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Archive for February, 2024

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Zone of Interest, Anatomy of a Fall, Saltburn

February 20th, 2024 | 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

Anatomy of a Fall (Film, France, Justine Triet, 2023) Novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) goes on trial for murder after her failed-novelist husband falls to his death from the attic (or balcony) of their isolated fixer-upper chalet while her sight-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) is out walking his dog. Lapidary script by Triet and Arthur Harari layers revelations and character beats with watchmaker precision, while Hüller and Machado-Graner give those revelations and beats matter and meaning, all within the framework of a classic murder-trial film.—KH

Eight Hours of Terror (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1957) Anxious to make a train connection, a group of people from disparate walks of life put aside fears of fugitive bank robbers in the area to board a rickety bus for an emergency trip along treacherous mountain roads. Ensemble suspense drama celebrates altruistic underdogs and sticks it to the selfish creeps.—RDL

Let Joy Reign Supreme (Film, France, Bertrand Tavernier, 1975) When a rustic Breton noble (Jean-Pierre Marielle) launches a conspiracy against the melancholy, libertinish Regent Philippe II d’Orleans (Philippe Noiret), his scheming minister (Jean Rochefort) spots an opportunity for advancement. Satirical period drama presents a jaundiced portrait of 18th aristocratic decadence.—RDL

Miss Shampoo (Film, Taiwan, Giddens Ko, 2023) After she hides him from assassins, a hunky gang boss (Daniel Hong) falls for an adorable hair stylist with a propensity for extreme cuts (Vivian Sung.) If you’ve been wondering where the anarchic tone- and genre-shifting spirit of 80s and 90s Hong Kong cinema went, it has moved to Taiwan, as this outré gangster rom com attests.—RDL

Silent Night (Film, US, John Woo, 2023) After a gang shooting spree leaves his son killed and his vocal cords shot out, Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman) resolves to kill those responsible one year later, on Christmas Eve. Woo’s eye for action and perfect camera control pitilessly depict Godlock deliberately stripping out his humanity to become a feral killing machine: this is not 80s “killer cool” Woo but a darker, more desperate version. Without dialogue, Woo creates a pure expression of cinema as light, motion, music, and violence.—KH

A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War (Nonfiction, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, 2023) Iraqi journalist ruefully recounts his country’s catastrophic spirals into deadly and destabilizing conflict, from the Iran-Iraq war he witnessed as a child through the US invasion, civil war, the battle with ISIS and beyond. Fleshes out the complexities of events typically given shorthand treatment in the Western press, with a recurring theme being men with guns who are sure they’ve learned from the mistakes of the past and are not going to repeat them this time.—RDL

The Zone of Interest (Film, UK/Poland, Jonathan Glazer, 2023) Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) leads a contented family life in the well-appointed house on the other side of its walls. Aided by masterfully destabilizing sound design, this plotless cinematic study of the banality of evil drops the viewer into an all but unrelieved moral vacuum.—RDL

Good

The Meg (Film, US/China, Jon Turteltaub, 2018) Traumatized deep sea rescuer (Jason Statham) reluctantly returns for a mission to recover his ex-wife from an exploratory sub downed by an old nemesis no one else believes in—a 25 meter long Miocene-era shark. Starts surprisingly smart but doesn’t end up that way, falling prey to the inherent problem of animal-related disaster movies, finding enough different things for the creature to do.—RDL

Saltburn (Film, UK/US, Emerald Fennell, 2023) Scholarship boy Oliver (Barry Keoghan, risibly old for the part) falls for aristo Felix (Jacob Elordi, effortlessly fantastic) at Oxford and gets invited to the family estate for the summer. This Brideshead Revisited-Talented Mr. Ripley mashup never coheres, mostly because Oliver fluctuates between Iago and a kicked puppy throughout. However, I will watch a hundred films featuring Rosamund Pike as a ditzy lady of the manor. Further kudos to cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who shoots Saltburn manor with sunlit love.—KH

