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Grimoire

Episode 407: You May Be Competent

August 7th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut beloved Patreon backer Gene Ha asks about trusting players with knowledge of upcoming secrets, for example the vampire content in Night’s Black Agents.

The Tradecraft Hut delves into the spying career of Dutch painter Jan van Eyck.

Werewolves, vampires and Frankensteins all fit readily into a weird war environment, like The Yellow King RPG’s The Wars. In the Horror Hut, we ask how mummies might stalk the battlefield.

Finally we use Ken’s Time Machine to find out what happens to the timeline if the Quasi-War erupts into full scale conflict between the US and France.

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.


You know your dance crew is the hottest around… but now it’s time to prove it. Breakdancing Meeples is a real-time dexterity game of, you guessed it, breakdancing meeples, designed by Ben Moy and published by Atlas Games. Two to four people, ages six and up, compete for dancefloor glory, in five exciting minutes.

A rare opportunity for entirely legal larceny presents itself to the discerning wanderer. For a few short days the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game and every single one of its supplements has returned to the Bundle of Holding. Until August 17th, get Robin’s core game and the entire line in PDF for a price so low it’s almost a swindle. Grab all of the game that gave Pelgrane its name!

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Suit up, agents of Delta Green. Your battle to save humanity from unnatural horrors is going beyond the Beltway. Delta Green: The Labyrinth is now shipping to a secure dead drop near you. Written by Delta Green co-creator John Scott Tynes, this all-new collection of organizations dives deep into the fissures of America in the new millennium.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Apatow/Davidson, Olivia de Havilland and a Book Ken is Surprised He Hadn’t Read

August 4th, 2020 | 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.

Recommended

The Key to Rebecca (Fiction, Ken Follett, 1980) British Major Vandam hunts German spy Alex Wolff, infiltrated into Egypt and transmitting British troop positions to Rommel. Superb cat-and-also-cat thriller well told against a lively, real-seeming 1942 Cairo, based (very loosely) on the (completely unsuccessful) Abwehr Operation CONDOR. No, I don’t know how I never read this earlier, either. –KH

The King of Staten Island (Film, US, Judd Apatow, 2020) Self-acknowledged screwup (Pete Davidson) faces a threat to his directionless routine when his mom (Marisa Tomei) finds romance with a gruff fireman (Bill Burr.) Tighter, more cinematically burnished take on Apatow’s recurring theme of arrested maturity, this time with mental illness and unprocessed grief offering more somber and naturalistic causes for the protagonist’s dilemma.—RDL

Meditation Park (Film, Canada, Mina Shum, 2018) Vancouver grandmother (Cheng Pei Pei) questions her lifelong deference to her stubborn husband (Tzi Ma) after finding a pair of panties in his jacket. Sweetly affirming drama of sexagenerian feminist awakening offers a chance to see Shaw Brothers legend Cheng touchingly take on a naturalistic leading role.—RDL

Good

Four’s a Crowd (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1938) PR man (Errol Flynn) schemes to force philanthropy on a cantankerous industrialist, spurring a romantic quadrangle between himself, a bubbly heiress (Olivia de Havilland), a scoop-hungry reporter (Rosalind Russell) and a callow publisher (Patrick Knowles.) Affable screwball comedy doesn’t quite escalate the way it should but finds some laughs along the way, with charming stars and a charming dog.—RDL

The Great Garrick (Film, US, James Whale, 1937) Egotistical acting great David Garrick (Brian Aherne) goes to a French inn knowing that members of the Comedie Francaise are posing as its staff in an elaborate plot to humiliate him, mistaking a real fugitive noblewoman (Olivia de Havilland) for one of the hoaxsters. Historical farce gives its cast a stage to delightedly lean into tongue-in-cheek ham performances. The script does handwave away the resolution of its conflict though.—RDL

Okay

The Business of Drugs (Television, Netflix, 2020) Former CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox hosts this documentary series, traveling to various narcotrafficking hotspots and interviewing drug dealers and interdictors alike. Fox notes developments with alarm but presents only isolated nuggets of data; the first episode (on the cocaine trade) is the most rigorous but still offers little more than platitudes. Incoherent (over-regulation hampers legal cannabis, but under-regulation caused the opioid epidemic) and superficial, worth watching for Night’s Black Agents Directors for the location shots and interviews only. –KH

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Episode 406: The Mystical Land of Hat

July 31st, 2020 | Robin

Beloved Patreon backer Manfred convenes us in a camouflage-covered Gaming Hut to ask how to run Fall of Delta Green agents through the Vietnam War. Complicating factor: his players are ex-military; Manfred is not.

Esteemed Patreon backer Dan O’Hanlon unfurls the Crime Blotter for a briefing on Toronto’s tow truck wars.

In How to Write Good, we wonder which words are too laden with earthbound cultural reference to use in texts concerning other worlds.

Finally astute Patreon backer Rolfe Bergstrom attaches a telescope to the Eliptony Hut so we can look at that most anomalous of asteroids, ‘Oumuamua.

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.


You know your dance crew is the hottest around… but now it’s time to prove it. Breakdancing Meeples is a real-time dexterity game of, you guessed it, breakdancing meeples, designed by Ben Moy and published by Atlas Games. Two to four people, ages six and up, compete for dancefloor glory, in five exciting minutes.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Suit up, agents of Delta Green. Your battle to save humanity from unnatural horrors is going beyond the Beltway. Delta Green: The Labyrinth is now shipping to a secure dead drop near you. Written by Delta Green co-creator John Scott Tynes, this all-new collection of organizations dives deep into the fissures of America in the new millennium.

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Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Jack London Thrillers and Dark Comic Intrigue in the Russian Court

July 28th, 2020 | 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.

Recommended

The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. (Fiction, Jack London and Robert L. Fish, 1910 and 1963) Ivan Dragomiloff, founder of the titular Bureau, accepts a termination order against himself from his daughter’s lover. Less a pulse-pounding action thriller than a heightened philosophical melodrama, it reads like a Jack London riff on Chesterton’s Pinnacle metaphysical spy dialectic The Man Who Was Thursday. Fish completed the book from London’s outline, but tightens it somewhat in the thriller direction. –KH

Blondie of the Follies (Film, US, Edmund Goulding, 1932) Good-hearted tenement gal (Marion Davies) follows a fiery neighbor (Billie Dove) into burlesque stardom, but the wavering affections of a suave financier (Robert Montgomery) come between them. Anita Loos’ dialogue lends empathetic nuance to the standard patterns of early 30s escapist melodrama.—RDL

The Great Season 1 (Television, US/UK, Hulu, Tony McNamara, 2020) Upon arrival at the Russian court as bride of a less-than-great Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult), young Catherine of Anhalt (Elle Fanning) fixes on the power she’ll need to reform her adopted nation. Profane, gleefully grim historical travesty might be described as “The Thick of It” meets “The Borgias,” but with an emotional and moral center. Fanning conquers both the comedy and feeling of her role, while Hoult brilliantly leaps between upper class twit and dangerous psychopath. Ideal fodder for a Skulduggery game.—RDL

Revolver (Film, Italy, Sergio Sollima, 1973) Grim-faced cop turned prison official (Oliver Reed) busts out an imprisoned robber (Fabio Testi) in hopes of freeing his kidnapped wife. Though very much a 70s poliziotteschi, its extreme compositions, antagonistic bond between male leads, and Ennio Morricone score display an unmistakable kinship to the spaghetti western. The only gun seen prominently here is a luger, so the titular revolver must be capitalism.—RDL

Good

The Iron Heel (Fiction, Jack London, 1908) Memoir of Avis Everhard, wife of the great American socialist revolutionary Ernest Everhard during the rise of the oligarchic Iron Heel in the U.S. (1912-1917), annotated by a historian from the communist utopia of the 27th century. Social-sf urtext shares that subgenre’s fondness for political diatribe, leavened with red-blooded London action scenes. In a decision that seems even less realistic than the rest of the tale, London near-completely erases nonwhites from the text and politics. –KH

The Violent Men (Film, US, Rudolph Maté, 1955) Ex-cavalry officer (Glenn Ford) plans to sell his ranch to local cattle magnates (Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck)—until they make the mistake of messing with him. High 50s melodrama between the antagonists differentiates what would otherwise be a standard narrative of the stalwart man once more forced to pick up the gun.—RDL

Okay

Shanghai Fortress (Film, China, Huatao Teng, 2019) Young hotshot pilot in training (Han Lu) longs for his dedicated superior officer (Shu Qi) as they prepare for a last stand against power-suited aliens. Workmanlike CGI blockbuster provides another example of the Chinese film industry looking at 80s/90s Hollywood for tropes and gestures to reconfigure into CCP propagantainment.—RDL

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Episode 405: It Would Totally Match Her Raven

July 24th, 2020 | Robin

Robin has coined yet another new term and so naturally we must enter the Gaming Hut to talk about table sense.

