You are viewing princeofcairo

Kenneth Hite's Journal
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Kenneth Hite's LiveJournal:

    [ << Previous 20 ]
    Sunday, May 24th, 2015
    6:45 pm
    In Memoriam
    Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
    John M. Dawson (SPEC, 1st Sqdn, 33rd Cavalry Regt, 3rd Bde CBT, 101st Airborne Div, KIA 8 Apr 2015, Jalalabad, Afghanistan)

    And all 559,085 in between.
    Thursday, May 14th, 2015
    4:37 pm
    HMS Synchronicité
    So I added a Naval Intelligence officer to Dracula Unredacted, as you do, so I needed a Royal Navy ship that might plausibly have been in the Black Sea in 1894.

    So I look on the Ship List for 1894 and there's the HMS Immortalité at the bottom without a fleet assignment, which usually means it's laid up or being used for training but hey could be in the Black Sea, right? Plus, it's named "Immortality" which is of course great for Secret Vampire Monitoring Ship names.

    So just yesterday I'm writing the annotation for that ship and I decide to look into the captain, to see what I can find. Its captain -- until his sudden and mysterious death in 1893 at the ripe old age of 47 -- was Sir William Wiseman, 9th Bart.

    In 1894, HMS Immortalité is thus without an official captain, hence its Reserve status.*

    But back to the mysteriously stricken 9th Baronet Wiseman. His son, Sir William Wiseman, 10th Bart., joined MI6 and headed the SIS station in New York during WWI, a little station called ... (wait for it) ... Section V.


    * Okay, technically Wiseman relinquishes command in Aug 1892 to Alexander McKechnie, who commands HMS Immortalité until May 1894. But during the relevant period in the unredacted novel, it is well and truly not officially captained.
    Monday, April 20th, 2015
    4:52 pm
    The Shadow Over Portland: My CthulhuCon PDX Schedule
    I'm once again a Cthulhu-themed guest at a Cthulhu-themed event in Portland in April, but this one is the straight-up CthulhuCon PDX this weekend, with only a smattering of films to enthrall and distract us. The schedule is mostly up, and herewith my part in it. Said part does not extend to knowing whether any of the panels (except KARTAS Live, of course) will be recorded, streamed, or inserted into your dreams by veiled priests:

    FRIDAY, APRIL 24th

    7:00pm-9:00pm: VIP Party. All the other guests and I shall roister decorously in the luxuriously appointed precincts of Windsor A.


    10:00am-11:00am: Neopaganism and Lovecraft. The way that fears of cultists and dark magics, such as those portrayed by Lovecraft, have affected the direction and reception of the "neopagan" movement. Has Lovecraft influenced the formation of modern occultism and Paganism? To what extent, if at all, are Lovecraft's writings responsible for the widespread Satanic Panic of the 70s and the perception of alternative religion as devil worship? Also, why are so many modern Pagans Lovecraft fans? (Kenneth Hite, Liv Rainey-Smith, Rhiannon Louve, Alex Scully; Bellmont B)

    1:00pm-2:00pm: Dracula vs. Cthulhu. A discussion of the relationship between Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" and Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. Both stories are told through diary entries, news articles, letters, and interviews with other people, but there's more to it than that. Lovecraft wrote on the cusp between literary movements. With one foot in the Gothic past and one foot in the post-war future to come, Lovecraft created a unique blend between the Gothic literary tradition of the 1800s and the monster tradition of the modern era. This panel discusses his work within the literary framework of Gothic, while at the same time, examining the groundwork he laid for modern authors. (Leslie S. Klinger, Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Sean Hoade, Rhiannon Louve; Bellmont B)

    3:00pm-4:00pm: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live! Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws bring their incredibly entertaining and informative podcast, LIVE to our stage. Will they talk about Lovecraft? Of course. Will they talk about games? Almost certainly. Come take part in the show, in this one-of-a-kind interactive event. (Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws; Bellmont B)

    5:00pm-6:00pm: Lost Worlds of Lovecraft. A deeper look into the adventure epics of the 10s, 20s, and 30s and their relationship to "The Call of Cthulhu" and Lovecraft's other adventure and exploration stories like "At The Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow Out of Time." There is a literary tradition of the isolated jungle populated by natives and prehistoric giant animals, and hidden civilizations with dreadful secrets, like Pellucidar, Shangri-La, and The Land that Time Forgot. Where does Lovecraft draw inspiration from these epics, and where does he expand and reconfigure the ideas to fit his literary world view? (Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite, Ross E. Lockhart, Derek M. Koch, Christine Morgan, Jason V. Brock; Bellmont B)

    SUNDAY, APRIL 26th

    2:00pm-3:00pm: Lovecraft Gets Hammered. Hammer Films released several classic horror and science fiction films in the 50s through the 70s, and while they're known for gothic horror films like The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, a number of their films also tread in familiar Lovecraftian territory, such as Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series. Join this panel for a look at the Hammer Films any Lovecraft fan will enjoy. (Derek M. Koch, Kenneth Hite, Adam Scott Glancy, Kevin McTurk, Robin D. Laws; Bellmont B)

    3:00pm-4:00pm: Kibbitz With Ken. Squeeze every last drop out of CthulhuCon! A few moments with Ken Hite and you'll be adding things to your must-read list. This is a small breakout session with a featured guest to give our attendees a chance to spend a little more quality time with them in a small group setting. Seating is first come, first served. Sign up at registration. (Kenneth Hite; Boardroom A)
    Friday, March 6th, 2015
    2:27 am
    Four (or Two, or Five) Plays About American Story
    I've gone a little theater crazy recently -- I caught a preview of the entire Hammer Trinity (all three plays in a row) at The House Theatre of Chicago thanks to Steven Townshend and then followed up tonight with Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play at Theater Wit thanks to a rave review by nihilistic_kid of the ACT staging in San Francisco.

    Both are (both overtly and innately) about the construction of story -- The Hammer Trinity (three full plays by Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews) is an attempt to construct a fantasy-genre "Matter of America" focusing on the contest between two draconic Story-Tellers (the Eagle and the Rattlesnake) telling two different stories of America ("For the Greater Good" tells of a True King who can lift the Hammer and unite the land; "For Liberty" tells of a Crownless King who frees the people from tyranny with the Hammer). Each dragon gets his own play, followed by a third play that -- much like America -- gets distracted by a war and kicks the question down the road. A great experience, and great fantasy-effect staging, but ultimately, I think, only sporadically successful at its narrative goal.

    In Mr. Burns, playwright Anne Washburn depicts the (re)creation of culture from ruins -- a postapocalyptic society uses half-remembered Simpsons episodes as social currency, then as theater, then as ritual. (As my friend Craig pointed out, a nice reversal of the historical sequence.) With the advantage of one through-line and one theme (and of a much tighter running time, obviously) Mr. Burns delivers a more focused story -- somewhat ironic, given of course that one of its thematic elements is the arbitrary, contrived nature of narrative art. (Britney Spears' "Toxic" becomes a major element by the third act because the director in the second act liked the song, for example.)

