Grimoire
Cthulhu
Dracula
Abraham Lincoln
Ken
Grimoire

Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Golem and a Gill-Man

January 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Creed (Film, US, Ryan Coogler, 2015) Impelled from childhood to prove himself with his fists, Apollo Creed’s son (Michael B. Jordan) quits his white collar job and moves to Philadelphia in hopes that a reluctant Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) will train him as a boxer. Coogler invests the dramatic bits with a refreshing honesty and naturalism, then demonstrates a similar mastery when the film climbs into the ring.—RDL

The Good Place Season 1 (Television, US, NBC, Michael Schur, 2016) Through a cosmic oversight, selfish telemarketer Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself in a cheerfully whimsical afterlife, overseen by a kindly, bow-tied immortal entity (Ted Danson.) Hard to think of anyone other than Schur who could pull off a delightful network sitcom that doubles as a 101 course on moral philosophy. William Jackson Harper is a particular revelation, pulling off the always difficult straight man role with precision and aplomb.—RDL

The Limehouse Golem (Film, UK, Juan Carlos Medina, 2017) In 1880, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) of Scotland Yard investigates the serial killer called the “Limehouse Golem,” and comes to believe that accused poisoner Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) holds the key. Scriptwriter Jane Goodman pulls off a tour de force adapting Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant original novel, which alludes not just to the Ripper but to the Ratcliff Highway murders, the Maybrick poisoning, and the whole “London tapestry.” Douglas Booth superbly plays (historical) transvestite comedian Dan Leno, the unlikely axis around which film and novel both pivot. –KH

The Shape of Water (Film, US, Guillermo del Toro, 2017) Sweet but lonely custodian (Sally Hawkins) develops a covert bond with a gill-man imprisoned at the Cold War scientific installation where she works as a custodian, placing her in danger with its brutal security chief (Michael Shannon.) Dark adult fairy tale reminds us that del Toro’s best ally is a tight script. A couple of years I might have dinged this a notch for obviousness, but what used to be heavy-handed allegory is now social realism.—RDL

Tokyo Drifter (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1966) Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a deadly but reformed yakuza, must leave Tokyo to ensure the safety of his substitute father, former yakuza lord Kurata (Ryuji Kita), and the singer who loves him (Chieko Matsubara). Foes hunt Tetsu through increasingly heightened settings until the final insane shootout in a surrealistic white-painted nightclub. Suzuki responded to the constraints of budget and genre not just with the aforementioned surreal collage but by editing a film with a manga sensibility, a scene’s (or shot’s) action abruptly stopping once its “panel” has conveyed the story beat. –KH

Zero K (Fiction, Don DeLillo, 2016) A man who drifts between challenging but uninvolving jobs travels to a transhumanist outpost in Central Asia, where his ultra-rich father and terminally ill stepmother have made plans for her cryogenic preservation. Hypnotically compelling futurist vision, in which DeLillo demonstrates that your protagonist can be a passive observer if what’s being observed is sufficiently compelling. In a genre novel you’d be waiting for the mutants to break out of the secret lab and start eating people but this is a literary novel so you’re not.—RDL

Good

The Anderson Tapes (Film, US, Sidney Lumet, 1971) Just-released ex-con burglar Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) decides to rob the ritzy apartment building his girlfriend (Dyan Cannon) lives in and assembles a crew (including Martin Balsam and Christopher Walken) unaware that his every move is being taped or filmed or both by the FBI, IRS, BNDD, HUAC, and a private detective agency. Lumet doesn’t do much with the surveillance motif (which was admittedly a gimmick even in the original novel) except clog up an otherwise terrific heist movie packed with great character actor turns. –KH

XTC: This is Pop (Film, UK, Roger Penny & Charlie Thomas, 2017) Career survey of the group behind such hits as “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Dear God,” and “Peter Pumpkinhead,” bookended by a hilarious anti-rockumentary rant by bandleader Andy Partridge. I was surprised to discover that they didn’t break in the US until “Dear God,” because they were big here in the tasteful wilds of Torontoland from the first album on.—RDL