The T-Shirt Justification Hut wrings a segment out of our latest foray into feline-themed casual wear, Excuse Me While I Nap This Out.

The Culture Hut returns to the Belle Epoque era of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game to profile American dancer, lighting design pioneer and amateur astronomer, Loie Fuller.

Finally, Ken’s Time Machine rescues Houdini to find out what would have happened to his mooted nonfiction project with H. P. Lovecraft, The Cancer of Superstition.

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.


You know your dance crew is the hottest around… but now it’s time to prove it. Breakdancing Meeples is a real-time dexterity game of, you guessed it, breakdancing meeples, designed by Ben Moy and published by Atlas Games. Two to four people, ages six and up, compete for dancefloor glory, in five exciting minutes.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Arc Dream Publishing’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Noir Westerns and Golden Age Mysteries

July 21st, 2020 | 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.

Recommended

Blood on the Moon (Film, US, Robert Wise, 1948) Broke gunslinger (Robert Mitchum) confronts his conscience after his chancer friend (Robert Preston) enlists him in a scheme to strongarm a cattleman with a charming, rifle-toting daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes.) Tough, violent western with spare, to-the-point dialogue and a soulful turn by Walter Brennan as a hoodwinked homesteader.—RDL

Death at the President’s Lodging (Fiction, Michael Innes, 1936) Inspector Appleby investigates the murder of the President of St. Anthony’s College, which must (it seems) have been committed by one of the dons with access to the quad. Innes’ debut novel presents an almost deconstructed detection that stretches the borderlines of narrative amid flashes of self-referential observation — but resolves, astonishingly, into an almost clockwork fair-play Golden Age mystery. –KH

Hamlet, Revenge! (Fiction, Michael Innes, 1937) Inspector Appleby investigates the murder of the Lord Chancellor of England, shot behind the arras during an amateur performance of Hamlet in a ducal mansion. Even in 1937, writers played with the Golden Age conventions; Innes musters 31 (!!) suspects in a ridiculously huge country house while resolutely holding to detective-story logic. Innes’ language is so rich and allusive that it sometimes slows his momentum, especially in this near-Pinnacle at the outset of his career. –KH

The Walking Hills (Film, US, John Sturges, 1949) A tip regarding legendary lost gold sends members of a bordertown poker game, including a level-headed horseman (Randolph Scott), a fugitive (William Bishop), and a shady detective (John Ireland) digging in dangerous dunes. Stark contemporary western follows Sturges’ favored “group of men tested by adversity” template. In a departure for Hollywood of this era, blues singer Josh White appears in a supporting role and performs several numbers. —RDL

Good

Lured (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1947) Sandra (Lucille Ball), an American taxi-dancer in London, signs on with Scotland Yard to bait the serial killer who lured her friend into a rendezvous, while being romanced by caddish nightclub owner Fleming (George Sanders). Although the pacing and mood fall apart in the fourth act, Ball and Sanders play off each other surprisingly well until then. Sirk fills this semi-noir with his signature weird angles and leering shots; Boris Karloff as a mad couturier steals the show. –KH

Okay

Spiritual Kung Fu (Film, HK, Lo Wei, 1978) Ghosts sporting white leotards and mop-like orange wigs teach a boorish Shaolin apprentice (Jackie Chan) forgotten fighting moves just in time to confront a murderer in the temple ranks. If you want to sample one of the many formulaic martial arts flicks Jackie made before hitting his stride with Project A, this one has weird ghosts in it.—RDL

Terminator: Dark Fate (Film, US, Tim Miller, 2019) Augmented human from the future (Mackenzie Davis) joins forces with grizzled bot-hunter Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to save another apparently ordinary person target (Natalia Reyes) from a souped-up Terminator working for another dystopian AI regime. The latest unnecessary attempt to extend the original duology subjects its elements to a calculated rehashing.—RDL

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Episode 404: Toss In Your Werecows

July 17th, 2020 | Robin

Hey, it’s an all-request episode!

There’s nothing much going on in the Gaming Hut until beloved Patreon backer Rich Ranallo pops by to ask about incorporating boredom into the player experience.

