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Archive for July, 2017

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Spidey, Big Sick and the Cash That Brings Doom

July 18th, 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

The Big Sick (Film, US, Michael Showalter, 2017) When the girlfriend (Zoe Kazan) who recently broke up with him when she realized he’d been hiding her from his traditionalist parents falls sick and is placed in a coma, comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani) awkwardly bonds with her worried parents (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano). Based on the marriage origin story of Nanjiani and co-writer Emily Gordon, this touching and funny comedy-drama holds fast to its sense of real lives lived.—RDL

Fool’s Gold (Fiction, Dolores Hitchens, 1958) A pair of young crooks in the classic sociopath plus follower pairing decide to steal a cache of money stored in an old spinster’s house, even if it was left there by a tough character from Vegas. Noirish suspenser of strongly characterized and mostly terrible people making terrible decisions, to results that spin out of control in unpredictable ways, Later adapted, all but unrecognizably, into Godard’s most entertaining film, Band of Outsiders.—RDL

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Nonfiction, Mary Roach, 2016) Survey of US military science projects that aim to protect soldiers delves into such topics as stink bombs, submarine survival, the biomechanics of heat prostration, and why shark repellent isn’t a thing. When a horrible fly creature shows up in “The Wars” segment of the Yellow King RPG, you’ll know to thank Mary Roach, who gives breezy pop-sci a good name.—RDL

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film, US, Jon Watts, 2017) The secret to a good superhero movie is to make a good movie and put a superhero in it: this is a good high-school comedy with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in it. With the addition of Michael Keaton’s blue-collar, relatable Vulture as the refreshingly not-idiotic villain, it becomes fully Recommended; Watts cheats the Marvel formula by skipping the origin and focusing on the goofy fun of web-slinging. –KH

Good

Two Bottles of Relish: The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories (Fiction, Lord Dunsany, 2016) A lovely edition of Dunsany’s 1952 collection of mystery and crime short stories starts off very, very strong with the classic title story. The rest of the tales don’t show off Dunsany’s effortless prose like his fantasies did, but are worth reading for fans of somewhat old-fashioned detective-story formalism and occasional grue. –KH

Okay

Keanu (Film, US, Peter Atencio, 2016) Surburban cousins (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) pose as murderous drug dealers in an effort to retrieve the titular adorable kitten. Puts the sensibility of the Key & Peele sketch show through the studio blanderizer, which might not be noticeable with a higher  jokes per minute ratio.—RDL

Stranger on the Third Floor (Film, US, Boris Ingster, 1940) Reporter who testifies against a young man (Elisha Cook Jr.) accused of murder falls into a doubt freak-out after his conviction, beginning to suspect the weird, murdery-seeming man with the scarf (Peter Lorre) he spots hanging around the neighborhood. Slim script both enlivened and somewhat overloaded by a feverish blast of film noir expressionism, including a dream sequence that stops just one step short of the full Caligari.—RDL

Episode 250: Lightning Round!!!

July 14th, 2017 | Robin

Who would have believed that when they started a podcast two scrappy writer/game designers could make it all the way to episode 250?

You know what that means: time once again for another Lightning Round, in which we fire through as many questions as we can, starting with those posed to us by our indispensible Patreon backers.

And yes, of course Cary Grant, not Jimmy Stewart, stars in North by Northwest. Ken is just testing you.

This anniversary gains a special frisson, as we must also thank ENnies judges for once again nominating us in the Best Podcast category

But that’s enough preamble. Lightning Time is here!

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. Pelgrane Press is terrified to announce that Robin’s epic new GUMSHOE project, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, is now live on Kickstarter. 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: Tinker, Tailor, Anarchist, Theosophist

July 11th, 2017 | Robin

Before we get to our regularly scheduled capsule reviews, let us contemplate the fact that ENnies Voting is now open. If you’d like to show your appreciation for our occasionally humble podcast in voting form, scoot on over to the ENnies voting page and take part in a free and fair election. While there one might also note the various nominations for Bubblegumshoe, which Ken worked on and Robin has his name on, plus nods for TimeWatch and other fine products from our essential sponsors at Pelgrane Press.

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

The International Spy Film Guide 1945-1989 (2 vols) (Nonfiction, Richard Rhys Davies, 2016) Two volumes, 1100 pages, 2,240 films from 65 countries. This compendium of every Cold War (by year of production, not by setting) secret agent film you’ve ever and never heard of breathes mid-century style from each beautifully designed page. Each film gets a brief review, numerical rating, bare-bones credits (director and stars), a beautiful full-color poster, and its release name in other countries: more than enough in this Google-enhanced age. –KH

Recommended

Doctor Who Season 10 (Television, UK, Stephen Moffat, BBC, 2017) Though he has promised to stay on earth to guard an imprisoned Missy, the Doctor can’t help taking the TARDIS for a spin or twelve when he takes a shine to new earth friend Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie.) Sure, there’s some duds in the middle, but this is the season where Peter Capaldi gets to truly settle into the title role, and the two Masters plus original Cybermen finale leaves on a high note. Great to see John Simm given the chance to play a truly menacing Master this time around.—RDL

GLOW Season 1 (Television, US, Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch & Jenji Kohan, Netflix, 2017) Struggling actress Ruth (Alison Brie) and friend Debbie, a soap star turned mom (Betty Gilpin) get cast in a low-budget women’s wrestling show. Complication: Debbie just found out that Ruth slept with her husband. Amiable comedy-drama pays homage to the foursquare storytelling of 80s cinema while keeping its characters real. Though this is an odd thing to say about a show with a strong, female-dominated cast, the standout performance comes from Marc Maron, hilarious and poignant as the sardonic, chronically disappointed director.—RDL

Harold and Lillian: a Hollywood Love Story (Film, US, Daniel Raim, 2015) Documentary reveals the professional and personal lives of storyboard artist (later production designer) Harold Michelson and his wife, studio researcher Lillian Michelson. Throws light on the invisible but key contributions the two Michelsons made to dozens of classic films from the 60s to the 00s, while movingly depicting their marriage and influence on the next generation of film folk.—RDL

Inferno (Nonfiction, August Strindberg, 1897) Memoir recalls the writer’s abandonment of theater for alchemy, accompanied by a descent into a persecution mania in which he believes himself tormented by an unseen force, demons, spirits, conspirators and/or theosophists. Remarkably lucid inside view of an intensely sub-rational mental state. And yeah, the alchemy part is in Paris in 1895.—RDL. Thanks to Erik Otterberg for the recommendation.

Silicon Valley Season 4 (Television, US, Mike Judge, HBO, 2017) Setbacks in the latest iteration of Pied Piper bring out Richard’s long-latent dark side. What seems like a scattered but still hilarious set of individual episodes reveal a hidden organization behind a season that speeds the pace of the characters’ ups and downs.—RDL

Weirdos (Film, Canada, Bruce McDonald, 2016) Nova Scotian teen who hasn’t quite come out yet takes his putative girlfriend to the slightly bigger city, where he hopes to stay with his troubled mom (Molly Parker.) Sweet and determinedly unheightened, even in the bits where a spirit guide version of Andy Warhol gives advice to the hero, and drenched in 70s folk rock.—RDL

Good

American Anarchist (Film, US, Charlie Siskel, 2016) In an extended interview conducted in the subject’s home in rural France, documentarian Siskel tries to get the thoughtful, caring man who as a 19 year old wrote the bomb-making manual Anarchist’s Cookbook to fully grapple with its consequences. Interview format turns on two tensions: between filmmaker and subject, and between present-day William Powell and his radical younger self.—RDL

The Beguiled (Film, US, Sofia Coppola, 2017) Coppola’s films usually focus on a woman in an artificial society when that society faces disruption; here Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) is a spinster teacher at a girls’ school in 1864 Virginia, which faces disruption in the person of wounded Union corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell). Shooting the school as a luminous endangered vessel rather than as the Gothic hothouse of Don Siegel’s superior 1971 film of the novel, Coppola produces another oblique vision — lovely but not moving. –KH

Chicago: The Second City (Nonfiction, A.J. Liebling, 1952) In three essays in the New Yorker (collected with illustrations by Saul Steinberg) Liebling castigated Chicago as “a vast Canarsie:” provincial, defeated, and most importantly to the unhappily exiled Liebling, most definitely Not New York. Liebling’s writing remains terrific, and 1950 was in truth not a great year for the Greatest City In the World. But how do you spend a year, even 1949-50, in Chicago and never mention jazz? –KH

Episode 249: You Take What Toes You Can Get

July 7th, 2017 | Robin

 

Run! Hide! The Gaming Hut is coming for you, with a look at chase rules for horror RPGs.

Homicide and puppets collide as the Crime Blotter recounts 1929’s Benny Evangelist murders.

The recent theft of Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel severed drinking toe prompts a Food Hut consideration of appalling drink rituals.

Then we rev up Ken’s Time Machine to find out why our resident chrono-agent prevented sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi from building a lamp-wielding lady at the Suez Canal.

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. Pelgrane Press is terrified to announce that Robin’s epic new GUMSHOE project, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, is now live on Kickstarter. 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: Bad Batch Leads a Bumper Batch of Baby Drivin’ Reviews

July 5th, 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

The Bad Batch (Film, US, Ana Lily Amirpour, 2017) Sentenced as an undesirable to a vast, lawless Texas internment zone, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) plans vengeance against the cannibal community that cut off and ate her arm and leg. Visually bold, sometimes shocking post-apocalyptic western. With Jason Momoa as the main people-eater, Keanu Reeves as a local potentate who looks like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, and an unrecognizable Jim Carrey in the old coot role.—RDL. Seen at TIFF ‘16; now in theatrical release.

Baby Driver (Film, US, Edgar Wright, 2017) Preternaturally talented wheelman who needs tunes to keep him steady (Ansel Elgort) seeks escape from his role as a getaway driver under the command of criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) and his rotating crew of armed robbers. Leveling up in his mastery of pure cinema, Wright delivers a classic title to both the crime and the car movie canons.—RDL

Recommended

Baby Driver (Film, US, Edgar Wright, 2017) A multi-decadal blend of film style and music surrounds and carburets the propulsive story of a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort), the girl he loves (Lily James), and the One of Many Last Jobs he has to pull. As a deconstructed musical, it works even better than it does as a heist film. Wright’s setting shots vie with the stunt action for sheer beauty, with only a few tonal wobbles glitching the sweet sweet ride. –KH

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Film, South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, 2000) Flailing academic triggers a spiral misfortune when he resolves to dispose of that incessantly yapping dog from a neighboring apartment. Looser, more naturalistic, and of course less fully resourced than the films he makes now, Bong’s debut finds his themes and love of the chase already in place.—RDL

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trails (Nonfiction, Oscar Martinez, 2013) First person journalistic account depicts the hellish gauntlet Central Americans run in their bid to bypass US border controls. From the high rate of death and dismemberment dealt out by the titular freight train to the horrific predation at the hands of the Los Zetas criminal empire, Martinez shows how the last legs of the journey will always pale in comparison to the trek across Mexico.—RDL

Better Call Saul Season 3 (Television, AMC, Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould, 2017) Jimmy falls into a trap his brother Chuck sets for his law license; Mike meets intimidatingly contained drug dealer Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito.) By fragmenting into two shows, one a gripping family legal drama; the other, a directionless and unnecessary prequel to “Breaking Bad”, season 3 drops from masterpiece to merely solid.—RDL

The Black Room (Fiction, Colin Wilson, 1971) Wilson again tackles his great theme, the achievement of true consciousness, this time as the great secret in a spy novel. Modernist composer Kit Butler (surely the most oddly recondite spy in British fiction) proves extraordinarily capable of withstanding the “black room” of the title, a sensory deprivation chamber, and thus travels to Prague to draw out “Station K,” a third-force conspiracy using it. Weirdly pivots from able espionage plot to frame story to philosophical discourse to peak moment in prime Wilsonian fashion. –KH

English Gothic (Nonfiction, Jonathan Rigby, 2nd ed. 2015) and Euro Gothic (Nonfiction, Jonathan Rigby, 2016) Everything you might want in a textbook approach to horror film, of Britain (since 1953) and Western Europe (mostly France, Germany, Spain, and Italy) respectively, appears herein: reasonably complete coverage, opinionated without being eccentric, and a clear narrative to accept or modify as the reader wishes. It’s a trifle conservative, but that’s no bad thing in horror or indeed in art criticism, and it means the classics get their due respect as well. Each of the 100-odd highlighted films in each book gets a period review and a brief quote from one of its makers, an excellent touch. Finally, the rich selection of stills and the superb book design make both volumes worthy objects in themselves. –KH

The Modern Russian Army 1992-2016 (Osprey Elite 217) (Nonfiction, Mark Galeotti, 2017) Galeotti provides a clear, accessible review of the revival and rise of the post-Soviet Russian Army, with an especially incisive discussion of the 2008 Georgian War as the equivalent of the Grenada invasion for the purposes of forcing much-needed reforms on the military. Syria and the Donbass receive less coverage than a contemporary reader might wish for, but the usual excellent Osprey job of illustration and comprehensiveness make this a solid volume on Europe’s once and future deadliest army. –KH

Okja (Film, US/South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, 2017) Preteen girl raised in the bucolic wilds of Korea must run to Seoul and then NYC to protect her childhood buddy, a genetically-altered, corporate-owned, hippo-like sapient “super-pig.” Satirical fantasy thriller masterfully shifts gears and genres, blending pastoral idyll, kinetic action and over-the-top-of-over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal.—RDL

Good

Quatermass in Television and Movies (Nonfiction, Mark F. Cain, 2016) After a too-short discussion of the character and influence of Nigel Kneale’s Professor Quatermass, Cain summarizes (or rather, half-summarizes, as he weirdly tries to avoid spoilers) and briefly reviews the ten appearances of the Professor in TV, film, and radio since 1956. Fine (even Good) for its length, but since it’s essentially the only book on Quatermass it should be considerably longer, with more detailed description, iconic analysis, and cultural-studies meat to it. I would have happily paid more than the $0.99 this cost me for that book. –KH

Okay

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange (Nonfiction, Adam Scovell, 2017) A fairly complete survey of the retroactive genre of “folk horror” film typified by Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man, and Blood on Satan’s Claw. (The only major omission is Bille Eltringham’s stunningly underrated survival horror film This Is Not A Love Song.) Given the asinine failure of the BBC to make their DVDs Region-1 available (many BBC teleplays are crucial genre texts), having a good British guide is more important than in other genres. Scovell knows the territory and even hazards a critical standard for the genre — but the writing is actively abysmal. Every page becomes a bear trap of tangled prose, malapropisms, and sentences that even I think go on way too long. The index is bad, too, and the footnotes risible. –KH

Not Recommended

Powerless Season 1 (Television, US, NBC, 2017) Given that “Vanessa Hudgens office comedy set in the DC Universe” is a pretty soft lob right to me, it pains me to report that despite a great supporting cast (including Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Bruce’s spoiled and envious cousin who is canon by the way) the series never recovered from the departure between pilots of its creator and first showrunner. The resulting desperately loud and tone-deaf scripts seldom relaxed into the inanity of their setting: when your comic-book show is less surreal than 30 Rock, you need to rethink. But not any more, because you got cancelled. –KH

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