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Archive for January, 2019

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Joker, the Riddler, and a Murdered Film

January 22nd, 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

Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles (Comics, Tom King & Mikel Janín, 2017) Batman recounts the story of the Joker-Riddler war in his Year Two. King takes a lot of good ideas from other writers and makes them his own in this story that manages to squeeze a proper epic into eight issues. Janín’s layouts are the secret weapon here, folding up and flying where needed. Kite Man! Hell yeah! –KH

Injection Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey, 2015-2017) Five archetypal heroes (Ellis’ 21st-century riffs on Quatermass, Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Doctor Who) injected a sentient AI into the internet to stave off global stagnation — and must now deal with the consequences when it awakens the Other World. This “hauntological Planetary” is Ellis’ home turf, and although not revolutionary, the book is cruelly and wondrously crafted. Ellis broke the story to be five volumes, but the 60% we have is good stuff. –KH

Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes (Nonfiction, James Palmer, 2012) Examines the interlocking narratives of  the cataclysms that rocked China in 1976: the Tangshan earthquake that killed upwards of 250,000, and the death of Mao, followed by the maneuverings that brought down the Gang of Four and elevated Deng Xiaoping. Teases a complex and deliberately obscured story into a rattling narrative with thriller-worthy pacing.—RDL

Love in a Cold Climate (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1949) Even-keeled young woman observes the conflict between her preternaturally beautiful cousin and her mother, a blue-blooded battle-axe determined to marry her off despite her strange indifference to all suitable suitors. Somehow I failed to receive the memo on just how hilarious this classic satire of the English upper crust is.—RDL

Shirkers (Film, US, Sandi Tan, 2018) Documentary recalls the time when the filmmaker and her friends, as college-bound teens in Singapore, made a hip indie road movie, only to have their skeevy mentor abscond with the negatives. Moody memoir of stolen potential and the mark left on multiple lives by a scammer whose one talent was creating the appearance of talent.—RDL

Good

Aquaman (Film, US, James Wan, 2018) Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) must find the Trident of Atlan to claim the throne of Atlantis from his eco-warmongering half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson); fortunately, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) likes him enough to help out. This is a by-God big-screen Silver Age spectacular in every way, including a travelogue plot and dialogue straight out of a Jack Miller word balloon. Kudos to Wan and to editor Kirk Morri for building momentum throughout, so the slack water mostly stays in the first act. Recommended for fans of Lovecraft references, Amber Heard, and CGI dino-sharks. –KH

Batman (Rebirth) Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Tom King & divers artists, 2016-2017) When Bane breaks Batman’s new proteges, Batman breaks Bane back, and Bane seeks revenge. King’s high concepts for the book echo well, but his pacing is stop-and-start. The result: story beats that get spelled out in dialogue boxes and balloons rather than depicted in, well, sequential art. (The art, by the way, is uniformly very good.) When King does try to write more panels-per-page, the results are worth it, in the two one-off stories (of Swamp Thing and Ace the Bathound) that end Vol. 3. –KH

Battles Without Honor or Humanity: Police Tactics (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) As the Tokyo Olympics approaches, the deadlocks of Hiroshima yakuza politics break open into open warfare, forcing a police response. Satire creeps into the long-running crime docudrama series, as the death spiral of the post-war crime families exposes its top gangsters as a gaggle of fuckwits and weasels.—RDL

Blockers (Film, US, Kay Cannon, 2018) Discovering that their daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night, three variously boundary-challenged parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz) set out to stop them. Amiable comedy from the Apatow school follows its reliable juxtaposition of raunchy hijinks with grounded characterization.—RDL

The Devil’s Doorway (US, Film, Anthony Mann, 1950) Shoshone sergeant major (Robert Taylor) returns from fighting for the Union to his Wyoming ranch, to find a tubercular Eastern lawyer (Louis Calhern) scheming to give it away to sheep ranchers. Anyone remaking this today would cast a native actor in the lead and trim the more didactic flights of dialogue. Still, for 1950 it’s surprising to see a film that makes settlers the marauding antagonists and paints the would-be white savior as ineffectual. Mann’s direction, with its below the waist angles and chiaroscuro lighting, outperforms the script. —RDL

Episode 327: Good Luck Getting Any Wood

January 18th, 2019 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut we examine the desire to play less than competent characters.

The History Hut takes us back to the 7th century BC and the reign of Assyrian super-king Ashurbanipal.

In How to Write Good we look at the connection between character sympathy and emotional rhythm.

Finally we sidle into the Eliptony Hut, where we peer into the library of unexpected paranormalist Jackie Gleason.

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.


Wish to introduce innocent children to the horror of the Mythos, while remaining on budget? Atlas Games is here to affordably twist young minds with a buy two, get one free deal on Ken’s Mini Mythos line of childrens’ book parodies: Where the Deep Ones Are, Goodnight Azathoth, Cliffourd the Big Red God, and Antarctic Express.

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.

Grab the translated riches of FENIX magazine in a special bundle deal from our friends at Askfageln, over at Indie Press Revolution. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, a cornucopia of articles, complete games, plus the cartoon antics of Bernard the Barbarian. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish.

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.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Greek Gods Diffuse and the Count de St-Germain Parties

January 15th, 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

Greek Gods Abroad (Nonfiction, Robert Parker, 2017) After Alexander’s conquests, the Hellenistic kings and colonists outside historic Greece brought the Olympian gods to their new domains — or did they? Parker masterfully looks at what (surprisingly little) we know of blended (or interpreted) Olympian-local deities as well as the way the Greek gods shifted their roles following contact with Egypt, Anatolia, and the East. Parker ranges from polytheistic theology to Arabian epigraphy and back; I bought the book for reference and wound up reading it cover to cover. –KH

Hearts Beat Loud (Film, US, Brett Haley, 2018) With her sights firmly set on pre-med at UCLA, a charmingly dyspeptic Brooklyn record store owner (Nick Offerman) inveigles his talented daughter (Kiersey Clemons) into making music with him. Sweet-natured observational comedy-drama buoyed by affection for its characters and a commitment to the real.—RDL

The Little Drummer Girl (Television, UK/US, BBC/AMC, Park Chan-wook, 2018) Israeli spymaster (Michael Shannon) and agent runner (Alexander Skarsgard) recruit a young British actress to infiltrate a Palestinian terrorist network. Park retunes his style to (mostly) subtle, returning to his signature theme of cyclical vengeance, for this strongly cast and acted Le Carré adaptation. Best 70s color palette ever.—RDL

The Night Comes For Us (Film, Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto, 2018) Triad enforcer Ito (Joe “The Raid” Taslim) saves a little girl and brings down the ultra-violent wrath of the Triad including his old friend Arian (Iko “Merantau” Uwais). Great fight choreography and tight editing build to a battle of the action stars that has to be seen to be believed. Alternating stunningly beautiful compositions with shatteringly violent fight scenes, this would hit the Pinnacle if the story hung together better. –KH

Rumbullion (Fiction, Molly Tanzer, 2016) When the Count of St.-Germain performs at Julian Bretwynde’s house party in 1743, things get decidedly uncanny. This novella (originally published in 2013) follows Bretwynde’s epistolary attempt to figure out what happened at his own party. (Tanzer’s logline for it is “Rashomon with fops.”) Its weird tone precisely threads the line between funny ha-ha and funny-strange. –KH

Okay

Aberdeen (Film, HK, Pang Ho-cheung, 2014) Members of an extended family, including a surface-minded motivational speaker (Louis Koo), his philandering brother-in-law (Erik Tsang) and his struggling actress wife (Gigi Leung) grapple in their various ways with the limitations of fate. Atmospheric ensemble piece lets itself down with a decidedly peculiar set of concluding epiphanies.—RDL

Aldous Huxley’s Hands: His Quest for Perception and the Origin and Return of Psychedelic Science (Nonfiction, Allene Symons, 2015) Examination of the eliptonic interests of Aldous Huxley and his circle, including hand photography experiments conducted by the author’s father to establish a physical marker for schizophrenia in an era of doctrinaire Freudianism. In a case of two books continually interrupting one another, the short bio of Huxley through a KARTASian lens pays off, while the attempt to understand an opaque, eccentric parent struggles to yield the hoped-for epiphany.—RDL

Rulers of the City (Film, Italy, Fernando Di Leo, 1977) Cocky gangland debt collector and an enigmatic gambler become hunted men after swindling a scary mobster (Jack Palance.) Haphazardly switches back and forth between the director’s baseline fatalistic crime drama and goofball action romp. AKA Mister Scarface.—RDL

Episode 326: Credulous Ghost-Hunting Dupe

January 11th, 2019 | Robin

Struggle to stay one step ahead of the authorities as the Gaming Hut finds ways to do the classic trope of the protagonist framed for a crime in a roleplaying scenario.

The Horror Hut enters an old-timey uncanny valley as we look at the wax museum sub-genre.

In Ken and/or Robin Talk To Someone Else, we shrink GMing maven Matt Colville from his native video format to audio only.

Finally the Consulting Occultist unwinds the deeply complicated tale of the Cock Lane Ghost, as first penetrated by intrepid occult investigator Samuel Johnson.

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.


Wish to introduce innocent children to the horror of the Mythos, while remaining on budget? Atlas Games is here to affordably twist young minds with a buy two, get one free deal on Ken’s Mini Mythos line of childrens’ book parodies: Where the Deep Ones Are, Goodnight Azathoth, Cliffourd the Big Red God, and Antarctic Express.

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.

Grab the translated riches of FENIX magazine in a special bundle deal from our friends at Askfageln, over at Indie Press Revolution. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, a cornucopia of articles, complete games, plus the cartoon antics of Bernard the Barbarian. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish.

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.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Baroque Power Games and a Noir Western

January 8th, 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

The Favourite (Film, UK, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) Young, fallen ex-noblewoman (Emma Stone) seeks a restoration in status by serving her cousin, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), domineering confidant to the sickly and querulous Queen Anne (Olivia Colman.) Armed with a scabrously witty script drawing from only the finest historical slanders, Lanthimos’ fisheye lens finds in early 18th century court intrigue the ideal venue for his fascination with perverse power rituals.—RDL

Recommended

The Favourite (Film, UK, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) The high-handed Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) finds her long-assured position as lover and favourite to the childish Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) under threat when her scheming cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) enters the fisheye-lensed picture. Lanthimos plays a little too fast and loose with tone (and history) for his tale of corrupt power to fully strike home, but even his near miss refreshes and stuns. All three stars rise to the occasion in an acting feast. –KH

Romancing in Thin Air (Film, HK, Johnnie To, 2012) Jilted movie star (Louis Koo) retreats in a drunken stupor to a remote mountain inn near Kunming, whose no-nonsense proprietor (Sammi Cheng) harbors a deep wound meted out by the surrounding, trackless woods. Romantic drama, more somber than his other commercial romances, gives To a space to limn the relationship between landscape and character.—RDL

Station West (Film, US, Sidney Lanfield, 1948) On the hunt for gold thieves, an army intelligence officer (Dick Powell) shows up at a saloon run by an alluring singer (Jane Greer), posing as  a troublemaking drifter. Transposes hardboiled detective tropes to a western setting, with barbed dialogue, noirish lighting, and Powell recalling his turn as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet.—RDL

Good

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet (Season 12) (Television, Netflix, Joel Hodgson et al., 2018) Jonah and the bots watch six bad films in a row, from Mac and Me to Ator. The “in a row” conceit never goes anywhere, but the mad scientists’ idiocy feels about right this time around. The riffs remain sporadic, but some of them show flashes of the old madness. –KH

The Whites (Fiction, Richard Price, 2015) NYPD Night Watch commander suspects that someone is bumping off the unarrested nemeses—the titular whales—of his ex-comrades from a 90s run-and-gun squad. Price adds a suspense element to the observational cop novel he specializes in, without compressing the pacing as that unforgiving sub-genre demands.—RDL

Okay

Aquaman (Film, US, James Wan, 2018) Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) reluctantly heads to his mother’s Atlantean birthplace to avert a war with the surface world. Lazy scavenger hunt plot construction and a tsunami of exposition drain energy needed to loft its go-for-broke spectacle.—RDL

Doctor Who Season 11 (Television, UK, BBC, Chris Chibnall, 2018) The latest incarnation of the time-traveling problem solver (Jodie Whitaker) gathers a trio of Sheffieldians to meet historical figures, save the residents of imperiled installations and run from monsters. Whitaker’s joyful take on the character’s iconic ethos is the standout element of an often flat series operating under a back-to-basics mandate. Where other post-revival Whos find an emotional core in the relationship between Doctor and companion, this one shifts that to the surrogate granddad/grandson pairing within the trio of sidekicks, leaving her a warm but distant figure.—RDL

Episode 325: NIMBY Horror

January 4th, 2019 | Robin

We kick off 2019 with an all-request episode, starting with Patreon backer Bryan Gustafson, who enters the Gaming Hut to ask us how to use the tiny houses movement in a Cthulhu Confidential scenario.

In the Command Hut, backer Tom Abella seeks the scoop on the series of WWII commando and bombing raids against a plant in German-occupied Norway to destroy its heavy water production.

We get worldly in the Cartography Hut as backer Jake asks us to use the Psalter Mappa Mundi for gaming purposes.

Finally not one but two backers, Ludovic Chabant and Ian Carlsen, knock on the indistinct walls of the Eliptony Hut demanding the dialectic on Marxist UFOlogy, as inspired by this piece from The Outline.

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.


Wish to introduce innocent children to the horror of the Mythos, while remaining on budget? Atlas Games is here to affordably twist young minds with a buy two, get one free deal on Ken’s Mini Mythos line of childrens’ book parodies: Where the Deep Ones Are, Goodnight Azathoth, Cliffourd the Big Red God, and Antarctic Express.

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.

Grab the translated riches of FENIX magazine in a special bundle deal from our friends at Askfageln, over at Indie Press Revolution. Score metric oodles of Ken Hite gaming goodness, a cornucopia of articles, complete games, plus the cartoon antics of Bernard the Barbarian. Warning: in English, not in Swedish. In English, not Swedish.

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.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Secret Origins of Jackie Chan and the Secret Diary of H. P. Lovecraft

January 2nd, 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

Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet (Nonfiction, Daisy Dunn, 2016) Biography of the lovelorn poet of the late Roman Republic poet, known for concision, informality, explicit sex, and zinging his enemies. Pulls together scant sources to assemble an evocative portrait of the writer and his parlous times.—RDL

The Night Ocean (Fiction, Paul La Farge, 2017) Psychiatrist Marina Willett tries to trace her vanished husband Charlie (yes the parallel with “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is intentional), who supposedly stumbled onto the secret sex diary of H.P. Lovecraft and the secret history of his collaborator and disciple (and Charlie thinks, his lover?) Robert L. Barlow. La Farge’s prose effortlessly carries the reader into his nesting dolls’ house of fiction and forgery, and eventually into a tincture of epistemological paranoia. La Farge over-eggs the pudding by also inventing a right-wing-driven HUAC purge of horror fiction, which makes nonsense of the “secret” in his secret history (and also mis-assigns that particular moral panic) but thankfully it’s a minor beat in a novel that is, after all, about the need to believe in fictions. –KH

Painted Faces (Film, HK, Alex Law, 1988) In 60s Hong Kong, with interest in the art form fading, a hot-headed headmaster (Sammo Hung) trains a new generation of young boys in the acrobatic arts of Peking Opera. Nostalgic, mostly subtle melodrama pays homage to the taskmaster who taught backflips to Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao—depicted here as Big Nose, Sammo and Biao. Last seen on home video in laser disc, now available in a beautifully remastered print on Blu Ray.—RDL

They Will Not Grow Old (Film, UK/NZ, Peter Jackson, 2018) A composite portrait of the British Tommy on the Western Front front lines. This humane, almost plain documentary resolves from a pointillist set of soldiers’ stories: 100+ hours of period footage and 600+ hours of survivors’ recorded reminiscences. Jackson’s FX teams restored, sharpened, colorized, and looped the footage until it (almost) looks and sounds like a contemporary film: some of the trenches do still cut through the uncanny valley. –KH

This Am Bizarro Recommend

Susan Slept Here (Film, US, Frank Tashlin, 1954) Vice cops pawn a 17-year-old arrestee (Debbie Reynolds) off on stalled screenwriter (Dick Powell) to keep her out of jail over Christmas. From the strenuous efforts of the creaky Broadway-sourced script to keep its dodgy premise wholesome to the painstakingly garish colors and costumes, from the jaw-dropping dream sequence dance number to its voice-over narration from an Oscar statuette, this transmission from the alternate dimension of 50s sexual mores may not be believed even when seen.—RDL

Good

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror (Nonfiction, Howard David Ingham, 2018) Covering ninety films in over 400 pages, Ingham (and a few guest writers) takes a comprehensive, readable, and personal tour through the folk horror subgenre, from Night of the Demon to The Witch, including a number of titles well out on the margin (where better, though?) such as Duel and Winter’s Bone. (Though why Ringu but not Kairo, or neither? And why must even would-be completists in this field in England neglect This Is Not A Love Song, which I’m beginning to think only I saw?) Ingham knows how to tease out critical insight and (mostly) how to get out of his own way, which along with ample scope is what you (mostly) want from a genre survey. –KH

Okay

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (Film, US, David Wain, 2018) Doug Kenney (Will Forte) founds National Lampoon and writes Animal House, revolutionizing American comedy in the process, but can’t win his father’s respect because biopic. The film tries fitfully to embody the anarchic spirit of a bygone age but mostly settles for not being funny while wearing ridiculous wigs, as must the actors. –KH

A Game for the Living (Fiction, Patricia Highsmith, 1958) When his lover is brutally murdered, an expat artist living in Mexico tries to move her other boyfriend off his false confession. Despite strong delineation of character through quotidian detail, the story of a level-headed protagonist who makes sensible decisions is not what one goes to Highsmith for.—RDL

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Robin
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