In the Horror Hut, esteemed Patreon backer V R Weather asks Ken to give the Dracula Dossier treatment to Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm.

Insightful Patreon backer Louis Sylvester takes an aisle seat in the Cinema Hut to ask about John Carpenter’s classic film Aliens.

Finally, admirable Patreon backer John W S Marvin calls on the untapped military knowledge of the Consulting Occultist for a look at the esoteric secrets behind the Battle of Kursk.

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.


You know your dance crew is the hottest around… but now it’s time to prove it. Breakdancing Meeples is a real-time dexterity game of, you guessed it, breakdancing meeples, designed by Ben Moy and published by Atlas Games. Two to four people, ages six and up, compete for dancefloor glory, in five exciting minutes.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Arc Dream Publishing’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Does a Razor Crest Get Flyer Miles?

July 14th, 2020 | 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.

Recommended

Child of Light (Nonfiction, Madison Smartt Bell, 2020) Biography of the American novelist Robert Stone (Dog Soldiers, Outerbridge Reach) lucidly documents a life spanning from the IBM Selectric 60s to the era of literary festivals, creative writing programs and the word processor. Bell, a friend and colleague, details Stone’s struggles with such obstacles as depression, chronic pain, and prodigious substance abuse, fortunately anchored by an enduring marriage to his savvy, protective spouse Janice.—RDL

Craig Ferguson Presents: Hobo Fabulous Season 1 (Television, US, Joe Bolter, Comedy Dynamics, 2019) More (but not a lot more) than a tour film split up into episodes, the series follows Craig Ferguson on his 2019 tour and into introspection about the nature of stand-up and of his life as he approaches sixty. How much you’re likely to get out of it depends on how much you care about those things, and how much you appreciate Craig’s discursive, open style. –KH

Hamilton (Film, US, Thomas Kail, 2020) Immigrant overachiever (Lin-Manuel Miranda) takes a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War, selling of the Federalist Papers, and establishment of the federal banking system, frequently shouldering aside equally advancement hungry politician Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) Among the audacious moves of this aesthetically ambitious work about ambition: fusing hip hop and Broadway, taking on American pop culture’s least favorite period of American history, and bringing recitative back.—RDL

The Mandalorian Season 1 (Television, US, Jon Favreau, Disney+, 2019) Devoutly helmeted bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) reneges on a delivery when he discovers that his quarry is a (green, big-eared, Force-wielding) child, and his client (Werner Herzog) an imperial revanchist. Where the Abrams flicks revere the iconic moments of classic Star Wars, Favreau and his collaborators love the setting, allowing for storytelling that arises from the original without recapitulating it. In doing so it reaches into Lucas’ inspirations in Ford and Kurosawa, adding hefty portions of Leone and “The Rifleman.”—RDL

Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms (Nonfiction, John Hodgman, 2019) In a series of comic autobiographical essays, Hodgman turns quotidian anecdotes of tour life, the Chateau Marmont, pre-career jobs and his airline mileage plan of choice into platforms for wit and humane observation. An ideal “imagine-yourself-safely-on—a- beach” read. —RDL

Good

The Old Guard (Film, US, Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2020) Andromache (Charlize Theron) and her immortal mercenary team break in a new recruit (Kiki Layne) while hunting their CIA contact (Chiwetel Eijofor) who (shockingly! inevitably!) betrayed them to a weaselly pharma executive. Fight coordinator Danny Hernandez’ lackluster fights mostly land between the balletic melodrama of John Wick and the gritty realism of Atomic Blonde — kind of the problem with the whole film, in a way. Fightin’ immortal mercs is a great high concept, but nobody seems to want to do anything original or (God forbid) fun with it here. –KH

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Episode 403: Someone Thought to Give It Beer

July 10th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut we look at villain plans, and why they have to make sense in investigative games.

The Food Hut goes to the drive-thru for a double-double as beloved Patreon backers Tim Maness and Jean Bauer ask for an explanation of the mythic role the Tim Hortons donut chain plays in the Canadian psyche.

Ken and Robin Recycle Audio with a nerdtrope of the 100 Years War and pod people from our YouTube episode of Ken and Robin Live.

Finally the Eliptony Hut reveals, at the behest of stalwart Patreon backer Drew, the truth behind Theodore Roosevelt’s fabled hunt for the snallygaster.

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.


