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Posts Tagged ‘Ken and Robin Consume Media’

RVIFF Reviews: Cree Resisters Battle a Dark Future, Chaos Reigns in a Verhoeven Nunnery, And a Brazilian Werewolf in Sao Paulo

September 11th, 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.

 

Hey There! (Turkey, Reha Erdem, 2021, 4) With Istanbul under COVID quarantine, a scammer turns to computer videoconferencing to blackmail minor offenders in the guise of a law enforcement official. Lockdown webcam musical comedy finds hope for the future in warm, embracing cynicism.

Fagara (Hong Kong, Heiward Mak, 2019, 4) When her father suddenly dies, an unfulfilled woman (Sammi Cheng) meets the half-sisters she didn’t know about and decides to keep his hotpot restaurant open. Luminous family drama centers on restrained, effective movie star performances from Cheng and, in a supporting role, Andy Lau.

Night Raiders (Canada, Danis Goulet, 2021, 4) In a grim near future, a Cree woman reluctantly unites with a resistance cell of fellow tribe members to rescue her daughter from a totalitarian military academy. Allegory of the residential schools system framed as a dystopian thriller designs its futuristic elements to look like drably naturalistic found locations.

Benedetta (France/Belgium/Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven, 2021, 4) Young nun (Virginie Efira) in 17th century Italy supplements her passion for a rustic novice (Daphne Patakia) with gory visions of a sword-wielding Jesus, fueling a rise to power in her convent. Verhoven gives his zest for the lurid full reign as sensuality and mortification intertwine and the clash of competing fanaticisms unleashes chaos.

Good Manners (Brazil, Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, 2017, 3.5) Woman in precarious circumstances (Isabél Zuaa) takes a job as nanny-to-be for a pregnant, unanchored rich woman (Marjorie Estiano) who develops somnambulism and a thirst for blood when the moon is full. Compelling and chameleonic, if structurally unbalanced, werewolf film essays radical shifts of style and premise that variously references Lewton, Landis, Disney and maybe a hint of Fassbinder.

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.

RVIFF Reviews: Herzog Pays Homage, the Wrong Man Thriller Gets Upended, and Cronenberg Shows His Disciples How It’s Done

September 10th, 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.

My Name Is Gulpilil (Australia, Molly Reynolds, 2021, 4) In the late stages of lung cancer, actor David Gulpilil, who represented the Australian indigenous experience on-screen from the age of 14 to 64, looks back on his career, personal struggles, and connection to his culture. Sticks to the POV of its frank, straightforward subject, skipping the sincere but unilluminating tributes from colleagues that fill out the standard arts profile documentary.

Scarborough (Canada, Shasha Nakhai & Rich Williamson, 2021, 2.5) Families attending a parenting and literacy drop-in center in a low-income neighborhood experience travails and triumphs. With so many issues stuffed into one movie, this is the Love Actually of social realist movies, and not without the heavy-handedness the genre has always indulged.

Coppers (Canada, Alan Zweig, 2019, 4) Retired Ontario police officers recount their often hair-raising experiences as coppers and the struggles with PTSD, alcoholism and other members of the force that resulted from them. Zweig, master of the interview documentary, lets his subjects explore the gnarly paradox of policing—that the job inherently turns people who do it into people who shouldn’t.

This one even has an Eliptony Hut angle, as one officer describes police contact with a poltergeist, driving past the apartment where it manifested as he does so.

Hive (Kosovo, Blerta Basholli, 2021, 4) Determined woman (Yllka Gashi) assembles fellow presumed widows of Kosovo War ethnic cleansing to form a company to make pepper preserves, defying village prejudices against women driving or working. Incisively told social drama features committed, immediate performances.

Sheep Without a Shepherd (China, Sam Quah, 2019, 4) Movie-mad, hard-pressed supplier of Internet hardware plots to cover up his daughter’s killing of her abuser as he attacked her mother—but his mother, a corner-cutting police chief (Joan Chen), is determined to find out what happened. Presented in hyper-accentuated style that might be expressed in the equation ((John Woo + Tony Scott) × Bollywood), this upends the wrong man thriller into a premise where the protagonists did do it and we’re rooting for them to get away with it.

This is a remake of a 2013 Indian film. Since the plot revolves around corrupt cops, it can’t be set in mainland China and pass censorship, and so takes place among the Chinese community in Thailand.

Nomad: in the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (UK, Werner Herzog, 2019, 4) Herzog conducts another of his documentary journeys of wonder and reverence, encountering ley lines, songlines, and the totemic powers of a life-saving rucksack, in tribute to his friend Bruce Chatwin, whose novel he adapted into his 1987 film Cobra Verde. In vowing to ensure that the protagonist is not himself but Chatwin, who was like a brother to him, Herzog reveals more of himself than perhaps any other of his many works.

Crimes of the Future (Canada, David Cronenberg, 2022, 4) In a kinky near future where pain is a rarity, performance artists Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice push the boundaries of their work, which features the elaborate removal of the novel organs he grows with his Accelerated Evolution Syndrome. Cronenberg shows his imitators how it’s really done, splicing the throughline of 8½ into body horror and finding the destruction in the creative process.