    Both productions had the advantage of Chicago's crazy deep bench of great actors, and I'd certainly recommend seeing either or both if you're a fan of theater or story or the spaces between them.
    Friday, February 20th, 2015
    3:38 am
    Top Ken's Top Ten For 2014
    Unlike 2012, I didn't see something between recording the "Top Ten 2014 Films" segment of the podcast and posting this post, so prepare for no surprises, listen-ahead types:

    Captain America: Winter Soldier
    The Suspect
    Grand Budapest Hotel
    Only Lovers Left Alive
    Inherent Vice
    The LEGO Movie

    Every one an A, even an A+, so obviously I did something right. And the scores don't really change for the next ten, although only #11 is still an A+: Under the Skin, Girl at My Door, Timbuktu, American Sniper, Edge of Tomorrow, The Salvation, It Follows, The Trip to Italy, Interstellar, and The Wind Rises. In fact, the lovely Veronica Mars has the sad distinction of being the first actual straight-up B on the list, down around #28. The worst of 2014 was the morally and narratively bankrupt Stockholm; of films not at CIFF, the worst would be Monuments Men, beating out even Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which at least was mostly unfunny and wearisome on purpose.

    What of that tricksiest of categories, the Ten or Maybe Twelve Likely Best Films of 2014 I Didn't In Fact See in 2014? In a year with a new Kim Ki-Duk film (Moebius), that one has to be number one, but after that who can say? I mean, obviously, I can say: Foxcatcher, Ned Rifle, Leviathan, Nightcrawler, The Guest, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, Unforgiven (the Korean/Japanese remake), Mr. Turner, St. Vincent, Unbroken, and oh hell maybe Gone Girl. Everyone seemed to like that one.
    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
    11:36 pm
    When All Is Said And DunDraCon
    I can't believe I haven't used that pun yet, in all the years I've been going to DunDraCon in semi-sunny San Ramon, California, to top up my vitamin D stores and see my Bay Area buddies. And oh yes, represent Pelgrane and good gaming generally at a series of top-notch panels:

    SATURDAY, February 14

    10:00 AM-11:00 AM -- What's New at Pelgrane Press?
    Presenter: Kenneth Hite

    Pelgrane Press staff designer Kenneth Hite provides intel on everything from 13th Age to The Dracula Dossier. (Tri Valley 2)

    1:00 PM-2:30 PM -- City Building - Dangerous, Mobile, and Non-Human!
    Presenters: Michael Blum, Ken Hite, Anders Swenson

    The topics this year will be:

    Domed cities: in a location where you need to avoid the general environment (toxins, monsters, the ocean, vacuum, etc.), what form does a city take? How does it grow, can it shrink? What does "space Detroit" look like? Imagine a larger, just as poorly-run version of the country of Sealand.
    Markets: in the pre-Industrial era, what does it mean when you say, "I am going to buy a saddle/coat/sword"? What places do you have to visit, what interesting game effects appear? How do you pay, what choices do you have, when can you do your shopping? Which elements of this are useful for fun role-playing games?
    Mobile cities: a city is a relatively large and permanent human settlement. What if it's not "settled" in one place? How do the "settled" locals react? Is it continuous, or does it vanish and then reappear some time later (imagine Burning Man at different locations every year). Examples: railhead building towns, Roman military camps. We're talking about a continuity of governance and people ... so not a mining camp town, so much (that was last year!). A "place" where the name moves around.
    Non-human cities: what would a city not inhabited by bipedal mammals look like? (Tri Valley 2)

    6:00 PM-7:30 PM -- Alternate Histories
    Presenters: Ken Hite & Dana Lombardy

    A panel discussion with authors and game designers Dana Lombardy and Ken Hite who look at possible alternate histories and what their impact might have been. Audience participation is encouraged. (Salon C)

    SUNDAY, February 15

    10:00 AM-11:00 AM -- What's Cool
    Presenters: Ken Hite, Carl Rigney

    Ken Hite brings his wide spectrum of game knowledge to combine with Carl Rigney's accumulated wisdom from his long history of publishing and playing independent games. (There may be some overlap here with Carl's What's Cool in Indie RPGs seminar on Saturday morning.) (Tri Valley 2)

    11:00 AM-Noon -- Rogues: Villains & Evil Overlords
    Presenter(s): Bruce Harlick and Ken Hite (The website lists Randy Angle as the presenter, though, so who knows?)

    Every guild of thieves or criminal organization has a mastermind. Every craft guild, government or religion can have corruption. Whether it is a family business, anarchist mutants, military coup or heartless monarchy the powerful people who run these operations are villains. With plans to dominate and gain relentless power… if only they could put a stop those pesky heroes and rebels.

    Learn the secret techniques villains use to run evil organizations and the tactics that PCs use against these nogoodniks. Evil Overlords welcome – no Death Rays.

    5th installment of the Rogues series of seminars. (Tri Valley 2)


    I may also show up at Carl's 6pm Sunday seminar on Kickstarter either on the panel as a ringer or in the audience as a shill, not least because Carl kind of wrote the webpage on RPG Kickstarters.

    Hope to see all y'all Bay Areans, NoCaliers, and assorted Left Coasters there!
    Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
    5:10 am
    All Off For Stregoicavar!
    So the Hungarian town of Stregoicavar in Robert E. Howard's Mythos story "The Black Stone" is actually in Transylvania, which is to say Romania. (It was in Hungary until 1919.)

    * It's in the mountains (likely the southern corner of the Western Carpathians) three days' coach travel from a point on the railway "past Temesvar" (a.k.a. Timisoara, Romania). "Past" clearly implies "east of," given an American traveler (and REH's clear debt to Stoker).

    * It was populated by "Magyar-Slavic stock," which again argues for (majority-Vlach) Transylvania or Banat rather than (overwhelming-majority-Magyar) Hungary proper. I argue for the mountains south of Banat because otherwise the narrator (likely James Clement from "The Thing on the Roof") would not have taken a train running through Temesvar, but instead through Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca) or Hermannstadt (Sibiu).

    * Its name (meaning, per REH, "Witch-Town") clearly comes from the Romanian "strigoica" (REH got the spelling and the definition from Stoker) not the Hungarian "boszorka."

    * The Banat generally is in the path of the Turkish invasion of 1526 (toward Mohacs), during which Selim Bahadur razed Xuthltan, the original town on the site.

    * That region of Banat holds the oldest human skeletal remains in Europe, a mix of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal types, very apropos for the ancient inhabitants of Xuthltan: "a shorter, more squat race, whose brows were lower, whose faces were broader and duller..."

    You're welcome, Balkanologists.

