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Grimoire

Episode 336: The Trees Need Nutrients

March 22nd, 2019 | Robin

The Gaming Hut stages a baccarat game with the devil as Patreon backer Eain Bankins asks for help introducing the main villain without devolving into an immediate and disappointing fight.

In the Horror Hut we stir the pot on the witch and/or Satanist sub-genre.

Then Ken has another stack of tomes to lovingly riffle through as he adds the fruits of this year’s Bay Area shopping expedition to Ken’s Bookshelf.

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.


A precious few Deluxe copies of  Cogs and Commissars, clever card game of are available directly from Atlas Games.  The “Most-Equal ‘Apparatchik’ Edition” features wooden screen-printed Citizen tokens, neoprene mats for each faction leader, and a foil-stamped, spot-gloss, magnetic-closure box. Seize the means of collectibility!

Ken’s latest roleplaying game, The Fall of Delta Green, is now available in print or PDF or both from Pelgrane Press. Journey to the head-spinning chaos of the late 1960s, back when everyone’s favorite anti-Cthulhu special ops agency hadn’t gone rogue yet, for this pulse-pounding GUMSHOE game of war, covert action, and Mythos horror.

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, Western, and Freeway Warrior!

Cthulhu. Hastur. Who’s the Great Old One, and who’s the GREATEST Old One? Time to find out. It’s WRESTLENOMICON, the card game from veterans of Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Epic Spell Wars, and Delta Green, now on Kickstarter!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: An Iceman, a Cartoonist and Shipboard Hijinks

March 19th, 2019 | 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

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Film, US, Gus van Sant, 2017) After a motorized wheelchair wipeout attracts curious skateboard kids to his sketchbook, cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) recalls his accident and journey through 12-step. Achronological biopic filled with the director’s love for the scruffy and scrappy inhabitants of his Portland milieu.—RDL

Iceman (Film, Germany/Italy/Austria, Felix Randau, 2017) This biopic of Ötzi (d. 3300 BCE) casts him as Kelab (Jürgen Vogel), shaman for a small proto-Rhaetian settlement, who sets out to avenge his family’s murder and the theft of the holy Tineka. Jakub Bejnarowicz’ gorgeous wide-angle shots of the Alps firmly establish the Neolithic Western vibe. Randau’s decision to leave the proto-Rhaetian dialogue unsubtitled builds immersion but (along with everyone being a mass of fur and hair) means characters remain distant. –KH

Romance on the High Seas (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1948) Vivacious singer (Doris Day) on a Caribbean cruise falls for the detective (Jack Carson) hired to follow the woman she has been hired to impersonate. Top talents, including the Epstein brothers and I. A. L. Diamond at at the typewriter, elevate a musical comedy trifle in zowie Technicolor.—RDL

Good

Better Call Saul Season 4 (Television, US, AMC, Vince Gilligan, 2018) A frustrated Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) struggles for self-respect without his law license as Mike (Jonathan Banks) supervises a secret construction project for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito.) With every season, the divide between the fresh and emotionally acute main plotline, and the unnecessary prequelizing of the routine crime drama off to the side, grows more glaring.—RDL

Cat Sense (Nonfiction, John Bradshaw, 2013) Anthrozoologist Bradshaw tilts at the windmill of figuring out cats, from the direction of genetics and kitten development. Nothing super new here if you’ve read other cat-science books, and if not this makes a fine overview, but don’t be misled by the subtitle: only one chapter in eleven deals at all with human-feline relationships. –KH

The Drummer (Film, HK, Kenneth Bi, 2007) A heedless young man (Jaycee Chan), sent to Taiwan to by his triad boss dad (Tony Leung Ka Fai) to escape a rival gangster’s vengeance, seeks belonging with a group of Zen drummers. Leung’s star charisma supplies the memorable moments in this fusion of crime flick and moral homily.—RDL

Okay

The Lodgers (Film, Ireland, Brian O’Malley, 2017) An ancestral curse, complete with bad nursery rhyme, traps twin siblings Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) in their moldering mansion in 1920 Ireland. This watery Gothic barely lives up to its premise, and never to its promise, despite one or two flashes of weirdness and intermittent effort from the stars. A potentially interesting subtext about the English presence in Ireland remains slack.–KH

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Episode 335: Any Smart Gundamologist

March 15th, 2019 | Robin

The Gaming Hut delves into a design issue at the behest of Patreon backer Mikey Hamm, who wants to know how to balance player options against the archetypal experience of a game.

We keep mentioning him, and now backer Sam Harris demands an entire Book Hut segment on Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye.

Get ready for a tough fight as we inaugurate the brand new Monster Hut with a look at the bugbear.

Finally backer Chris Kalley visits the Consulting Occultist to learn about military theorist, Thelemite and fascist J. F. C. Fuller.

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.


A precious few Deluxe copies of  Cogs and Commissars, clever card game of are available directly from Atlas Games.  The “Most-Equal ‘Apparatchik’ Edition” features wooden screen-printed Citizen tokens, neoprene mats for each faction leader, and a foil-stamped, spot-gloss, magnetic-closure box. Seize the means of collectibility!

Ken’s latest roleplaying game, The Fall of Delta Green, is now available in print or PDF or both from Pelgrane Press. Journey to the head-spinning chaos of the late 1960s, back when everyone’s favorite anti-Cthulhu special ops agency hadn’t gone rogue yet, for this pulse-pounding GUMSHOE game of war, covert action, and Mythos horror.

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, Western, and Freeway Warrior!

Cthulhu. Hastur. Who’s the Great Old One, and who’s the GREATEST Old One? Time to find out. It’s WRESTLENOMICON, the card game from veterans of Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Epic Spell Wars, and Delta Green, now on Kickstarter!

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Brie Goes Kree

March 12th, 2019 | 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.

The Pinnacle

Russian Doll Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler & Leslye Headland, 2019) After Nadia (Lyonne) dies on her birthday, she enters a time loop, and what’s worse, her cat is missing. So New York you can smell the urine, this amazingly deft comedy assembles influences, music cues, and incisive, natural performances (especially Elizabeth Ashley as Nadia’s surrogate mother figure) into a story about human damage that (almost) never kills its own buzz. –KH

Recommended

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Nonfiction, Gerard Russell, 2014) A survey of minority religions in the Middle East and Central Asia looks at offshoots from the big three (Samaritans, Copts), esoteric faiths (Mandaeans, Yazidis, Druze), the monotheistic Zoroastrians and the polytheistic Kalasha. Scholarship and first person reportage illuminates details of theology and daily life that news stories of sectarian conflict can’t help but gloss over.—RDL

The Laughing Heirs (Film, Germany, Max Ophuls, 1933) Misunderstandings proliferate as the young inheritor to a Rhine Valley winery, commanded by the will to abstain for a month, woos the daughter of its main competitor. Fizzy ode to German wine culture and the joy of living, rendered retrospectively poignant by its release date.

Who is Harry Nilsson? (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (Film, US, John Scheinfeld, 2010) Documentary profiles the beloved singer-songwriter, whose life heartbreakingly follows the all too familiar pattern of self-destructive genius. Formally straightforward but delivers the emotion of Nilsson’s life with access to both the superstar friends who accompanied him on his wild sprees and an audio memoir he recorded prior to his death.—RDL

Good

The Blue Gardenia (Film, US, Fritz Lang, 1953) With a conflicted newspaper columnist (Richard Conte) on her trail, a jilted switchboard operator (Ann Baxter) fears arrest after an encounter with a creepy date (Raymond Burr) ends in his death. Uneven mix of light business and noir, with Lang bringing his full attention to the latter and indifferently staging the former.—RDL

Captain Marvel (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019) Alien warrior (Brie Larson) crashes on grunge-era earth in pursuit of enemies, teams with SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson.) Script blunts its emotional arc by hiding its setup from both hero and audience. Kicks up a notch whenever Larson and Jackson get to play buddy cop beats.—RDL

Dave Made a Maze (Film, US, Bill Watterson, 2017) Woman returns from business trip to find that her creatively blocked boyfriend (Nick Thune) has trapped himself in a cardboard labyrinth/pocket dimension he built in their living room. Whimsical horror-comedy plays as a Gondryesque remake of Cube. No, not that Bill Watterson.—RDL

Okay

Captain Marvel (Film, US, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019) Kree super-weapon Vers (Brie Larson) flees the shapeshifting Skrull general Talos (“Mendo” (are you happy now Travis Johnson)) to Nineties Earth where she meets Nick Fury (CGI and Samuel L. Jackson) and discovers her true past. Cookie-cutter Marvel origin flick saddled with truly awful, choppy, murky fight scenes criminally wastes Annette Bening, but sporadically comes to life when Larson gets to play a human. –KH

Odd Thomas (Film, US, Stephen Sommers, 2013) The ominous appearance of spectral fear-eaters puts a small town psychic detective (Anton Yelchin) on the trail of an imminent massacre. Hyped up direction merely emphasizes the flaws of a script weighed down by the expository demands of its source material, a series novel by Dean R. Koontz.—RDL

Not Recommended

Occult Features of Anarchism (Nonfiction, Erica Lagalisse, 2019) Intended as a (needed) corrective to the hyper-materialist secular consensus of left-anarchism, this slim tract shies away from specifics and (as in the case of the witchcraft trials) sometimes gets the generalities embarrassingly wrong. (Lagalisse at least cites James Webb’s The Occult Underground, which did all this much better, in 1974 no less.) There’s the germ of a good long-read in the concluding essay, on the notion of conspiracy theories as revolutionary consciousness in ovo, but it feels tacked on. –KH

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Episode 334: The Number One Mistake of Smart People

March 8th, 2019 | Robin

Protect the precious store of dwindling oxygen in the Gaming Hut as we riff a crew of GMCs for an installation horror scenario.

Journey into the History Hut to hear us satisfy Martin Rundkvist’s Patreon backer desire to hear about writer/explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and his wife and literary steward, Isabel.

Join us in the Cinema Hut as we contemplate the pleasures and mysteries of the rewatch.

Then hop into Ken’s Time Machine as he tells us about the Burr-Clinton-Brant Upper Canada coup that never was.

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.


A precious few Deluxe copies of  Cogs and Commissars, clever card game of are available directly from Atlas Games.  The “Most-Equal ‘Apparatchik’ Edition” features wooden screen-printed Citizen tokens, neoprene mats for each faction leader, and a foil-stamped, spot-gloss, magnetic-closure box. Seize the means of collectibility!

Ken’s latest roleplaying game, The Fall of Delta Green, is now available in print or PDF or both from Pelgrane Press. Journey to the head-spinning chaos of the late 1960s, back when everyone’s favorite anti-Cthulhu special ops agency hadn’t gone rogue yet, for this pulse-pounding GUMSHOE game of war, covert action, and Mythos horror.

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, Western, and Freeway Warrior!

Just in time to save the world, though perhaps not your team of hardened covert agents, from the Mythos, the Delta Green Handlers Guide from Arc Dream Publishing is now in print and either at or headed to a game store near you. The slipcase print edition includes both the Handlers’ Guide and Agents’ Handbook, fitting snugly into your go bag along with your extra passports and list of weapons caches.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: New York Time Loops and Celery Destruction

March 5th, 2019 | 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.

The Pinnacle

Russian Doll Season 1 (Television, Netflix, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler & Leslye Headland, 2019) Hard-living video game coder (Lyonne) gets caught in a timeloop that begins in a bathroom at her birthday party and ends in a variety of sudden demises. From its burnished look to the sublimity of its soundtrack needle drops to Lyonne’s revelatory performance, this is one of those first seasons so galvanizingly perfect that you fear they’ll make a second.—RDL

Recommended

Because of the Cats (Fiction, Nicolas Freeling, 1964) Inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam police investigates a gang of spoiled rich kids and finds something darker at work. Barely a mystery, more a study of motive than a policier, it offers the satisfactions of both in a slightly off-kilter way. –KH

High Flying Bird (Film, US, Steven Soderbergh, 2019) Wily agent (André Holland) squeezed by an NBA lockout uses a naive rookie (Melvin Gregg) as leverage in a bigger game. Fast-talking business procedural questions the power imbalances between young athletes and the big money structure that surrounds them. Looks surprisingly sleek and gorgeous for a flick shot on an iPhone.—RDL

Magnificent Obsession with Alicia Malone ,Episode 6: Alyson Dee Moore (Podcast, 2019) Malone, ex of Filmstruck and now of TCM, brings deep knowledge and love of all cinema eras to her new podcast. Here she interviews a longtime Foley artist, who shares surprising secrets of sound effects recording, from the field’s relatively young pedigree to the centrality of walking noises.—RDL

Startup (Fiction, Doree Shafrir, 2017) A wayward dick pic interweaves the lives of five denizens of NYC’s tech scene. Comic novel of douchebag men and the women who tolerate them treats the mores of its social layer with the precision of gaze Edith Wharton trained on the city’s gilded age.—RDL

Good

Mad Monkey Kung Fu (Film, HK, Lau Kar-leung, 1979) Impulsive petty thief (Hou Hsiao) convinces maimed ex-martial artist (Chia-Liang Liu) to train him, so he can take on town crooks. Athletic clowning and brutal plot turns meet up on the Shaw Brothers standing sets.—RDL

The Spook Who Sat By The Door (Fiction, Sam Greenlee, 1969) Hired as the token first black CIA officer, Dan Freeman uses his intelligence and insurgency training to mount a Black revolution in Chicago. Didactic and angry it may be (but no more so than any average Jerry Pournelle novel), but the bald narrative builds to an effective revolutionary thriller. –KH [Note: The Kindle version overwrites several pages with pages from another book entirely, as does at least one recent reprint.]

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Episode 333: Our Earth and Cincinnati

March 1st, 2019 | Robin

Time to check your dermal surfaces for sigils as the Gaming Hut takes a look at spell side effects.

The Tradecraft Hut goes contemporary and shadowy to examine private spy agencies, including Black Cube and Psy Group.

Ask Ken and Robin responds to the request of Patreon backer Drew Eicholz for contemporary weirdness in Kansas that does not rely on stock monsters.

The Eliptony Hut remains in the midwest to tell backers Dicegeeks what lurks in the Cincinnati Subway, and how to kill it.

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.


A precious few Deluxe copies of  Cogs and Commissars, clever card game of are available directly from Atlas Games.  The “Most-Equal ‘Apparatchik’ Edition” features wooden screen-printed Citizen tokens, neoprene mats for each faction leader, and a foil-stamped, spot-gloss, magnetic-closure box. Seize the means of collectibility!

Ken’s latest roleplaying game, The Fall of Delta Green, is now available in print or PDF or both from Pelgrane Press. Journey to the head-spinning chaos of the late 1960s, back when everyone’s favorite anti-Cthulhu special ops agency hadn’t gone rogue yet, for this pulse-pounding GUMSHOE game of war, covert action, and Mythos horror.

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, Western, and Freeway Warrior!

Just in time to save the world, though perhaps not your team of hardened covert agents, from the Mythos, the Delta Green Handlers Guide from Arc Dream Publishing is now in print and either at or headed to a game store near you. The slipcase print edition includes both the Handlers’ Guide and Agents’ Handbook, fitting snugly into your go bag along with your extra passports and list of weapons caches.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Mumbai Rap Dreams and Classic Fu Comedy

February 26th, 2019 | 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

Dirty Ho (Film, HK, Chia-Liang Liu, 1979) Bumpkinish thief (Wong Yue) reluctantly submits to the reforming efforts of an incognito martial artist (Gordon Liu), whose pursuing enemies must for court intrigue reasons also disguise their fighting mastery whenever they try to kill him. Comedy martial arts choreography requires not just the athleticism, precision and inventiveness of the regular kind; it has to be funny, too, and this gives us the form at its apex. Be aware that Hong Kong comedy of this period is not about sensitivity culture.—RDL

Gully Boy (Film, India, Zoya Akhtar, 2019) In Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, emo poet Murad (Ranveer Singh) finds inspiration and a dream in rap. Hitting all the standard “rise of the rocker” beats (Murad is roughly based on Mumbai rapper Naezy), Akhtar works visual and social contrasts in Mumbai to great advantage. She superbly leverages Singh’s star power, and that of Alia Bhatt as Singh’s equally driven girlfriend; Siddhant Chaturvedi provides strength as his rap mentor. If the story stakes are mostly old-Mumbai (or old-Hollywood) low, the acting and directing are new-Mumbai strong. –KH

Hereditary (Film, US, Ari Aster, 2018) Harried artist (Toni Collette) grapples with her lack of grief on the death of her toxic mother, and then crushing grief when another disaster strikes her family, and supernatural manifestations close in. Slow burn horror in which the archetypal characters are elevated by shaded writing and performances from Collette, Gabriel Byrne (as the skeptical husband) and Ann Dowd (as the conveniently helpful new confidant.)—RDL

Of Fathers and Sons (Film, Germany, Tala Derki, 2018) Verite documentary goes inside the daily life of a starry-eyed member of a Syrian al-Qaida affiliate as he looks forward to the apocalypse, defuses land mines, and prepares his eight young sons to become jihadi soldiers. Stunning for the degree of access afforded the filmmaker, this reveals not so much the banality of evil as a casual, workaday devotion to an ideology of violence and death.—RDL

Good

All About Ah-Long (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 1989) The lives of a loutish construction worker (Chow Yun-Fat) and his irrepressible 10-year-old son hit a curve when the boy’s mother (Sylvia Chang), now a successful commercial producer, comes back into the picture. Come to see To in the middle of his evolution into his mature style, stay for the magnetism of the leads and the rip-your-heart-out-and-then-stomp-on-it-and-shoot-it-a-couple-of-times-for-good-measure melodrama.—RDL

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Audio drama, Julian Simpson, BBC, 2018) Adapting the Pinnacle Lovecraft novel as a faux true-crime podcast investigating a modern locked-room murder deserves points for audacity and high concept. Its execution, however, trades Lovecraft’s clear mystery concept and historical grounding for a more chaotic (in all senses) postmodern feel, without particularly enlivening the characters. –KH

God of War (Film, China, Gordon Chan, 2017) Uxorious general (Vincent Zhao) overcomes limp support from the Ming Court to battle Japanese-backed pirates. Rousingly mounted war/action epic focuses on weapons and tactics, occasionally handwaving in the direction of a character arc for its virtuous hero.—RDL

Okay

The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington (Fiction, Charles Rosenberg, 2018) The hated British kidnap General Washington in 1780 and put him on trial in the Old Bailey in a gamble to end the stalemated war. Real-life lawyer Rosenberg should probably have amplified the legal thriller side of this earnest but flatly told story, which strays too close to implausibility without the necessary buttress of bafflegab. –KH

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Episode 332: Unencumbered By Space Cats

February 22nd, 2019 | Robin


In the Gaming Hut we contemplate lunar havoc as Patreon backer Ray Slakinski asks us to turn Project A119 into a Fall of Delta Green scenario.

We walk the red carpet into the Cinema Hut as we indulge in our traditional pre-Oscar look back at our favorite films from the previous year.

Then backer Gerald Sears asks the Consulting Occultist to fill a game set in late 20s New York City with historical esoteric weirdness.

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.


A precious few Deluxe copies of  Cogs and Commissars, clever card game of are available directly from Atlas Games.  The “Most-Equal ‘Apparatchik’ Edition” features wooden screen-printed Citizen tokens, neoprene mats for each faction leader, and a foil-stamped, spot-gloss, magnetic-closure box. Seize the means of collectibility!

Ken’s latest roleplaying game, The Fall of Delta Green, is now available in print or PDF or both from Pelgrane Press. Journey to the head-spinning chaos of the late 1960s, back when everyone’s favorite anti-Cthulhu special ops agency hadn’t gone rogue yet, for this pulse-pounding GUMSHOE game of war, covert action, and Mythos horror.

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!

Just in time to save the world, though perhaps not your team of hardened covert agents, from the Mythos, the Delta Green Handlers Guide from Arc Dream Publishing is now in print and either at or headed to a game store near you. The slipcase print edition includes both the Handlers’ Guide and Agents’ Handbook, fitting snugly into your go bag along with your extra passports and list of weapons caches.

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Ken and Robin Consume Media: Rigors of Space and Faith

February 19th, 2019 | 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

At Balthazar: The New York Brasserie at the Center of the World (Nonfiction, Reggie Nadelson, 2017) Portrait of iconic NYC brasserie uses the conceit of a day’s service, from breakfast to late night drinks, to reveal the many levels of its organization, including decor, sourcing, staffing, and, of course, cooking. Beguiling food journalism shows the stunning scale of an operation that thrives on attention to detail.—RDL

Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) After the apparent closure of the previous installment and Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) in jail writing his memoirs, a new rift opens in the Hiroshima mob between old-school hotheads and a legitimacy seeking, corporate-style leader. The long-running series ends with a jolt of manic energy, largely injected by the introduction of crime flick icon Jo Shiseido as a splenetic senior yakuza.—RDL

First Man (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2018) Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) seals himself off from tragedy over the decade he spends in NASA’s astronaut program before walking on the Moon. One wonders what film Clint Eastwood (originally tabbed to direct) would have made of a stoic hero whose only antagonist is physics, but Chazelle seems as obsessively focused as his subject on getting to the Moon. Gosling and Claire Foy (who plays Janet Armstrong) refuse each other so intensely it’s almost a relief to strap into a tin can riveted to high explosives. Cool, almost elliptical editing by Tom Cross performs silent miracles here. –KH

First Reformed (Film, US, Paul Schrader, 2018) Pastor of an ill-attended, historic church (Ethan Hawke) struggles with despair after a failed attempt to counsel a depressed environmental activist. Schrader’s admiration for Bresson has never been more apparent than in this austerely masterful recapitulation of his core motifs, weighted by affecting portrayals from Hawke, Amanda Seyfried as the activist’s wife and Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as a sympathetic mega-church leader.—RDL

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Film, US, RaMell Moore, 2018) Impressionist, verite documentary seeks sublimity in the quotidian as it reveals the lives of a young black family living in impoverished rural Alabama. Makes its way to an emotional punch that justifies the occasional shot of not much going on. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this weekend’s Academy Awards.—RDL

The Tale (Film, US, Jennifer Fox, 2018) When her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote as a 13-year-old, a documentary filmmaker (Laura Dern) re-examines the childhood sexual abuse she has mentally remythologized as a relationship with an older boyfriend. Innovative storytelling techniques capture the gulf between carefully constructed memory and retrospectively revealed reality.—RDL

Good

Paradox (Film, HK, Wilson Yip, 2017) Overprotective Hong Kong cop (Louis Koo) goes to Thailand in search of his missing daughter, where he teams up with a local detective (Yue Wu) against a highly connected conspiracy. The latest in the SPL series is more grim than romantically fatalistic, leaving  the Sammo Hung action direction as the main point of attraction. Note the distinct combat styles he gives each principal, including and Tony Jaa, who shows up just long enough for a special guest fight scene.—RDL

The Wandering Earth (Film, China, Frant Gwo, 2019) Disaffected youth Liu Qi’s (Qu Chuxiao) joyride on the Earth’s frozen surface coincides with a Jovian gravity spike that endangers the “Wandering Earth” mission — to fly the planet to Alpha Centauri to escape the Sun going nova. Based on the Cixin Liu story, this film combines SF blockbuster and disaster-movie tropes with general success, aided by Roc Chen’s metal-fatigue score. Thinly sketched characters emoting amid CGI maybe won’t grab you, but the spectacle provides plenty sense of wonder. –KH

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Film Cannister
Cartoon Rocket
d8
Flying Clock
Robin
Film Cannister