Okay

The Creator (Film, US, Gareth Edwards, 2023) In a future where America is at war with androids, a former double agent (John David Washington) agrees to seek their human inventor, hoping also to find his wife, presumed dead but apparently alive and working with the enemy. For all of its impressive visual worldbuilding and indelible cinematic imagery, this blend of Blade Runner and the Global War on Terror falters on viewpoint and sympathy. The audience can tell from the outset that the mission is a con job, and for much of the running time can’t tell where our hopes or fears should lie..—RDL

Episode 586: The Velveteen Rabbit of Signage

February 16th, 2024 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut beloved Patreon backer Hector Trelane takes inspiration from Robin’s EZ One Shot system to ask if designers are finding a root language of roleplaying that points toward a less cluttered style of play.

At the behest of estimable backer Kristian Groenseth the Cartography Hut investigates the fake stop sign epidemic that struck Cranston, Rhode Island.

And finally Ken’s Bookshelf paws the spoils of our resident bibliomane’s recent raid on New York City.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Our Patreon-backed Letterboxd list of all films mentioned on the show is now up and running.

Also check out the Goodreads list of books mentioned on the show.

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Experience the world of Gloom in a new, immersive way with Unhappy Birthday at Castle Slogar. With an integrated hint and solution website, drenched in the beloved Gloom aesthetic by artist J. Scott Reeves, this puzzling gamebook kicks off Atlas’ new Enigma line. Sign up for the Kickstarter announcement!

Reality horror just got realer with three new support products for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game: Black Star Magic, Legions of Carcosa: The Yellow King Bestiary, and Robin’s latest novel, Fifth Imperative.

Put on your flannels, grab your duffel bag of hardware and assemble your fake passports. Alert your retailer to the contents of their favorite unmarked warehouse. Delta Green: The Conspiracy, the revised, updated and declassified edition of the iconic 1990s sourcebook has escaped from Arc Dream Publishing.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Slow Horses, American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers

February 13th, 2024 | 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

Air (Film, US, Ben Affleck, 2023) Basketball guru Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) pursues Michael Jordan for third-ranked shoe company Nike. What could have been a leaden produpic soars thanks to Affleck’s willingness to invest in a multi-beat story (providing many of the comic beats by playing self-involved Nike CEO Phil Knight) and to wisely give Viola Davis her head in crafting the film’s moral center, Deloris Jordan. The result is more miracle play than produpic, with Vaccaro as John the Baptist and 80s needle drops as psalms.—KH

American Fiction (Film, US, Cord Jefferson, 2023) Literary novelist Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) creates a fake “street” identity to sell a pandering novel as his mother’s (Leslie Uggams) Alzheimer’s puts stress on his family. Repeatedly blunted satire nestles uneasily in a gently sad family drama, but Wright pulls the film through on the strength of a brilliant, low-simmering performance. Cristina Dunlap’s effective cinematography deserves a nod as well.—KH

Anatomy of a Fall (Film, France, Justine Triet, 2023) Tightly wound writer (Sandra Hüller) faces a murder trial that strains her relationship with her sensitive, vision-impaired young son (Milo Machado Graner) when her resentful husband takes a fatal plunge from the top floor of their chalet-style home. Realist courtroom drama takes full advantage of the freewheeling structure of French criminal proceedings to flesh out its study of a marriage on the brink.—RDL

Fair Play (Film, US, Chloe Domont, 2023) Hedge fund analysts and surreptitious lovers Emily and Luke (Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich) hit the emotional rocks when one of them is promoted. Crackling character beats show their dog-eat-dog financial careers stripping the humanity from both; great acting from the duo prevents the melodrama from overweighting the careful verisimilitude of Domont’s Wall Street mise en scene.—KH