    Now to figure out what it all has to do with Dracula.
    Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
    4:07 am
    Chimerical Pirate Notions
    Note to self: Do something with the notion that Mithraism began as a secret rite amongst the Cilician pirates.

    "They also offered strange sacrifices of their own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites, among which those of Mithras continue to the present time, having been first instituted by them."
    -- Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 24:5

    For extra fun, the "Olympus" Plutarch mentions is not the Greek mountain, but a different mountain in Lycia, where burned the eternal gas fire known as ... Chimaera. Nothing beats the classics.
    Friday, January 2nd, 2015
    4:59 pm
    I Choo-Choose ChupacabraCon
    I return to the warm and sunny delights of Austin, Texas next weekend to guest at ChupacabraCon for the first time. Here, so far as I have the details, is my schedule, although my beloved audio pal robindlaws and I are supposed to be doing a live Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast some time Sunday Saturday. When I find out exactly when, I'll update this post. [Updated! It's Saturday at 7pm!]


    2pm-3:30pm: GM Mastery (Dennis Pipes, Kenneth Hite, Ross Watson) [Magnolia A]

    4:30pm-6pm: 21st Century Game Publishing – You Can Start Tonight! (Sean Patrick Fannon, Kenneth Hite, Shane Hensley, Ross Watson) [Magnolia A]


    11am-12:30pm: Worldbuilding (Kenneth Hite, Shane Hensley, Kevin Nunn, Preston DuBose, Richard Aronson, Brian Engard)

    3pm-4pm: Signing at Dragons’ Lair Books & Comics

    7pm-8:30pm: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live! (Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws) [TBA]

    Hope to see you all there!
    Sunday, December 14th, 2014
    8:53 pm
    [RECIPE] Chicken Dragonoff
    (serves 3-4, depending on how hungry everyone is)

    Named for its main flavor component, Artemisia dracunculus, a.k.a. tarragon. This sort of came together to avoid making Chicken Kiev because who needs the hassle? Also I already had nearly everything for it in the fridge or pantry.

    2 TBSP + 3 TBSP butter
    1/2 LB mushrooms, sliced
    hearty splash + 1/2 CUP dry white wine
    ~3 LBS chicken, in pieces (thighs and drumsticks obv. best, but a whole chicken can work)
    1/2 TSP salt
    1/4 TSP freshly ground pepper
    1 small onion or 2 large shallots, diced
    1-2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 TBSP flour
    1-1/2 TSP dried tarragon (or 2 TBSP fresh)
    1 CUP chicken stock
    3/4 CUP heavy cream
    2 TBSP chives, chopped
    2 TBSP parsley, chopped
    12 OZ wide egg noodles

    In a large skillet, over low-medium heat, melt 2 TBSP butter and sautee mushrooms in a splash of white wine, ~5 MINS. Reserve mushrooms.

    Melt 3 TBSP butter in pan over medium-to-medium-high heat, salt and pepper chicken pieces (after patting them dry of course). Fry chicken in butter, 5 MINS. Turn chicken, add onion and garlic to skillet, fry over med heat 7 MINS. Ideally, don't let the garlic burn. Sprinkle flour and tarragon over chicken, toss for 1 MIN. (If tarragon is fresh, add to liquids instead.) Pour stock and 1/2 CUP dry white wine over chicken, cover, simmer for 20 MINS. Remove chicken to serving platter, tent with foil. Let remaining sauce boil down for ~5 MINS (raise heat to medium-high if needed).

    Prepare egg noodles (drop into boiling salted water; let cook 10 MINS), drain ideally just about as sauce has begun thickening. Pour chicken juices runoff from serving platter (and any remaining mushroom-butter-wine liquid) into sauce. Stir cream into sauce, reduce heat to medium-low, mix and simmer for ~2 MINS (add salt if needed or Parmesan cheese would be pretty decadent); add drained noodles to sauce in skillet, stir in mushrooms and half to two-thirds of chives and parsley, heat to combine ~1 MIN.

    Plate noodles, top with chicken pieces, remaining chives and parsley.
    Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    12:11 am
    This Has Become More Of A Shelf Than A Dossier
    In these final 20 hours, ALL backers of The Dracula Dossier now get (if only in digital form): Dracula Unredacted and the Director's Handbook both in full color, plus a book of six extra Edom-verse scenarios (by Stephanie Bryant, Ruth Tillman, John Adamus, Bill White, Dennis Detwiller and me), James Semple's "Dracula Suite" soundtrack, The Edom Field Manual, the Hawkins Papers handout pack, plus Perveniet Calix a DramaSystem series pitch for the Edom-verse by Ryan Macklin, and an Esoterrorists campaign frame by Robin Laws, and (if we hit £77,500) a deck of NPC cards (and I'll be pushing for more rather than less) suitable for attaching with string in a glorious Adversary Map or dealing out tarot-style to determine the next scenario.

    If you've already backed, this is what you've won -- as well as my profoundest thanks. If you haven't backed yet, you've got 20 hours to correct your oversight. Either way, feel free to tell everyone in your own gaming circles (or vampire-ing circles) about it and encourage them to back.
    Thursday, November 13th, 2014
    5:36 pm
    Aethercon Schedule
    There's a pun there to be made along the lines of "Aethercon or not a con" but I don't have the time to lovingly craft it. Consider this a take-home kit.

    Anyhow, Aethercon is a sort of Webby hangouty livestreamy sort of thing and because as you all know I'm a relentlessly 21st-century early adopter sort of guy with a Dracula Dossier Kickstarter to plug, I'm on three panels for it this weekend.

    Friday 11:00am-Noon Central Time

    Pelgrane Press Live Publisher Q&A in The Coin & Quill.

    Guests: Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite, Kevin Kulp
    Moderator: Walt Robillard - Hazard Studio

    Saturday 12:30pm-2pm Central Time

    Themed Panel in The Philosopher's Conundrum - Building the Perfect Beast

    Guests: Adam Daigle (Paizo), Wolfgang Baur (Kobold Press), Kenneth Hite (Pelgrane Press)
    Moderator: Jason Eric Nelson (Legendary Games)

    Saturday 3:30pm-5pm Central Time

    Themed Panel in The Philosopher's Conundrum - How to Run the Sandbox Campaign

    Guests: Joe Sweeney (Storyweaver Games), Phil Vecchione (Gnome Stew, Encoded Designs), Kenneth Hite (Pelgrane Press)
    Moderator: Garret Crowe (Threat Detected)

    A brief explanation: go to the Aethercon site to get to the events. The "Coin and Quill" and "Philosopher's Conundrum" are chat rooms (you can see their logos right at the top of the page) run on the Anymeeting software, which I'm sure thought it would never be used for a virtual game convention, but there you go. The cul-de-sac finds its own uses for things.
    Monday, November 3rd, 2014
    3:47 pm
    Behold the Power of This Fully Operational Kickstarter
    Dracula is not a novel. It's the censored after-action report written by Bram Stoker after Operation Edom, a failed attempt by British Intelligence to recruit a vampire in 1894. Edom is still trying -- it's up to you to stop them, and kill Dracula for good. The Dracula Dossier is an improvisational, collaborative campaign for my vampire spy thriller RPG Night's Black Agents. It's two books -- the full version of Stoker's report (Dracula Unredacted) and a compendium (The Director's Handbook) of hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, conspiratorial organizations, dangerous locations, and eldritch artifacts, any one of which might be completely innocuous or a minion of Dracula.