Okay

Hostiles (Film, US, Scott Cooper, 2017) In 1892, U.S. Cavalry captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) must escort dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) from New Mexico to Montana. Cooper tries and fails to blend the cavalry Western with the nihilist road movie against majestic (albeit familiar) scenery beautifully lensed by Masanobu Takayanaki. Bale’s acting, and that of Rosamund Pike as a widow Blocker rescues along the way, try and fail to wring meaning from a facile story. –KH

I, Tonya (Film, US, Craig Gillespie, 2017) Casting figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) as both harbinger of and scapegoat for America’s descent into folly, Gillespie wants to have his cake and eat it too: mock Harding and her possible co-conspirators as white trash idiots, while exalting her postmodern “truth” as the victim of abuse at the hands of her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and mother (Allison Janney). The result is a moral hash that also suffers from the standard flaws of the Worst Genre (the biopic); occasional stabs at meta-narration don’t add dimension or diversion to the story. Robbie and Janney’s performances carry the film on their backs, but it’s barely worth the effort. –KH

Kong: Skull Island (Film, US, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) In the wake of the US pullout from Vietnam, a joint scientific/military survey of an uncharted island arouses the ire of its guardian, a titanic ape. Overstuffs its mix of disaster movie ethos and Apocalypse Now references with so many characters it forgets to make any of them its protagonist, coming to life only when John C. Reilly’s grizzled survivor character occupies the screen.—RDL

Not Recommended

7 Sisters (Film, UK/France/Belgium, Tommy Wirkola, 2017) Septuplets who pose as a single person (all played by Noomi Rapace) one day of the week apiece risk exposure in a totalitarian future Europe that ruthlessly enforces a one-child policy. Anti-abortion SF action thriller racks up a kill count not unlike Wirkola’s Dead Snow, but here it’s happening not to cartoonishly drawn dolts but to sympathetic characters played with grounded intensity by a compelling actor, to glumly punishing effect. Alternate title: What Happened To Monday.—RDL

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Episode 275: Convenient Anti-Harpy Shield

January 12th, 2018 | Robin

 

In the Gaming Hut we mull the process of scenario writing, specifically the differences between writing first, or playing first.

Backer Fred Kiesche takes advantage of his Patreon priveleges in Ask Ken and Robin, seeking deeper info on Ken’s current 13th Age campaign, Poikila Hellenistika.

We take our seats in the Cinema Hut to reel off a mere smattering of our favorite character actors of the classic Hollywood studio era.

Finally in Ken’s Time Machine Patreon backer Rich Ranallo demands details on our resident chrono-agent’s involvement in Grover Cleveland’s secret nautical surgery.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


In Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

It wasn’t on the maps. No one talked about it. But now you live there. Cthulhu City. Where the mayor goes everywhere with twin sacred jaguars, and the chief of police blinks at your with fishy eyes. Where the cultists run city hall and the investigators are hunted criminals. Cthulhu City, the new Trail of Cthulhu sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

In Highway Holocaust you are Cal Phoenix, the Freeway Warrior, champion and protector of Dallas Colony One. Defend this fragile convoy from H.A.V.O.C. bikers with this exclusive hardcover (with dust jacket and book ribbons), the first choose-your-own-adventure-gamebook in Joe Dever’s post apocalyptic series. From the fine folks at FENIX, now available from Modiphius.

With your Handlers Guide already at your side, it’s time to assemble some operations to spiral your Delta Green operatives into paranoia and Mythos horror. Delta Green: A Night at the Opera features six terrifying adventures from the conspiratorial minds of Dennis Detwiller, Shane Ivey, and Greg Stolze. Preorder before it’s desperately too late!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Vodka and Other Toxins

January 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 our new podcast segment, Tell Me More.

