Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Raidin’ Tombs and Retailin’ Games

March 27th, 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 Arena (Fiction, William Haggard, 1961) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must protect a radar company from acquisition by a foreign industrial combine. The banker opposed to the deal takes center stage in this third of Haggard’s cozy spy thrillers, the plot turning on the state of his marriage and health as much as on the machinations of Germans and (brrr) arrivistes. The result is affecting and original, if not quite thrilling per se. –KH

The Death of Stalin (Film, France/UK/Belgium, Armando Iannucci, 2018) Contemptible, monstrous weasels Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) maneuver for power following the titular death of Stalin in 1953. This black farce unspools at a lickety-split pace, with dialogue as crackling as it is craven. Iannucci’s decision to forego cod-Russian accents keeps comic delivery on key while adding just the right surreal tinge to the dramatically collapsed historical events. Jason Isaacs’ Yorkshire-voiced bully Marshal Zhukov steals every scene, but Michael Palin’s heartbreakingly sad and funny turn as true believer Molotov may be the best in show. –KH

The Moving Target (Fiction, Ross Macdonald, 1949) LA private eye Lew Archer investigates a wayward businessman’s disappearance at the behest of a wife who only half wants him back. In the first of his 18 Archer novels, Macdonald follows the Chandler hardboiled template, but with less stylized prose and characterization. GMs looking for inspiration for their own Cthulhu Confidential scenarios might stroke their chins at the crooked astrologer and the shady Mithras cultist.—RDL


Friendly Local Game Store (Nonfiction, Gary L. Ray, 2018) The owner of Black Diamond Games in Concord, CA clearly lays out the basics of what it takes to create, run, and manage a retail hobby game store as a small business, sharing both the airy “bistro math” of small business plans and some real costs and revenues (and narratives) from his own million-dollar-a-year emporium. Everyone in gaming should know what it takes to keep pumping those cards and dice and players and other corpuscles into the body of this idiosyncratic (to say the least) industry. If you’re a hobby retailer, or interested in starting a game store yourself (or in buying one from someone less interested) vault this book up to highly Recommended. –KH

Tomb Raider (Film, US, Roar Uthaug, 2018) Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) travels to the mysterious island of Yamatai in search of her vanished father (Dominic West) only to discover a tomb in the process of being raided by Matthias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Vikander plays the role with a sort of wounded curiosity rather than Angelina Jolie’s feral confidence, but she plays her weaker part well and jungle archaeology adventure remains wonderful whoever wears the blue tank top (or the fedora). Not quite the juicy pulp of the 2001 film, but it manages to infuse the depressing reboot of the game with a modicum of joy. –KH

The Unquiet Sleep (Fiction, William Haggard, 1962) Colonel Russell of the Security Executive must deal with a nascent drug ring peddling a not-yet-illegal pharmaceutical that implicates a government official. Haggard slightly titrates this cozy spy thriller with action, but gives in a bit too much to the temptation to vindicate his worldview through his protagonists to sell the emotional weight he wants. –KH


Death Watch (Film, France/UK, Bertrand Tavernier, 1980) Outfitted with camera eyes by his shifty reality TV producer (Harry Dean Stanton), a hard-knuckle reporter (Harvey Keitel) surreptitiously records a novelist (Romy Schneider) as she undergoes a rare event—death by disease. Listless 70s pacing drains the energy from this prescient, low-tech SF drama.—RDL

Death Wish (Film, US, Eli Roth, 2018) Chicago surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) becomes a murderous vigilante after home invaders kill his wife and leave his daughter in a coma. Though it nods toward the traumatized protagonist of Brian Garfield’s original novel, the script eventually becomes a straight-up revenge hunt. Despite his clear love of 70s film, Roth shies away from the anarchic power of the 1974 Charles Bronson movie in favor of competent domestic drama. Worse yet, he aims in so many more interesting directions in passing: Kersey as surgeon of society’s ills, vigilantism as meme, or even Kersey as cinematic serial killer. –KH

The X-Files Season 11 (Television, US, Chris Carter, FOX, 2018) Mulder and Scully continue to investigate eliptonic threats as the Cigarette Smoking Man hunts for their long-lost genetic hybrid son. With episodes ranging from middling to atrocious—and premise-violating—this faded reprise ekes its way to mediocrity with its sweet portrayal of the middle-aged Scully-Mulder relationship and a less-awful capper to the saga than we’ve had to date.—RDL

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