    And by an odd coincidence, The Dracula Dossier is Kickstarting now. I'd appreciate your plusses, shares, plugs, shout-outs, and oh yes your cold hard promises of cash.
    Friday, October 24th, 2014
    5:01 am
    CIFF Me Deadly
    This year's Chicago International Film Festival was a veritable cavalcade of 3½ star films. No 1s, thank Edison, but only 1 real 5, too. While having your average film experience be somewhat above average is not a bad thing, per se, it's not really why I keep coming back. I come back to CIFF seeking those lightning flashes of 5s that open my cinematic third eye: Primer, Devils on the Doorstep, Time, The Chaser, Tomorrow at Dawn, Golden Slumber, The Exam, Room 237. Back in the 1990s, CIFF showed a lot of Hong Kong martial arts films, for example; from 2006-2009 or so, CIFF revealed unto me the glory of South Korean films with Time, A Dirty Carnival, Mother, Chaser, and The Host. CIFF should at its best be a doorway to whatever is magnificent that I don't already know about, not "my chance to see French films." While seeing pretty-good French films is, indeed, pretty-good, it's not great, and if I'm giving up the whole middle of my October, it should be great.

    Part of this is the Fest's continuing devotion to middlebrow European art film (and the Middle Eastern films that in ironically colonialist fashion mimic middlebrow European art film), which is fine, but is hardly the only fish in the sea in this year of our Lord 2014. The last day of the fest, I actually ran into Michael Kutza, the festival's co-founder and continuing artistic director for lo these 50 years. After thanking him for what has, all things considered, been a pretty fine 25 years of filmgoing for me, I told him he needs to start getting more South Korean films. ("A lot of them are already bought," he said, as though this meant I was somehow incorrect. But he did correctly note they are doing great work in horror, so good for him, and perhaps I've planted a seed.) The "after dark" horror series has gotten steadily better and more prevalent at the festival in the last decade or so, after all, so there's hope yet.

    As always, mad props to his_regard for having my back throughout the show, and to gnosticpi, mollpeartree, and Isaac the New for strategically extending my reach. Mad disses to everyone who keeps reading me talk about how CIFF doesn't live up to its potential and yet somehow doesn't come out to see CIFF movies with me ... waitaminute ...

    As always, we gank our format from the mighty mighty robindlaws, and herewith the 26 films I saw at the 50th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.


    Girl At My Door (July Jung, South Korea) What's that, you say? A South Korean film that begins as introspective character study and becomes a near-perfect daylight noir? Noir is all about boundaries and secrets, and so is this terrific slow burn of a film. As the transferred-in-disfavor police chief, Boona Dae superbly manages the energy of her performance, hoarding it and only revealing herself fractionally as she uncovers the core of the small town secret she (over?) steps into. Genre film without Hollywood predictability: the old remade new again. To paraphrase that old Amstel Light ad: "We're South Korean. We didn't know genre film was supposed to suck."

    The Salvation (Kristian Levring, Denmark) Speaking of genre film, though this time with the necessary predictability of its tragic form, specifically the Western. Mads Mikkelsen is a farmer done wrong who must once more pick up the gun; Jeffrey Dean Morgan chews the scenery well as the barbarian, and Jonathan Pryce turns in his customary fine job as the worm at the core of civilization's apple. Great shoot-out choreography and Mikkelsen's magnificently broken stoicism make this an exemplar of the form. Kaspar Winding's score loves all of Ennio Morricone equally, to good effect; South Africa makes a fine stand-in for the mythic Western landscape. (If you are not a fan of the Western, you're wrong, but move this down to Recommended.)

    Why Be Good? (William A. Seiter, USA) It turns out that Colleen Moore, the gamine star of this long-lost 1929 classic silent rom-com, didn't just create the iconic flapper but also co-founded the Chicago International Film Festival. For the last few years, David Robinson (artistic director of the Pordenone silent film festival) has brought us at CIFF a gem from his box, and this one shines beautifully: the Vitaphone soundtrack features Jimmy Dorsey among other great jazz talents and the movie is a rom-com in which nobody tells a stupid lie, there is no idiot plotting, and every character except the clear villain (an oily seducer) operates from clear and moral principles. Beautifully restored from a copy found in an Italian film vault, this was the feel-good hit of the show.


    It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, USA) I hesitate to say anything about this film except to urge horror fans to watch it. It finds an original monster for a topical theme, and runs that play straight up the middle for 90+ minutes. The superb menace, theme, and plot gain strength from the not-quite-iconic teen characters, the allusively near-1980s mise-en-scene (only one e-reader exists to remind us of the present), the washed-out visual palette, and the synth-y score. It Follows is to 1980s stalker horror as Ti West's House of the Devil was to 1980s social horror: brilliant homage and insightful successor. It also really scared the bejesus out of the guy sitting right behind me, which was fun if slightly distracting.

    The Word (Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Poland/Denmark) In a way, this is kind of the fourth "girl trouble" film in my top five, although in this one the girl is absolutely and resolutely the author of her own trouble. The spine of the plot is this: a teenage schoolgirl convinces her boyfriend to murder her romantic rival, and the movie absolutely plays the buildup and results straight, if presenting them obliquely. Eliza Rycembel's teen Lady Iago keeps her involvement both remote and constant through texting, Skype, and Facebook, providing a 21st-century sociopathic tension to a story as old as girls and murder.

    Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania) I put Timbuktu this far down because of its polyphonic, Realist construction. I'm not a fan of Realism, and even less of Realism that deliberately fractures even the emergent story by dividing its attention; if you're more into de Sica than I am, you may well rank this up closer to the top. When the story does get around to emerging, it turns out to be the story of the past caught in the present: a feckless cattleman failing at both old challenges (he kills a fisherman in a quarrel over a stray cow) and new (he incurs the righteous wrath of the Islamist militia that occupied Timbuktu in the wake of our collapsed Libyan misadventure). The rest of the film presents the town's response to that occupation, from the fruitless theological debate of the local imam to the mad withdrawal of a self-proclaimed "Haitian" witch-woman. Stonings, floggings, shootings, and the occupiers' more picayune tyrannies all take their time under the Realist lens and pass before us. Sissako makes a number of very bold choices (such as placing his "main" character clearly in the wrong, and constantly humanizing his jihadist characters) and his cinematographer (Sofian El Fani) and composer (Amine Bouhafa) do such great work that they unify the film almost against its own grain. We had an appalling number of idiots at the Q & A afterward, who apparently hadn't heard about the takeover of northern Mali at all ("Did this really happen?" asked one prize dolt) and then wanted to hear an actor talk about sharia, so we got out of there in a hurry.

