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Archive for March, 2020

Episode 388: The Toppling is the Point

March 27th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut we ask when a historical event the players can research might also be a spoiler.

Ripped From the Headlines allows beloved Patreon backer Chris Lydon to discover the hidden significance of Las Vegas’ political hat wearing pigeons.

Our round of Yellow King Roleplaying Game Belle Epoque biographies shifts to the Culture Hut as we look at a potential patron for your occult investigators, the most famous actor in the world, Sarah Bernhardt.

Then the Eliptony Hut ventures to California’s Santa Lucia mountains, where esteemed Patreon backer David Shaw submits us to the gaze of the Dark Watchers.

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.


The place you only think you remember explodes with weird danger in Welcome to the Island, the first adventure anthology for Over the Edge from Atlas Games. Launch brand new stories, add intriguing complications to your existing arcs, or create exciting one-shots that bring the weird to your gaming table.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

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’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Monkey King, and Classic Cheng Pei-Pei

March 24th, 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

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol IV: The Tempest (Comics, Top Shelf, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, 2018-2019) A revived James Bond goes to war against the surviving Leaguers and the Blazing World while Satin Astro attempts to avert a future catastrophe. Moore’s final word on comics* incorporates all his terror and wonder at the heroic medium in a deliberately tangled narrative that when cut apparently argues decisively for drowning his books and breaking his staff. But like Milton, his hymns transcend his argument, and we’re all richer for the ambiguity Moore cannot avoid in his indictment of the unambiguous. –KH

[* At this time]

Recommended

Immortal Demon Slayer (Film, China, Derek Kwok, 2017) Monkey-like demon (Eddie Peng) forges unlikely alliances with a trio of young immortals as he rebels against the sterile authority of the Heavenly Kingdom. Peng reveals a flair for physical comedy in one of the more satisfying of the recent cycle of CGI spectacle movies based on the Monkey King legend. Also known as Tales of Wukong or Wukong, this one downplays the story’s Buddhist elements.—RDL

Ivory Apples (Fiction, Lisa Goldstein, 2019) Adolescent Ivy’s great-aunt Maeve wrote the beloved novel Ivory Apples with the help of the muses — supernatural beings that enter Ivy’s life and bring desperate, dangerous occult seekers there as well. Goldstein veils female bildungsroman with imagination and myth in another assured modern fantasy reminiscent of her excellent 2011 modern fairy tale The Uncertain Places. –KH

Marc Maron: End Times Fun (Television, US, Netflix, Lynn Shelton, 2020) Pulled back from the personal to the political by the tenor of the times, Maron’s latest stand-up special takes an atypical turn for Rabelaisian, with guest appearances from Jesus and Iron Man. Warning: contains strong language and apocalyptic prescience.—RDL

The Shadow Whip (Film, HK, Lo Wei, 1971) Inn proprietor (Cheng Pei Pei) whose whip-handling skills are exceeded only by the reclusive uncle who trained her, learns secrets of her past when security officials and bandits show up for a long-awaited reckoning. Delightfully pulpy star vehicle for Cheng features snow-swept vistas and top-notch large-scale fight choreography, with more wire work than you’d expect for the early 70s.—RDL

Supreme: Blue Rose (Comics, Image, Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay, 2015) Obsessed tycoon Darius Dax hires reporter Diana Dane to investigate the disappearance of Ethan Crane from Littlehaven during a bizarre impact event. Warren Ellis playing a riff on Alan Moore playing a riff on Mort Weisinger may be a little too meta for some, but if you enjoyed Moore’s run on Supreme seeing Ellis cover it (in the key of Planetary) brings magic jazz thrills. Lotay’s art is exactly the right blend of clear and uncertain, washes and chalks establishing unmistakable moods behind Ellis-driven techie details. –KH

Good

Nothing Sacred (Film, US, William A. Wellman, 1937) Small town watch factory worker (Carole Lombard) who has just discovered she is not dying of radium poisoning covers it up in order to become a New York celebrity squired about by a hardbitten reporter (Fredric March). Screenwriter Ben Hecht puts his journalistic cynicism on full blast, pushing a romantic comedy premise into caustic satire.—RDL

Odds On (Fiction, Michael Crichton, 1966) Trio of crooks use a computer to plan their heist of a luxury hotel on the Spanish coast, so nothing can go wrong. Except cops, girls, the weather, and … Crichton’s first novel fulfills a clear promise to the publisher to have a sex scene about every fifty pages, and shows clear promise of the high-concept plotter (and cinema-minded author) he would become. A fast-moving froth in the spirit of the decade’s heist movies. –KH

Okay

Lost Girls (Film, US, Liz Garbus, 2020) When Mari Gilbert’s (Amy Ryan) daughter goes missing on Long Island, the cops (Gabriel Byrne and Dean Winters) fumble (or obstruct) the investigation into what becomes the Craigslist Killer serial murder case. Documentarian Garbus nobly keeps the focus on Mari’s fight for justice, but at the cost of characters who mouth cliches and platitudes between luminous camera shots through the tall grass. The interesting real story, and the potentially interesting drama, both get short shrift although Ryan and Byrne do all they can. –KH

Love For All Seasons (Film, HK, Johnnie To & Wa Ka Fai, 2002) Needing to perfect a sword technique based on shattered love to defend her all-female martial arts temple against its rogue master, a celibate swordslinger (Sammi Cheng) enlists a womanizing millionaire (Louis Koo) to break her heart. Very broad romantic comedy in which one of the leads just happens to have wuxia powers is one of the fluffy flicks that keeps the lights on at To’s production company, enabling him to make the tough crime films he really cares about.—RDL

Episode 387 – Yell Down Into the Hollers

March 20th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut, beloved Patreon backer Peter McAveney asks how to set up a Night’s Black Agents game as if it is, at first, some other less vampire-infested game.

The Tradecraft Hut goes to 50s Canada, a tale of a KGB mole turned double agent and the corrupt RCMP officer who gave him up to his Soviet masters. For more, see Donald G. Mahar’s Shattered Illusions: KGB Cold War Espionage in Canada.

Ask Ken and Robin features a query from discerning Patreon backer Louis Sylvester about the process behind Robin’s Yellow King novel The Missing and the Lost.

Then Ken’s Time Machine undertakes a mission, sparked by Time Incorporated’s giant bull ire, to erase the Iowa Caucuses from the timestream.

This episode was recorded on March 10. We’ll address our plans to keep plugging during the pandemic at the top of next week’s show.

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.


The place you only think you remember explodes with weird danger in Welcome to the Island, the first adventure anthology for Over the Edge from Atlas Games. Launch brand new stories, add intriguing complications to your existing arcs, or create exciting one-shots that bring the weird to your gaming table.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

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’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Stolen Game Pieces and a Split Party

March 17th, 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

American Made (Film, US, Doug Liman, 2019) Charming dope of a TWA pilot (Tom Cruise) goes off on his own to fly for the CIA, Medellin cartel, and other clients in need of a seat-of-the-pants smuggling fleet. Breezy crime/espionage biopic reconfigures the trajectory of the classic Cruise striver character to a series of upward failures toward inevitable comeuppance.—RDL

The Clowns (Film, Italy, Federico Fellini, 1970) Staged documentary sequences complement performance set pieces as the famed director inquires into the history of European clowning. Alternating the wistful with the anarchic, this essay film provides a corrective to the notion that there’s anything off-model about a disturbing clown.—RDL

Die Vol 2: Split the Party (Comics, Image, Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans, 2020) Trapped in the world of Die not by their malevolent ex-GM but by their own divisions, our heroes recombine and re-split while uncovering another layer of the world’s origin. Having built compelling characters in a fantasy game and game-world, Gillen reaps the story rewards of clashing personalities while deepening and strangefying his world. Hans’ versatile art pulls out all the stops, a toccata of story and craft in ideal complement. –KH

Forced Perspectives (Fiction, Tim Powers, 2020) Former Secret Service agent Vickery and TUA operative Castine re-unite when a tech guru gets hold of Egyptian magicks to restart a God-mind project that went somehow wrong in 1926 and 1968. This sequel to Alternate Routes feels more like a standard Powers novel than that one, which went big on the fantasy at the cost of some coherence. This novel’s relatively constrained high concept and cast of fucked-up (and fuckup) villains puts us (and Powers) back in the scope and zone he’s been working comfortably since Expiration Date. –KH

Invention for Destruction (Film, Czechoslovakia, Karel Zeman, 1958) Kidnapped by submariner pirates, the assistant to a naive scientist realizes he must keep them from taking over the world with his super-weapon. Stylized sets and an array of animation techniques reproduce the look of a 19th century engraving in this must-see for any steampunk enthusiast. Based on the lesser known Jules Verne novel Facing the Flag, alternately known as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and a clear influence on Brothers Quay and The Life Aquatic.—RDL

McMillion$ (Television, US, HBO,  Brian David Lazarte, 2020) Documentary miniseries follows FBI investigators and a tough prosecutor as they unravel a late 90s / early 2000s conspiracy to divert every single high-dollar prize from the McDonalds Monopoly game. Although it develops a weird sentimental streak toward one of its unsavory characters, I’m nonetheless recommending this as an entertaining deep dive on contemporary investigative techniques useful to any GUMSHOE GM.—RDL