Recommended

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Film, US, S. Craig Zahler, 2017) Drug runner, badass, and devoted husband Bradley (Vince Vaughn) finds his options steadily closed off for the first three quarters of the film, until the titular brawl explodes bloodily and cathartically on screen. Superbly paced film feels much shorter than its 132-minute run time, while still providing Vaughn with more than enough space to inhabit Bradley’s stoicism. –KH

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic and the First Police Chief of Paris (Nonfiction, Holly Tucker, 2017) Police official Nicolas de La Reynie investigates a conspiracy implicating two of Louis XIV’s mistresses in a poisoning ring. Well-told popular history vividly evokes time and place while finding a clear narrative path through a notoriously twisty scandal. Unlike our Affair of the Poisons coverage, Tucker treats the occultism angle as a side issue, focusing instead on crime and punishment in Paris and sexual intrigue in the Sun King’s court.—RDL

Diabolical Fantasia: The Art of Der Orchideengarten: 1919 (Nonfiction, Thomas Negovan, 2017) The German magazine The Orchid Garden was Weird Tales before Weird Tales, only full of Weimar panache as well as Gothic grue. The art, here reproduced beautifully from the magazine’s first year, runs from the Gluyas Williams-esque cartoons of Paul Neu to moody linework by Rolf von Hoerschelmann and Heinrich Kley to poster weirdness from Otto Muck. It’s a little small for an art book, but it’s worth the price. –KH

Imperial Roman Warships 193-565 AD (Osprey New Vanguard #244) (Nonfiction, Raffaele D’Amato, 2017) With actual naval point defense, rather than pirate-chasing and river support, becoming necessary in late antiquity, Roman ships of the line evolved from classical triremes to the (liburnian-derived) faster, tougher dromon. Bolstered by an astonishing amount of period art and archaeological reconstructions, this should be your first stop for fantasy navies pre-gunpowder. –KH

The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey (Nonfiction, Lawrence Osborne, 2013) The author tours the Islamic world to find out how hard it will be to drink there, prompting recollections of his devoted relationship to alcohol. Observes the world, and himself, with the acridity required from an upholder of the literary drinking man tradition.—RDL

Young & Beautiful (Film, France, Francois Ozon, 2013) 17-year-old (Marine Vach) escapes the smothering coziness of her bourgeois family to lead a double life as an escort. Naturalistic, though gorgeously lit, family drama observes its protagonist’s cryptic behavior from a careful remove.—RDL

Good

Bad Penny Blues (Fiction, Cathi Unsworth, 2009) Amid the first glimmerings of swinging London, an honest copper and a fashion designer prone to horrible psychic dreams conduct parallel investigations into a string of serial killings. Uncorrupted heroes and paranormal elements lighten the Ellroy-inspired strain of  British historical/political crime fiction established by The Long Firm and the Red Riding Quartet.—RDL

Luck-Key (Film, South Korea, Lee Gae-byok, 2016) Through a turn of events involving a slippery bathhouse floor and a locker key, a flailing would-be actor trades lives with an amnesiac rich guy, not realizing that he’s a hitman. Charming light comedy hobbled by an over-intrusive comic score. Remake of the Japanese film The Key of Life, which I would rate a notch higher than this.—RDL

Okay

Free Fire (Film, UK, Ben Wheatley, 2017) An outside beef between henchmen sours a gun deal, sparking an extended gunfight in a grotty warehouse. The formal constraints of a film devoted to a single-location shootout call for a bravura use of space that lies outside Wheatley’s interests. Sharper dialogue would have helped, too.—RDL

Lady Bird (Film, US, Greta Gerwig, 2017) Sacramento high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) struggles for identity and autonomy against the compulsively controlling impulses of her perpetually panicked mom (Laurie Metcalf). The generosity of Gerwig’s character writing and charm of Ronan’s performance go a long way to conceal the extent to which the script’s structure embraces the congenital failings of the Worst Genre, the coming of age tale.—RDL

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Episode 274: What Would Thagdar Do?

January 5th, 2018 | Robin

 

It’s 2018 and we’re back, starting as usual in the Gaming Hut. Within its cozy confines we answer a question from a mystery backer on achieving genuine emotional investment in roleplaying.

The History Hut unfolds its secret plans at the behest of Patreon backer Antti Elomaa, who wants to know why military operations have such evocative names.

The Narrative Hut looks at the evolution of the American anti-hero from the 30s to today.

Finally, backer Tim Vert checks in with the Consulting Occultist on the status of a possible eclipse child.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


In Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

It wasn’t on the maps. No one talked about it. But now you live there. Cthulhu City. Where the mayor goes everywhere with twin sacred jaguars, and the chief of police blinks at your with fishy eyes. Where the cultists run city hall and the investigators are hunted criminals. Cthulhu City, the new Trail of Cthulhu sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

For decades Tove Gillbring of Askfageln has been a beacon of Swedish gaming. Now her cancer has returned, and she’s determined to focus the rest of her life on an ultimate burst of creative fireworks. Help her husband Anders make that happen by supporting the LOVE TOVE crowdfunding campaign. Please note that the campaign moved to GoFundMe after this episode was recorded.

Delta Green Game Moderators, take heart! Reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Delta Green Handler’s Guide from Arc Dream Publishing, bursting with operational details, threats and eldritch history to keep your players locked, loaded, and terrified.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Half of Jedi Ken Likes, Sriracha and Other Hot Takes

December 27th, 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.

The Pinnacle

Lady Bird (Film, US, Greta Gerwig, 2017) Would-be free spirit Christine “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) and her hard-headed, hard-working mother (Laurie Metcalf) clash in this beautifully grounded teen coming-of-age film packed with genuinely human characters. Gerwig’s script and Ronan’s acting outdo each other to illuminate Lady Bird’s sometimes desperate random walk out of high school and out of Sacramento. As great as Ronan is, though, Metcalf is somehow even better. Gerwig’s relatively conventional two-shot setups are a bit static (Nick Houy’s staccato editing improves them mightily) but they capture the superb performances throughout, which is in fairness exactly what they should be doing. –KH

Recommended

The Breaking Point (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1950) Stubbornly independent war vet (John Garfield) struggles harder to hold onto his fishing tour boat than his marriage as he gets mixed up with criminals and a sultry party gal (Patricia Neal). Unlike Howard Hawks’ puckishly unfaithful adaptation of To Have and Have Not, Curtiz’s masterfully directed, strongly felt noirish drama evokes the themes and incident of the Hemingway novel.—RDL

Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2017) Powers’ novels tend to outshine his sporadic short fiction, for all that the latter share the standard Powers obsessions with ghosts, Southern California, time travel, and hollow men. Baen has collected them in one volume, which is a bit of a muchness to read all at once (his collaborations here with James Blaylock include some welcome lightness of tone), but individual gems such as “Salvage and Demolition,” “Pat Moore,” “A Journey of Only Two Paces,” and “A Soul in a Bottle” are well worth savoring on their own. –KH

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Nonfiction, Sarah Lohman, 2016) Historical gastronomist reveals the introduction and spread of US cooking staples black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, garlic, soy sauce, MSG and sriracha. Chatty, reportorial account finds America caught in a cyclic internal struggle between its hunger for new tastes and its recurrent nativism.–RDL

Get Out (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2017) Nothing in Peele’s assured horror update of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? matches his cold opening scene: the direction, music cue, black comedy, and weird tone are all perfect. But it gets close a few times, especially in the second act when Betty Gabriel is on screen as the oddly-behaving maid at Rose Armitage’s (Allison Williams) parents’ (Bradley Whitford and the great Catherine Keener) secluded mansion. White Rose has brought her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents, and, well, you read the title. –KH

Peaky Blinders Season 1 (Television, UK, Stephen Knight, 2013) Confident, calculating and haunted WWI vet (Cillian Murphy) guides his Irish crime family to bigger and better things in Birmingham, defying a brutal and Belfast police inspector (Sam Neill) sent by Churchill to find a cache of stolen guns. Executes classic tropes of the family crime saga with a brisk disregard for usual TV writing stalling tactics.–RDL

Good

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Film, US, Werner Herzog, 2016) The master of the quirky, discursive essay-style documentary explores the impact of the Internet on society, covering angles ranging from game addicts to robotics pioneers.  Due to over-broad subject matter and reliance on polished speakers happy to serve up the Things They Always Say, Herzog’s trademark mix of doom, whimsy and materialistic mysticism floats around in search of a throughline.—RDL