    Maestro (Léa Fazer, France) This roman-a-clef about the making of Eric Rohmer's last film was exactly what it sounds like it would be: a paean to the past, a young man's introduction to the true love of true cinema, a film-making-as-absurdism-metacomedy, and lots of lovely French countryside and actors. Michael Lonsdale, who I have loved watching since the original Day of the Jackal, does a superb job as the aging maestro, ruling his increasingly irrelevant patch with arbitrary affability. Like many films at this year's CIFF, it hits all its marks perfectly, but doesn't really try anything difficult while doing so. Still, even if you're not a Rohmer fan (I'm not, though I haven't seen Triple Agent yet) try to see it if CIFF and its middlebrow cohorts haven't managed to beat your love of French cinema (and French cineastes) completely to death.

    In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland, Norway) Norway sometimes delivers and sometimes disappoints; this sorta-comic revenge-crime film comes up on the shiny side of the coin. Stellan Skarsgard plays the (more taciturn, of course) Liam Neeson character in this snow-covered version of Taken, killing his way up the ladder toward the local vegan-moderne mobster (a hilarious spin on the Modernism-as-evil trope that's now what, 70 years old? almost as old as the evils of Modernism) who at several removes ordered his (Skarsgard's) son's death. It spices things up halfway through with the promise of an emergent Yojimbo when the mobster wrongly whacks the local Serbian gang boss' son, believing the Serbs (or as he constantly calls them, "Albanians") responsible for the mysterious disappearances of his men, but doesn't deliver on it. Moland wants it to be a film about national (and personal) identity, but never really drills down there, satisfying himself (and me) with just an old-fashioned tale of snowplow revenge murder.

    Seven Little Killers (Matteo Andreolli, Italy) Seven 13-year-olds at the scene of an accidental death. Seven 43-year-olds implicated in the murder. Cut back and forth until you discover ... that the key to appreciating this film is to recognize that it's not actually a murder mystery. Unfortunately, perhaps, it's shot and revealed very much like a murder mystery. You have to spot the dual commentary on social mores and human changes in the interstices of the murder story, which is (on reflection) considerably better than having to do it the other way round. Lovely Apulian countryside, a great score by Pivio and Aldo de Scalzi, and solid acting by both teens and grownups pull this up from merely Good.


    The Editor (Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada) Apparently Winnipeg has more than just Guy Maddin to recommend itself in the world of film: the "Astron-6" collective does self-referential parodies of low-fi subgenres. This is their tribute to/mockery of giallo films, and if the notion of Scary Movie: Giallo sounds like it might be down your alley, then kick this up to Recommended and enjoy. I personally wanted something a little less like Hot Shots or Airplane! and a little more like Hot Fuzz or OSS 117 -- less meta, more tongue-in-cheek -- but one can argue that giallo (even a giallo parody) is the last place to look for such restraint. The score, by the way, is just as lovingly assembled -- and just as true to the genre -- as the terrible dubbing, oily fake blood, and loopy plot.

    The World of Kanako (Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan) And we're right back to "girl trouble," as the missing daughter of a drunken ex-cop pulls him onto her trail into the horrendous darkness of Japanese nightlife -- and of himself, and of his daughter. I think maybe Nakashima thought we'd be as shocked as audiences were at its progenitor, the George C. Scott film Hardcore, way back in the innocent year of 1979, but this road has been well and truly paved since then, and just showing us the horror isn't enough. The film needed about 20 minutes of cuts (about 10 from the limp extended ending) and something besides "under the trimmed lawn grow worms and biting spiders" to say. But the dissonant editing, the acting, and the incidental visceral brutality are all strong enough to make it worth watching, assuming you're on board for Japanese crime film generally.

    Fort Tilden (Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, USA) Two unattractive characters going nowhere in a daylight hipster version of After Hours could be a disaster, and the fact that it isn't is probably down to the humanity of the acting and the wit of the script (which also, thank God, finds the characters horrid). Two twenty-something girls play hooky from real life, get into easily avoided trouble thanks to their own worthlessness, and give the viewer a tour of Millennial Brooklyn both external and internal. The presence of texts and social media shouldn't be as fresh as it is, given that it's 2014 for crying out loud (imagine if cars didn't start showing up in films until the 1930s!) but it works well without dominating. The ending is a little pat, but at least it's an ending instead of a "running out of pixels" which in a film about talky Millennials is something to praise. (And yes our "talky Gen-Xers" were just as bad.)

    Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao Yinan, China/Hong Kong) I spent a lot of time watching this Chinese noir hoping for it to light the afterburner and really get great, and it didn't. It's still a perfectly grim Chinese noir, with a very good set of nested crimes and dismembered corpses and a femme fatale, but the story never pays back the superbly shot and paced setup.

    Superegos (Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria) Again, a film that hits a bullseye marked "safe success." A chaotic young con man hides out in the house of an elderly psychologist who is both a beloved public intellectual and a former Nazi, to the derangement of everyone involved. (I'm not sure making the film's comically tone-deaf American also a Jew was the best possible move, given everything else -- but ignoring the comic potential of that setup is the real mistake here.) Freudian transference bolsters the plot, such as it is, and the humor works perfectly well -- but it's a screwball comedy that could have screwed itself much tighter given what it had to work with.

    Still (Simon Blake, UK) Aiden Gillen plays a photographer (coded as a relic given his antique camera, TV, answering machine, and everything else) whose dead son still dominates his life, and who the film punishes for faking happiness (with, e.g. a new hot girlfriend and a drunken best mate reporter) by exposing him to the barbarism of contemporary British youth. Although I can't condemn it for not choosing the easy road into revenge flick, it doesn't choose any other goal or point either. Gillen's acting pulls this otherwise by-the-numbers flick up to Good, and I enjoyed the shots of London both grim and bougie, but it's probably skippable on the merits.

    Alleluia (Fabrice du Welz, France/Belgium) This murkily stylish film transposes the Beck-Fernandez Lonely Hearts Killings (1947-1949) to rural France, and weirdly exonerates Fernandez' character throughout in only one of the strange tonal shifts that are both its strength and weakness. All the pieces work, but du Welz doesn't seem to want to build anything really strong out of them, settling for a blood-drenched amour feu that plays like a really good Lifetime movie instead of like a great French murder film.

    The Alley Cat (Marie Ullrich, USA) A major tonal shift in the middle of this bike-race movie creates an uneven experience. Unsurprisingly, the bike-race part works far better, and not just because it's through and around Chicago at night. The personal troubles of main character Jasper (Jenny Strubin, whose alternatively dogged and raw acting is a major reason why the second part works at all) never cohere into story, so when they have to support the last half of the film it loses momentum and falls over.

    Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, USA) Unlike the director, I didn't live this story, but I've lived very very near it. Potrykus calls his oeuvre "fast-food-culture America striking back against the Man" to which I would add the word "futilely" for a better sense of what you'll see. It starts like a straight up con-man film, but we soon realize our hero is also fooling himself -- he's not a very good con man, or anything else. With no moral center, the film indicts everything, becoming something like Taco Bell Dostoyevsky in its eventual affect. It's a strong, successful movie on its own terms, but those terms are (intentionally) crummy and (there's that word again) futile, so caveat emptor.

    The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia) Oh boy, was I disappointed by this one. The first act of this horror film faultlessly builds the claustrophobic narrative box around our heroine -- her 6-year-old son is emotionally damaged by his father's death in a car crash on the way to the hospital where he was born, her finances hang by a thread, her social network frays likewise. A horrible and mysterious children's book appears and provides a cartoon monster that becomes a viscerally menacing tulpa in the second act, which is almost non-stop sheer terror. Then the flat, stupid ghost of Freudianism shows up and vitiates the ending, the third act, and by extension the whole movie. Psychoanalytic theory is responsible for a lot of pointless waste, but the constant sucking chest wound it left in horror film may be its worst crime. But man, that second act.

    Free Fall (Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary) The brilliant director of Hukkle (the funniest poisoning comedy I've ever seen) presents an anthology film of the absurdist happenings in seven apartments in one building, framed by an old woman hauling herself up the stairs of the building to throw herself off the roof. Palfi shot it on a tight time schedule (a Korean film festival understandably wanted a new Palfi film and paid him to make one), which likely explains why the script(s) didn't get the tightening and deepening you really need for absurdism to work. The best bit was probably the germophobic liebestod segment, which not incidentally came the closest to having more than one joke. He told us he turned the production of each segment over to his film students, but it didn't show in the polished and clever final cut -- if you're a film student in Hungary, I advise you to let Palfi teach you to shoot footage.


    Viktoria (Maya Vitkova, Rumania/Bulgaria) Another movie that shifts tone halfway through, from surreal celebrity tale about the navel-less "Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade" to the family crises she faces as a young woman after the fall of Communism. Every character in the film is frustratingly inert and sessile, with the surprising exception of Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov, who is stupid and jolly but by Lenin he knows what he wants and how to get it. When a Bulgarian TV show film crew ambushed me in the hallway after the movie, I emphasized the movie's successful theme of regret more than I did its failed characters, because why pick on Bulgarians?

    Concrete Night (Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark) Beautifully shot in black and white, the film never really lives up to its opening dream sequence (except very briefly when our protagonist peeks into the color-tinted Uspensky Cathedral at a world he fails to enter). A 14-year-old boy follows his brother through the slightly steamy underbelly of Helsinki on the night before said brother is due to serve a prison sentence. Infected by nihilism and premature machismo, his stupidity and cowardice cascade, but his flat affect (a collaboration of the acting and the script) prevented me from caring one way or the other.

    The Princess of France (Matias Piñero, Argentina) A radio theater troupe gets all stirred up when a young director (the titular "princess") re-enters their lives to record a gender-swapped Love's Labours Lost, which should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately, the casting of nearly identical actresses with (even more unforgiveably) nearly identical voices, and Piñero's love of the handheld camera for no reason, meant that even knowing your Shakespeare made following the plot a chore, compounded by the strange decision to "rewind" history twice in 75 minutes. But the opening soccer-game sequence was narrative genius, and I hope someone steals it for a better movie.


    The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong) Speaking of "should have been a slam dunk." An overly (multiply?) caused disaster leaves seventeen minibus passengers as the only humans in Hong Kong, and mysterious gas-mask figures, a powdery pandemic, time travel hints, and weird David Bowie messages from the mountain add weirdness aplenty. But none of it ever pays off, just building until Fruit gets bored, which is sadly a ways after the viewer does. The "Space Oddity" musical number, in retrospect, is when it really goes off the rails. Still, the setup is strong enough for any number of stories, any one of which might have worked.

    A Dream of Iron (Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, South Korea) This is less documentary than it is experimental film. The narrator, deserted by his lover for God, sets out to find a god in petroglyphs, industrial shipbuilding, and whales. Also there is Tibetan shamanism for some reason. As a sketch of Leviathan it sort of works, but the religious element seems both trivialized and trivially superficial, leaving me with nothing but a guy mumbling in Korean while people weld. I may have nodded off a couple of times during it, which didn't help, but as Sam Goldwyn once said, "Sleeping isn't an opinion?"


    Stockholm (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain) Set in Madrid; the title refers to the syndrome. Two deliberately nameless characters meet at a party. He pursues Her, going all the way to stalking and date rape (set to Mozart of all things). But she loves the sex so much she forcibly stays in his life (in a sequence that almost works, actually) and then commits suicide just to show him or something. Oops, spoiler. This movie trivializes date rape, Mozart, mental illness, and suicide for no real payoff. It began as a short, where I suspect it worked much better. The acting, pacing, production design, and editing (all well done) keep it out of 1-star territory, but no.
    Sunday, October 12th, 2014
    11:37 pm
    You Can't Spell "Empanada" Without (Four-Fifths of) "Panel": My Metatopia Panel and Seminar Schedule
    By now, surely you've heard me exclaim to the skies the glories of Metatopia (November 6-9), the game design convention in Morristown, New Jersey -- one-half game convention, one-half professional retreat, one-half design workshop, and one-half excuse to binge on Raul's Empanadas. This is mostly about the one-half that's the professional retreat: it's my panel and seminar schedule. I hasten to add this is just the veritable tip of the ice cream sandwich -- dtwatts has gone and built one of the best seminar tracks (perhaps the best) I've ever seen. And I'm including the ones I've built in that assessment. Gaze upon his works, ye mighty, and despair.

    I also plan to be testing out my GM-less horror story game The Last Flight of KG 200 (as published in Fenix magazine a couple years ago) at the con, if you're curious about that.

    Feel free to discuss any or all of these topics below, especially my solo seminar thing on aesthetics of setting design. Feel free to assume I already said "I don't know" to the question "Will any of these be recorded or posted or streamed or taught phonetically to very game-design-curious mynah birds?"

    Friday, November 7

    "Cartography of Fictional Worlds" presented by Kenneth Hite, Hal Mangold & Mark Richardson. Learn from a panel of veteran cartographers and game designers the techniques they use to make maps of fictional worlds. Friday, 1:00PM - 2:00PM

    "Adapting TV Shows to RPGs" presented by Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue, Kenneth Hite & Darren Watts. This panel of industry veterans will discuss their experiences translating intellectual properties from television shows into RPGs. We'll talk about restrictive licenses, themes and esthetics, and compare and contrast the narrative beats and builds between the media. Friday, 4:00PM - 5:00PM

    "Bisociation, Mashups, the Uncanny, and the Weird: Toward an Aesthetic of Setting Bricolage" presented by Kenneth Hite. In an age where "everything is mashup", what makes a game setting more than the sum of its parts? Both the modern "uncanny" and the postmodern "slipstream" depend on subverting or deranging expectations, but how can you get good play without something to play off of? Do Koestler's "bisociation" or Lovecraft's "truly weird" help us out or derail us? Designer Kenneth Hite (Night's Black Agents, Day After Ragnarok) isn't sure yet, which is why he asks you to join him and think out loud on these topics. Friday, 6:00PM - 7:00PM

    Saturday, November 8

    "Lovecraft WTF?" presented by Julia Ellingboe, Kenneth Hite, Darren Watts & Bill White. H. P. Lovecraft is one of the grandfathers of weird fiction and horror. His racist and anti-Semitic beliefs are no secret. They are the foundation of his fictional worlds. They are interwoven throughout his work and for many readers, impossible to separate from the genius of his writing. Can a Lovecraft-inspired game make his work more accessible? It's okay to like problematic things. This panel will be neither an attack nor a defense of Lovecraft's work. In a broad sense, it will be a conversation about how designers might interpret or use source material with themes or images that are problematic. Saturday, 9:00PM - 10:00PM
    Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
    1:00 am
    Chicago International Film Fest Schedule 2014
    Here's what the plan currently looks like, O lookers at plans. Vagaries of sold-outs or me adding things could change it, but let's hope not.

    The rise of Netflix streaming now adds another wrinkle to the "should I see it" game -- we've long since given up on seeing most things we're sure will get theatrical releases, and now we have to gamble on whether they're the kind of thing Streamflix will glom up. It's hell here in the Golden Age, I tells ya.

    Friday, October 10

    1:30 Viktoria (Maya Vitkova, Rumania/Bulgaria) Surreal celebrity emptiness meets Communist regular emptiness, satirically exploring the weird tale of the "Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade."

    6:00 The Word (Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Poland/Denmark) Described as a millennial Macbeth-slash-police procedural centered on a 14-year-old girl, this film had me at, well, at what I just typed pretty much.

    11:00 The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia) Two-dimensional monster illustration comes alive and terrorizes single mother after tragedy. This will either be great or terrible.

    Saturday, October 11

    2:30 Superegos (Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria) Chaotic con man hides out in psychologist's house, to the derangement of everyone involved. If this were a German comedy, we'd skip it, but Austria can surprise you sometimes.

    8:00 Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao Yinan, China/Hong Kong) Chinese noir feat. grim cop, gruesome crime, femme fatale, social catastrophe. Won the Golden Bear at Berlin, which is (probably) a pretty good sign.

    11:00 The World of Kanako (Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan) Drunken ex-cop follows the trail of his missing daughter into the dark side of Japan, life, and his daughter. A robindlaws Recommended Film!

    Sunday, October 12

    12:00 The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong) Seventeen minibus passengers are the only survivors of a global pandemic. Then things get bad. mollpeartree and I were enthralled by Chan's 2004 body horror flick Dumplings when we saw it uncut at DragonCon, so maybe she'll come out to see this with us.

    2:45 Free Fall (Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary) From the director of Hukkle, the funniest poisoning comedy I've ever seen, comes a surrealist montage of comic cruelty as a badly injured woman hauls herself upstairs and hallucinates truths about her neighbors. You know you want to.

    5:15 Still (Simon Blake, UK) Photographer reeling from his son's murder steps off the sidewalk in North London and into a deeper urban cruelty. Should combine crime film and sense of place into a harrowing walk.

    7:30 Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, USA) Horrible main character begins a spiral of failed con games in what looks like a millennial version of something like Night and the City except without the wrestling and the decent other people. We'll see.

    Tuesday, October 14

    5:45 Stockholm (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain) Set in Madrid, so this meet-cute-turn-bad refers to the syndrome, not the city.

    8:30 The Salvation (Kristian Levring, Denmark) Mads Mikkelsen in a Western. 'Nuff said.

    Wednesday, October 15

    5:45 Seven Little Killers (Matteo Andreolli, Italy) Seven 13-year-olds at the scene of an accidental death. Seven 43-year-olds implicated in the murder. Time-shifting crime flick sounds like a slam dunk.

    8:15 Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania) Story of the takeover of northern Mali by the Islamist militants spawned from our recent Libyan misadventure. I haven't seen a Mauritanian film yet, and this one won a jury prize at Cannes, so there we go.

    Friday, October 17

    6:00 Concrete Night (Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark) 14-year-old boy follows his brother through the dark and steamy underbelly of Helsinki; will either be really strong and weird and unsettling or just ugh but either way will be over in 96 minutes.

    8:30 In Order of Disappearance (Hans Petter Moland, Norway) Stellan Skarsgard plays the Liam Neeson character avenging his son with cold-blooded murderous gunfire in this ... comedy? Norway is up and down with us, but this could be really good.

    Saturday, October 18

    2:30 The Princess of France (Matias Piñero, Argentina) Radio theater troupe gets all stirred up when a young director re-enters their lives to record Love's Labours Lost. Play and personas tangle and oh I am such a sucker for this Slings-and-Arrows-Shakespeare-bleeds-into-actors-lives stuff it's not even funny. I'm even braving the dread robindlaws Not Recommended star to see this one.

    9:45 It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, USA) Stalker horror as supernatural demonic presence; I hope it's even a fraction as good as it sounds.

    Sunday, October 19

    2:45 Fort Tilden (Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, USA) Hipster After Hours follows two Brooklyn girls to ... well, I guess to nowhere. Won the SXSW Jury Prize, which gives hope that it falls closer to Slacker than to all the movies that wanted to be Slacker but weren't.

    5:00 Why Be Good? (William A. Seiter, USA) The box-office smash of 1927 is back! Long thought lost, this silent classic of virtue tested should be a rip-roarer, as these silents have been at CIFF.

    8:00 The Editor (Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada) A Canadian giallo! If that doesn't get you placing bets, you're dead inside. Almost as dead as the actors in the titular editor's latest film!

    Tuesday, October 21

    5:45 Maestro (Léa Fazer, France) A roman-a-clef about the making of Eric Rohmer's last film, and a love-letter to all of those things. I suspect it will also be a feast for all fans of Michael Lonsdale (playing the Rohmer part), which I have been since Day of the Jackal.

    Wednesday, October 22

    5:30 Alleluia (Fabrice du Welz, France/Belgium) Oh, murder, where would film be without you? Transposes the Beck-Fernandez Lonely Hearts Killings (1947-1949) to rural France and gains a robindlaws Recommendation along the way!