Good

Madam Satan (Film, US, Cecil B. DeMille, 1930) A society wife’s efforts to win back her philandering husband get decidedly weird when she adopts the titular persona at a masked ball on a tethered dirigible. Tepid farce shifts into the utterly bizarro at the halfway mark, as we’ve all come to expect from musical comedy art deco disaster movies.—RDL

Episode 386: The Apache Helicopter of Toaster Ovens

March 13th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut, beloved Patreon backer Trung Bui asks us for tips and tricks on running open-ended games without interfering with player agency.

The Food Hut remains just as crispy, with a fraction of the calories, as Robin discovers air fryer cooking by way of the Breville Smart Oven with Air Fry.

Our tour of the Belle Epoque setting featured in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game moves to the Crime Blotter and a look at troubling forensics pioneer Alphonse Bertillon.

Finally the Eliptony Hut listens to signals from esteemed backer Jamie Twine, who needs to know about numbers stations.

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.


The place you only think you remember explodes with weird danger in Welcome to the Island, the first adventure anthology for Over the Edge from Atlas Games. Launch brand new stories, add intriguing complications to your existing arcs, or create exciting one-shots that bring the weird to your gaming table.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

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’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Painted Love

March 10th, 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

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Film, France, Céline Sciamma, 2019) In 1770, love kindles when painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travels to a remote manor in Brittany to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), an unwilling bride. Sciamma’s restraint, Claire Mathon’s Mannerist camera eye, and the actors’ chemistry creates a series of beautiful cameos marvellously punctuated by emotion and sparingly (but devastatingly) deployed music. –KH

Recommended

A Dandy in Aspic (Film, UK, Anthony Mann, 1968) An assignment to hunt down a KGB assassin gives a burned-out M16 desk agent (Laurence Harvey) a case of the nerves, as the man he’s supposed to kill is himself. Lonely widescreen compositions and a playing style of fey ennui place this existential spy thriller midway on the spectrum between Fleming and le Carré.—RDL

Emma (Film, UK, Autumn de Wilde, 2020) Rich, young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes a poor girl (Mia Goth) under her wing, and gets in over her match-making head. Adapting Austen’s novel well requires three things: a lead actress who can play a sympathetic sociopath, faithfulness to the book and its comic heart, and a proper dance scene. Extra points to de Wilde for keeping her film brightly lit and not full of over-mixed footsteps. –KH

The Invisible Man (Film, US/Australia, Leigh Whannell, 2020) After fleeing her abusive boyfriend, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) discovers he’s using his invisibility suit to gaslight and stalk her. Whannell’s fluid direction and cleverly omniscient script keep this “killer B” interesting, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score glories in horror potential. But it’s Moss’ expressive gaze that fascinates throughout. –KH

Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service (Nonfiction, John Sawatsky, 1980) History of the counterespionage arm of the federal Canadian police from inception to a few years before the trouble-plagued division was replaced by a separate civilian agency. That this is still the definitive book on the subject four decades later speaks to a small media market that doesn’t turn out much spy nonfiction, and to Sawatsky’s clear, detail-rich storytelling.—RDL

The Spymasters: CIA in The Crosshairs (Film, US, Jules & Gedeon Naudet, 2015) Documentary surveys the failures and controversies of the Global War on Terror from the perspective of CIA directors and other top officials. Key interview subjects speak with surprising candor on both the emotional toll of the job and the drone strike program, which does not officially exist. What struck me most watching this now was not anything in the film, but the extent to which its central issues have been so backburnered in our present Orange Times that the GWOT seems like another historical era altogether.—RDL

Good

He Who Whispers (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1946) Historian Miles Hammond finds himself falling for his new librarian Fay Seton: a woman at the heart of a murder from a decade ago that could only have been committed by a vampire. Again, Carr’s blend of tension, intricate plotting, and Gothic horror — this time imbued with the threadbare feel of postwar England — lives up to its billing. However, it involves a whopping coincidence and a psychological key that I found resoundingly unconvincing. To many, though, one of Carr’s best. –KH

The Lost Gallows (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1931) Visiting London, Surete detective Henri Bencolin investigates a dead chauffeur and a terrorized Egyptian playboy. With Egyptian curses, sex, a dwarf, and a missing London street, this reads more like a particularly unstrung Stevenson novel than a Carr construction. Atmosphere it has in abundance, but in this early work Carr still can’t reliably set his metronome. –KH

Episode 385: Shill for the Macedonians

March 6th, 2020 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut beloved Patreon backer Gray St. Quintin asks us to expand on our past fleeting discussion of the various voices and modes used in a roleplaying session.

