CIFF Me As Though It Were The Last Time

I've split my attendance at the Chicago International Film Festival between virtual and in-person screenings, the latter of which appear below. Bereft as I will be this year of the boon companionship of his_regard (work thing) I turn to my Friends community to step into the vacant boon slot and slip into the vacant seat next to me at any of:

Thu, Oct 14, 2021

BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION (US, Jacob Gentry) Video archivist becomes obsessed, paranoid thriller-style, with a mysterious masked intruder captured in old TV broadcasts. [9:30 PM, Music Box Theatre]

Tue, Oct 19, 2021

IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE (South Korea, Hong Sangsoo) Actress returning to Korea conceals a mystery -- or does she? Dramatic doings, doubtless, in the Fest's (*sighs heavily*) only Korean film. [7:00 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center]

Wed, Oct 20, 2021

THE BETA TEST (US, Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe) Hollywood weasel lured into anonymous sexual liaison goes slowly berserk. A paranoid dark-comic sex thriller from the auteur of WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW. [3:30 PM, AMC River East 21 #9]

PETITE MAMAN (France, Céline Sciamma) On an idyllic vacation, young Nelly meets her own mother as a girl, or does she? By the director of PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE. [5:30 PM, AMC River East 21 #11]

Thu, Oct 21, 2021

THE LAST EXECUTION (Germany, Franziska Stünkel) Scientist Walter goes to work for the Stasi in 1981 and eventually repents; looks like an estimably white-knuckle psychological pressure cooker. [5:15 PM, AMC River East 21 #7]

SUNDOWN (Mexico, Michel Franco) Tim Roth plays a man suspended in the weird limbo of a Mexican seaside resort; may be a hangout film, might be a mystery. [8:15 PM, AMC River East 21 #11]

Fri, Oct 22, 2021

MAD GOD (US, Phil Tippett) Stop-motion animated weird war film about a lone soldier in a nightmare battlefield. Sounds Carcosa-ish maybe, wildly inventive definitely. [10:30 PM, AMC River East 21 #4]

Sat, Oct 23, 2021

MEMORIA (Colombia, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Tilda Swinton plays a woman living in Bogotá haunted by a weird sound. Guaranteed to be beautiful, strange, and slow as whatever Colombia has instead of molasses. For extra fun, the director swears this film will *never* come to streaming. [2:00 PM, AMC River East 21 #11]

Sun, Oct 24, 2021

THE STORY OF FILM: A NEW GENERATION (UK, Mark Cousins) Brings the acclaimed 2011 TV series up to date, one hopes with a big wet kiss to South Korea for saving the art form just before the streaming wars can kill it. [12:45 PM, AMC River East 21 #4]

ONE SECOND (China, Zhang Yimou) In Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, an escaped prisoner and a local girl jockey with the town projectionist for a revelatory film reel. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE but with Mao instead of Franco? Daringly exploring the power of film in a totalitarian hell; one hopes Zhang doesn't have any Pooh dolls in his house. [4:45 PM, AMC River East 21 #11]

For the 'satiably curious, I'm also streaming the NKVD atonement thriller CAPTAIN VOLKONOGOV ESCAPED; Weimar hangout flick FABIAN: GOING TO THE DOGS; Spanish were-horror tale THE HOUSE OF SNAILS; Chicago food god doc LOVE, CHARLIE: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLIE TROTTER; self-explanatory doc OSCAR MICHEAUX: THE SUPERHERO OF BLACK FILMMAKING; portmanteau romance PARIS, 13TH DISTRICT; Filipino urban magic realist post-disaster film WHETHER THE WEATHER IS FINE; Italian teen girl vs Mafia movie A CHIARA; Mexican hybrid corruption doc A COP MOVIE; and the After Dark horror shorts.

Dragon Con Tinues

With only half the Batgirls, and with extra masks, Dragon Con resumes this Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. All attendees, guests, and personnel must be vaxxed, and I count as "guests" this year as I have each and every year they've had me. This year, this is what I bring (along with my pfizzing Pfizer mRNActive blood) to the capacious and well-ventilated Dragon Con seminar rooms:


Tabletop Game Design Workshop
Time: Fri 11:00 am Location: Vinings - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: Vinings - Hyatt (Length: 4 Hours)
Along with author and Mayfair Games founder Bill Fawcett, Steve Jackson hosts a two-day workshop. Each student is encouraged to bring a prototype or draft of a game or supplement they wish to have reviewed, but you do not have to bring one! I'll be the guest speaker Friday at 11am, and I'll be reviewing game design prototypes and drafts Friday afternoon until I need to leave for ...