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2017) The second film in the (first) Disney trilogy is actually two films. The Recommended one is interesting, exciting, and brave, featuring Rey (Daisy Ridley), her opposite number in the Force Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and their common master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The Not Recommended one follows the self-immolating Resistance through a series of bad decisions and a completely wasted half hour on a casino planet straight from the prequels, with occasional sparks from Carrie Fisher’s Leia. Kylo Ren continues to own this franchise, and it’s a tribute to Driver’s performance and the strength of his story that I bump the movie as a whole up to Good. –KH

The Trip to Spain (Film, UK, Michael Winterbottom, 2017) The third installment of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s faux-documentary series serves up the familiar tasting menu of food porn, self-doubt, lush scenery, needling one-upmanship, and dueling celebrity impressions (Roger Moore and David Bowie are the standouts this time). This one doesn’t hit the downbeat as much as the previous films, perhaps because as our heroes age into their fifties, they’d prefer to joke and eat rather than introspect. (And who can blame them?) But it does leave the meal feeling a little light. –KH

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Episode 273: Live at Dragonmeet 2017

December 22nd, 2017 | Robin

 

Our final episode of 2017 arrives with bells a-jangling in the form of our traditional live show from Dragonmeet. Learn about Stalin and Atlantis, what elements of our work we think other designers have picked up on, which beverages go with which iterations of a beloved nerd franchise, why Nazis are stupid, and much much more.

We’ll be back on January 5th with our first episode of 2018.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


In Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

Sink your fangs into an amazing deal as the Dracula Dossier haunts the Bundle of Holding. This bargain is so unbelievable that it can’t see itself in the mirror, and ends on December 27th!

For decades Tove Gillbring of Askfageln has been a beacon of Swedish gaming. Now her cancer has returned, and she’s determined to focus the rest of her life on an ultimate burst of creative fireworks. Help her husband Anders make that happen by supporting the LOVE TOVE crowdfunding campaign. Please note that the campaign moved to GoFundMe after this episode was recorded.

Delta Green Game Moderators, take heart! Reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Delta Green Handler’s Guide from Arc Dream Publishing, bursting with operational details, threats and eldritch history to keep your players locked, loaded, and terrified.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Bandit Lords, Jedi, and the CIA

December 19th, 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

Carol (Film, US, Todd Haynes, 2015) In the closeted 50s, an aspiring photographer with a passive streak (Rooney Mara) falls for a sophisticated woman (Cate Blanchett) embroiled in a custody battle with her soon-to-be-ex husband. Subtle drama marked by strong performances, a lovely use of muted color, and the director’s affinity for the period.—RDL

Cities of the Classical World (Nonfiction, Colin McEvedy, 2011) Following his unrivaled Atlas of World Population History, McEvedy began compiling data on and descriptions of 120 cities of the Greco-Roman ecumene (nothing east of Ctesiphon) for a comparative study left unfinished at his death. Featuring sketch maps of each city to the same scale, the book is necessarily uneven but nonetheless valuable and engaging. –KH

The Concubine (Film, Kim Dae-seung, South Korea, 2012) When a beautiful young bureaucrat’s daughter catches the eye of a prince, his murderously ambitious mother contrives to marry her off to her stepson, the king. Glossy, lurid tale of sex, violence and court intrigue dishes up a Korean counterpart to the Jacobean revenge tragedy.—RDL

The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central (Nonfiction, Christine Pelisek, 2017) True crime account by the reporter who broke the case to the public follows the trail of victims left by appallingly prolific L.A. serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. Goes beyond the forensic horrors to cover the case’s social context and the experiences of victims’ families.—RDL

Marketa Lazarová (Film, Czechoslovakia, František Vlácil, 1967) In the 13th century Czech hinterland, a bandit lord’s sons kidnap a rival’s convent-bound daughter, arousing the attention of the German captain tasked to bring them to heel. Visually stark, aurally haunting epic of violence and innocence told in moody, elliptical fragments.—RDL

