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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Unkillable Samurai, Vengeful Ghost

October 17th, 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

Baking With Kafka (Comics, Tom Gauld, 2017) Writer jokes and strong line art, have I ever asked for anything more? The only problem with this goofy-under-staid collection is that if you have a Twitter feed full of bookish British lefties like I do, you’ve already seen about a third of them. –KH

Blade of the Immortal (Film, Japan, Takashi Miike, 2017) Unkillable samurai Manji battles the weapon masters of the antinomian Itto-ryu fencing school (and hordes of mooks) in one of the best superhero films I’ve seen since Winter Soldier. Bloody carnage, moral nuance, chambara action, nods to Leone, and did I mention bloody carnage build to a magnificent elegy for the age of heroes. Miike continues his art’s laudable climb out of nihilism in this, his 100th film. –KH

Chasing the Blues (Film, Chicago, Scott Smith, 2017) Record collector (Grant Rosenmeyer) resumes his quest for a legendary blues album the instant he gets out of prison. Likeable shaggy dog comedy gets good value from brief appearances by Jon Lovitz and Steve Guttenberg, but it’s really a fun excuse to make up a blues legend and riff on it. –KH

Faces/Places (Film, France, Agnes Varda and J.R., 2017) Famed director Varda and hipster poster artist J.R. team up and hit the road to capture and depict the stories of ordinary French people. Sweet and nice as French pastry, and nourishing as French bread, this celebration of la joie de vie makes a virtue of its fabrication, much as do the artists involved. –KH

Ghost of Yotsuya (Film, Japan, Nabuo Nakagawa, 1959) Feckless ronin’s trail of murder leads to a confrontation with vengeful ghosts. Adaptation of an oft-filmed kabuki play shifts from stately samurai drama to Hammer-like literary horror with gruesome, theatrical effects. —RDL

The Merciless (Film, South Korea, Byun Sung-hyun, 2017) Undercover cop infiltrates a smuggling ring in Busan, but this being an Asian film, finds himself ever-closer friends with his gangster target. Tiny script wobble in the last act can’t erase the control and ease of the direction, or the power of the acting. –KH

Thoroughbreds (Film, US, Cory Finley, 2017) Teenage Connecticut rich girls Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) find friendship in sociopathy and plot the murder of Lily’s odious stepfather. Finley’s playwriting experience pays off in a taut script perfectly played by his two leads and Anton Yelchin as a lower-class drug dealer whose moral compass maybe hasn’t corroded completely. –KH

The Weird and the Eerie (Nonfiction, Mark Fisher, 2016) Fisher’s last book is a brief introduction-by-case-study to the concepts of the weird (“that which does not belong”) and the eerie (“a failure of absence or a failure of presence”), running from their exemplars (Lovecraft and M.R. James) through H.G. Wells, The Fall, Dick, and Lynch and through Kneale, du Maurier, Atwood, and Joan Lindsay, among others. Clear if far from complete, it stakes interesting theoretical and critical ground that sadly Fisher won’t be able to explore. –KH

Good

Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) The heavy hand of coincidence puts replicant cop K (Ryan Gosling) on the trail of former blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford). The banal artificiality of the plot is actually pretty Dickian, but PKD usually had something else going on. What this film has going on is 2 hours and 40 minutes of gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography and another low-key great performance by Robin Wright as K’s boss. –KH

The Foreigner (Film, UK/China, Martin Campbell, 2017) After a rogue IRA bombing kills his daughter, former Vietnam War special forces asset Quan (Jackie Chan) carries out a one-man terror campaign against former IRA commander and current British cabinet minister Liam (Pierce Brosnan) to get the names of the bombers. The commendable decision to accurately depict a competent British security state sidelines Quan’s vendetta, leaving the film somewhat adrift, but seeing Chan and Brosnan in action bumps it up from Okay. –KH

The Purge: Election Year (Film, US, James DeMonaco, 2016) On the annual night when all criminal laws are suspended, the presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge flees assassins aided by her bodyguard (Frank Grillo) and a group of righteous neighborhood folk led by deli owner Mykelti Williamson. The political themes underlying the series come to the fore for this horror-flavored action thriller.—RDL

Progeny of the Adder (Fiction, Leslie H. Whitten, 1965) Washington DC homicide cop Harry Picard hunts a serial killer — who turns out to be a vampire — in this solid police procedural. While the vampire element is handled well (and is considerably ahead of its time) the police aspects are resolutely of their time, both the novel’s strength and weakness. –KH

Reconciliation (Film, Poland, Maciej Sobieszczański, 2017) In 1945, Silesian farm boy Franek becomes a guard at a Communist labor camp to rescue an inmate: Anna, the Polish girl he loves. Her lover Erwin, a German, is also interned there, and the tragic drama builds from there. A little slow and a lot brutal, the film distances itself from the characters in the interest of universality, but at the expense of involvement. –KH

Sicilian Ghost Story (Film, France/Italy/Switzerland, Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza, 2017) Middle-school girl Luna becomes increasingly obsessed, suffering nightmares and waking dreams after her true love Giuseppe is abducted by the Mafia. Based on a real 1993 kidnap-murder, the directors cast Sicilian unknowns as the children to quite frankly amazing effect. The dream, fairy tale, and mythic elements don’t quite blend with the crime and love stories, which is the only reason this ambitious film (barely) misses the Recommended mark. –KH

Okay

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2017) Teen bullies and their sullen target capture a c.h.u.d. and slowly weaponize it between bouts of torture — while its sister searches for her lost sibling. Gets points for a good monster and a properly decrepit mise en scene, but I remain of the opinion that having a completely unsympathetic protagonist is usually a mistake. –KH

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Film, Japan, Sion Sono, 2017) If Sono had made this as a standalone film rather than recutting 2 hours and 22 minutes from his Amazon Japan miniseries, it would likely rank much higher. Sono’s trademark combination of stunningly beautiful images and hyperviolence adds two feuding clans of vampires, but his wild inventiveness seems more like flailing at TV sprawl lengths. –KH

Not Recommended

Cult of Chucky (Film, US, Don Mancini, 2017) Past victim of animate killer doll Chucky, confined to an psychiatric facility for the murders he committed, tries in vain to convince the staff that he’s coming for her again. Until it tosses it all away by not having a third act, is a surprisingly solid continuation of the series, explicitly about a gaslighting male establishment that refuses to believe a woman’s warnings about a misogynistic predator.—RDL

Gold is Where You Find It (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1938) In 1877 California, a hydraulic strip-mining engineer (George Brent) and an orchard-loving young woman (Olivia de Havilland) fall in love, to the increasing dismay of her wheat magnate father (Claude Rains.) That this is still kinda watchable, despite the low-wattage Brent in the lead, and a script in which he does next to nothing until the end and then does something ridiculous, stands as a tribute to Curtiz and his ineluctable mastery of filmic momentum. Maintains some historical interest as an early example of Hollywood environmentalism.—RDL

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