Help! My Game Is on Fire!
Time: Fri 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Our wondrous & marvelous professionals in the gaming industry help you with your gaming problems! Do you have problems with...that player? Will no one roleplay? Have a table of only murder hobos? We answer your questions with both sarcasm & honesty! (Kenneth Hite, TBD)

Hastur Rising: The Legacy of the King in Yellow
Time: Fri 07:00 pm Location: Peachtree 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
The legacy of Robert W. Chambers in cosmic Horror fiction. (D. Christopher Tatum(M), Kenneth Hite)


Game Mastering 101
Time: Sat 10:00 am Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Our award-winning & professional game masters talk about how to get started as a game master as well as some of the fundamentals of this art form. (Devon M. Chulick, Kenneth Hite)

The World's Most Dastardly Villains
Time: Sat 01:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Everyone loves a bad guy. This panel is on crafting villains for your tabletop game, whether it be for Dungeons & Dragons or Dread. Join our panel of award-winning panelists! (Kenneth Hite, Jason Massey)


Vampire: the Masquerade: 30 Years of The World of Darkness
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Peachtree 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Vampire: the Masquerade debuted in 1991, helping to usher an era of Gothic-Punk aesthetics into gaming. For the 30th anniversary, creatives will discuss the way that they've put a personal stamp onto the World of Darkness. (Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg, Kenneth Hite, Tini Howard, Karen Bembry(M))

Great Games!
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Games are hot, hot, hot! But they're not easy to develop, illustrate, & write. Panelists will offer tips on developing games everybody wants to play & how to sell them. (Roger Altizer, Bill Bridges, Kenneth Hite, Steve Jackson, Jean McGuire)

When the Table Top Grew Up
Time: Sun 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Join two of the industry's movers & shakers to talk about the history of role-playing & board games! How did the whole thing get started? Besides Dungeons & Dragons, of course. How did it explode into the massive hobby of today? What were the big trends, & what does the future hold? (Kenneth Hite, Steve Jackson)

In Memoriam

Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Bryan Cooper Mount (SGT, Troop B, 1st Sqdn, 73rd Cavalry Regt, 2nd Infantry Bde CT, US Army, KIA 21 Jul 2020, eastern Syria)

And all 559,315 in between.

[RECIPE] The Luck of Morocco

I first made this (or its precursor) about a decade ago during the year that, inspired to frenzy by Paula Wolfert's superb Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, I taught myself a whole bunch of Moroccan recipes. (I was also inspired by eating Moroccan merguez sausage in San Francisco and buying a jar of preserved lemons which, it turns out, you should not try to take through the airport scanner in 2010 or any other year.) This seven-vegetable tagine varies place by place in Morocco; my specific version here borrows from Fez and from Casablanca, as far as I can figure.

Seven is lucky, so seven vegetables makes a luck-bringing dish. For extra luck, you make it with seven spices. (Note: For this specific luck, I'm not counting the turmeric in the couscous as a spice in the tagine, and I'm not counting the chickpeas as vegetables. But feel free to honor Moroccan Arioch with 8-vegetable, 8-spice tagine if you wish.) Although I call it a tagine, I make this recipe in a deep saucepan not an actual tagine (in fact, I don't bother covering the saucepan is how un-tagine it is). Also, to complete my litany of shame, I just use the instant couscous for the same reason I don't make my own pasta. Sloth. Sloth is the reason.



2 TB olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 CUP white or green cabbage, shredded
2 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
Salt to taste

1 TB tomato paste

1 big pinch saffron, bloomed in hot water
2 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 medium turnip, peeled & diced
1/2 CUP golden raisins
~1 LB butternut squash, peeled & diced
~2 cups of chicken stock (or substitute vegetable stock if you want)
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced thin
1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes

1/3 CUP parsley, chopped


1.5 CUPS instant couscous (not pearled/Israeli couscous)
1.25 CUPS water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
2 TB butter
1 tsp turmeric

Chop the vegetables fairly small, because you want them to cook through fairly rapidly, but not so small that they get mushy.

Heat oil in a large deep saucepan over medium until shimmery, then saute the onions until slightly softened (4 MINS). Add the cabbage and carrots, and a dash of salt, and saute for another 6 MINS. Clear out a little space in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste; let it cook unmolested (deep umami building here) for 1-2 MINS then stir it into the onions along with the seven spices. Cook the spices for 2 MINS.

Add the turnip, raisins, and squash along with another dash of salt and about a cup of the stock; simmer for 10 MINS. Add more stock as needed to keep the texture stew-like without ever becoming soupy. Add the zucchini, chickpeas,and tomatoes; simmer for 5-10 MINS, tasting the squash for doneness.

While the vegetables simmer away, make the couscous. Set the water to boil in a small pot with a lid, adding salt and oil. Remove boiling water from heat, mix in the couscous, and cover the pot. Let the couscous sit and absorb the water for ~5 MINS. Then return to low heat and, using a fork, stir in the butter and turmeric.

Stir the parsley into the vegetables, and do a final taste for salt. You might want to add a little (1/2 TB or less) red wine vinegar if you don't feel the flavors are bright enough.

Dish up couscous in a mound with a "well" in the middle and ladle on the vegetables. Revel in your double luck!


You can swap out the vegetables with fair abandon -- the original recipes usually call for pumpkin instead of butternut squash, but then you have a LOT of leftover pumpkin so you'd better have a killer kaddu bourani recipe handy. Or you could use acorn squash, spaghetti squash, or any other similar gourd if you prefer. I like the sweetness of butternut squash in this dish, and between it and the raisins I don't need to add sugar (which some recipes do). Other swap-outs that I've seen include fennel, sweet potatoes, fava beans (instead of chickpeas), and so on.

My ChupacabraCon Schedule

If any of you good people have any good virtual conventioneering left in you, I have a good one for you to tune into -- ChupacabraCon VII, normally in Austin, this weekend on Discord! So click one, click all!

11:00 a.m.-12:20 p.m.
Morning Coffee and Cthulhu
Join horror gaming king Ken Hite, his partner in crime Mark Carroll, and the amazing James Lowder to discuss the latest and greatest in horror gaming!
[Kenneth Hite, Mark Carroll, James Lowder]

2:00 p.m.-3:20 p.m.
EBG Presents: Becoming the GM Your Players Wish You Were
You've prepared a brilliant storyline and evocative material. How do you keep your players engaged and exploring the quest you prepared for? Avoiding pitfalls, designing interesting content, and letting go when the story gets out of control. Worldbuilding, adventure design, backgrounds, has it all been done before? How do you spin old stories to new heights?
[Aaron de Orive, Bill Keyes, Kenneth Hite, Michael Surbrook, Scott Crosson]

4:00 p.m.-5:20 p.m.
Post-Apocalypse Texas: Gaming Your Lone Star Road Warrior
Our authors crack open Vault 36 on Shadowrun, The Morrow Project, the Day After Ragnarok, the Texas-Israeli War, Car Wars and other post-apocalyptic visions of Texas. Tune in for tips on how to have fun ruining your hometown!
[Jeb Boyt, Jess Nevins, Kenneth Hite, Mark Finn, Russell Zimmerman]

2:00 p.m.-3:20 p.m.
Horror At The Table
Horror is one of the most difficult genres to successfully roleplay. How can you create a genuine sense of terror at the table? We'll look at this question from multiple perspectives - game master, player, and designer.
[Aaron de Orive, Darren Watts, James Lowder, Jeb Boyt, Kenneth Hite]

CIFF Meets the Phantom of the Park

So the Chicago International Film Festival went off, by which I mean it went on but off the big screen and in my living room. CIFF set up a surprisingly smooth and almost flawless system by which I could download a CIFF app on my Roku and dial up the films I bought at my leisure. (The only flaw was the failure to say in the ticket email which films had a restricted viewing window, leading to a hasty postponement of my Wednesday game to catch the second window.) Some of the films I would have seen played only in drive-in screenings; I skipped the one (1) South Korean film this year as it looked like a slow but brittle comedy, which is not what I go to South Korea for, even in my living room. I'll catch the Spike Lee David Byrne concert pic (which was only at the drive-in, such a weird choice) on HBOMax next week, most likely. That left me with ten feature films, about half my normal CIFF allotment. mollpeartree and I also watched two blocks of shorts; the generally excellent Comedy block had a delightful Guy Maddin short ("Stump the Guesser!") in it, and the generally mediocre Horror block had one grand French final-girl short, "La Biche."

