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Episode 264: Diegetic Prod

October 20th, 2017 | Robin

 

In the Gaming Hut we examine a classic dichotomy in GMing technique: when do you use the world to nudge the story, and when do you address the players out-of-character?

The Tradecraft Hut looks at 2017’s most eliptonic spy story, the apparent sonic attacks in Cuba that have led the US State Department to withdraw diplomats from the country.

At the urging of Patreon backer Ethan Cordray, we convene in a particularly outdoorsy version of the History Hut to look at the Kibbo Kift, the British interwar alternative to the scouting movement that donned faux Anglo Saxon garb to promote world peace and pay ritual homage to the Piltdown Man.

And finally, our Patreon backers demanded that we Tell them More, so the Television Hut is open for discussion of Twin Peaks: the Return.

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 Unknown Armies, Atlas Games’ modern-day, occult roleplaying game, you play the heroically broken people who conspire to fix the world. That conspiracy just got easier, with the arrival of the game on store shelves near you! 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. Do intervals between episodes plunge you into Hite withdrawal? Never fear! his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. John Scott Tynes’ Puppetland is ready to knock the stuffing out of a game store near you in its gorgeous new full-color hardcover edition. Join the good folks at Arc Dream in battling the horrific forces of Punch the Maker-Killer!

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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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Episode 263: All Seven Spleens

October 13th, 2017 | Robin

 

Some monsters we want to kill. But others we want to figure out, then kill. The Gaming Hut looks at designing creatures that make for good mysteries.

Then at the behest of Patreon backer Fridrik Bjarnason we journey across route revealed by codes and numbers to the Eliptony Hut, where we consider the theory that Dante and da Vinci snitched out the location of Templar treasure, looted from the Holy Land, in that most obvious of places, Iceland.

Patreon backer Sean McCauliff pops a question over the Ask Ken and Robin transom: how do you transform your home town into a Trail of Cthulhu setting?

Then, following a prophecy laid down to us by Patreon backer Rafael Pabst, the Consulting Occultist looks at the career of poet and illustrator William Blake, with a special focus on the visionary, angel-seeing part.

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 Unknown Armies, Atlas Games’ modern-day, occult roleplaying game, you play the heroically broken people who conspire to fix the world. That conspiracy just got easier, with the arrival of the game on store shelves near you!

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.

Do intervals between episodes plunge you into Hite withdrawal? Never fear! his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish.

John Scott Tynes’ Puppetland is ready to knock the stuffing out of a game store near you in its gorgeous new full-color hardcover edition. Join the good folks at Arc Dream in battling the horrific forces of Punch the Maker-Killer!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Deckard, Cronenberg, Owlman

October 10th, 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

Blade Runner 2049 (Film, US, Denis Villeneuve, 2017) Replicant cop (Ryan Gosling) who pursues older androids capable of rebellion works a case that puts him on the trail of long-missing predecessor Deckard (Harrison Ford.) Visually stunning in a way that evokes Kubrick chill more than Ridley Scott flash, set in  an ultra-dystopia where evidence of basic human connection has been shipped off-world.—RDL

Fighter Squadron (Film, US, Raoul Walsh, 1947) As the burgeoning US Air Force’s latest assignments take it ever closer to Berlin, a maverick pilot who wins by his own rules (Edmond O’Brien) must shoulder the straight-laced responsibilities of higher command. Walsh’s eye for the rituals of masculinity and typical focus on doomed individuality infuse this rousing, overtly jocular Technicolor war flick with a darker undercurrent.—RDL

Maps to the Stars (Film, Canada, David Cronenberg, 2014) Young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in L.A., becoming a personal assistant to a distraught actress (Julianne Moore) and triggering a series of Sophoclean events involving the family of a cruel, freshly-rehabbed child star. Never has Cronenberg’s camera been this icy and clinical, or his characters more universally monstrous—and that’s saying a bunch.—RDL

They Remain (Film, US, Philip Gelatt, 2017) Two scientists (William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson) investigating anomalous animal behavior on the wilderness site of an infamous cult killing slowly degenerate in this moody, slightly surreal adaptation of a Laird Barron novella. If Polanski made Repulsion in a forest in upstate New York, it might look like this. –KH

They Return at Evening (Fiction, H.R. Wakefield, 1928) Nine supernatural stories including at least four small masterpieces: the shuddery “The Red Lodge” and the dizzying “Professor Pownall’s Oversight” are probably the best. Both harder edged and more glib than M.R. James (the overt James pastiche is enjoyable but a bit sloppy), Wakefield incorporates elements of detective fiction along with towering cynicism about women and publishing. –KH

Good

The Black Gloves (Film, Scotland, Lawrie Brewster, 2017) The prequel to Brewster’s terrific 2013 creeper The Lord of Tears follows a psychiatrist (Nicholas Vince) seeking redemption to the estate of a ballerina (Alexandra Nicole Hulme) in seclusion — and all three are haunted by the Owlman. The magnificent climax comes an act too early, and the black and white doesn’t quite match the warmth of 1940s film, but strong acting and writing keep it watchable. –KH

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Episode 262: Profit Motive and a Fast Boat

October 6th, 2017 | Robin

Robin is back from his annual sojourn to the Toronto International Film Festival, so it’s time to open up the Cinema Hut to alert you to the best and nerdiest of the 44 titles he saw there. From zombies to noir, he’s got your watch list for the next 12-18 months.

