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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Thunder God, Fairy Enchantress, Weresquito

November 7th, 2017 | 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Stranger Things Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, The Duffer Brothers, 2017) Mixing James Cameron into their Carpenter-Spielberg blend, the Duffer Brothers aim for Aliens or Terminator 2 but don’t quite manage to make an 80s sequel that equals the first installment. Like Aliens, it swaps in action beats for Season 1’s paranoia and the uncanny, not a net gain. The story spreads a little thinner this time, but the characters remain both colorful period types and well and sympathetically drawn humans, which counts for a lot. Extra points of course for including 80s Chicago as the nexus of adventure that it was, even if that episode (like most of the Eleven storyline) could have been stronger. –KH

Wu Yen (Film, Hong Kong, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2001) Feckless Emperor Qi (Anita Mui) and gallant swordswoman Wu Yen (Sammi Cheng) accidentally release the Fairy Enchantress (Cecilia Cheung), who interferes with their destined love by pitching woo to both of them. To’s journey into the crowd-pleasing schtick of the New Year’s comedy pays homage to a Chinese opera genre where women play the male leads as well as the female ones. Bundles clowning, gender gyrations, songs, martial arts, shadow puppets, and of course the semiotically essential fart gags.—RDL

Good

From the Lives of Marionettes (Film, Germany, Ingmar Bergman, 1980) Flashbacks and police interviews probe the motivations of a businessman who fantasized about killing his wife but instead murdered a prostitute. Deliberately uncinematic, dialogue-driven inquiry into the impossibility of human understanding finds Bergman at his most acidic and unsparing. Feel the pain of cinematographer Sven Nykvist, clearly instructed to strip every image of his trademark luminosity.—RDL

Joan Didion: the Center Does Not Hold (Film, US, Griffin Dunne, 2017) Loving documentary portrait of the essayist, novelist and screenwriter finds its emotional core in the personal losses explored in her books The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. Dunne, Didion’s nephew, enjoys access it’s hard to imagine any filmmaker getting from her, but the familiarity sometimes misses out basic story points. This would really benefit from the absolutely conventional talking heads montage at the beginning, for example, where we are told who the subject is and why she is important.—RDL

Thor: Ragnarok (Film, US, Taika Waititi, 2017) When Hela (Cate Blanchett) invades Asgard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must act by going on a road-movie tour through about three signature Marvel stories including Planet Hulk for some reason. The best of the Thor movies, this one finally gets a perfect mix of science, magic, and beautiful pointlessness for Asgard, possibly thanks to the Mark Mothersbaugh synth score. Tessa Thompson’s feisty Valkyrie is great, as is Jeff Goldblum’s camp Grandmaster. That said, Waititi’s comic timing is uneven at best, the script loses steam and tension repeatedly, and Bing and Bob Thor and Loki are not. –KH

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter (Film, US, Christopher R. Mihm, 2016) After surviving Nazi experiments that turned him into the titular were-mosquito, John Baker (Douglas Sidney) hunts the mad scientist who created him. This no-budget black-and-white flick suffers from really terrible acting from the villain, but plays itself refreshingly straight rather than straining for tiresomely ironic camp effect. This could easily be a lost AIP monster three-reeler, although even Samuel Z. Arkoff would probably have sprung for an actual diner set. –KH

Okay

Brooklyn (Film, Ireland, John Crowley, 2015) Young Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) adjusts to a new life in the US. Affectingly acted comfort movie doesn’t introduce any real conflict until the beginning of the third act.—RDL

Guilty of Romance (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2011) A housewife’s frustration with her distant, austere author husband make her easy prey for a professor who moonlights as a prostitute and her pimp. Starts as psychological realism and escalates to extreme cinema, except the psychology in the ramp-up projects more male desire than credibility.—RDL

Not Recommended

Police!!! (Fiction, Robert W. Chambers, 1915) Self-regarding naturalist and oft-thwarted would-be swain Professor Percy Smith meets a series of deserved comeuppances as he investigates cryptozoological phenomena ranging from giant minnows to three-eyed men. Inexplicably titled anthology of dated buffoonery pokes fun at scientists, ad men, artists, and feminists, while resolutely not containing the menagerie of interesting creatures Ken remembers it for. Once again the proposition, “Surely in all of his prodigious output Chambers wrote something of value other than the Yellow King stories,” is answered with a resounding nope.—RDL

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