So here then are the lucky CIFF 2020 ten, in convenient Ken and Robin Consume Media format:


Careless Crime (Iran, Shahram Mokri, 2020) Pill addict Faraj (Mohammad Sareban) gets drawn into a plot to burn down a movie theater which eerily recalls the Cinema Rex fire in 1978. Mokri lays down long, overlapping takes and arcs, slowly arcing tighter and tighter on multiple levels (including a film-within-a-film-within-a-film, at one point) around the inescapable haunting of Iran’s cinema past. A superb achievement on so many levels; the lighting and Ehsan Sedigh’s discordant score stand-outs among them. I desperately need to see it again in the kind of real theater space that Mokri turns into a fractal nexus.


Night of the Kings (Côte d’Ivoire/Canada/France/Senegal, Phillippe Lacôte, 2020) The newest inmate (Koné Bakary) in the “jungle” of the MACA prison gets tapped by its dying king to tell a story on the night of the red moon. Prison-gangster drama meets Arabian-night medievalism both narratively and visually in a rich and surprising film of narratology and survival.

Sleep (Germany, Michael Venus, 2020) Nightmare-plagued Marlene (Sandra Huller) collapses in a mountain resort hotel — the one in her dreams — and her daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) investigates. A strong, dogged performance by Kohlhof anchors this excellent psychological ghost thriller, which gets nearly everything right from a creepy empty hotel set to vibrantly strange supporting actors.

Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (US, Werner Herzog & Clive Oppenheimer, 2020) Herzog follows enthusiastic geologist Oppenheimer on a tour of meteoritic science, art, and religion from Norway to Antarctica. Most interested in how humans make art and meaning out of the arbitrary falling rocks, Herzog sometimes strays a little bit into vorticism, cutting staccato between flashes of meaning and thought -- but how appropriate for a film about meteors.

Kubrick by Kubrick (France/Poland, Gregory Monro, 2020) Tape-recorded interviews of Kubrick by film critic Michael Ciment play under footage from most of his films. Monro attempts to gently subvert, or at least provide perspective on, the image of Kubrick as obsessive perfectionist; the result may not be a revelatory film study but it’s a very good Kubrick 102. If you’re ready for Kubrick 202, maybe tick this back down to Good.

Charlatan (Czechia/Ireland/Poland/Slovakia, Agnieszka Holland, 2020) Loose biopic of the Czech healer and herbalist Jan Mikolášek (Ivan Trojan; his son Josef Trojan plays young Jan) framed by his 1958 arrest and trial by the Communist government. Holland’s portrait of Mikolášek never goes where the audience expects, just as Trojan’s performance alienates and attracts in equal measure. Her refusal to put Mikolášek into a simple box (despite her monodimensional title) gives depth and realism while Martin Strba’s deliberately cinematic lensing expertly plays with history-film convention.


Undine (Germany/France, Christian Petzold, 2020) Undine (Paula Beer), an urban historian who may also be the titular vengeful water-spirit, gets dumped by her lover but meets-cute devoted diver Christoph (Franz Rogowski) before we find out for sure. Palpable love for Berlin drenches this somewhat uneven film that kicks into gear on the mystery but goes soppy in the romance, and doesn’t quite consummate either.

The Prophet and the Space Aliens (Israel/Austria, Yoav Shamir, 2020) Invited to receive a (bogus?) award from the Raëlian cult, documentarian Shamir takes Raël (nee Claude Vorilhon) up on his invitation to make a movie about them. Shamir plays it restrained and mostly fair, bending over backwards to not call Raël a con artist and depict the cultists on their own terms. The trouble is, when your subject is a former pop singer and race car aficionado who sees UFOs in 1974 and hears he’s the son of alien Yahweh and gets eager flower brides and oh by the way all religious leaders are still alive as sexy clones on another planet and claims to have cloned a baby in 2002 maybe restraint is not quite the best key for your movie.

Preparations to Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time (Hungary, Lili Horvát, 2020) Neurosurgeon Marta (Natasa Stork) impulsively returns to Budapest to reunite with her love-at-first sight Janos (Viktor Bodó) but he says he’s never met her before … Huge potentials for noir, romance, and horror loom in the premise but Horvát slowly lets the air out of all of them in 90 minutes. Stork’s tight performance deserves a better, tenser film; as it is she seems not so much a woman on the edge as one sensibly distant from a low-boiling distraction.


