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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Americans Ends; Han Solo Begins

June 5th, 2018 | 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 Americans Season 6 (TV, FX, Joe Weisberg, 2018) The best show on television ends its run with the end of the Cold War and a final reckoning for Soviet sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, even better in those roles now if you can believe it). A three-year jump from Season 5 provides the perfect launch pad for a final season that recapitulates the series’ meaning while flipping its narrative on its head, and never taking the direction you expect. –KH

Recommended

Barry Season 1 (TV, HBO, Alec Berg and Bill Hader, 2017) To the consternation of his surrogate uncle-slash-manager, a malleable hit man (Bill Hader) enrolls in an L.A. acting class. Squeezes fresh energy from the collision of two otherwise well-worn sub-genres, with a dark moral wallop at the heart of its squirm comedy.—RDL

Dark Star Rising: Magic and Power in the Age of Trump (Nonfiction, Gary Lachman, 2018) Traces the influence of such esoteric beliefs as New Thought, chaos magick, Traditionalism, and biospherism on the burgeoning forces of international post-modern authoritarianism. Ties its threads together with clarity, erudition, and the rueful alarm felt when a chronicler of occult and fringe topics sees his work becoming suddenly topical. (An unease shared, needless to say, by a couple of podcasters I could name.)—RDL

The Final Master (Film, China, Xu Haofeng, 2015) Laconic wing chun master attempting to establish a martial arts academy in the northern city of Tianjin discovers that the deadliest fights occur behind the scenes. Invests the bare bones of 70s fu fight tropes with languorous style and covert, Brechtian political allegory.—RDL

Good

Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes (Film, Denmark, Mikkel Nørgaard, 2013) After a stubborn misstep gets one partner killed and the other paralyzed, a brooding homicide detective (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gets downgraded to cold case duty, where he and his upbeat but disregarded new partner (Fares Fares) take a more hands-on approach to a bureaucrat’s disappearance than his superiors intend. Well-crafted, straight-up treatment of police procedural tropes uses a flashback structure to interweave the events of the crime with its investigation. First of a trilogy.—RDL

Okay

Martin Roumagnac (Film, France, Georges Lacombe, 1946) Small-town construction contractor (Jean Gabin) falls hard for a scandalous young widow (Marlene Dietrich) whose con man uncle hopes to marry her off to a freshly widowed diplomat. Engaging when its two great stars share the screen, not so much when it turns into a by-the-numbers courtroom drama. Also known as The Room Upstairs.—RDL

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Street rat Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has a creakily paced origin story that provides him with all of Han Solo’s trappings but little of his personality. I’m a fan of Ehrenreich, who plays his thankless Lazenby role as well as possible — he’d make a better rebooted Indy, on this showing. The one element I was sure would never work, Han’s friendship with Chewbacca, actually sold me. But the endless endless callbacks and fan servicings (and Ron Howard’s staid direction) drain much of the zip out of what could have been a really neat B-movie set in the Star Wars universe, if only it had been called Frelbeg: A Star Wars Story and been about literally anybody else in the galaxy. –KH

Not Recommended

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2018) Brash street kid Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) joins a team of energy thieves in a bid to rescue his first love, who has her own survival plans. Fun intermittently breaks out when given the breathing room to be a heist flick in the Star Wars universe, but mostly this is an unnecessary origin story that both over-references and undercuts the ‘77 classic. Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian demonstrates it’s better to be asked to channel Billy Dee Williams than Harrison Ford.—RDL

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