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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ken Does the Chicago Film Fest; Robin Homebrews His Own Horror Fest

October 16th, 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.

Recommended

Border (Film, Sweden, Ali Abbasi, 2018) Tina (Eva Melander) looks Neanderthal, but she can sniff out shame and fear (among other things) making her a valued customs officer — until she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff) who looks like she does. From a story by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) who also co-wrote the script, the film plays effortlessly with many different genres from policier to horror to magical realism. –KH

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” and the History of Its Publication and Reception: A Critical Edition and Documentary Casebook (Nonfiction, Julie Bates Dock, 1998) Dock provides the first-ever critical edition of Gilman’s short-story masterpiece, complete with ample documentation from Gilman’s correspondence, contemporary reviews, and a clear overview of its textual history. Mandatory reading for people who want to opine on Gilman. –KH

Liverleaf (Film, Japan, Eisuke Naitô, 2018) Bullied transfer student Haruka (Anna Yamada) finally unbottles her rage in ultraviolent revenge, revealing secrets and burying bodies in a blizzard. Based on a manga, some of the scenes are achingly beautiful — and often gory as hell. Maybe some of the story beats could have used some signals or supports, but this is ukiyo-e after all, so maybe not. –KH

The Mercy of the Jungle (Film, Belgium/France/Rwanda, Joel Karekezi, 2018) Career Rwandan Army Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga) and peasant private Faustin (Stéphane Bak), left behind during an offensive in the Second Congo War must survive the jungle, a band of rebels, and their own psyches in this effective war movie that occasionally becomes genuinely gripping. The two leads’ strong, lived-in performances give Karekezi a solid core to return to, keeping the picaresque nature of the material reined in. –KH

Needing You … (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2000) Alpha male manager Andy (Andy Lau) and manic pixie sales rep Kinki (Sammi Cheng) discover each other and their feelings thereupon in this romantic comedy paced like a car chase film. Cheng’s effortless charm carries the film despite some grating characterization, and the comic relief is mostly actually comical, which never hurts. This won’t make you fall in love with romcoms if you don’t already love them, but its lessons in pacing apply all over the dramatic spectrum. –KH

Satan’s Slaves (Film, Indonesia, Joko Anwar, 2017) After their mom dies, a quartet of young siblings fends off supernatural assaults on their ramshackle country house. Presents the now-fashionable fusion of haunted house and Satanic cult sub-genres through an Islamic cultural lens, abetted by well-crafted scares and hints of hip style.—RDL

Terrified (Film, Argentina, Demián Rugna, 2017) A police captain with cardiac problems reluctantly joins an ad hoc group of parapsychologists probing supernatural manifestations plaguing an everyday residential street. Contrast between a mundane, grounded setting and s-u-u-u-u-per creepy haunting sequences place this among the best in the occult investigator movie canon. You could easily start an Esoterrorists series by showing your players this movie and then saying, “Okay, you’re the next team to go in.”—RDL

Good

Animal (Film, Argentina/Spain, Armando Bo, 2018) A civilized man (Guillermo Francella) disintegrates when his kidney fails. Notable for the slow-motion home invasion-demonic possession story featuring the scumbag drifter with a matching blood type who extorts him, but in the end the film feels like a writer with too many directions becoming a director without a clear vision. –KH

Boys Cry (Film, Italy, Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, 2018) Vacuous losers Manolo (Andrea Carpanzano) and Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) accidentally run over a snitch, gaining them entry to a minor mafia clan and setting off a slow fuse of moral awakening. With no glamor, an overexposed palette, and lots of close-ups of the thugs, this is not a pretty mob film; your value likely depends on whether you care to identify with these accidental goombahs. –KH

Project Gutenberg (Film, Hong Kong, Felix Chong, 2018) Rejected artist (Aaron Kwok) throws in as protege to a murderous counterfeiter (Chow Yun-Fat.) Meta-minded crime drama swerves between tropes and sub-genres, logging a thrilling extended homage to A Better Tomorrow III in one of its subversions of Chow’s classic persona. –RDL

Okay

Ash is Purest White (Film, China/France, Jia Zhangke, 2018) In 2001 in the remote city of Datong, Qiao (Zhao Tao) is the girlfriend of petty mob boss Bin (Liao Fan); in 2006 she gets out of jail to find he has deserted her and she pursues him to Fangjie; in 2017 she’s back in Datong running mah-jongg waiting for him to show up. Too long to let any of the three acts work, and too invested in an unappealing Bin to be enjoyable at any length. The middle act, where Qiao rebuilds her life one grift at a time, could have been great. –KH

John Dies At the End (Film, US, Don Coscarelli, 2012) Hunky duo of amateur paranormal hunters battle a reality-altering drug and its monstrous manifestations. A shaggy dog spirit pervades this Bill & Ted meets Cronenberg action-horror comedy. Lesson: if your lead is kinda wooden, don’t put him in an extended two-hander with Paul Giamatti.—RDL

Sibel (Film, EU/Turkey, Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, 2018) In rural Turkey, the mute daughter (Damla Sönmez) of the mayor (Emin Gürsoy) communicates using an ancestral whistling language, but most of her day is spent alone hunting a wolf. Zenciri and Giovanetti want to wrap their exoticized-society girl-power movie in fairy tale clothing, but do nothing to reconcile (or play up) the conflict between the two modes. The two leads also play differently, Sönmez bordering on histrionics while Gürsoy dives deep internally; the result is four halves of two movies. –KH

Transit (Film, Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2018) To escape a France fallen to fascist invasion, Georg (Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a dead writer; while waiting in Marseille for his papers to clear, he becomes embroiled in both his lives’ complications. Moody, slightly surreal film becomes a case study in why voiceover narration is a terrible idea. –KH

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