I’m Your Woman (US, Julia Hart, 2020) Wife of a professional crook, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) must go on the lam when he disappears. Attempting to make a film of the female-occupied negative space around a 70s crime thriller, Hart instead produces something by turns inert and facile. With nothing to do, at length, Brosnahan slowly sinks under the thick patina of 70s production design. Her brief, predictable spurt of agency in the last act comes far too late.

GenCon Again, Virtually

Get socially distantly hyped for the Best Four Days in Gaming (At Home)! Yes, GenCon exists in the ether this year, so I invite everybody (not just those in driving distance of Indianapolis) to click into the following event-like vidcasts. Tickets still available for all of them! (Because, virtual.) And you know how I never know if panels are going to be streamed? Well, everything's going to be streamed! But no, I don't know anything about what platform or whatever because still nobody would be daft enough to tell me that stuff. So BE THERRRRRE (virtuallyyyyyyy)

(All times Eastern Daylight Time.)


2:00 pm - 3:00 pm: Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel
Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning RPG publisher's been up to this year, & what they've planned for the coming year!

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm: Gaming With the King in Yellow
Bring the reality-bending horror of Robert W Chambers to your table. Our mavens of terror are here to tear off their pallid masks and reveal the shattering secrets of the Hyades.

8:00 pm - 10:00 pm: The ENnie Awards
Robin and I are among the cavalcade of hosts for the 20th Annual ENnie Awards, along with Mike Pondsmith, Chris Spivey, and Misha Bushyager!


2:00 pm - 3:00 pm: Investigative Roleplaying Masterclass
Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws and guests train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes.

4:00 pm - 5:30 pm: Delta Green: An Evening With A-Cell
Join the authors of Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game for a livestreamed discussion of the game, the fiction and history that inspire it, and an audience Q&A. I will be ducking out of this one early, because ...

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff (Nearly) Live
Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this (nearly) live edition of their award-winning podcast.

8:00 pm - 9:00 pm: Horror Roleplaying Masterclass
Join our seasoned horror RPG writers and designers as they provide tips for diving into the fun and chilling world of the horror RPG genre.

In Memoriam

Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Javier Jaguar Gutierrez (SFC, 3rd Bn, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), US Army, KIA 8 Feb 2020, Nangarhar, Afghanistan)

And all 559,269 in between.

[RECIPE] Quaran-Tuna Sandwich

With everyone hunkering down in their hobbit holes, I thought I might share my own superb version of the humble tuna-fish sandwich to let the stockpile go by a little more deliciously. So here it is.

(makes two or three sandwiches)

1 7 oz. can tuna, drained
1 rib celery, diced
1.5 scallions, green and light-green parts, sliced thin
1 dill pickle spear, seeded and diced
1-2 forkfuls mayonnaise, to taste
1/2 TSP minced garlic
1/2 TSP ginger paste
1/3 TSP Old Bay seasoning
2 TSP soy sauce
1 TSP lime juice

Serve on toast, add a slice of tomato or cheese at your discretion.

Feel free to double the tuna (and other ingredients) because the flavors come together even more nicely in the leftovers after a few hours in the refrigerator. After three decades I had mostly trained myself to go easy on the mayonnaise and make this with just one heaping forkful, but my social distance apparently demands a little more comfort fat right now.

Book of the DunDraCon Cow

Once more I wing my way to the semi-sunny semi-shores of San Ramon, California this weekend for DunDraCon, which has been playing D&D and kindred divers diversions even longer than have I. Once more I shall provide my own divers diversions, in the form of panel presentations, to wit:


1:30 PM - 3:00 PM: City Building
Presenter(s): : Michael Blum, Kenneth Hite, and Doc Cross
The long-running seminar about the nuts and bolts of creating and using cities in RPGs. This year we’ll have two sub-topics: underground cities, and small cities. [TriValley 2]

6:00 PM - 7:30 PM: Alternate Histories
Presenter(s): Ken Hite and Dana Lombardy
The very popular War College panel discussion continues! Authors and game designers Dana Lombardy and Ken Hite examine possible alternate histories and what their impact might have been. Audience participation is encouraged. FREE HAND OUT: an updated guide to sources for alternate histories will be provided to attendees. [TriValley 2]


10:00 AM - 11:00 AM: What's Cool
Presenter(s): Kenneth Hite and Bruce Harlick
Ken Hite, national authority, and Bruce Harlick, local Hero, go over the outstanding games and gear of early 2020. Get the scoop on the new games in the Dealer Room. [TriValley 2]