In the Gaming Hut we look at the causes and implications of the biggest story in tabletop RPGs these days, the great D&D resurgence.

Following up on a past visit to the Mythology Hut, we deliver on our promise to talk about the mythic shift undertaken by the vampire, from predatory monster to romantic hero.

Then at the barked command of stalwart Patreon backer Jeromy French, we take a turbulent voyage to a highly fortified History Hut to deliver the 101 on the Barbary Pirates.

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 Unknown Armies, Atlas Games’ modern-day, occult roleplaying game, you play the heroically broken people who conspire to fix the world. That conspiracy just got easier, with the arrival of the game on store shelves near you!

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.

Do intervals between episodes plunge you into Hite withdrawal? Never fear! his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish.

John Scott Tynes’ Puppetland is ready to knock the stuffing out of a game store near you in its gorgeous new full-color hardcover edition. Join the good folks at Arc Dream in battling the horrific forces of Punch the Maker-Killer!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Now Ken’s in the Black Lodge

October 3rd, 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

Twin Peaks: The Return (TV, Showtime, David Lynch, 2017) Picking up 25 years after Lynch’s seminal oneiric soap opera murder mystery ended, it is more of some of those things, most especially “Lynch’s.” I love that I could never see ahead down Lynch’s road, and also: Robert Forster. Penderecki’s “Threnody.” Magic and romance just out of frame. Bzzzkkkzztt (and all the rest of Lynch’s amazing sound design) That shot of NYC. Trees. Coffee! Charred men. “The Nine Inch Nails.” //erusolC// –KH

Recommended

Call Me Lucky (Film, US, Bobcat Goldthwait, 2015) Documentary profile of radical comedian’s comedian Barry Crimmins explores the origins of his righteous rage as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Loving portrait of a many-faceted man, made by a longtime friend.—RDL

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her (Nonfiction, Joanna Connors, 2016) A generation after her brutal rape by a stranger, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter seeks context by researching the life of the now-deceased perpetrator. Unsparing work of personal journalism finds answers to the literal questions if not the teleological ones, but mostly a deep well of unspeakable, cyclic suffering.—RDL

Good

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) A relatively enjoyable “impossible crime” outing for Carr’s second-tier detective Sir Henry Merrivale, who is more annoying than Gideon Fell. Remarkable for solving the locked room (actually a locked castle) two different ways, because Carr is a showoff; the Egyptian color ticks it up from Okay. –KH

Giant Days, Vols. 1-3 (Comics, John Allison, 2015-6) Compilations of Allison’s comic about three girls and their travails in university, mostly involving idiotic romantic partners. As warm and sweetly human as Allison’s work elsewhere (one character, Esther de Groot, carries over from his Bad Machinery/Bobbinsverse) but without the overt weirdness (here calmed into eccentricity) and frenetic storytelling. –KH

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Film, UK/US, Matthew Vaughn, 2017) Proletarian gentleman superspy Eggsy (Taron Egerton) returns to battle a drug lord (Julianne Moore) with the help of the American superspy group Statesman (Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal). Too much bad, unnecessary CGI (and some over-obvious direction) obscures a surprisingly not-terrible script; still, worth seeing for those seeking the thrills James Bond once provided. –KH

Night’s Master (Fiction, Tanith Lee, 1978) Linked short stories of innocence corrupted or maintained lay out an eon in the existence of a seductive demon lord. Lapidary prose and 70s sex abound in this neo-Symbolist outing in the Dunsany tradition.—RDL

A Report on the Party and the Guests (Film, Czechoslovakia, Jan Němec, 1966) Cosmopolitan guests at an influential figure’s country banquet are subjected to subtly menacing power games. Absurdist drama looks at how quickly the comfortable rationalize their own oppression. But even in this relatively free period of cinema in the Soviet satellite nations, it has to rely on the viewer to infer the dark conclusion it’s so clearly setting up.—RDL

The Transfiguration (Film, US, Michael O’Shea, 2016) Affectless, vampire-obsessed, neglected, and bullied African-American teen Milo (Eric Ruffin) eventually befriends his abused, self-destructive white neighbor Sophie (Chloe Levine). Essentially a loose remake of Romero’s Martin set in the Brooklyn projects, it suffers by comparison (its slow burn goes down to embers more than once) but on its own merits adds a few liters of AB+ to the vampire genre. –KH

Okay

Chasing the Dragon (Film, HK, Wong Jing & Jason Kwan, 2017) Loyal gangster Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen) and honorable corrupt cop Lee Rock (Andy Lau) rise together in the British-managed Hong Kong crime world of the late 60s and early 70s. Mythologized crime biopic maintains an unusually consistent tone for a Wong Jing effort, but is overloaded with plot points—because, weirdly, this is a remake of two previously unrelated films: the caustic, greatly superior To Be Number One and Lee Rock, featuring Andy Lau in the same role he plays here. Scored a big mainland release usually denied to violent HK gang pictures by dialing up the anti-colonial angle.—RDL

Preacher Season 2 (Television, US, AMC, Sam Catlin, 2017) With the Saint of Killers on his heels, Jesse drags Tulip and Cassidy to New Orleans in search of God, who has gone AWOL from heaven. Bursts of bravura weirdness can’t conceal the momentum stall of a season in which the protagonist makes zero progress toward his goal.—RDL

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Episode 261: Them Doritos is Rigged!

September 29th, 2017 | Robin

Hold onto your wallet when you enter this Gaming Hut. It’s full of scamsters, as we look at clipjoint towns in F20 games.

Patreon backer Elias Helfer digs into the files for a declassified Tradecraft Hut as he asks for the 101 on espionage in WWI.

Then Ken and/or Robin Talk To Someone Else, as Green Ronin’s Nicole Lindroos shows us the ropes of game company management.

Finally it’s time for some Fun With Science, as backer Allen Wilkins wants to know what’s really going on with NASA’s bacterial balloons.

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 Unknown Armies, Atlas Games’ modern-day, occult roleplaying game, you play the heroically broken people who conspire to fix the world. That conspiracy just got easier, with the arrival of the game on store shelves near you! 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. Do intervals between episodes plunge you into Hite withdrawal? Never fear! his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. John Scott Tynes’ Puppetland is ready to knock the stuffing out of a game store near you in its gorgeous new full-color hardcover edition. Join the good folks at Arc Dream in battling the horrific forces of Punch the Maker-Killer!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sapient Dogs and a Vanishing Toyshop

September 26th, 2017 | Robin

The Pinnacle

Master of None Season 2 (Television, US, Netflix, Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang, 2017) Dev falls for an engaged friend and moves up in the food television world. The show leans even further into its innovative format, telling a story arc through episodes structured as individual short films. Its focus on representation has been widely praised already, so let’s note its phenomenal cinemascope-ratio cinematography, which gives it a visual weight rarely attempted in the comedy-drama genre.—RDL

Recommended

Fifteen Dogs (Fiction, Andre Alexis, 2015) Apollo and Hermes make a wager, granting human intelligence to a group of dogs at a downtown Toronto veterinary hospital. Works both as a fable about the relationship between awareness and happiness, and a compelling extrapolation of what the world might look like to sapient canines.–RDL

Jerry Before Seinfeld (Stand-up, Jerry Seinfeld, Netflix, 2017) Jerry Seinfeld performs his pre-1981 material in the West Side comedy dive he started out in, the Comic Strip, punctuated with (thankfully brief) reminiscences. As with virtually everything he’s done this millennium, this special shows Seinfeld’s work ethic and deep sense of his art form’s traditions while still being playful and, yes, funny. –KH

A Light Affliction: A History of Film Preservation and Restoration (Nonfiction, Michael Binder, 2014) Informed and accessible look at the field from the Lumieres to DCPs focuses as much on the quirky founding personalities of the preservation movement as on the technical challenges of keeping films alive. Fun fact: Hollywood resisted the switch from nitrate because its ultra-dangerous nature required highly trained operators, thus discouraging pirate screenings.—RDL

The Moving Toyshop (Fiction, Edmund Crispin, 1946) Poet Richard Cadogan stumbles onto a murder upstairs from a toyshop — which vanishes the next morning. Good thing he’s in Oxford, and friends with the detective don Gervase Fen. This assured mystery shifts between grim crime, classic detection, and giddy nigh-Wodehousian humor between breaths, while remaining tightly plotted and consistently characterized. P.D. James considered it a Pinnacle, which should tell you something. –KH

Queenpin (Fiction, Megan Abbott, 2007) Young woman groomed by a classy older mentor as a mob courier puts the mentorship in peril when she succumbs to the brutal charms of a degenerate gambler. Unlike most modern shots at period noir, Abbott gets the voice right, avoiding the competing shoals of parody and anachronism.—RDL

The Woman on the Beach (Film, US, Jean Renoir, 1947) Soon-to-retire, PTSD-haunted Coast Guard officer (Robert Ryan) falls for the restless wife (Joan Bennett) of a tormented, blind ex-painter (Charles Bickford.) Reskinned gothic in which the great French director absorbs a touch of Val Lewton strangeness from next door on the RKO backlot.—RDL

Good

The Greatest Show on Earth (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1952) Circus manager Brad (Charlton Heston) has to deal with lovestruck trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton), her rival (and his) The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), and the criminal element (Lawrence Tierney) while keeping the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus in the black. Betty Hutton is the weak link here, but you also get the wonderful Gloria Grahame as an elephant trainer, and Jimmy Stewart as an enigmatic clown. Unfairly lambasted for beating High Noon for the Best Picture Oscar — it’s no High Noon, but it’s no Crash, either — this final DeMille spectacle movie provides ample circus spectacle, a magnificent train crash, and even some intermittently excellent tension on and off the high wire. If you’re pro-circus I’d call it Recommended. For extra fun play “spot the Spielberg engrams,” as this was the first movie Spielberg remembers seeing. –KH

mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) Dutiful wife (Jennifer Lawrence) to a blocked poet (Javier Bardem) spirals into hallucinatory nightmare when he invites oddball strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) into the home she’s painstakingly renovating. Becomes less interesting as the allegory fully clunks into view, but still worth seeing for its disorienting use of sound design and handheld extreme close-ups.—RDL

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Episode 260: Live from Gen Con 2017

September 22nd, 2017 | Robin

 

When Ken and Robin go live, as they do here in this episode recorded in August at Gen Con, the audience, aided by a mythic pack of index cards, tells us what the topics are. And in this case they jointly demanded Crimean War mecha, Bannonesque intrigue, Ken’s beef with the Gnostics, time machine interference in the Siege of Malta, mediating disputes between Captain America and Wolverine, and the proverbial so much more.

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 Unknown Armies, Atlas Games’ modern-day, occult roleplaying game, you play the heroically broken people who conspire to fix the world. That conspiracy just got easier, with the arrival of the game on store shelves near you! 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. Do intervals between episodes plunge you into Hite withdrawal? Never fear! his brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. John Scott Tynes’ Puppetland is ready to knock the stuffing out of a game store near you in its gorgeous new full-color hardcover edition. Join the good folks at Arc Dream in battling the horrific forces of Punch the Maker-Killer!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Maternal Madness and Puzzle Mysteries

September 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.

Robin has been off at the Toronto Film Festival. Check out his compendium of capsule reviews. Those capsules will reappear here when films get theatrical or home video releases over the next 18 months or so.

Recommended

Logan Lucky (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2017) In its essentials a country & western Ocean’s 11, like every great cover version this film shows the core strengths of the original while reveling in the joy of a new riff. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver head a low-key superb ensemble cast, outshone only by David Holmes’ incongruous yet satisfying score and Soderbergh’s butter-smooth direction. A less confident director could have turned the comedy into condescension; it’s to Soderbergh’s great credit that instead the West Virginia milieu plays the hero. –KH

Mother! (Film, US, Darren Aronofsky, 2017) A poet (Javier Bardem) seeking a creative spark and his young wife and muse (Jennifer Lawrence) dwell in Edenic isolation until … Beginning as Polanski-esque psychological thriller and veering into full-blown Gnostic Buñuel in the third act, this is an almost paradigmatically Aronofsky film: shot with power and control, about a disintegrating character and the nature of inspiration, and likely to piss off at least half its audience. –KH

Night in Alachua County (Play, Jennifer Rumberger, 2017) Southern Gothic meets necromancy in this tale of three generations of Florida women (there are no male speaking parts) abandoned, abused, and trying to survive on their own terms. The cicada-toned dread builds strong through dark revelations, not all of them magical. — KH (Runs through October 7 in an intimate, eerie production by Chicago’s WildClaw Theatre.)

Good

The Spy and the Thief (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1971) Fourteen Silver-Age mystery stories by the king of the puzzle-story, seven starring British crytpanalyst Jeffery Rand, seven starring smooth “thief of the worthless” Nick Velvet. The Velvet stories are always good, since they usually have a heist to go with the puzzle, and Hoch’s invention gets freer play. The Rand stories remain a mixed bag, although some of them show nice period detail. –KH

Okay

The Spy Who Read Latin (Fiction, Edward D. Hoch, 1990) This collection of seven Hoch puzzle mystery stories about British cryptanalyst Jeffery Rand doesn’t show Hoch at his best. The puzzles, which should be naturals for a cryptographer detective, are by and large too simple, and the spy atmosphere is less than convincing. –KH

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Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
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Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister