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Archive for February, 2018

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Black Panther and Casual Body Snatchers

February 20th, 2018 | 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

Before We Vanish (Film, US, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2018) As a freelance illustrator copes with her husband’s lapse into an odd, affectless mental state, a reporter meets a young man possessed by an alien. Kurosawa riffs on Invasion of the Body Snatchers with his trademark eerie casualness, plus tongue-in-cheek humor and a touch of heart.—RDL

Black Panther (Film, US, Ryan Coogler, 2018) Superhero king of Wakanda T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) defeats a coup led by radical black liberation warrior Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, electric as always) with the help of CIA agent Ross (Martin Freeman). Ohhh-kay. Crypto-reactionary politics aside, production designer Hannah Beachler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison definitively break from the dull Marvel in-house palette with strong oranges and bright light effects, contributing to (mostly) better fights than MCU standard. The acting, story, and direction are strong, too; it’s a shame the score went for sodden cliche instead of reflecting the cool Afrofuturism on screen. –KH

Don’t Think Twice (Film, US, Mike Birbiglia, 2016) Members of an improv troupe face the realization that they’re heading for the end of its expiration date when one of them (Keegan-Michael Key) gets on Saturday Nigh…er, Weekend Live. Funny, melancholy drama about that dangerous line between the determination needed to survive in the arts and the delusion that traps near-achievers inside their dreams.—RDL

The Eagle Huntress (Film, UK/Mongolia, Otto Bell, 2016) Kazakh schoolkid defies the expectations of chauvinist elders to follow in the footsteps of her dad and grandfather, competing and hunting foxes with her trained eagle. Even more than its stunning vistas and girl power message, the heart of this documentary lies in the touching strength of its key daughter-father relationship.—RDL

Lovecraft and Influence: His Predecessors and Successors (Nonfiction, Robert Waugh (ed.), 2013) Discovering a collection of critical essays on Lovecraft without a dud in the batch is almost as shocking as the sticker price for this collection. Highlights include Gavin Callaghan’s essay on Lovecraft and the Munsey pulps, and Michael Cisco on Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs. When Donald Burleson and Robert Price are the backup hitters in a Lovecraft lineup, you know you’re in for a home-run derby. –KH

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks (Nonfiction, Keith Houston, 2013) Historical survey reveals the origins of such typographical pinch-hitters as @, #, —, and, of course, &. Packed with delightful factoids from the days of classical script to email and beyond.—RDL

Good

I Am (Not) A Number: Decoding The Prisoner (Nonfiction, Alex Cox, 2018) Working entirely from the call sheets and scripts (as written and as shot) of the greatest show in television history, filmmaker Cox provides his own step-by-step analysis of the famously twisty program and “decodes” its secrets. Worth it for fans, but like all “real answers” to great art, it isn’t. –KH

Larceny Inc. (Film, US, Lloyd Bacon, 1943) Smooth talking crook (Edward G. Robinson) and his less clever buddies buy a failing leather goods store in order to tunnel from its basement into the bank next door. Classic character actors bite with gusto into a script revolving around a basic comedy premise—there’s people in the shop and our heroes urgently need to get them out.—RDL

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads (Nonfiction, David Morrell and Hank Wagner, 2010) Running chronologically from the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur through The Da Vinci Code, this collection of essays by thriller writers on thriller (mostly) novels should probably be considered more a study guide to the form than a list of the 100 best examples. (I’ve read 56 of the listed works, and boy do I have some nits to pick.) That said, there are some cracking good thrillers in the list, and a few of the essayists manage to sum up the book in question with a critical swing while discussing its impact on their own writing, which is really all you can ask given the format. –KH

Okay

Mudbound (Film, US, Dee Rees, 2017) The brutal social realities of wartime Mississippi put two families, white farm owners and the black sharecroppers who work their land, on a path to shared tragedy. Strong ensemble cast delivers affecting work within a screenplay that shies away from the ruthless cutting and reconfiguring needed to turn a years-spanning, multiple viewpoint novel into something movie-shaped.—RDL

Not Recommended

The Man From Hong Kong (Film, Australia, Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1975) Ruthless Hong Kong police inspector (Jimmy Wang Yu) cuts a swathe of havoc through Sydney and environs in his crusade against a fu-wielding drug lord (George Lazenby.) Ozploitation meets Golden Harvest in this gonzo actioner featuring horribly misfired racial gags and Sammo Hung action choreography. All of the storytelling is in the action, so you can upgrade to Okay by watching it Trump-style and fast-forwarding through the painfully stilted dialogue sequences.—RDL

Episode 280: Problem Solving Gases

February 16th, 2018 | Robin

 

February loses its rep as the cruelest month when we confront it with an all-hut, all-request episode, in tribute to our fabulous Patreon backers.

In the Gaming Hut, Tom Bagatelle seeks guidance on a sandbox time travel campaign.

Peter Williamson adds reclining couches to the Food Hut as we consider the Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius.

Zachary Joyner meets us in the Cartography Hut for the 101 on telling stories with places.

Finally David Sowa makes an urgent topical request in the Eliptony Hut. Dare we crack the mystery of Taco Bell’s Belluminati ads?