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.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: 13 Titles from Noir City Chicago, Only Murders, and the Fascinatingly Terrible House of Gucci

September 6th, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

The Argyle Secrets (Film, US, Cy Endfield, 1948) After columnist Allen Pierce (George Anderson) tips off reporter Harry Mitchell (William Gargan) to the red-hot Argyle Album, Mitchell winds up framed for Pierce’s murder. Simultaneously over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek, this riff on The Maltese Falcon manages to combine ironic humor and genuine tension. Special shout-out to Jack Reitzer, the troupe’s wonderful discount Sydney Greenstreet. –KH

Detective Story (Film, US, William Wyler, 1951) During one long evening in a NYPD precinct house, Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas) finds himself strained to the breaking point. With a  murderers’ row of supporting actors including Lee Grant, Joe Weisman, and William Bendix, the film transcends its stage-play origins with the ultra-noir tale of a man condemned by his refusal to break his moral code. –KH

Flesh and Bone (Film, US, Steve Kloves, 1993) When itinerant  vending-machine proprietor Arlis (Dennis Quaid) meets trainwreck Kay (Meg Ryan), he awakens his deadly and horrible past, embodied to perfection by James Caan. A perfectly balanced daylight noir character study that would fall to pieces if any of the four actors (Gwyneth Paltrow as a cold young hustler completes the quartet) were less than superb in their roles. –KH

Jane by Charlotte (Film, France, Charlotte Gainsbourg, 2021) Documentary portrait of actor/singer Jane Birkin by her daughter, actor/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. Moving and intimate, but very much for the initiated: if you need background exposition on its principals, this is not your starting point.—RDL

A Monkey in Winter (Film, France, Henri Verneuil, 1962) Ex-alcoholic innkeeper in a sleepy resort town (Jean Gabin) sees his former self in a hard-boozing off-season guest (Jean-Paul Belmondo.) Were I hardened to the embracing charms of this comedy-drama superstar two-hander, I’d point out that it handwaves away the central conflict of one of its characters, but I’m not so I won’t.—RDL

Only Murders in the Building Season 2 (Television, US, Hulu, Steve Martin & John Hoffman, 2022) The unlikely trio of crime-solving podcasters (Martin, Selena Gomez, Martin Short) work to solve the slaying of building president Bunny Folger before the killer pins it on them. Replete with jokes about second season slumps, this outing preserves the mix of cozy mystery, comedy and melancholy that made the first one work so engagingly.—RDL

Scandal Sheet (Film, US, Phil Karlson, 1952) Tabloid editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) assigns his protege Steve McCleary (John Derek) to cover the story of a murder he committed. Pitilessly tense noir adapted from a Sam Fuller novel barely slackens its pace even for a winning supporting performance by Donna Reed as the conscience of the paper. Crawford dominates the screen, willing you to become an accessory to his character’s desperation. –KH

Street of Chance (Film, US, Jack Hively, 1942) A near-miss by falling rubble reawakens Frank Thompson’s (Burgess Meredith) memory – he’s been living another life for the past year. Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, it essentially expands Hammett’s Flitcraft parable. Meredith’s growing comfort in his lies provides a resonant moral bass line to an otherwise straightforward amnesia-crime proto-noir. –KH

Good

711 Ocean Drive (Film, US, Joseph M. Newman, 1950) Phone company tech Mal Granger (Edmond O’Brien) rises to L.A. racket boss based on his superior ability to wire a sports book. Intriguing technogangster film features a delightfully underplayed Otto Kruger as the Syndicate boss and a wonderful third-act heist but doesn’t quite achieve takeoff velocity. Perhaps O’Brien’s meaty affect, or the too-long Hoover Dam chase scene, weighs it down. –KH

Among the Living (Film, US, Stuart Heisler, 1941) When his tyrannical father dies, John Raden (Albert Dekker) returns to his decrepit family mansion – and discovers his twin brother Paul (also Dekker) still alive and insane! A firecracker performance by a young Susan Hayward energizes this would-be Southern Gothic. Patches of atmospheric scenes work well, despite the cast all sounding like they come from southern Philly at best. –KH

The Face Behind the Mask (Film, US, Robert Florey, 1941) Horribly burned in a rooming house fire on his first day in America, immigrant watchmaker Janos Szabo (Peter Lorre) turns his skills to crime – until he meets a blind girl (Evelyn Keyes) who loves him. Lorre and Keyes’ performances keep this entirely rote formula flim interesting, if seldom compelling, until a hard, hard fourth-act turn lifts you out of your seat. –KH

Smooth as Silk (Film, US, Charles Barton, 1946) Egotistical lawyer Mark Fenton (Kent Taylor) watches his actress girlfriend Paula Marlowe (Virginia Gray) social-climb out of his orbit – and resolves to bring her down. A fine crime story casts ample shadows and intriguing character bits, but actually needs another 20 minutes to grow it into a truly first-rate film. Sadly, it was a B-picture, so it didn’t get them. –KH

The Sniper (Film, US, Edward Dmytryk, 1952) Dry-cleaner delivery man Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz) resents women, and a callous system tumbles him into serially shooting them. Magnificent San Francisco location shots and a world-weary Adolphe Menjou as the detective hunting him (named Frank Kafka for no reason) redeem a relatively unadorned narrative. Richard Kiley plays the psychiatrist whose “sympathetic” solution apparently involves mandatory mass institutionalization. –KH

The Trip (Film, Norway, Tommy Wirkola, 2021) Disaffected couple (Noomi Rapace, Aksel Hennie) go to the cabin for a weekend, each planning to kill the other, only to be interrupted by a trio of escaped convicts. Sags in the second act, as it resets from a fresh premise to an overly familiar one, picking up steam again with the over-the-topness of its gory finish.—RDL

Okay

So Dark the Night (Film, US, Joseph H. Lewis, 1946) In the French country town of St.-Margot to relax from overwork, Sûreté detective Henri Cassin (Steven Geray) falls in love and finds a murder he can’t seem to solve. The relentless cheapness of the production matches the uninspired story; only Burnett Guffey’s rich noir cinematography makes it at all worth seeking out. –KH

Southside 1-1000 (Film, US, Boris Ingster, 1950) Secret Service agent Riggs (Don DeFore) hunts a crew of counterfeiters as a narrator intones the virtues of sound currency. Nobody involved quite overcomes the inertia of the pseudo-documentary format, although occasionally Andrea King gives it a sly college try as the head of the gang. –KH

Not Recommended

The Cruel Tower (Film, US, Lew Landers, 1956) Beaten up by hobos, acrophobic lunk Tom Kittredge (John Ericson) falls in with a steeplejack crew run by surly “Stretch” Clay (Charles McGraw) – and with Stretch’s girl Mary (Mari Blanchard). Absolutely rote film on every level does nothing with its thin premise. The highlight is a big scar on Alan Hale Jr.’s head. –KH

Dr. Broadway (Film, US, Anthony Mann, 1942) Dr. Tim Kane (Macdonald Carey), beloved by the denizens of Broadway, gets in hot water when he saves a phony suicide (Jean Phillips) and gets framed for murder by conniving clothier-gang boss Venner (J. Carroll Naish). Between the sycophantically boosterish script and Carey’s smug performance, we spent the whole film wanting to punch the ostensible hero so very much. A very few touches show the genius Mann would become. –KH

Fascinatingly Terrible

House of Gucci (Film, US, Ridley Scott, 2021) Ambitious accountant for her family’s trucking firm (Lady Gaga) creates a monster when she woos an awkward member of a fabled fashion clan (Adam Driver) and kindles his suppressed interest in the business. A glorious epic of misjudged kitsch, with a tone constantly crossing over the center line between intentional satire and ridiculous seriousness. Driver somehow never puts a foot wrong as all around him go back for second and third helpings of ham. Worth sitting through the 2 hour 38 min run time for the spectacle of a prosthetics-buried Jared Leto valiantly attempting to out-overact Al Pacino.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cairo Noir, A Classic British Heist, and an Iconic Hong Kong Director

August 30th, 2022 | 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 Nile Hilton Incident (Film, Denmark, Tarik Saleh, 2017) As protests begin to simmer against the Mubarak regime, a Cairo cop (Fares Fares) enmeshed in his department’s pervasive corruption investigates the murder of a singer in a posh hotel. Realist cop drama twists its way deeper into noir territory, placing classic motifs of the sub-genre in a bracing new social and political context.—RDL

Recommended

In the Name of the Italian People (Film, Italy, Dino Risi, 1971) Incorruptible magistrate (Ugo Tognazzi) pursues a motormouthed right-wing industrialist (Vittorio Gassman) he suspects of involvement in a call girl’s death. Satirical investigative drama casts a despairing eye at a society built on the shaky foundations of endemic corruption.—RDL

Keep Rolling (Film, Hong Kong, Lim Chung Man, 2020) Documentary profiles Ann Hui, groundbreaking director of the Hong Kong new wave, revealing the much-awarded filmmaker as a person who has doggedly endured hand-to-mouth finances and a career of ups and downs to stick to her uncomfortable subject matter and bleak vision of life.—RDL

The League of Gentlemen (Film, UK, Basil Dearden, 1960) Retired Lt.-Col. Hyde (Jack Hawkins) recruits a team of ex-Army officers for a bank robbery. Slowly ratcheting plot tension provides throughline and direction to a film fundamentally about changing class, gender, and sexual mores in postwar Britain. Dearden shows his usual effortless command of space and quick sympathy to character throughout, while creating a foundational heist film. –KH

Love After Love (Film, China, Ann Hui, 2020) In prewar Hong Kong, a naive poor relation (Sichun Ma) moves into the splendid household of her worldly, seductive aunt (Feihong Yu) and falls for a handsome young cad (Eddie Peng.) Sumptuously abetted by the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto and photography of Christopher Doyle, this novel adaptation deals in the beguiling surfaces of melodrama while favoring emotional realism over contrived catharsis.—RDL