Star Wars: the Last Jedi (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2017) As First Order ships corner the last of the Resistance, Rey attempts to persuade a reluctant Luke Skywalker to tutor her in the ways of the Jedi. Tasked with reconfiguring Empire, the thorniest of the original trilogy, Johnson serves up new variations on the requisite moral ambiguity, surprises, and a structure that moves from diffusion to convergence.—RDL

Wormwood (Television, US, Netflix, Errol Morris, 2017) In November 1953, bacteriologist Frank Olson fell to his death from the 13th floor of the Hotel Statler in New York. Morris combines documentary interviews with Olson’s son and other investigators, cinematic re-enactments (Peter Sarsgaard plays Olson), and visual collage for a trippy, murky journey through CIA skullduggery, LSD experiments, and very confidently asserted hearsay. Morris is a master at work, and everyone should know his tools. –KH

Good

Running on Karma (Film, HK, Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2004) Psychic male stripper (Andy Lau) who can read auras sees the doom for a spunky junior detective (Cecilia Cheung) on the trail of a contortionist killer. An aggressively unlikely latex muscle suit wears Andy Lau in this paranormal police procedural turned Buddhist fable. To’s co-directing efforts with his screenwriting partner Wai usually set aside the former’s stoic control for the latter’s flamboyant plate-spinning, this time with extra gonzo results.—RDL

Okay

The Punisher Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Steve Lightfoot, 2017) Vigilante special op Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) uncovers the deeper reason for his family’s murder, an illegal CIA heroin ring, and (eventually) kills everyone involved with the dubious help of emo hacker Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and incompetent DHS agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah). Episode 10 is magnificent; the rest is the now-standard Marvel-Netflix first-gear-only storytelling. The acting is also notably weak; only the terrific Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll (reprising her Karen Page role) really enliven their characters. –KH

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Episode 272: We Laugh At Your Fireball

December 15th, 2017 | Robin

Our throats showing the wear of travel to that most lurghy-inducing of wonderlands, we issue a Travel Advisory on Dragonmeet and the Modigliani show at the Tate Modern in London.

In the Gaming Hut we compare and contrast two ways of structuring mystery scenarios: Robin’s Maze of Clues and Ken’s Ocean of Clues.

Longtime listeners are already bracing themselves for what comes next. The fall of the British pound places a heavy burden on the structural integrity of Ken’s Bookshelf, as he comes back laden with treasures from Treadwell’s, Foyle’s, and the Tate gift shop.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


In Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

Sink your fangs into an amazing deal as the Dracula Dossier haunts the Bundle of Holding. This bargain is so unbelievable that it can’t see itself in the mirror, and ends on December 27th!

For decades Tove Gillbring of Askfageln has been a beacon of Swedish gaming. Now her cancer has returned, and she’s determined to focus the rest of her life on an ultimate burst of creative fireworks. Help her husband Anders make that happen by supporting the LOVE TOVE crowdfunding campaign.

Delta Green Game Moderators, take heart! Reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Delta Green Handler’s Guide from Arc Dream Publishing, bursting with operational details, threats and eldritch history to keep your players locked, loaded, and terrified.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Fincher Kings

December 12th, 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

Icarus (Film, US, Bryan Fogel, 2017) Cyclist/filmmaker Fogel embarks on a Morgan Spurlock-esque documentary in which he subjects himself to a doping routine, only to find his Russian medical advisor in the center of an international scandal that might have placed him on the FSB hit list. Fogel hits the documentarian’s jackpot of a story that explodes into something bigger during the shoot, and makes the most of it.—RDL

Mindhunter Season 1 (Television, US,  Netflix, Joe Penhall, 2017) If you liked David Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac you will groove on this series (produced by Fincher, who directed four episodes) about the creation of the FBI’s serial killer profiling system in the 1970s. Although only Holt McCallany (as the gruff veteran agent, Bill Tench) and Cameron Britten (as serial killer Ed Kemper) rise above the prosaic characterization, the real star is (as so often with Fincher) the procedure. –KH

The Punisher Season 1 (Television, US, Netflix, Steve Lightfoot, 2017) Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) discovers that he isn’t finished wiping out the people who killed his family, and forms a reluctant alliance with a computer hacker (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to flush out the remaining conspirators. Ultra-violence and empathy go hand in glove, with Bernthal continuing to score as a humanized Punisher, and an unusually coherent structure for a Marvel/Netflix show, in which all the subplots pay off into the main narrative.—RDL