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 Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

It wasn’t on the maps. No one talked about it. But now you live there. Cthulhu City. Where the mayor goes everywhere with twin sacred jaguars, and the chief of police blinks at your with fishy eyes. Where the cultists run city hall and the investigators are hunted criminals. Cthulhu City, the new Trail of Cthulhu sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

It’s tiny, it fits on your keychain, it’s complete and flexible, and it’s already almost gone. Askfageln presents the Kickstarter for the Keychain RPG, now in English, not Swedish.

With your Handlers Guide already at your side, it’s time to assemble some operations to spiral your Delta Green operatives into paranoia and Mythos horror. Delta Green: A Night at the Opera features six terrifying adventures from the conspiratorial minds of Dennis Detwiller, Shane Ivey, and Greg Stolze. Preorder before it’s desperately too late!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Dutch Land Forces and Off-Brand Klingons

February 13th, 2018 | 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

Dutch Armies of the 80 Years’ War 1568-1648 (2 vols; Osprey Men-at-Arms 510 & 513) (Nonfiction, Bouko de Groot, 2017) Europe’s first and longest national War of Independence dragged in fighters from Elizabethan poets to Tupi Indians, but most people think of the Dutch as only a maritime force. These two books, magnificently illustrated from period sources and modern paintings (by Gerry Embleton) in the Osprey tradition, turn the focus to the land forces from infantry (Book 1) to cavalry, artillery, and engineers (Book 2). Inspirational and research gold for players and GMs of “early modern” adventure RPGs such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess or (ahem) The School of Night. –KH

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible (Nonfiction, Peter Pomerantsev, 2014) British son of Russian dissident parents gets a gig with a Moscow hipster TV station, leading to encounters with gangsters, professional mistresses, propagandists, corruption victims, and cultists. Acute evocation of character and place adds animates this view of postmodern authoritarianism, as seen from its spawning ground.—RDL

Good

The League of Gentlemen (Film, UK, Basil Dearden, 1960) Ex-army officer (Jack Hawkins) assembles a team of ne’er-do-well former military types to execute a daring bank robbery. The rigorous constraints of the heist genre structure immortalize the stoic ethos of pre-Beatles Britain.—RDL

The Ritual (Film, UK, David Bruckner, 2017) Four British bros on a hiking tour through Sweden in memory of their dead friend take the proverbial wrong turn through the dark dark woods and yes there is a creepy cabin. Bruckner’s spooky, cold, god’s-eye direction is the best thing here; Joe Barton’s script (loosely from a novel by Adam Nevill) commits no egregious sins but neither does it really do anything interesting; Rafe Spall would be better served if his character was one of four instead of the only one we get to know. –KH

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 (Television, US, CBS, 2016-2017) Disgraced Starfleet commander (Sonequa Martin-Green) receives a surprise career reprieve from a surprisingly ruthless starship captain (Jason Isaacs) helming a super-weapon ship during the first Federation-Klingon war. A split between a front half full of apparently oddball, deliberately jarring choices that pay off as curveballs in the superior back half make this season hard to evaluate. I guess I’ll take advantage of a low bar, then, and say that this still beats all other latter-day Trek first seasons.—RDL

Okay

Crack-Up (Film, US, Irving Reis, 1946) Hardboiled art expert (Pat O’Brien) tries to prove he really was in a train wreck only he recalls, uncovering a sinister conspiracy at the Manhattan Museum. Fun character actor turns and touches of Val Lewton atmosphere number among the energetic distractions from the script’s higgledy-piggledy construction. With Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall and Ray Collins; partially based on a story by golden age SF writer Fredric Brown.—RDL

Ire-Inspiring

The Deer Hunter (Film, US, Michael Cimino, 1978) Trio of Russian-American steelworkers (Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage) plunge from the insular shelter of their working class Ohio town into the violent madness of the VietNam war. A first act of masterful social observation gives way to the pernicious, in which every Vietnamese or Chinese character is alien and depraved, and the VietNam conflict matters only as an test of American innocence. Boy though that Vilmos Zsigmond sure could photograph stuff.—RDL

Episode 279: Logical Analogy Shock

February 9th, 2018 | Robin

 

Brace yourself for musical metaphors as we head into the Gaming Hut and find that Patreon backer Brian Thomas has left us the logical analogy Orchestra: jazz combo :: play’s ensemble cast : role playing gaming group.

In Ken and/or Robin Talk To Someone Else, Ken and Robin talk to Delta Green writer and illustrator Dennis Detwiller.

In the Narrative Hut backers Andrew Miller and Dan O’Hanlon team up to ask just what Robin means when he calls coming-of-age stories the Worst Genre.

Then the Consulting Occultist admits backer Hoyle Anderson to his Edwardian snuggery for a cuppa and discussion of zodiac cup tasseography.

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 Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

It wasn’t on the maps. No one talked about it. But now you live there. Cthulhu City. Where the mayor goes everywhere with twin sacred jaguars, and the chief of police blinks at your with fishy eyes. Where the cultists run city hall and the investigators are hunted criminals. Cthulhu City, the new Trail of Cthulhu sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

In Highway Holocaust you are Cal Phoenix, the Freeway Warrior, champion and protector of Dallas Colony One. Defend this fragile convoy from H.A.V.O.C. bikers with this exclusive hardcover (with dust jacket and book ribbons), the first choose-your-own-adventure-gamebook in Joe Dever’s post apocalyptic series. From the fine folks at FENIX, now available from Modiphius.

With your Handlers Guide already at your side, it’s time to assemble some operations to spiral your Delta Green operatives into paranoia and Mythos horror. Delta Green: A Night at the Opera features six terrifying adventures from the conspiratorial minds of Dennis Detwiller, Shane Ivey, and Greg Stolze. Preorder before it’s desperately too late!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Velvets and Vourdalaks

February 6th, 2018 | 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

Phantom Thread (Film, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017) A young woman (Vicky Krieps). the latest mode//lover to a tempermental fashion designer (Daniel Day Lewis), determines to surmount his plethora of emotional barriers, many of them abetted by his sister/business partner (Lesley Manville.) Sumptuous, sly exploration of the roles power and dependency play in love.—RDL

Recommended

Birdland (Film, Canada, Peter Lynch, 2018) Cop undergoes  interrogation when her ornithologist husband is implicated in the murder of his mistress. Deconstructed crime drama with stylized acting, set in a version of Cronenberg’s noir Toronto updated to our new architectural era of coldly illuminated glass and steel.—RDL

The Night of the Devils (Film, Italy, Giorgio Ferroni, 1972) When his car breaks down in a remote Geman forest, a blindly rational lumber buyer takes refuge with a family of recluses just as they start to systematically vampirize one another. Modernized adaptation of Tolstoy’s The Family of the Vourdalak combines the literary atmospherics of the 60s gothic cycle with 70s gore and nudity.—RDL

Rocco and His Brothers (Film, Italy, Luchino Visconti, 1960) Strife tears apart a family of impoverished southern migrants to Milan when two of the brothers, violent wastrel Simone (Renato Salvatori) and saintly-to-a-fault Rocco (Alain Delon), in turn become involved with a worldly streetwalker (Annie Girardot.) Neorealist drama takes its time to set up its core situation, in a pacing choice showing its origins as a novel adaptation. Hold off on buying a copy until the freshly restored pristine 4K print appears on disc.—RDL

Good

Playing Dead: a Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (Nonfiction, Elizabeth Greenwood, 2016) The author researches people who fake their demises and the investigators who track them down, then travels to the Philippines to acquire her own death certificate. Tour of the logistical and psychological limitations of pseudocide deals out its facts in a voice both confessional and tongue-in-cheek.—RDL

Not Recommended

Maudie (Film, Canada/Ireland, Aisling Walsh, 2017) Withdrawn woman (Sally Hawkins) breaks from her family’s protective disregard to move in with a reclusive fishmonger (Ethan Hawke), becoming an internationally recognized folk artist. Biopic of painter Maud Lewis arouses pity not for the characters, but for the actors, whose director betrays them by calling “print” on labored, tic-ridden performances. Canadian films often sentimentally idealize rural life or depict it as a grotesque hell; this does both!—RDL

Episode 278: Full of Panthers

February 2nd, 2018 | Robin

 

In Among My Many Hats Robin talks about Beating the Story, which gears the story beat system you may know from Hamlet’s Hit Points to fiction writing in all of its forms. Pre-order the print book now and get it in electronic form immediately!

As the world continues to turn into one big Conspiracy Corner, we look at the escalating weirdness that is Pizzagate.

We shift to fictional, and therefore more plausible, conspiracies as Patreon backer Marco Marini seizes control of Ask Ken and Robin to take Fall of Delta Green beyond the Anglosphere.

Finally backer Jason Thompson asks us to deploy Ken’s Time Machine on a literary mission, to displace J.R.R. Tolkien as the font of modern fantasy.

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 Atlas Games’ wickedly different cooperative deck-building game Witches of the Revolution, you and your doughty coven fight the American Revolution the way it was really fought: with spells aplenty! Resurrect Ben Franklin, cure Paul Revere of lycanthropy and keep those red-coated witch hunters at bay.

It wasn’t on the maps. No one talked about it. But now you live there. Cthulhu City. Where the mayor goes everywhere with twin sacred jaguars, and the chief of police blinks at your with fishy eyes. Where the cultists run city hall and the investigators are hunted criminals. Cthulhu City, the new Trail of Cthulhu sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

In Highway Holocaust you are Cal Phoenix, the Freeway Warrior, champion and protector of Dallas Colony One. Defend this fragile convoy from H.A.V.O.C. bikers with this exclusive hardcover (with dust jacket and book ribbons), the first choose-your-own-adventure-gamebook in Joe Dever’s post apocalyptic series. From the fine folks at FENIX, now available from Modiphius.

With your Handlers Guide already at your side, it’s time to assemble some operations to spiral your Delta Green operatives into paranoia and Mythos horror. Delta Green: A Night at the Opera features six terrifying adventures from the conspiratorial minds of Dennis Detwiller, Shane Ivey, and Greg Stolze. Preorder before it’s desperately too late!

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