The Holdovers (Film, US, Alexander Payne, 2023) Bilious prep school history teacher (Paul Giamatti) bonds with a grieving cafeteria supervisor (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and a smart, rebellious student (Dominic Sessa) when ordered to supervise the few students staying over for Christmas break. Empathy rises from misanthropy in a dramedy revolving around a trio of winning performances and a love of the American New Wave.—RDL

Slow Horses Season 3 (Television, UK, Apple+, Will Smith, 2023) A former embassy guard’s quest for justice draws River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) and the other Slough House exiles into a high body count MI5 internal struggle. This season pulls the lever on the thriller switch, bringing greased-rail pacing to the serialized TV format.—RDL

The Vietri Project (Fiction, Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, 2021) As she reaches the age when she might inherit her Italian mother’s schizophrenia, a Californian former bookseller’s travels take her to Rome and a search for a mysterious bibliophile. Echoes of Eco set the stage for a quest to reconcile the protagonist’s dual, dueling national identities.—RDL

Good

Everything Goes Wrong (Film, Japan, Seijun Suzuki, 1960) Young malcontent (Tamio Kawaji) melts down over his mother’s relationship with a thoughtful but married business executive. High-strung drama positions itself as a juvenile delinquent picture in order to question the genre’s anti-youth hysteria.—RDL

Fanfare of Love (Film, France, Richard Pottier, 1935) A pair of unemployed musicians pose as women to get hired by an all-female nightclub orchestra. A fun situation farce mostly notable as the ultimate source, by way of its 1951 German remake, for Some Like It Hot.—RDL

Episode 585: Advice and Holy Water

February 9th, 2024 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut we look at the paradox of choice, in which players want many alternative paths yet also want to explore all of them.

The Archaeology Hut surveys the career of William Stukeley, the 18th century polymath whose studies of Stonehenge and Avebury made him one of the field’s foundational figures.

In the Horror Hut beloved sponsor John Kovalic wants us to retell the tale of the BBC’s lost terror series, Late Night Horror.

Finally the Eliptony Hut sets up close to Robin’s location for the weird one-off cryptid, the Cabbagetown Tunnel Monster.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Our Patreon-backed Letterboxd list of all films mentioned on the show is now up and running.

Also check out the Goodreads list of books mentioned on the show.

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Experience the world of Gloom in a new, immersive way with Unhappy Birthday at Castle Slogar. With an integrated hint and solution website, drenched in the beloved Gloom aesthetic by artist J. Scott Reeves, this puzzling gamebook kicks off Atlas’ new Enigma line. Sign up for the Kickstarter announcement!

Reality horror just got realer with three new support products for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game: Black Star Magic, Legions of Carcosa: The Yellow King Bestiary, and Robin’s latest novel, Fifth Imperative.

Put on your flannels, grab your duffel bag of hardware and assemble your fake passports. Alert your retailer to the contents of their favorite unmarked warehouse. Delta Green: The Conspiracy, the revised, updated and declassified edition of the iconic 1990s sourcebook has escaped from Arc Dream Publishing.

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Cinema Purgatorio, Blackbeard, and the Archies

February 6th, 2024 | 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

Ambulance (Film, US, Michael Bay, 2022) Volatile bank robber (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his reluctantly inveigled Marine vet adopted brother (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) flee a job gone wrong in a hijacked ambulance with a hard nosed paramedic (Eiza González) and wounded cop on board. In a hyper-accelerated thriller that overtly namechecks his pre-Transformers career highlights, Bay shows that a film featuring a 70-minute vehicle chase is the exactly correct assignment for him.—RDL

The Archies (Film, India, Zoya Akhtar, 2023) In the Anglo-Indian town of Riverdale, fickle but beloved 60s teen Archie Andrews toys with the affections of best friends Bettie and Veronica, as the latter’s father schemes to replace their beloved park with a grand hotel. Sustains a sweet nostalgic tone over a 260 minute running time, with choreography and dancing notably better than the Bollywood norm.—RDL

Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate (Nonfiction, Angus Konstam, 2006) The closest thing to an academic biography we’re likely to get of a man who left only a legend and a bunch of police reports behind him. Pirate historian Konstam pads out the thin historical record with chapters of Caribbean context; it could perhaps use tighter organization and one more editorial pass but it’s still the best there is on the topic.—KH

Call Me Chihiro (Film, Japan, Rikiya Imaizumi, 2023) An outwardly gregarious, inwardly alienated former massage parlor worker turned bento shop cashier draws a group of lonely people into her orbit. Sympathetic, subtly limned character study of a paradoxical personality.—RDL

Cinema Purgatorio: This Is Sinerama (Comics, Avatar, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, 2021) Eighteen short (8-page) comics (mostly) recapitulating Hollywood tragedies, from the life of Willis O’Brien or Howard Hughes to the death of Thelma Todd or the Black Dahlia, usually in a style reminiscent of a film. Interspersed media-philosophical comics (and the framing sequence of a damned woman as our audience viewpoint) are clever enough but the real attraction is, e.g., Moore and O’Neill riffing on creative theft in the backstory of Felix the Cat, in the form of an animated cartoon, or telling the story of the Warner Brothers as if they were the Marx Brothers.—KH

The Money (Film, South Korea, So-Dong Kim, 1958) A farmer desperate to raise funds for his daughter’s wedding allows himself to be bullied into reckless gambling by the village loanshark. Rural melodrama uses dramatic irony of knowing better than the protagonist where this is all going to excruciatingly draw out the inevitable hammer blow.—RDL

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead (Graphic Novel, Bill Griffith, 2019) Loving biographical portrait of the lifelong sideshow performer, best known for his appearance in Freaks, who inspired Griffith’s comics character Zippy.—RDL

Good

Bad Seed (Film, France, Billy Wilder, 1934) Cut off by his wealthy father, a brash spendthrift (Pierre Mingand) throws in with a car theft ring. While fleeing Germany for the US, Wilder stopped in Paris long enough to direct this breezy crime drama, revealing the insouciant cynicism that would come to full flower in his Hollywood classics. Freshly available on Blu Ray in a restored print.—RDL

Episode 584: Maybe a Murder is Good Sometimes

February 2nd, 2024 | Robin

In the Gaming Hut, beloved Patreon backer Joshua Randall asks for help dealing with players who like to shoot down everyone else’s plans.

Fans of irony will appreciate the story of Edo firebreaks, as told in the History Hut.

Ken and Robin Recycle Audio concludes our excerpts from the Dramatic Interaction panel at Gen Con 2023. Emily Cambias and John R. Harness join Robin in examining the integration of trad gaming and personal interaction.

Then at the behest of esteemed Patreon backer Michael Cule, our chrononaut reveals what Ken’s Time Machine might have had to do with the famed 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes.

Want to pose a question to the show? Get your priority question asking access with your support for the KARTAS Patreon!

Our Patreon-backed Letterboxd list of all films mentioned on the show is now up and running.

Also check out the Goodreads list of books mentioned on the show.

Snag Ken and Robin merchandise at TeePublic.


Experience the world of Gloom in a new, immersive way with Unhappy Birthday at Castle Slogar. With an integrated hint and solution website, drenched in the beloved Gloom aesthetic by artist J. Scott Reeves, this puzzling gamebook kicks off Atlas’ new Enigma line. Sign up for the Kickstarter announcement!

Reality horror just got realer with three new support products for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game: Black Star Magic, Legions of Carcosa: The Yellow King Bestiary, and Robin’s latest novel, Fifth Imperative.

Put on your flannels, grab your duffel bag of hardware and assemble your fake passports. Alert your retailer to the contents of their favorite unmarked warehouse. Delta Green: The Conspiracy, the revised, updated and declassified edition of the iconic 1990s sourcebook has escaped from Arc Dream Publishing.

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