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Archive for January, 2020

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Chernobyl, Little Women, and the Birth of Modern Luxury

January 21st, 2020 | 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

Chernobyl (Television, US/UK, HBO/Sky, Craig Mazin, 2019) Faced with the unimaginable catastrophe of the 1986 nuclear disaster, a politically naive nuclear physicist (Jared Harris) and bluff party official (Stellan Skarsgård) battle obstacles both logistical and systemic. Speaking of logistical challenges, it’s a miracle anyone got this made this at all, let alone executed it on the highest level of writing, cinema, acting, music and production design.—RDL

Recommended

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Film, US, Eva Orner, 2019) Outlandishly wealthy yoga entrepreneur eludes justice for sex offenses against his trainees. Documentary presents yet another case study of a remorseless, charismatic fabulist who uses his intrinsic clownishness to bypass the logic circuits of his prey, supporters, and adversaries.—RDL

Cash On Demand (Film, UK, Quentin Lawrence, 1962) A bullying fussbudget of a branch manager (Peter Cushing) becomes an unwilling accomplice to the robbery of his own bank, at the hands of a bluff mastermind (Andre Morell) threatening his wife and son. Real-time, constrained location crime thriller from Hammer Studios is a model of tension-building from a tightly limited palette of elements—and an unconventional Christmas movie to boot.—RDL

Little Women (Film, US, Greta Gerwig, 2019) Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her sisters (Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen) grow up in Civil War-era Concord, Mass. Gerwig’s script depicts the shift from warm yet rambunctious adolescence to sudden, constraining maturity with wit and generosity to her characters (and to the Alcott novel) but its flashback structure somewhat jumbles the arc. Gerwig again proves herself to be a real actor’s director, and with this standout ensemble cast (especially including Laura Dern as Marmee) she creates a thoroughly, continuously satisfying film. –KH

Ritz & Escoffier: The Hotelier, The Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class (Nonfiction, Luke Barr, 2018) At the close of the 19th century, in London and elsewhere, the team of hotel manager Cesar Ritz and innovative chef Auguste Escoffier establishes conceptions of luxury and fine dining that still prevail today. A double biography cemented by strong character portraiture, social observation, and vivid food prose.—RDL

Good

Us (Film, US, Jordan Peele, 2019) Scissor-wielding doppelgangers attack a family at their summer house, awakening dark memories for mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o.) I wouldn’t have guessed that Peele would follow up Get Out with a movie about the dispossessed rising up to murder us in our homes, but he sure does demonstrate his mastery of horror-action staging.—RDL

Not Recommended

Overlord (Film, US, Julius Avery, 2018) American paratroopers assaulting on a Nazi radio tower discover that the base also houses monstrous super-soldier experiments. Spends too much time as a derivative war movie to develop its horror aspect.—RDL

Episode 378: Killer Puppies

January 17th, 2020 | Robin

With a wave of his chainsaw hand, Patreon backer Walter Manbeck summons us to the Gaming Hut for tips on running comedy horror games.

Inspired by a recent New York Times Magazine piece, the Tradecraft Hut examines the implications of the OSS’ impact on graphic and industrial design.

Patreon backer Marc Kevin Hall asks us into the Cinema Hut for the 101 on the absurdist retro delights of Winnepeg filmmaker Guy Maddin.

Finally the gray and Nordic aliens listen intently in the Eliptony Hut as we talk about Trevor James Constable and his sky amoeba theory of UFO origins.

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.


Your survival depends on separating heisting criminals from undercover cops in Never Bring a Knife, the action-packed new social deduction game from our ever-sneaky friends at Atlas Games. Available from Jan 17th at your friendly local game store or online.

What’s worse—yet even more pulse-poundingly exciting—than being a burned spy on the run from an international vampire conspiracy? Going it alone, as you do in Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s brilliant adaptation of GUMSHOE One-2-One to the shadowy world of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, from Pelgrane Press.

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!

Arc Dream Publishing presents a gorgeous new edition of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, a deluxe hardback in delightful faux snakeskin, with a foreword by John Scott Tynes, annotations by our own Kenneth Hite, and stunning full-pate color  illustrations by Samuel Araya. Grab it while it lasts in the Arc Dream store.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Food Court Megalomania and Cross-Canada Spring Rolls

January 14th, 2020 | 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

Chop Suey Nation (Nonfiction, Ann Hui, 2019) Food writer’s coast-to-coast tour of small town Chinese restaurants in restaurants leads her to the surprise story of her own parents. Sometimes droll, often moving, always keenly observed blend of travelogue, food diffusion study, and family memoir makes a convincing argument that the quintessential Canadian dish is ginger beef.—RDL

First Man (Film, US, Damien Chazelle, 2018) Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) takes his grief over his young daughter’s cancer death and stuffs it deep inside the shell of stoicism that will take him through the rattletrap dangers of NASA’s mission to the moon. Working from a screenplay by Josh Singer, Chazelle trains his jittery verve on material that takes a giant leap past the callowness of his previous self-penned celebrations of greatness-at-any-cost.—RDL

Gone With the Mind (Fiction, Mark Leyner, 2016) After an extended introduction from his doting, oversharing mother, obliviously self-obsessed author Mark Leyner introduces a reading of his latest work to a mall food court populated only by a pair of disinterested workers on break. Leyner gets as personal as absurdist, stream-of-consciousness presentation allows in this hilarious anti-autobiography.—RDL

Wild Nights With Emily (Film, US, Madeleine Olnek, 2018) As the late Emily Dickinson’s (Molly Shannon) self-appointed literary guardian (Amy Seimetz) tells her censored, condescending version of the poet’s life, we see a truer version that includes her decades-long affair with the childhood friend (Susan Zeigler) who became her sister-in-law. Respectful of the poetry but irreverent toward the once-prevailing official story, this busts stuffy biopic convention with a deceptively light sketch comedy playing style.—RDL

Okay

Murder! (Film, UK, Alfred Hitchcock, 1930) Suffering second thoughts after serving on a jury that condemned a young colleague to death, an esteemed actor (Herbert Marshall) commences his own investigation of the murder in question. A chance for Hitchcock completists to watch him try to experiment his way past the limitations of early sound cinema.—RDL

Rush (Film, US, Ron Howard, 2013) Two drivers with contrastingly arrogant personalities, hard-partying, swaggering James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and brusque and calculating Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) bitterly vie for the 1976 Formula One championship. As it’s unusual for a Peter Morgan script to have no apparent point of view until a final scene of obvious dialogue spells it all out, I’m guessing that a wheel came off in production, sending the film to the voice-over pit stop.—RDL

Episode 377: Everyone Believes in Horse Theft

January 10th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut beloved Patreon backer Tom Shaw asks us to even the odds when strong PCs fight weak opponents.

A gruesome find in the History Hut prompts estimable backer Polydamas to seek guidance on portraying the Sandby Borg Massacre in a game.

In Ken and/or Robin Talk to Someone Else, Robin chats with Fil Baldowski, mastermind of the of All Rolled Up empire.

Finally, in Fun With Science, profound Patreon backer Wayne Shaw wants to know the true significance of the gigantic metal deposit buried beneath the moon’s south pole.

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.


Hopping vampires tried to stop it! Transformed animals conspired to block it! Evil eunuchs issued proclamations against it! But thanks to the gun-toting, fist-flying efforts of your favorite scrappy underdogs at Atlas Games, Feng Shui 2, Robin’s acclaimed and recently improved game of action thrills has been reprinted and can again be found in stores. Import the excitement of the Hong Kong action cinema masters to your roleplaying table.

What’s worse—yet even more pulse-poundingly exciting—than being a burned spy on the run from an international vampire conspiracy? Going it alone, as you do in Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s brilliant adaptation of GUMSHOE One-2-One to the shadowy world of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, from Pelgrane Press.

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!

Arc Dream Publishing presents a gorgeous new edition of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, a deluxe hardback in delightful faux snakeskin, with a foreword by John Scott Tynes, annotations by our own Kenneth Hite, and stunning full-pate color  illustrations by Samuel Araya. Grab it while it lasts in the Arc Dream store.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Ip Man, Dracula, and the Sack Lunch Bunch

January 7th, 2020 | 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

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Fiction, Georges Simenon, 1931) A pair of dissolute teens mix themselves up in the murder of a foreign businessman visiting Liege, Belgium, as Inspector Maigret takes his sweet time showing up and putting everything right. A piquant example of Simenon’s use of the mystery format as a frame for brisk social observation.—RDL

Ip Man 4: The Finale (Film, HK, Wilson Yip; action direction Yuen Woo-Ping, 2019) Diagnosed with cancer, legendary Kung fu instructor Ip Man (Donnie Yen) travels to San Francisco to find a school for his recalcitrant son, encountering injustice in the form of a vindictive INS agent and brutal marines intent on keeping Chinese martial arts out of their training. Returns to the structure of the original—as a melodrama advanced by fights rather than an action thriller—with this outing’s evil karate masters American instead of Japanese. A square-off featuring Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruce Lee satisfyingly homages his fighting style, though Lee might not approve of the wire work. Toronto fu fans, note the first name of the secondary villain and the surname of the main baddie.—RDL

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch (Television, US, Netflix, John Mulaney, 2019) Mulaney’s latest presents a one-off episode of an ever-so-slightly-skewed kids’ show (think an episode of Zoom or Electric Company, fellow Gen-Xers) ever-so-slightly nihilist in tone. Highlights include David Byrne joining a musical number on the theme “Pay Attention!” and a catastrophically over the top Jake Gyllenhaal as an under-rehearsed “Mister Music.” Leitmotifs of death and failure link what might otherwise just be over-clever irony in kid sketch format. –KH

Knives Out (Film, US, Rian Johnson, 2019) The chronically honest nurse (Ana de Armas) to a relative-plagued author (Christopher Plummer) finds herself in the hot seat when sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the details of his apparent suicide. Mustering skilled plotting rare for a Hollywood script in these darkling times, Johnson takes makes one of the season’s freshest entertainments out of the unlikeliest of vehicles, the cozy mystery.—RDL

The Lady Hermit (Film, HK, Ho Meng-Hua, 1971) Seeking a sifu to train her to take on the cruel martial artist Black Demon, a brash would-be hero (Szu Shih) searches for missing legendary fighter Lady Hermit (Cheng Pei-Pei.) Classically told actioner varies a favorite motif by assigning the mentor-student relationship at the heart of martial arts cinema to women.—RDL

Letterkenny Seasons 1 & 2 (Television, Canada, Crave, Jacob Tierney & Jared Keeso, 2016) Hunky-awkward farmer Wayne (Keeso), a man of firm opinions and semi-reluctant fists, hangs out with his sidekicks and self-possessed sister (Michelle Mylett) in a rural community divided between the three basic social groups: hicks, skids, and hockey players. Offbeat comedy combines the camaraderie and rapidfire dialogue of Howard Hawks with the raunch of Kevin Smith and the backwater social comedy of The Trailer Park Boys.—RDL

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Nonfiction, David Grann, 2017) In 1920s Oklahoma a conspiracy of respectable white citizens forms to systematically kill off members of the Osage tribe, stripping them of their sudden oil wealth. Gripping investigative true crime account exposes a shocking, buried history. Currently being prepped as Martin Scorsese’s next film, to star Robert De Niro and Leonardo di Caprio as key figures in the murder gang.—RDL

Richard Jewell (Film, US, Clint Eastwood, 2019) When schlubby security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) finds a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the FBI (Jon Hamm) and media (Olivia Wilde) railroad him as the bombing suspect. Eastwood’s remarkably minimalist direction and tame palette accentuate the standout acting of Hauser, Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mom, and Sam Rockwell as his lawyer. The result: A film that feels strangely like a 1940s melodrama without the melos. –KH

Veronica Mars Season 4 (Television, US, Hulu, Rob Thomas, 2019) Worried about her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and resisting her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring), Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigates a string of bombings on Neptune’s beachfront. The show had mostly abandoned its perfect structure by Season 3, but fortunately the characters and writing remain strong. Izabela Vidovic steals the series as Veronica’s protege Matty, not easy to do in a show with strong turns from Patton Oswalt, JK Simmons, and deputy, now FBI guy, Leo (Max Greenfield). –KH

Okay

Dracula (Television, UK, Netflix/BBC, Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffatt, 2020) Three episodes build increasingly vaguely on the novel: Harker in Transylvania, the voyage of the Demeter, and the turning of Lucy. The casting of Dracula (Claes Band) and Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) works, but the talky, stagy script defeats both of them. As depressingly always with this team, a few good (even startling) ideas at the outset eventually drown under self-indulgence, pointlessness, and sheer idiocy. Points, however, for shooting at Orava Castle and Bray Studios. –KH

The Kid Who Would Be King (Film, UK, Joe Cornish, 2019) After pulling Excalibur from a stone in a construction site, a bullied schoolkid enlists his tormenters to help him fight Morgan LeFay and her flaming skeleton army. Dour kids’ adventure struggles to tries to bend Arthurian myth into a vehicle for contemporary liberalism.—RDL

The Verdict (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1946) Aided by a bon vivant illustrator (Peter Lorre), a disgraced Scotland Yard superintendent (Sydney Greenstreet) investigates a locked-room murder. Siegel directs the hell out of an unambitious script, shooting backlot Victorian London with expressionistic angles, lighting, and dread.—RDL

Episode 376: Landlord Reform

January 3rd, 2020 | Robin

Pull up a comfy chair and get your fireballs back in the Gaming Hut as we look at the timing of resource refreshing.

In the Tradecraft Hut we peer into the espionage activities of William Playfair, now better known as the inventor of the pie chart, not to mention most of your other favorite charts.

Ask Ken and Robin features a request from beloved Patreon backer Lars to consider updates to Earthdawn.

Then Phil Masters, estimable Patreon backer who this time gets a whole question to himself, asks if our hero might want to use Ken’s Time Machine to extend the life and career of Gustavus Adolphus, the reform-minded Swedish king some consider the inventor of modern warfare.

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.


Hopping vampires tried to stop it! Transformed animals conspired to block it! Evil eunuchs issued proclamations against it! But thanks to the gun-toting, fist-flying efforts of your favorite scrappy underdogs at Atlas Games, Feng Shui 2, Robin’s acclaimed and recently improved game of action thrills has been reprinted and can again be found in stores. Import the excitement of the Hong Kong action cinema masters to your roleplaying table.

What’s worse—yet even more pulse-poundingly exciting—than being a burned spy on the run from an international vampire conspiracy? Going it alone, as you do in Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s brilliant adaptation of GUMSHOE One-2-One to the shadowy world of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, from Pelgrane Press.

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!

Arc Dream Publishing presents a gorgeous new edition of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, a deluxe hardback in delightful faux snakeskin, with a foreword by John Scott Tynes, annotations by our own Kenneth Hite, and stunning full-pate color  illustrations by Samuel Araya. Grab it while it lasts in the Arc Dream store.

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