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RVIFF Reviews: Korean Spy Games, A Strange Force in Afghanistan, and Almodovarian Mastery

September 17th, 2022 | Robin

A Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

At the end of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, my wife Valerie and I decided to break up with it, after decades of attendance. We have replaced it with RVIFF, the Robin and Valerie International Film Festival. It’s the festival you can play along with at home, with a curated roster of streaming titles I’m excited to see. Daily capsule reviews roll out throughout the festival, with a complete list in order of preference dropping a day or two afterwards. Review ratings are out of 5.

El Planeta (Spain, Amalia Ulman, 2021, 4) After her father dies, a young woman (Amalia Ulman) and her mother (Alejandra Ulman) struggle to get by in the glum city of Gijon. Droll, low-key character piece in sparking black and white.

Neither Heaven Nor Earth (France, Clément Cogitore, 2015, 4) Mysterious disappearances plague French soldiers stationed at a remote Afghan outpost, to the increasing discomfiture of their hard-headed Captain (Jérémie Renier.) Naturalistically shot, weird war tale featuring a threatening force of elusive ambiguity.

For the first few minutes I was afraid that I’d seen this already. This was after all the oldest title I picked for the RVIFF. But then I was able to relax and not feel like my brain has broken. It’s just that the first ten minutes of any film about the Afghan war tend to replicate all of the others. Shot from the watch tower? Check. Civilian challenged while heading toward the fortress gate? Check. Negotiation with villagers over a livestock loss? Check.

Parallel Mothers (Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2021, 4) Photographer (Penelope Cruz) learns that the baby she took home from the hospital wasn’t hers, but refrains from telling the teen mom (Milena Smit) who is the likely biological mother. Repeatedly sets up and betrays genre expectations, in this case, melodramatic ones, in an unexpected and satisfying manner that takes an Almodovar-level master to pull off.

The Spy Gone North (South Korea, Yoon Jong-bin, 2018, 4) Spy (Hwang Jung-min)adopts a new persona as a brash businessman to infiltrate the North Korean inner circle, only to learn that his right-wing bosses have been paying Kim Jong Il to interfere in the South’s elections. Political spy thriller docudrama grippingly fictionalizes a series of implausible true events.

Due to moderate demand, the RVIFF shirts I made for the two of us are now available in the Ken and Robin merch store.


If you enjoy this special text feature of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast and don’t already support our Patreon, consider tossing a few bucks in the tip jar. Or check out my book on action films and their roleplaying applications, Blowing Up the Movies. Or the roleplaying game inspired by the Hong Kong films I first encountered at TIFF, Feng Shui 2.

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