Good

Bodies Bodies Bodies (Film, US, Halina Reijn, 2022) Rich girl Sophie (Amandla Sternberg) brings her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to a hurricane party in an isolated mansion … and then the killings began. Reijn ambitiously wanted to make both a Gen-Z rich-kid comedy of manners and a slasher flick and winds up getting about 75% of the way to each goal. Pete Davidson heads a cast similarly balanced between “watchable and intriguing” and “I want them to get killed please.” –KH

Okay

Day Shift (Film, US, J.J. Perry, 2022) Vampire hunter Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx, relentless charisma muffled by dire byplay) needs to score 10 large in a week so he has to rejoin the, uh, Wobblies. Yes in this world the I.W.W. is the vampire hunters’ union, and pays much better money for kills. Sadly this tension between syndicalism and capitalism goes unexplored, along with everything else potentially interesting. Stunt work and fights are good, albeit ridiculously low-stakes (heh) in a world where nothing feels real except the well-observed location shots in the San Fernando Valley. –KH

Isabella (Film, Argentina, Matías Piñeiro, 2020) A challenging audition for a production of Measure for Measure causes an actor (Marįa Vilar) to reconsider her ambitions. Chronologically fragmented narrative appears to offer a puzzle and thus promise a resolution, but only elides its low dramatic stakes.-—RDL

Schedule Announced for First Annual Robin and Valerie International Film Festival

August 24th, 2022 | Robin

Robin presents a Ken and Robin Consume Media Special Feature

Last year my wife Valerie and I concluded the second at-home edition of the long-running Toronto International Film Festival by deciding to break up with it entirely. Briefly, the cost in money, effort and frustration of doing the festival full-out, as we have since 1986, has steadily gone up over the years. With the growth of streaming bringing home access to titles that would previously have been inaccessible outside the festival circuit, we realized that we could program a personalized fest that would be less grueling, cheaper, and, above all, would include more bangers and fewer duds than the experience we’d be emulating. For us it’s never been about seeing things before anyone else does. A film we dig from 2019 or 2021 is no less rewarding than one that won’t hit theaters until 2023.

Plus, when my programming chops fail me, we can bail on a title and pick one of the many options on my backup list. It’s like the very old days of TIFF, when it was called the Festival of Festivals, where passholders could jump out of movies that weren’t working for them, riffle through their program books in search of something more promising, and beetle off to a different screening entirely.

In addition to the option of hitting the pause button whenever one of us starts to fall asleep, the RVIFF offers another advantage. Instead of telling you about movies you’ll probably have forgotten about by the time you can actually see them, I can point you to ones you can watch right now. Provided that the gods of territorial rights distribution smile upon you.

I’ve chosen 45 films in the spirit of the TIFFs of yore, reflecting their programming mix and what we would make of it in narrowing down their 250+ titles into our personal lists. Which would then be shifted about to accommodate the vagaries of venues, screening times, and the need to squeeze in food breaks. With a bias toward titles released in the last few years, that means works by favorite directors, international cinema, elevated genre, and the cult movies you’d see in TIFF’s vaunted Midnight Madness program. The fave directors program includes recent titles art house aficionados well may have seen already, including some of Ken’s recent recommendations. Since the RVIFF allows me to cheat and pick only acclaimed titles, I’ve made more Canadian selections that I would dare include at TIFF.

Our festival runs on the same dates as TIFF, from the evening of Thursday September 8th to Sunday September 18th. Having read this far, I’m sure you’ve decided to cancel all other plans to watch all of these films along with us, exactly when we watch them. Download the RVIFF 2022 schedule, timed to the minute.

Thanks to actual demand, you can take this even further by picking up festival merch!

I have chosen titles either on subscription platforms or available for regular priced rental here in Canada. My sources are Apple rental, Crave, Criterion, Google rental, Kanopy, MUBI, Netflix, Prime, and, to throw in a wrench, TVO. Availability in your territory will surely vary. Start your search for title availability and platform at JustWatch.com, which covers plenty of regions. (But does not list Kanopy titles, so you’ll have to search there if you’re using that library-based service.)

Because I was just joking about you actually wanting the full schedule, here’s a list of titles, in the order RVIFF will be screening them. I haven’t yet seen any of these films, so let’s hope I got the descriptions right without giving myself any spoilers. I’ll revise them when I discover that I’ve gotten t something completely wrong, as I did with Scarborough.

My Name Is Gulpilil (Australia, Molly Reynolds, 2021) Biographical documentary profiles iconic Australian actor David Gulpilil.

Scarborough (Canada, Shasha Nakhai & Rich Williamson, 2021) Social realist ensemble drama centering on the role a literacy drop-in center plays for struggling families.

Coppers (Canada, Alan Zweig, 2019) Documentary interviews reveal the lives of retired police officers.

