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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Lady Gaga and the Necronomicon

October 9th, 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

A Star is Born (Film, US, Bradley Cooper, 2018) Alcoholic country-rock star (Bradley Cooper) falls for a working class waitress (Lady Gaga) who has given up on her music dreams. Cooper goes far beyond the strong performances and focus on character you expect from an actor turned director, demonstrating a full cinematic palette of composition, color, transitions and sound.—RDL

Recommended

Expect the Unexpected (Film, Hong Kong, Patrick Yau, 1998) Two HKPD cops, straight-laced Ken (Simon Yam) and loose, savvy Sam (Lau Ching-Wan) compete for the attention of a waitress (Yoyo Mung) while two gangs — one murderously competent, one bumbling — operate in her neighborhood. By turns gritty policier and amiable character piece, Yau braids the two strains, tones, and themes of his film so effortlessly that you don’t, well, expect the unexpected when they cross. –KH [Also apparently streaming now on Amazon Prime.]

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (Film, Japan, 1972, Shunya Itō) Silently defiant, ingenious inmate endures a corrupt prison system as she seeks the chance to escape and take revenge on her betraying vice cop ex. Stylistic and political radicalism justify the exploitativeness, or is it the other way around, in this lurid gut-punch of a movie. Park Chan-wook fans will recognize this as the reference point for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Caveat: If this combo of cinema’s two most problematic genres at all sounds like maybe it’s not for you, IT MOST ASSUREDLY IS NOT.—RDL

November (Film, Estonia, Rainer Sarnet, 2017) In Baroque-era rural Estonia, where the dead return periodically for dinner and farmers can turn old tools into demonic constructs, a determined peasant loves a handsome but dim neighbor who pines for a young noblewoman. Stark black and white image conjure the otherworldly quality of this earthy, eerie folk tale with touches of early Tarkovsky and the Brothers Quay.—RDL

Good

Dealt (Film, US, Luke Korem, 2017) The great risk of making a documentary about an entertainer is that the documentary pales next to the entertainment. Korem’s film about legendary card mechanic Richard Turner only really comes alive when Turner is dealing cards, or at least on screen talking about dealing cards. The human story of Turner overcoming, then accepting, his total blindness pales into conventional uplift, even with such a stubbornly individual subject. –KH

The House With a Clock in its Walls (Film, US, Eli Roth, 2018) Orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) comes to live with his eccentric magician Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in the titular house. I suspect people who haven’t read the John Bellairs masterpiece kids’ novel may enjoy this more than those of us who regret losing Bellairs’ signature childhood-fear tone for an able whack at  Amblin-meets-Harry-Potter with a side of please-let-this-be-a-franchise desperation. Cate Blanchett is a standout as the witchy neighbor Florence Zimmerman, but Kyle McLachlan sadly has less to do as revenant wizard Isaac Izard. –KH

Housewife (Film, Turkey, Can Evrenol, 2017) After her mother’s murderous rampage traumatizes her in childhood, Holly (Clementine Poidatz) finds herself a passive, frightened woman taken for granted by her artist boyfriend Tim (Ali Aksöz) and pursued by motivational cult guru Bruce (David Sakurai). This modern giallo has all the virtues (haunting score, glorious palette and production design, visceral gore) and most of the vices (misogyny (here sorta subverted) and incoherence) of that genre. –KH

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Bullied high schooler becomes passively complicit when his tormentors, forced to hang out with him, capture a CHUD-like cannibal humanoid who used to be a young girl. Less a scary movie than a grim parable of power and cruelty filled with gore and horror motifs.—RDL

Necronomicon: The Book of Hell (Film, Argentina, Marcelo Schapces, 2018) When his neighbor the immortal protector of the Necronomicon dies, Buenos Aires National Library librarian Luis (Diego Velazquez) gets pulled into the resulting apocalypse. Individual shots and scenes work well, but the plot loses its thread early and never recovers; a clever invocation of Borges barely transcribes this film into Good. –KH

Okay

Corpse (Film, US, Christopher Ernst, 2018) Jealous cousin of a reality star Hillary Castaigne (Cara Loften) seeks fame while her model girlfriend Tess (Marion Le Coguic) falls victim to DNA rewritten by bioinformatician Boris (Doug Goldring) in this melange of Chambers’ Carcosa Mythos stories. I truly admire the notion of turning The King in Yellow into an art film, but Ernst’s reach pretty clearly exceeds his grasp here. The juxtapositions don’t create, they only confuse, and the story threads remain both uneven and unfinished. If you are a Carcosaholic, call it Worth Watching While Doing Something Else. –KH

Rules of Ruin (Film, Mexico, Victor Osuna, 2018) Workaholic translator Minerva (Yunuen Pardo) takes on the job of translating the titular grimoire, and invites possession and haunting by the Ancients. The human core story and Pardo’s dedicated performance keep you invested through a by-the-numbers plot, but the film doesn’t do what it could with the horror element, settling for by-the-numbers menace. –KH

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