Wild Seed (Film, US, Brian G. Hutton, 1965) 17-year old (Celia Kaye) runs away from her New York home to find her biological father in L.A., learning the ropes of hitch-hiking and rail-riding from a handsome young drifter (a fresh-faced and tenor-toned Michael Parks.) Existential road romance shot about twelve seconds before the advent of the counterculture features sympathetic characterization, a lush jazz score and gorgeous black and white location photography by Conrad Hall. The only element holding this back from unheralded masterpiece status is Kaye’s valiant struggle to meet the demands of the material.—RDL

Good

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Film, US, David Fincher, 2008) As her mother (Cate Blanchett)  lies dying, her daughter reads the life story of her ex-lover, a man who aged in reverse. Oddball entry in Fincher’s filmography, rich in incident but light on drama, in which he keeps the trademark queasy greens and oranges but otherwise wears Steven Spielberg’s style like a jacket he’s trying on.—RDL

Pitfall (Film, US, Andre de Toth, 1948) Restless claims adjuster (Dick Powell) risks his career and family when he has a fling with a crook’s good-hearted girlfriend (Lizabeth Scott), entering the crosshairs of her sleazy ex-cop stalker (Raymond Burr.) Snappy dialogue and direction, as well as top performances from the lead distinguish this entry in the spiral-from-domesticity noir sub-genre. The script’s desire to steer clear of melodrama injects a fresh note of emotional realism, at the cost of an anticlimactic conclusion.—RDL

Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (Film, US, Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer, 2016) Fame-addled pop star (Andy Samberg) sees his tour documentary go sour when his sophomore album lays an egg. Update of Spinal Tap to today’s stadium pop and slick promotional documentaries, densely packed with jokes and cameos.—RDL

Okay

Justice League (Film, US, Zack Snyder, 2017) Batman (Ben Affleck) must assemble Earth’s mightiest heroes to fight … a CGI third-tier Kirby villain. While better than the previous theatrical DCEU efforts, and even reasonably true to the comic book origin of the team, the end result remains a big missed opportunity. For a movie ten years in the making, far too much was rushed, especially including the vapid CGI — the Snyderverse works best when, like Nolan always did, he grounds it in the real. Joss Whedon’s much-bruited fixups only add dissonance and weaken Snyder’s mythic vision without building human connection. Even Danny Elfman’s score seemed bland and committee-driven. –KH

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Episode 271: The Friends We Met Along the Way and Ate

December 8th, 2017 | Robin

 

Hey, it’s an all-request episode!

Patreon backer Joshua Trowbridge entreats us in the Gaming Hut to return to a perennial puzzler: how to convince change-averse players to try the awesome new thing you want to run for them.

Patreon backer Josh Mannon summons us to the Cartography Hut, to explain that hole where the Kong Mountains used to be.

In Ask Ken and Robin Patreon backer Adam Grotjohn asks Ken and Robin if roleplaying games could be used to teach criminological procedure.

And finally Patreon backer Rick Neal has been hanging out next to Ken’s Time Machine, wanting to know why Time Inc. needed Kaspar Hauser dead.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


In Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

The book has been written.The book has been read. Now it rewrites you. Across time it spreads, creating dread new realities. And you’re in all of them. Robin’s epic new GUMSHOE project, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game has concluded its Kickstarter run, but is now available for pre-order at the Pelgrane Store for those who missed it.

In Highway Holocaust you are Cal Phoenix, the Freeway Warrior, champion and protector of Dallas Colony One. Defend this fragile convoy from H.A.V.O.C. bikers with this exclusive hardcover (with dust jacket and book ribbons), the first choose-your-own-adventure-gamebook in Joe Dever’s post apocalyptic series. From the fine folks at FENIX, now available from Modiphius.

Delta Green Game Moderators, take heart! Reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Delta Green Handler’s Guide from Arc Dream Publishing, bursting with operational details, threats and eldritch history to keep your players locked, loaded, and terrified.

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