Hive (Kosovo, Blerta Basholli, 2021) Kosovo war widows set up empowering pepper sauce collective.

Sheep Without a Shepherd (China, Sam Quah, 2019) Ordinary citizen is caught in the crosshairs when his daughter kills her abuser, the son of a corrupt police chief (Joan Chen.)

Crimes of the Future (Canada, David Cronenberg, 2022) Performance artists expand the limits of the flesh.

Nomad: in the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (UK, Werner Herzog, 2019) Herzog recalls his friendship with the Australian travel writer Bruce Chatwin via another of his distinctive documentary journeys.

Hey There! (Turkey, Reha Erdem, 2021) Pandemic forces scammers to work from home. Comedy.

Fagara (Hong Kong, Heiward Mak, 2019) Young woman (Sammi Cheng) reunites with estranged sisters to settle their father’s debts.

Night Raiders (Canada, Danis Goulet, 2021) Cree woman reluctantly unites with a resistance cell of fellow tribe members to rescue her daughter from a totalitarian military academy.

Benedetta (France/Belgium/Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven, 2021) 17th century nun’s erotic visions wreak havoc.

Good Manners (Brazil, Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, 2017) Lycanthropy complicates the bond between a lonely nurse and her wealthy, pregnant employer.

Holy Emy (Greece, Araceli Lemos, 2021) Filipino woman in Greece develops a strange condition that might be linked to her mother’s paranormal healing abilities.

Eyimofe (This is My Desire) (Nigeria, Arie Esiri & Chuko Esiri, 2020) Unknown to one another, two Nigerians seek new lives in Europe.

Bergman Island (France, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2021) Married filmmakers (Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps) seek inspiration at Ingmar Bergman’s isolated retreat.

Baby Assassins (Japan, Yugo Sakamoto, 2021) Teen killers who hate each other are ordered to room together.

Twilight’s Kiss (Hong Kong, Ray Yeung, 2019) Closeted gay men face the rigors of age in Hong Kong.

Zero Fucks Given (France, Julie Lecoustre & Emmanuel Marre, 2019) Despite her desires to lose herself in distractions, a young flight attendant for a budget airline is forced to seek promotion.

Red Rocket (US, Sean Baker, 2021) A shady porn actor descends on his old hometown.

Midnight (South Korea, Oh-Seung Kwon, 2021) Serial killer pursues deaf witness.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Romania, Radu Jude, 2021) A teacher defends herself when a sex tape is leaked to the Internet. Comedy.

A Family (Japan, Michihito Fujii, 2020) Young man turns to a yakuza boss as a father figure.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same (Japan, Joe Odagiri, 2019) Elderly ferryman in Meiji Japan faces the obsolescence of his trade. Photographed by Christopher Doyle.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (South Korea, Lee Won-tae, 2019) Gangster and cop team up to hunt serial killer.

The Other Side of Hope (Finland, Aki Kaurismaki, 2019) Syrian refugee meets man whose midlife crisis has driven him to purchase an unpopular restaurant.

Alone with Her Dreams (Italy, Paolo Licata, 2019) A child must stay with her stern grandmother in Sicily.

The Legend of Tomiris (Kazakhstan, Akan Satayev, 2019) Scythian queen rises to power.

The Worst Person in the World (Norway, Joachim Trier, 2021) A young woman’s tumultuous love life unfolds over a four year period.

Double Lover (France, Francois Ozon, 2017) Young woman falls in love with her analyst, who is not what he seems.

The Trouble with You (France, Pierre Salvadori, 2018) Comic chaos ensues when a cop tries to redeem the corrupt acts of her late police chief husband.

Gagarine (France, Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh, 2020) Kid fights for his housing project.

Heavy Trip (Finland, Juuso Laatio & Jukka Vidgren, 2018) Metalheads take a last shot at success. Comedy.

Drive My Car (Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021) Actor hires twenty-something as his driver.

El Planeta (Spain, Amalia Ulman, 2021) Mother daughter team engages in a series of grifts.

The Spy Gone North (South Korea, Yoon Jong-bin, 2021) Secret agent infiltrates North Korean spy ring in Beijing.

Neither Heaven Nor Earth (France, Clément Cogitore, 2015) Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan encounter a supernatural foe.

Parallel Mothers (Spain, Pedro Almodovar, 2021) Two very different women bond after giving birth on the same day.

Plaza Catedral (Panama, Abner Benaim, 2021) Grieving mom protects street kid suffering from a gun shot.

Zombie for Sale (South Korea, Lee Min-jae, 2020) Family seeks to turn its possession of an undead corpse into a money-making opportunity.

Strawberry Mansion (US, Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney, 2021) Dream auditor moves through a woman’s dreamscape.

Petite Maman (France, Céline Sciamma, 2021) A young girl finds a playmate, to whom she has an unexpected tie.

Peace by Chocolate (Canada, Jonathan Keijser, 2021) Syrian refugees start new life, and chocolate business, in small town Nova Scotia.

Snowflake (Germany, Adolfo J. Kolmerer, 2017) Crooks discover that a screenplay is predicting their future actions.

The Paper Tigers (US, Quoc Bao Tran, 2020) Middle aged martial artists reunite to avenge their sifu. Comedy.

Official Competition (Spain, Mariano Cohn & Gastón Duprat, 2021) Rich man hires director to make a hit movie. With Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.

As with TIFF, I’ll be sharing daily capsule reviews, wrapping up the festival with a round-up of those reviews, and discussing the more geek-forward titles with Ken in a Cinema Hut segment on the show.

Thanks to all the programmers who set the mold for TIFF throughout its long history and whose tastes live on RVIFF, and my work in general, in particular: Colin Geddes, Steve Gravestock, Giovanna Fulvi, Diana Sanchez, Cameron Bailey, Piers Handling, Peter Kuplowsky, and the late Ramiro Puerta and David Overbey.—RDL


If you enjoy this RVIFF series and don’t yet do so, consider supporting the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. 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.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Prey, Backflipping Pigeons, and Coastline-Ravaging Giant Rodents

August 23rd, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

Clytaemnestra (Film, South Korea, 2021) Young actor (Haru Kim) in Athens to rehearse a production of the Oresteia becomes the scapegoat of its bullying director (Jongman Kim.) Intimate realist drama paints a pointillistic portrait of—classicists, you’re ahead of me on this one—simmering female rage.—RDL

Pigeon Kings (Film, US, Milena Pastreich, 2020) Duo of South Central L.A. residents vies for honors in the heartbreaking sport of Birmingham roller racing, in which a flock of pigeons is released and must stay airborne for twenty minutes while performing a maximum number of the backwards flips their inbred genetic defect predisposes them to. Documentary attentively captures small human moments as well as the existential questions raised by an activity that encourages obsessive efforts to exert control over a highly variable, entirely random event.—RDL

Prey (Film, US, Dan Trachtenberg, 2022) A young Comanche woman’s (Amber Midthunder) eagerness to prove herself as a hunter faces the ultimate test in the form of an alien equipped with a deadly array of super-technological devices. Brilliantly conceived, leanly executed Predator prequel anchored by what one hopes is a starmaking lead performance.—RDL

Puzzle for Players (Fiction, Patrick Quentin, 1938) Recovering alcoholic Broadway producer Peter Duluth finds himself with a haunted theater, burgeoning romance, neurotic actors, an odious photographer, and suspicious cops – plus murder – endangering his comeback production. Extraordinary combination of bitterness and creepiness sets the tone for this remarkable mystery, in which the actual detecting gets done by a psychiatrist and the success of the play grips the reader as much as the solution to the crime. –KH

Rodents of Unusual Size (Film, US, Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler & Jeff Springer, 2017) Documentary follows the campaign to control Louisiana’s population of nutria, coastline-ravaging, bridge-undermining imported giant rodents. With a affectionate eye toward people and their lives, the filmmakers look at the paradoxes of an environmental catastrophe stemming from a series of human decisions—the final straw being the victories of the anti-fur movement.—RDL

Good

Double Wedding (Film, US, Richard Thorpe, 1937) Uptight fashion tycoon (Myrna Loy) attempts to break her malleable sister’s infatuation with a free-spirited artist (William Powell), only to fall for him herself. Thoroughly Americanized adaptation of a Molnar play suffers from overegged direction but is redeemed by the classic chemistry of its leads.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Sandman, Prey, and a Rock Journalism Icon

August 16th, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

Prey (Film, US, Dan Trachtenberg, 2022) In 1719 Wyoming, young Comanche woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) attempts the ceremonial hunt of an unknown invisible monster. This installment of the Predator series (for indeed it is he) works so well and so naturally not just because of the great monster-hunting set-pieces but because the natural, vivid character building of Naru and her brother (Dakota Beavers) also build the reality of the frontier world the Predator irrupts into. Easily the second-best of the series. –KH

The Sandman Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer & Allan Heinberg, 2022) Freed after more than a century of earthly captivity, the king of dreams (Tom Sturridge) repairs his neglected realm and hunts for its escaped inhabitants, most notably the serial killer called the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook.) A cornerstone of Gen X geek culture receives a thoughtfully crafted prestige television treatment, wisely adapting two of the comics series arcs instead of interminably dragging out the first one. Sturridge embodies his role so well that I caught myself thinking, “Wow, his walk is exactly like in the comics.”—RDL

Good

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres (Film, US, Suzanne Kai, 2021) Appropriately admiring documentary profiles the groundbreaking rock journalist and editor, depicting him as a talented, disciplined mensch and trailblazer for the Chinese-American community.—RDL

Penthouse (Film, US, W. S. van Dyke, 1933) Aided by a virtuous bad girl (Myrna Loy), a maverick defense attorney fights to clear his ex-fiancee’s new beau of a bogus murder charge. Investigative lawyer crime drama rises above its routine script through zippy direction and Loy’s screen magnetism.—RDL

