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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Tree Ninjas are the Worst

January 24th, 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

Five Element Ninjas (Film, HK, Chang Cheh, 1982) Martial artist vows revenge after invading ninjas use their elusive weapons to slaughter his master and comrades. Cheh, the Paul Schrader of the Shaw Brothers directing stable, takes overtly silly subject matter, with gold lamé ninjas and ninjas in tree costumes, and, aided by gallons of bright red stage blood, infuses it with his trademark doom, rage, and bodily mortification. Showcases top-notch acrobatics work with a hint here and there of the wire fu era that is just about to dawn.—RDL

It’s Love I’m After (Film, US, Archie Mayo, 1937) Caddish stage star (Leslie Howard) risks his fiery relationship with his leading lady (Bette Davis) by agreeing to disabuse a flighty heiress (Olivia de Havilland) of her infatuation with him. Witty dialogue delivered at requisite rattling speed by a cast you don’t associate with screwball comedy.—RDL

Girlfriends (Film, US, Claudia Weil, 1978) Aspiring photographer (Melanie Mayron) sinks into a funk when her best friend moves out of their shared apartment to get married. A winning slice of life that finds its charm in the real rather than the cute and quirky. Remains hugely influential on the indie movie style.–RDL

Leviathan (Film, Russia, Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)  Hard-drinking mechanic fights to stop corrupt mayor from expropriating his home—but forget it, Jake, it’s northern Russia. Majestically shot telling of the Job set story in a moral universe where God either doesn’t exist or has been bought off by the authorities. Though it doesn’t remotely smack of horror or the supernatural, H. P. Lovecraft would nod his head at the cosmic proportion of its bleakness.—RDL

Luke Cage Season 1 (TV, US, Netflix, 2016) Bulletproof dishwasher just wants to mind his own business in his new Harlem digs, but steps up to embrace his inner hero against the politically connected gangsters keeping the people down. Most of the nods to black history and culture that lend this its own distinct vibe among Marvel shows appear right in the text, but the biggest influence can be found in its adoption of the color palette, foregrounded music score and floaty pacing of early Spike Lee. I kept waiting for the tracking shot where Luke and Misty stand on the moving dolly while they trade information about Diamondback.—RDL

Silence (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2016) Two Jesuit priests, Frs. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) go to Japan in 1640, during the Tokugawa persecution of Christians, to discover the truth about Fr. Ferrera (Liam Neeson), who has reportedly renounced Christ. For a film called Silence there’s a whole lot of voiceover, and Andrew Garfield is so much weaker than Adam Driver as an actor that even Scorsese can’t entirely save him. But when Liam Neeson reappears we get a glimpse of the Pinnacle this film could have been, and regardless of its flaws, it’s not a film you’ll forget any time soon. –KH

Silence (Film, US, Martin Scorsese, 2016) 17th century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) smuggle themselves into Japan at height of a murderous anti-Christian persecution campaign, in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson.) Based on a Shusaku Endo novel, this battle between faith and survival offers up one of the more overtly idea-driven, and thus stylistically classical, entries in the Scorsese canon.–RDL

Theeb (Film, Jordan, Naji Abu Nowar, 2014) In 1916 Theeb (Jacir Eid al-Hwietat), a young Bedouin boy, follows his brother and a mysterious English soldier into the desert and into danger. Deliberately recalling the stark, character-focused Westerns of Anthony Mann and the iconic imagery of John Ford, this Bedouin Western focuses on Theeb’s coming of age against a hazy backdrop of world war and technological change. Fortunately, Eid carries the film like a tiny Robert Duvall; the result is personal crisis made mythic. –KH

Good

The Fan-Shaped Destiny of William Seabrook (Fiction, Paul Pipkin, 2001) Aging SF fan obsessed with his lost love and William Seabrook meets a beautiful girl at WorldCon 1997 who turns out to be Seabrook’s lost love reincarnated and then it gets super weird. The hyper-fizzy potency of the high concept, and my sheer delight at someone having written a (footnoted!) literary thriller about William Seabrook and the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, keep the rating at Good. That said, it’s almost deathly talky, the Seabrook pastiches don’t really work, and the sex scenes are more than a little embarrassing. But if this is the kind of thing you like, you won’t be able to help liking this thing. –KH

Hidden Figures (Film, US, Theodore Melfi, 2016) Braided biopic follows three African-American women — math genius Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), computer pioneer Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — as they win key jobs at NASA’s Langley Research Center, overcome racism (Kirsten Dunst) and sexism (Jim Parsons), and oh yeah help John Glenn orbit the Earth. The acting is almost all top-notch (especially Monáe who more than holds her own), the score effective, and the orgy of midcentury design and space-race nostalgia everything an early-Gen-X boy could wish for. Sadly, it suffers from the set-em-up-knock-em-down rote that most biopics do, and as a triple biopic there’s no room for twists or even depth. You might say the script was pretty much … by the numbers. –KH

Okay

Furious Seven (Film, US, James Wan, 2015) Dom and the gang are back, and because Jason Statham wants to fight them, they have to get a McGuffin, requiring them to also fight Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou. Over-the-top stuntfest misses just two ingredients to fully emulate the Hong Kong action aesthetic: a Faye Wong song playing under the Paul Walker tribute montage, and actual emotion in the melodramatic bits.—RDL

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