You know your dance crew is the hottest around… but now it’s time to prove it. Breakdancing Meeples is a real-time dexterity game of, you guessed it, breakdancing meeples, designed by Ben Moy and published by Atlas Games. Two to four people, ages six and up, compete for dancefloor glory, in five exciting minutes.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

The treasures of Askfageln can be found at DriveThruRPG. Get all issues of FENIX since 2013 available in special English editions. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, along with equally stellar pieces by Graeme Davis and Pete Nash. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish. While you’re at it, grab DICE and Freeway Warrior!

Arc Dream Publishing’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Harlem Renaissance Detecting, Italian Renaissance Painting, and That Play You’ve Heard About

July 7th, 2020 | 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.

Recommended

The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art (Nonfiction, Noah Charney and Ingrid Rowland, 2017) Biography of Tuscan Renaissance painter and architect Giorgio Vasari, whose 1550 book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects established the precepts of art history as we know it. Packed with lively detail on its obsessively deadline-meeting protagonist, and also his precursors, contemporaries, and era.—RDL

The Conjure-Man Dies (Fiction, Rudolph Fisher, 1932) Harlem doctor John Archer and black NYPD detective Perry Dart must solve the murder of a West African conjure-man which rapidly becomes more than even the impossible crime it appeared. This first detective novel by an African-American writer joins Golden Age structure with Hammett-style street culture, without any white characters. The mystery compels, and if the ending is somewhat abrupt the narrative continuously fascinates and surprises on the way there. –KH

Dark and Bloody Ground: A True Story of Lust, Greed, and Murder in the Bluegrass State (Nonfiction, Darcy O’Brien, 1993) Fired East Kentucky prison guard becomes the accomplice of her chiseled felon lover as he joins a home invasion gang, whose loot later ensnares a colorful defense attorney. Minutely reported true crime saga situates its depraved criminal protagonists, who would be at home in either an Elmore Leonard novel or a Coen brothers film, in the broader context of place and social milieu.—RDL

Ford v Ferrari (Film, US, James Mangold, 2019) Sidelined by heart trouble, a determined former Le Mans champ (Matt Damon) enlists a hotheaded driver (Christian Bale) in the Ford Motor Company’s quixotic plan to beat legendary Italian car designer Enzo Ferrari at that most harrowing of competitions. With an expansiveness reminiscent of 60s widescreen epics, fits the many challenges of the race car flick into the reliable and satisfying chassis of a makers vs. suits story.—RDL

Hamilton (Film, US, Thomas Kail, 2020) Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) joins the Revolution, serves under George Washington, founds American capitalism, and dies in a duel against Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.). Cut together from film of two 2016 original-cast performances of the smash musical, the movie essentially offers a “you are there” experience while reveling in the actors’ performances. Patriotic, optimistic, multiracial, and centrist, a fitting embodiment of the Obama era’s self-image. –KH

Good

Circus of Books (Film, Rachel Mason, 2019) Documentarian trains her lens on her self-certain mom and affable dad as they close up the West Hollywood porn emporium that for decades served as a fulcrum for L.A.’s gay community. Balances sweet family portraiture with community history at a time of sudden social change.—RDL

Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga (Film, David Dobkin, 2020) Oblivious dimwit (Will Ferrell) teams with the sweetly positive dimwit (Rachel McAdams) who has always loved him to pursue unlikely pop victory for their native Iceland at the titular celebration of titanic kitsch. Amiable spin on the Ferrell formula likely earns a star for those equipped to get the affectionate Eurovision in-jokes.—RDL

Okay

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Film, US, Kevin Smith, 2019) Conned out of their names by a Hollywood studio, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) head across the country to stop a reboot of Bluntman & Chronic and yes you’ve already seen this film in 2001, except then it had a budget and production values. Mewes has aged even worse than his acting, and Smith mugs more than usual, rendering sadly painful what should be at least a snicker-worthy nostalgia trip. Even as a devoted Askewniverse fan, Okay is as high as I go. –KH

Shockproof (Film, US, Douglas Sirk, 1949) Tough but naive parole officer Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde) gets in too deep when trying to pry a sultry murderer (Patricia Knight) from the suave gambler who led her down the path to crime. The main interest here is seeing a Samuel Fuller script realized by a more polished stylist, but you have to go in prepared for a tacked-on happy ending to lazily handwave away the noir moral transgression at the heart of the story.—RDL

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Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
d8
Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister