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Archive for May, 2017

Episode 243: I Do Not Wish to Be a Moth Hat

May 26th, 2017 | Robin

We know you want to hear about it, so Among Our Many Hats digs into the announcement that a certain Ken Hite will serve as lead designer for the new edition of Vampire: the Masquerade.

But that’s not all the hats! Then Robin looks at ways to use the Story Beats web app, which allows you to easily create narrative maps as seen in Hamlet’s Hit Points and his upcoming Beating the Story.

In an Ace Double of a segment, the Tradecraft Hut provides a backgrounder on the Trump intel spill. Then we sashay to a timeline next door to Meet Senator Hite and see what, if anything, he plans to do about it.

And when Ken was in Berlin getting his fangs fitted, he took time out to visit a museum. Hence, the Consulting Occultist recounts the wonders of the alchemy exhibit at the Kulturforum.


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! Want to plunge headlong into Lovecraftian mystery, but lack a gaming group? Want to introduce a friend or loved one to the roleplaying hobby? GUMSHOE One-2-One has come to your rescue! Find this new system by some guy named Robin D. Laws, in the line’s flagship title, Cthulhu Confidential. Now shipping at the Pelgrane Press store. 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!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Korean Exorcism and Tweaking Nazis

May 23rd, 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

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (Nonfiction, Norman Ohler, 2016) Novelist Ohler’s chatty history attempts to cover the whole field of drug use in the Third Reich but winds up only really focused on two areas: methamphetamine use by the Wehrmacht and other branches, and cocaine and opioid (Eukodal) use by Hitler at the behest of his Dr. Feelgood, Theo Morrell. Ohler outruns his research in a few places, mostly signposted, but the great virtue of this book is finding something new to say about WWII. –KH

Supernatural Season 12 (Television, US, Robert Singer and Andrew Dabb, 2016-2017) Sam and Dean get used to having their mom back from the dead as they deal with an incursion from ruthless British monster hunters and the return of Lucifer. The Gunsmoke of horror adventure shows freshens up its formula by layering two competing big bads into its continuity arc.—RDL

The Wailing (Film, South Korea, Hong-jin Na, 2016) When it begins to ensnare his own family, a doltish police sergeant (Do-Won Kwak) has all the more reason to investigate the connection between a rash of weird murders and the strange Japanese man who lives out in the woods (Jun Kunimura.) Spins that South Korean staple, the police incompetence drama, into epic-length exorcism horror that keeps the twists and ambiguities coming.—RDL

Good

Armies of the Volga Bulgars & Khanate of Kazan: 9th-16th Centuries (Nonfiction, Viacheslav Shpakovsky and David Nicolle, 2013) Perhaps every known fact (and plenty of speculation) about the Volga Bulgars’ military is in here and it’s still visibly stretched thin; besides the lovely plates, half the illustrations depict non-Bulgar weapons or fighters. That said, these 64 pages may be the best, i.e., only, book on the Volga Bulgars in English. –KH

Okay

Thunder Road (Film, US, Arthur Ripley, 1958) Kentucky moonshine runner (Robert Mitchum) puts his driving skills to use against federal agents and a murderous gangster out to seize his community’s booze production. This milestone in the development of the car chase action movie, a passion project of Mitchum’s, plays as an artifact today due to poky pacing in the dramatic scenes and a supporting cast that just can’t hold the screen with him.—RDL

Not Recommended

Mystery Team (Film, US, Dan Eckman, 2009) Kid detectives uncover a murder plot, except they’re all seniors in high school who still think they’re kid detectives. Even with Donald Glover and Aubrey Plaza in it these 94 minutes are interminable; if it had been a 9-minute comedy sketch, the single joke might have worked. –KH

The Salvation (Film, Denmark, Kristian Levring, 2014) After killing the men who murdered his freshly-arrived wife and son, a Schleswig war vet turned old West homesteader (Mads Mikkelsen) becomes the target of a land-grabbing bandit (Jeffrey Dean Morgan.) Taking the Mannerist sensibility of the spaghetti western and swapping out the black humor for unremitting Nordic grimness is not a compelling trade, it turns out. If this was a thing we could call it a frikadeller western but sadly it’s not.—RDL

Episode 242: Brain Out

May 19th, 2017 | Robin

The Gaming Hut has a thatched roof this time out as we riff a cast of pseudo-medieval villagers for your next F20.

In The Business of Gaming we puzzle the mystery of the generic supplement.

In the Food Hut we look at foodstuffs as treasure.

Finally we pry open the bars of the Eliptony Hut for the story of Lulu Hurst, the Wonder of Georgia, who in the 1880s claimed that she gained superhuman strength through contact with the Force.

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!

Want to plunge headlong into Lovecraftian mystery, but lack a gaming group? Want to introduce a friend or loved one to the roleplaying hobby? GUMSHOE One-2-One has come to your rescue! Find this new system by some guy named Robin D. Laws, in the line’s flagship title, Cthulhu Confidential. Now shipping at the Pelgrane Press store.

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!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Officials vs Godzilla and Death Up a Tree

May 16th, 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

Shin Godzilla (Film, Japan, Hideaki Anno, & Shinji Higuchi, 2016) Government officials struggle for a response when a gigantic, mutating sea dinosaur attacks Tokyo. Reimagines the ‘54 original as taking place in a world where anti-kaiju efforts are hampered by realistically drawn political impediments.—RDL

Good

All Honourable Men (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1997) Lyall’s very occasional prose fireworks are not really on display in this fine spy thriller set in the pre-WWI era. Lyall’s late series character Matthew Ranklin attempts to do the right thing in a hostage standoff on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. Probably worth reading, but only the locations provide the glimmer of Lyall’s potential; that said, the setting is still top notch. –KH

Hearts of the West (Film, US, Howard Zieff, 1975) Prolix bumpkin with dreams of publication as a Western novelist (Jeff Bridges) becomes a B-movie cowboy actor in 1930s Hollywood. Gently comic entry in the 70s nostalgia wave also stars Blythe Danner, Andy Griffith and Alan Arkin. Declaring influences can be tricky, but if there was a book called Roots of the Big Lebowski this film would definitely rate a section.—RDL

On Borrowed Time (Film, US, Harold S. Bucquet, 1939) After Death (Cedric Hardwicke) takes his parents and then his grandmother, an irrepressible tyke and his adorably irascible grandpa (Lionel Barrymore) trap him in a tree. Sass and sentimentality abound in this folksy comedic fantasy.–RDL

Okay

Gangster Squad (Film, US, Ruben Fleischer, 2013) Fleischer makes a C-grade B-movie with an A-list cast and from pieces of better flicks. He casts the LAPD vs Mickey Cohen as two warring visions of Los Angeles, but aside from Cohen (Sean Penn) loudly insisting he means “progress” Fleischer leaves that theme undeveloped. Even the location shots seem thin, as do the characters; some of the many fight scenes approach vividness and even originality. –KH

The Maltese Falcon (Film, US, Roy Del Ruth, 1931) Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) investigates a case involving a legendary statuette and the murder of his detective agency partner. Much more faithful to the novel, and thus the classic ‘41 version, than film lore would lead you to expect, but greatly undercut by Cortez’s portrayal of Spade as a grinning lech.—RDL

Vampire: A Wild Story in Scraps and Colors (Fiction, Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1921; trans. Joe Bandel, 2016) German scholar-adventurer Frank Braun washes up in New York on the outbreak of WW1. He becomes an agent of the Kaiser and embroiled with an exotic Jewish-German adventuress — even as he feels a strange anemia … Braun may be the only major vampire novel protagonist to get less emo when he discovers his condition. Ewers’ prose is lurid and highly colored even for 1921 and yes the blood libel makes an appearance but by and large this weirdly compelling read confounds expectations while not quite fulfilling its promise. –KH

Not Recommended

Broadchurch Season 2 (Television, UK, Chris Chibnall, 2015) As the trial of Miller’s husband for child murder tears the town apart, Hardy (David Tennant) renews his effort to crack the cold case that destroyed his life. Deprecates the investigative aspect of the far superior debut season to trowel on the implausible, overwrought melodrama.—RDL

Episode 241: New Hampshire’s Second Most Famous Notch

May 12th, 2017 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut we look at premise rejection from a player perspective. How do you catch yourself doing it, and how do you find your way through it?

We crawl over to the Cinema Hut to discuss the motifs of the war movie and how they’re adjusting to contemporary conflicts.

In Ken and/or Robin Talk to Someone Else, Ken speaks with Keisha Howard of Sugargamers.

Then we’re in for a rocky Ken’s Time Machine as Patreon backer Allen Wilkins asks our hero to fess up about his involvement in collapsing New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain rock formation.

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.


Like Ken and Robin themselves, The White Box, from Atlas Games and Gameplaywright, is all about making games. Professor of the gaming arts Jeremy Holcomb gives you all the deep knowledge, wooden bits, plastic discs, and punchboard tokens you need to take the game that’s in your head and make it a reality. Make it all the more awesome by supporting the White Box Kickstarter. Want to plunge headlong into Lovecraftian mystery, but lack a gaming group? Want to introduce a friend or loved one to the roleplaying hobby? GUMSHOE One-2-One has come to your rescue! Find this new system by some guy named Robin D. Laws, in the line’s flagship title, Cthulhu Confidential. Now shipping at the Pelgrane Press store. 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!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Kung Fu Rio Bravo and the Gun-Toting Raccoon

May 9th, 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

Call of Heroes (Film, HK / China, Benny Chang, 2016) Principled sheriff (Lau Ching Wan) and scruffy martial artist tempted by altruism (Eddie Peng) await the arrival of warriors intent on freeing their warlord boss’ sadistic son (Louis Koo) from the village jail. When you hear “martial arts riff on Rio Bravo from the director of The White Storm, with action direction by Sammo Hung, featuring the aforementioned cast plus Wu Jing,” the only sensible question is, “They don’t screw it up somehow do they?” And I am here to tell you, no, they do not screw it up.–RDL

Colossal (Film, US/Canada, Nacho Vigalondo, 2017) Alcoholic, unemployed, and kicked out by her boyfriend, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown and discovers that she is somehow linked to a kaiju suddenly materializing in Seoul. A well-crafted, if not very subtle, film about alcoholism gets points for metaphorical boldness, and for the performances by Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, who plays her childhood friend turned helpful bartender. –KH

Don’t Breathe (Film, US, Fede Alvarez, 2016) Trio of young robbers gets more than it bargained for when its target, a blind army vet (Stephen Lang) living in an otherwise abandoned Detroit neighborhood, turns out to be a terrifyingly buff and competent defender of his hoarded cash. Taut and shudder-inducing inversion of Wait Until Dark has much more going for it than its generic horror marketing campaign wanted to let on.—RDL

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Film, US, James Gunn, 2017) Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) saves the gang from mercenaries in order to reveal himself as Starlord’s absent father. Comic set-pieces and stylistic verve sub in for plot momentum within a structure that has the heroes discovering their procedural goal only at the top of the final act.—RDL

Judas Country (Fiction, Gavin Lyall, 1975) The civil-air-transportation thriller maybe never had a heyday, but if it did it was right around when Lyall wrote them. Cargo pilots Cavitt and Case get themselves tangled up in gunrunning, fraud, murder, and artifact smuggling in this assured novel that hops from Nicosia to Beirut and Jerusalem. Lyall evokes an almost vanished milieu along with the smell of jet fuel and his trademark flashes of breathtakingly good prose. –KH

Our Little Sister (Film, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015) After the death of their estranged father, a trio of sisters meet their teen step-sister and invite her to live with them. Visually and emotionally beautiful drama realizes its suppressed conflicts with warmth and a masterful lightness of touch.—RDL

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story (Fiction, Susan Hill, 2010) A wrong turn down a country lane leads a London bookhound to a prolonged haunting by a young boy’s ghost. Ably paced novella marries contemporary characterization to the M. R. James school of subtle terror.—RDL

Good

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (Nonfiction, Andrea Mays, 2015) Biographical account of the genial, secretive Standard Oil exec who, in tandem with scholarly spouse Emily, amassed the book collection that formed the basis of their Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Breathes life into the story of the most unassuming super-rich couple ever, injecting suspense into the essentially repetitive rhythm of narrow-field collecting. The dismissive insistence that the Standard Oil breakup was inarguably bad for consumers may send you a-Googling for a fairly rendered opposing view.—RDL

Okay

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Film, US, James Gunn, 2017) Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the gang are back, and more laboriously scripted than ever! Gunn’s film works best when it just relaxes into being a big damn pretty comic book, switching between slapstick and music video and shootemups and exasperated space raccoons. It’s when it tries for meaning that it’s undercut, by the enjoyable irony of the rest of the film as much as by the rote dialogue. Gunn also dusts and dulls his magnificent Seventies palette for the last act, which doesn’t help. –KH

Episode 240: Bush Bachelor

May 5th, 2017 | Robin

Our second consecutive all-request episode kicks off in the Gaming Hut, as Ray Slakinksi asks for tips on running Night’s Black Agents at conventions.

In the History Hut Andy Young wants to know about the Mythos truth behind the death of legendary Canadian painter Tom Thomson.

Rick Neal uses the kind offices of Ask Ken and Robin to find out about geek-friendly destinations in Toronto and Chicago.

Then get ready to grab your picket signs as our Tell Me More segment enlists the Consulting Occultist for a look at the secret occult history of the epic battle between urban planner Robert Moses and the writer Jane Jacobs over the fate of Greenwich Village.

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.


Like Ken and Robin themselves, The White Box, from Atlas Games and Gameplaywright, is all about making games. Professor of the gaming arts Jeremy Holcomb gives you all the deep knowledge, wooden bits, plastic discs, and punchboard tokens you need to take the game that’s in your head and make it a reality. Make it all the more awesome by supporting the White Box Kickstarter.

Want to plunge headlong into Lovecraftian mystery, but lack a gaming group? Want to introduce a friend or loved one to the roleplaying hobby? GUMSHOE One-2-One has come to your rescue! Find this new system by some guy named Robin D. Laws, in the line’s flagship title, Cthulhu Confidential. Now pre-ordering at the Pelgrane Press store. 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!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Most Important Wolf

May 2nd, 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

Hangsaman (Fiction, Shirley Jackson, 1951 / 1964) Repressing an act of traumatic violence, an imaginative seventeen year old attempts to fit amid amid the hothouse environment of a quasi-progressive woman’s college. Elusive, hallucinatory coming of age story invokes the Tarot and a touch of cosmic horror while keeping its feet planted in the literary fiction tradition. Ahead of its time in its feminist perspective, this warrants a slot in the canon of mid-century American existential yearning alongside Salinger, Yates, Roth and company.–RDL

Recommended

A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes (Nonfiction, Willem P. Gerritsen and Anthony G. van Melle, 1998) Originally published in Dutch, this compendium only covers 87 heroes, but every one gets an in-depth essay covering at least the main textual threads and sometimes a good deal more. In addition to the Arthurian, Nibelung, and Charlemagne cycles, we get the medieval versions of ancients from Alexander to Troilus, plus wonderful weird heroes like Ysengrimus, “the most important wolf in Western European beast epic.” –KH

Bone Tomahawk (Film, US, S. Craig Zahler, 2015) Playing like a beautiful bastard child of The Searchers and The Hills Have Eyes, this horror Western follows Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) and a rudimentary posse to rescue the kidnapped wife (Lili Simmons) of crippled cowboy O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) from a band of cannibal troglodytes. The acting and dialogue are first-rate, and the combat sequences brutal and abrupt. Well worth it for fans of cowboys-and-c.h.u.d.s, or of either one, really. –KH

Feud: Bette and Joan (Television, US, Ryan Murphy, 2017) Egged on by wily studio boss Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci), waning screen legends Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) develop a healthy mutual antagonism while shooting What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Even in the Golden Age of TV, it’s amazing that a show with this concept even exists, much less that it’s as insightful and affecting as it is. Watch the compositions; no show has ever loved its sets the way “Feud” does.—RDL

Which Way is the Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (Film, US, Sebastian Junger, 2013) Portrait of war cinematographer Hetherington, who with disarming charisma covered conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was killed in 2011. Pays tribute to its subject both as a man and as an artist before, inevitably and properly, succumbing to the narrative power of its final act, in which the hero ignores the warnings and his own rules and is drawn to poetic doom.—RDL

Good

22 Jump Street (Film, US, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2014) Odd couple buddy cops (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum) strain their relationship when their latest undercover assignment pulls them in different directions. Constructs its biggest running gag around the laziness of sequels and wisely keeps the focus on the chemistry of the Hill-Tatum comedy duo.—RDL

Free Fire (Film, UK, Ben Wheatley, 2017) Late-stage capitalism and toxic masculinity walk into a warehouse and a gunfight breaks out. Or rather, slowly dribbles out — the gangsters and terrorists on either side are authentically terrible shots. Despite Wheatley’s clear desire to make a Tarantino-esque film, there’s not much verve or dialogue, and he films the gunfight more as a series of character vignettes than as action sequences. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are almost wasted; Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Sam Riley play louder idiots to better effect. Still, it’s a good joke even if Wheatley takes his own sweet time telling it. –KH

The Peanuts Movie (Film, US, Steve Martino, 2015) Charlie Brown falls for but can’t approach the little red-headed girl; Snoopy battles the Red Baron. Surprisingly faithful translation of the Schulz/Melendez/Mendelson style into the CGI era. The ideal length for Peanuts on screen still seems to be 25 min though.—RDL

Tramps (Film, US, Adam Leon, 2017) Boy meets girl, boy screws up criminal bag drop with girl, boy and girl try to get bag back. Before Sunrise riff showcases charm of its two leads—Grace van Patten in particular has “future movie star” written all over her.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now on Netflix.

Mesmerizingly Terrible

The Fear Makers (Film, US, Jacques Tourneur, 1956) Freed P.O.W. (Dana Andrews, dead drunk in every shot) returns from the Korean War to discover that his business partner has been killed, and his PR firm is now engaged in two terrifying new practices: polling and lobbying. Spoiler: it’s the Commies! Talky, set-bound artifact packs a lot of crazy into its micro-budget (a hilariously pro forma romantic subplot, Mel Torme as the sexually harassing office milquetoast), with momentary flashes of trademark style from a clearly down-on-his-luck Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past.)—RDL

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