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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Heaven, a Hitman, and the Deadly World of Produce Sales

February 11th, 2020 | 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 Good Place Season 4 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2019-20) Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her friends find themselves responsible for saving every human on Earth from the malfunctioning points system. In its intentionally final season, the show comes in for a glide path landing by switching its philosophical center from the nature of the good to the nature of the eternal. Schur nails the landing on the greatest narrative aerial act in television history. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (Television, US, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2018) Increasingly alienated hitman (Bill Hader) navigates an existential crisis by joining an acting class on the spur of the moment. This least likely premise for acidulous, perfect-pitch black comedy nonetheless delivers thanks to a deep bench of gifted actors and writing that tries to slip the jokes by you like curveballs. –KH

The Beach Bum (Film, US, Harmony Korine, 2019) Lovable alcoholic poet and Key West party figure (Matthew McConaughey) stays true to himself as he flees a variety of challenges to his lack of sobriety. Majestically photographed picaresque flips the bird to the redemption arc, and for that matter arcs in general. Isla Fisher, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence show up to confound their agents with outlandish roles, with Snoop Dogg playing to type in his.—RDL

Blood and Black Lace (Film, Italy, Mario Bava, 1964) A masked figure in a black trenchcoat wages a murder spree against women associated with a modeling agency. With its sumptuous production design, hyper-saturated colors, and twisting, protagonist-free narrative structure, this combination of horror and murder mystery launched the giallo sub-genre into a local movie industry hungry for new templates to copycat.—RDL

Thieves Highway (Film, US, Jules Dassin, 1949) Returning veteran (Richard Conte) enters the cutthroat world of fruit trucking to get to the corrupt produce wholesaler (Lee J. Cobb) responsible for his father’s maiming. Adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from his own autobiographical novel, this presents as scathing a portrait of bare knuckled American business as studio-mandated happy endings will allow. Dassin leavens the proceedings with romanticism, symbolized by Valentina Cortese as the bad girl savior, clad in Hollywood’s most expressive coat.—RDL

Good

Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (Film, US, Daniel Raim, 2019) Documentary illuminates the careers of key early American D.O.P.s, including Billy Bitzer (Griffith), Roland Totheroh (Chaplin), William Daniels (Garbo and glamour photography), Gregg Toland (deep focus) and James Wong Howe (realism.) If there’s one subject matter that cries out for the documentary format, it’s this.—RDL

Judy (Film, US/UK, Rupert Goold, 2019) Out of cash and struggling with the pill addiction MGM gave her as a teenager, Judy Garland (Renée Zellwegger) hopes a long term gig in London will turn her situation around. Stylistically unadventurous biopic exists as a container for the very specific type of bravura performance awards season can’t get enough of.—RDL

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