The Tradecraft Hut has no choice but to address recent reminders that Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, whose story is already wild enough, was subjected to MK-ULTRA brainwashing experiments.

Esteemed backer Derek Upham bids to enter the Archaeology Hut to paw over ancient curse tablets found at the bottom of a Greek well.

Then we conclude our Consulting Occultist series on key figures of the magical Belle Epoque with dynamic duo Oswald Wirth and  Stanislas de Guaita.

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.


The place you only think you remember explodes with weird danger in Welcome to the Island, the first adventure anthology for Over the Edge from Atlas Games. Launch brand new stories, add intriguing complications to your existing arcs, or create exciting one-shots that bring the weird to your gaming table.

You’ve heard him talk about it. Now you can get it at retail or in the Pelgrane Press store: The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Shatter your world with this eerie, physically imposing GUMSHOE game of decadent art and multiple existences. For a limited time only, enter the voucher code YELLOW at the Pelgrane shop to get 15% off all Yellow King items when you combine the core set with Absinthe in Carcosa and/or The Missing and the Lost.

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’s Shane Ivey brings you Swords and Sorceries, fifth edition adventure in a sea-swept world inspired by ancient myth. Seek your fortunes, or find gruesome death in the tombs of forgotten gods and evils best left buried. Seize all three adventures, Sea Demon’s Gold, Song of the Sun Queens, and Tomb of Fire, today!

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Sabrina Goes Mythos; The Doctor Goes Back to the Well

March 3rd, 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

Below Suspicion (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1949) Barrister Patrick Butler defends two women accused in two poisoning cases, but Dr. Fell suspects a Satanic link between them. Carr turns his plow to Dennis Wheatley furrows and reaps a bounty in a story that he keeps set in the twentieth century only by an effort of will. –KH

The Black Monday Murders, Vols 1-2 (Comics, Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker, 2016-2018) The exiled claimant to an occult banking empire returns, with bloody consequences. Bravura deep-lore conspiracy of money as demonic pact backs up a solid if familiar story. Coker’s moody, almost monochrome art exactly suits the intricate Gothic setting. With the series on hiatus, this may be all we get, but the arc completes (a bit hastily) across both volumes, even if we’re left wanting much much more. –KH

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 4 (Television, US, Netflix, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, 2020) Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) vies semi-reluctantly for the throne of hell as a circus of bloodthirsty Green Man devotees menaces her family and coven. Jettisons the show’s high school angle and episodic format for a single suspense narrative. Nods to Lovecraft include a Deep One and invocation of eldritch terrors, with full-on Mythos set up for next season. (If there is one, Netflix being Netflix.)—RDL

Kid Galahad (Film, US, Michael Curtiz, 1937) His intemperate impulses held in check by his swell ex-chanteuse girlfriend (Bette Davis), a fight manager (Edward G. Robinson) grooms a forthright, cornfed heavyweight for the world title. Archetypal boxing picture features Davis pouring on the charm in an uncharacteristic sweetheart role. Curtiz’s control of rhythm and spatial relationships comes to the fore in the boxing sequences, an obvious reference point for Raging Bull.—RDL

Shattered Illusions: KGB Cold War Espionage in Canada (Nonfiction, Donald G. Mahar, 2017) Former CSIS agent uses unprecedented access to historical case files to reveal the amazing story of Soviet illegal-turned-double agent Yevgeny Brik, who was in turn betrayed to his masters by a turncoat officer of the RCMP Watcher Service. Most illuminating for its detailed portrayal of 1950s tradecraft, this account loses some of its zing when the author starts to write about himself in an affectedly neutral third person, as the story reaches 1992 and a surprising final twist. —RDL

Good

The Dead Man’s Knock (Fiction, John Dickson Carr, 1958) Near-deadly pranks at a small Southern college presage a murder in a locked room devised by Wilkie Collins. A later Dr. Fell mystery, and not an entirely triumphant one, it manages to create psychological tension (at some cost to character realism) rather than Carr’s regular fallback of Gothic tension. That said, I enjoyed the resulting Douglas Sirk melodrama as a change. –KH

Not Recommended

Doctor Who Season 12 (Television, UK, BBC, Chris Chibnall, 2020) The Master (Sacha Dawhan) returns yet again to confront The Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) with previously unrevealed secrets of her past. Unlike the first Whitaker series, this moves the spotlight from the companions to the Doctor, but but with writing this aggressively forgettable that’s scant consolation.—RDL

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