    8:30 A Dream of Iron (Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, South Korea) Our last film is often something kind of weird, and so I suspect is this documentary about a man looking for a god in the industrial (and literal) leviathan.
    Monday, October 6th, 2014
    5:32 am
    Bill (Shakespeare's) Haider
    Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider, set in 1995 Kashmir, is not the best Hamlet film I've seen, but it's top five, easy. Maybe top three. It takes the seemingly radical but brilliant step of spending almost the entire first half of the film establishing the situation -- Haider's father, a doctor, is fingered by an unknown informant for sheltering a militant leader and subsequently "disappeared" by the Indian Army. Haider (a wisely toned-down Shahid Kapoor -- even during the mad scenes) spends the first half of the film not knowing if his father is dead or alive, and wondering if his mother (played by the still-gorgeous and always terrific Tabu) is canoodling with his uncle. The Ghost (Irfan Khan in a scene-stealing role -- but playing a fellow political prisoner, not Haider's father) shows up right before the intermission to say Guess What. (Rhymes with "prevenge me.")

    And then we're off on Hamlet. A Hamlet in which you believe intensely in the setting, the family structure, and the fact that these people will yes indeed kill each other a lot in very real non-stage-fighty ways. (And in which Haider not killing his uncle at prayer works considerably better than in most secular versions, of course.) There's a very nice, very subtle use of Pakistan as a stand-in for the "undiscovered country" of death -- the Ghost is from Pakistan, and Haider threatens to "go across the border" more than once, to which his mother replies "you cannot return from there." And so forth. Even the Kashmir-for-medieval-Denmark works as geographical parallel (snow, northernness, violence, etc) and the reference to Alexander in the (also well handled) grave-digger scene makes more sense in a country where he actually walked than it does in Denmark. The play-within-a-play is a combination traditional Kashmiri puppet show and Bollywood dance number, and (of course) is brilliant. The death of "Salman and Salman" (the movie's R&G) was terrifying, and Ophelia's madness and suicide actually works which it usually doesn't.

    Haider doesn't hit all of the play's beats, but it's one of the rare adaptations where the deletions and compressions actually make narrative sense (or show a wise knowledge about what Bhardwaj thought he could make work on film). It still doesn't nail it quite as well as Bhardwaj's Omkara did Othello (which is to say "better than any other version"), but it's probably a better movie -- better and more richly filmed, certainly.

    cassielsander should really see this while it's still at the River East. As should you all, but he especially should.
    Saturday, October 4th, 2014
    2:10 am
    If It Quacks Like A Byakhee
    People need to just accept that August Derleth invented the byakhee. Sandy Petersen may have pulled a fast one over on us by heading their monster entry in Call of Cthulhu with a Lovecraft quote from "The Festival," but nobody ever reads the rest of the paragraph after the quote he used:

    "They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts."

    N.B.: "webbed feet" "rode ... along the reaches of that unlighted river" into caves full of springs and cataracts. These aren't byakhee, these are giant ducks. (You're welcome, Gloranthan Lovecraftians.)
    Tuesday, September 16th, 2014
    5:44 pm
    As We Wing Our Way Toward Buffalo: Queen City Conquest Schedule
    A warning to my hosts in one of America's most beautiful and underrated cities -- the Bills will just break your heart. They look good now, but come January, like Buffalo, they're likely to be buried in gray slush.

    But this isn't January! It's September! Beautiful slanting sunlight on all those gorgeous Art Deco buildings! Wings! And RPGs! Time, then, to come on out to the Nickel City for the Queen City Conquest game convention this very weekend, at which I am the officially Kickstarted Guest of Honor.

    My panel schedule has overflowed even the online schedule, so mark this down in your copy books:

    Friday Sep 19
    6pm - 6:50pm : Horror and Gaming panel

    Come and join the one and only master of gaming horror, Ken Hite, as he regales you with his vast knowledge of ancient and forbidden texts and horrific and nihilistic events. Then be awestruck as he spins this information into a conspiratorial web of terror which will manifest at your gaming table when the Stars are Right and the things which walk in the shadows of your mind will tread amongst your players.

    Saturday Sep 20
    Noon - 12:50 : Getting Weird panel

    Join special guest Ken Hite as he informs and entertains you with how you can use weird in your games. He'll break down what weird actually is, how to create a weird mood at the table, what different kinds of weird their are, and how you can use weird as a tool at your game table.

    Sunday Sep 21
    Noon - 12:50 : Spy Games - Espionage & Conspiracy panel

    Join Ken Hite, writer of the award winning Night's Black Agents (Jason Bourne meets the Vampire Conspiracy), as he unmasks and demystifies the misinformation of the unseen masters of Game Mastering who keep all the knowledge to themselves when it comes to unraveling how to lay down layers of schemes at your table. Sound convoluted? That's the point. Come to the panel and learn a little about trade craft, misinformation, and get some ideas about how to build a better conspiracy.

    See all y'all Buffalonians, Upstaters, and (future) broken-hearted Bills fans there!
    Sunday, September 7th, 2014
    10:36 pm
    All Our Tragic All Is Magnificent
    So after leaving All Our Tragic last night, my senses were insanely heightened and seemed to center themselves about an inch outside my body; the closest I've experienced such a sensation was right after a sauna in Finland. (And this was un-medicated -- I didn't need any cold medicine, but my cold was recent enough that I only drank two glasses of wine that night.) It helped that the weather was literally perfect and that my city is the greatest in the world, but I walked and rode back through a scrim of apperception. I came up with -- was inspired with, perhaps -- a really great idea that I may use for my Urban Shadows city book if it turns out to fit there. If not, I'm sure ideas will continue to recur from that night.

    The play was a 12-hour experience; 9 hours of drama combining and postmodernizing all 32 extant Greek tragedies, with the heightened color, breezy characters, and self-referential dialogue merely counterpointing and thus emphasizing the tragic, horrible events transpiring over the course of four acts. (The other 3 hours were meal/snack/drink/bathroom breaks, during which the cast came out and mingled with the audience.) The author/director, Sean Graney, intends the full weight of the drama to hit the audience over the full weight of the experience; you don't get to leave the theater and process it a bit or a couple of hours at a time. (You can cheat yourself thusly, if you don't go to one of the 12-hour marathons, but why would you?) The actors managed to keep their energy and performance up for the whole time, despite 9 hours(!) of drama and 12 hours of being "on" and an average of three or four parts per performer. This creates almost too many great turns to count; it's nearly impossible to single out one or two star moments, when the whole drama and the whole ensemble mutually build to such heights.

    The ultimate result was an astonishing, thrilling, powerful, transportive, literally legendary day of theater. All credit to The Hypocrites theater company for having the Chicago audacity to plan, mount, and perform this amazing thing. If you can see it you must. Otherwise, you must lie and say you were there.

    As it happens, Steven Townshend, his_regard, and luckymarty don't have to lie, because they were there that night to experience it with me; and good for them.
[ << Previous 20 ]