Okay

Foreign Intrigue (Film, US, Sheldon Reynolds, 1956) Self-assured PR man (Robert Mitchum) investigates the source of his mysterious dead client’s mysterious wealth. Alternately compelling and awkward Hitchcockian spy flick. Make the client a vampire and you have a great premise for a Night’s Black Agents Solo Ops scenario.—RDL

Not Recommended

Historical Atlas of the World (Nonfiction, Ludwig Könemann (ed.), 2010) Constructed pedagogically, its 1,200 maps dropping from general overview to increasingly specific (especially in Europe, where almost every country gets mapped back to antiquity, but about a third of the maps cover non-European countries), anchored by timelines and brief encyclopedia entries, this should have been great. However somewhere between Slovakian mappers, German editors, and English translators, an enormous number of mistakes appear: its best pedagogical use would be to turn a class of bright high-schoolers loose on it to correct every error of fact or misprision of style. For extra credit they could suggest and draw useful maps omitted to make room for the third or fourth depiction of the Frankish successor kingdoms. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Princess, The Gray Man and Philo Vance

August 2nd, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

Hollywood’s Eve (Nonfiction, Lili Anolik, 2019) Biography of L.A. writer, scenester and sexual adventuress Eve Babitz alludes to her unconventional approach to prose and structure without pastiching it, thank goodness. Dives deeper than the copious spicy anecdotes to find the pathos in a figure who did her best to elude it.—RDL

House (Film, Japan, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Seven schoolgirls impulsively decide to vacation in the remote house of an aunt (Yoko Minamida), unaware of the supernatural peril therein. The film careens wildly between cheesy-seeming set pieces of giddy child-fantasy and giallo-ish grand guignol. Not always successful even on its own terms but never boring or predictable, not least because Obayashi faithfully transcribes his pre-teen daughter’s fears onto film. –KH

The Moai Island Puzzle (Fiction, Alice Arisugawa, 1989) Three collegiate mystery fans come to a remote island to find a hidden treasure in diamonds – but find murder as well. After a slow-ish introductory act, this seminal shin honkaku mystery builds and braids its puzzles and relationships while maintaining a creepy neo-Gothic tone throughout. The bravura solution comes a bit out of the blue, but Christie would have happily used it. –KH

The Princess (Film, US, Lee Van-Kiet, 2022) Determined princess (Joey King) uses her secret fighting skills to battle her way out of captivity and marriage to a loathsome would-be usurper (Dominic Cooper.) The spirit of 80s Hong Kong lives, courtesy of Van-Kiet, who cut his teeth in the Vietnamese action flick scene and makes a credible, acrobatic action hero and ultra-violent Disney princess out of King.—RDL

Good

The Gray Man (Film, US, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2022) Deniable CIA killer Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) must evade sociopathic “contractor” Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), tasked by the CIA to kill him. Gosling’s charming channeling of Alain Delon, and three remarkable action set pieces (of five) excitingly filmed in part by drones, drag this extremely, aggressively stupid cliché charcuterie over the line into Good. Not the least of its stupidities: mostly wasting Ana de Armas, who already proved she could more than hold her own in spy action as by far the least-bad thing in the latest Bond. –KH

The Greene Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1928) Forced to cohabitate in their ancestral New York mansion by the patriarch’s will, the Greene family falls victim to a series of murders. After a good deal of persiflage and dramatics, Philo Vance solves the case. In 1945, John Dickson Carr ranked this as among the ten best mystery novels. Even in 1945 that was probably a stretch, but the solution (while not strictly fair-play) is tremendously ingenious. –KH

Okay

The Bishop Murder Case and The Scarab Murder Case (Fiction, S.S. Van Dine, 1929 and 1930) A nursery-rhyme-minded serial killer stalks a pair of households on Riverside Drive, and a statue of Sekhmet seemingly kills the millionaire patron of an Egyptologist’s museum. In both cases, Philo Vance solves the crimes after far too much arch fiddle-faddle and showing off: as Ogden Nash wrote, “Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance.” The Scarab Murder Case adds oblivious racism to its other failings, but both novels contain arresting scenes when Van Dine lets the action speak for itself without overheated narration. –KH

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Nope, Early Sun-Baked Noirs, and the Secret History of TSR

July 26th, 2022 | 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.

Recommended

Barry Season 3 (Television, US, HBO, Bill Hader and Alec Berg, 2022) As avenging relatives of his past victims come out of the woodwork, Barry (Hader) tries to atone with Gene (Henry Winkler) by reviving his self-sabotaged acting career. In a finely calibrated tonal adjustment, the gloom of purgatory settles on the protagonists as they discover the price of redemption.—RDL

Desert Fury (Film, US, Lewis Allen, 1947) Resisting the control of her domineering casino operator mother (Mary Astor), a restless young woman (Lizabeth Scott) brushes off the interest of a handsome deputy (Burt Lancaster) for the worldly charms of a gambler (John Hodiak) newly returned to her desert town. Early example of sun-baked noir focuses on psychological drama and a not so subtextual gay subtext.—RDL

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (Television, US, Netflix, Rachel Dretzin & Grace McNally, 2022) Documentary series exposes the depredations of polygamous cult leader Warren Jeffs and lauds the courage of the young women who escaped their insular community and fought to expose him. In addition to putting the spotlight back on the heroes of the story and establishing the psychodynamics of cult control,  this documentary series paints the full spectrum of Jeffs’ stunning arch-criminality.—RDL

Nope (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2022) A UFO haunts the failing Hollywood horse ranch run by siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Palmer). Both the horror and the Western in this horror Western work, often magnificently but not quite in harness. Peele’s high concept – a Western where the gaze is the gun – could fuel a dozen films, it’s so strong. Kaluuya’s laconic performance as the slow-burning OJ channels Gary Cooper, also magnificently; Steven Yuen kills in a smaller part as a traumatized former child actor. –KH

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons (Nonfiction, Ben Riggs, 2022) Working from original documents, sales figures, and interviews, Riggs assembles the first comprehensive history of TSR’s fall and rise and fall from 1983-ish to 1997, i.e., the Lorraine Williams Era. More sympathetic to Williams than most outsiders (and insiders), Riggs provides a needed corrective to the smog of fantasy surrounding the death of the great red dragon. –KH

Good

The River’s Edge (Film, US, Allan Dwan, 1957) When the cultured bunco man (Ray Milland) she loves shows up to claim the dissatisfied wife (Debra Paget) of a failing rancher (Anthony Quinn), he accepts the offer of a big fee to smuggle them across the border into Mexico. Sun-baked noir makes sweaty use of the murderous love triangle motif.—RDL

Okay

Black Widow (Film, US, Nunnally Johnson, 1954) When the ambitious young woman he unwisely allowed the run of his apartment in his wife’s absence is found hanged in his shower, a tough-minded Broadway producer (Van Heflin) goes on the lam to clear his name. Gene Tierney and Ginger Rogers fill out the cast in a Technicolor murder mystery briefly enlivened by sequences in which the Wrong Man protagonist flirts with a brutal psychotic break.—RDL

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stranger Things, Ms. Marvel, Thor and Kingdom

July 19th, 2022 | Robin

Recommended

Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 (Television, South Korea, Netflix, Kim Eun-hee, 2020-2021) Endangered, idealistic Crown Prince in a fictionalized 17th century discovers a link between the ambitious clan that controls the country and an outbreak of a plague that turns people into flesh-eating monsters. Smart blend of the horror and Joseon court intrigue genres cleverly writes its zombie rules to balance the two elements of its mash-up. The script is especially good at making us think we are one step ahead of it when actually we are right where it wants us.—RDL

Ms. Marvel Season 1 (Television, US, Disney+, Bisha K. Ali, 2022) Irrepressible, superhero-besotted New Jersey teen (Iman Vellani) discovers she has forcefield powers, granted her by a bangle connected to a family secret and the Partition of India. Vellani’s preternatural charm, and the focus on the family story over a worldshaking villain arc, make for the most consistent and satisfying MCU+ show to date.—RDL

Stranger Things Season 4 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2022) As the gang back home in Hawkins encounters a murderous inhuman wizard they nickname Vecna, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) uneasily reunites with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) to recover the powers she’ll need to stop him. Yes, the C-plot that sidelines the adults so they can’t solve the kids’ problem is almost purely dead weight, but the main action successfully recaptures the Carpenter-esque tone of the first two seasons, with plenty of GUMSHOE-esque horror investigation along the wayt.—RDL

Triple Agent (Film, France/Greece/Italy/Russia/Spain, Éric Rohmer, 2004) Exiled White Russian intelligence chief Fyodor Voronin (Serge Renko) keeps his artist wife Arsinoé (Katerina Didaskalou), and thus the audience, in the dark about his activities and allegiance in late-1930s Paris. Rohmer adapts the Miller-Skoblin case to his perennial theme of words not matching actions – and since the only thing we see Voronin do is talk, it becomes quite a gripping ride for something that barely leaves a domestic interior set. –KH

Good

The Gold Watch (Fiction, Paul Halter, 2019) Three mysterious killings (in 1901, 1911, and the 1960s) overlap with each other, and with a blocked French playwright in 1991, linked by a gold watch, a half-recalled film noir, an invisible color, and The King in Yellow. The 1911 case, solved by Halter’s series detective Owen Burns, is a classic (and terrific) Carr-style impossible crime; the others are more impressionistic or existential. I was hoping for a fully rational connection between the threads, but didn’t get it — if I reread this knowing it’s not there, I’ll probably like it better. –KH

Okay

Thor: Love and Thunder (Film, US, Taika Waititi, 2022) Drawn back to Earth by the depredations of the God Butcher (Christian Bale), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) catches up with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is also Thor. Decent bits (Bale and Portman, mostly) float in a sea of gags left way too long and crafted far too little. Even the jokes that work merely undercut any real stakes or meaning. The less said about the CGI the better, but it’s telling that Waititi’s mock-Snyder battle in the Shadow Realm is the only fight that doesn’t look like murky garbage. –KH

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