regardless of its virtues as indictment of Guatemala’s actual past genocidaires, it fails as a horror film because the contemptible General never has the remotest audience sympathy and La Llorona (a beautifully creepy portrayal by director and actor wasted) never really threatens anyone else. Promising threads about the General’s Alzheimer’s and elderly weakness drop unused. –KH

T2 Trainspotting (Film, UK, Danny Boyle, 2017) Twenty years after stealing his mates’ drug deal proceeds, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh to face his reckoning. Fun but inessential sequel serves as a reunion tour for the cast, with touches of sentimentality the original bracingly avoided.—RDL

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